Sunday, May 21, 2006

BEA Day 3: Explorin' an Expo of Comics

Comics and graphic novels are bigger business than ever in the trade book world. You can find that evident in the many bookstores with excellent graphic novel sections (one of my favorites is Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Company, but there are dozens and dozens more), but you'll also see it very clearly each and every year at BookExpo America. In addition to its sizable "Graphic Novel Pavilion" in the main floor which features many small (and a few large) comics publishers, you'll find independent and small comics and manga presses scattered throughout the floor, often under the banner of the trade publisher who distributes them to the bookstores of America. (For example, look for Fantagraphics in the W. W. Norton booth, and Drawn & Quarterly in the Farrar, Straus & Giroux booth.) You'll even find comics-related books and publications coming out from major, mainstream presses all across the country and all across BEA. Why, even PW Show Daily titled an article "BEA Is Comics Country"!:


The PW article mentioned a lot of the comics-related events and projects at BEA, including some I'm sorry I missed: the Pantheon booth was too busy to get in much of the time, so I missed seeing anything on one of my most anxiously looked-for 2006 graphic novels, Marjane Satrapi's Chicken with Plums; and I didn't get a chance to see grumpy but lovable Harvey Pekar sign his book. But I did see and learn about a lot of excellent books coming out. Here's a few of the ones I'm most excited about!

As I mentioned yesterday, the good guys at Yale University Press, publishers of last year's very cool Masters of American Comics, are following up that success with a pair of authoritative and fun-lookin' comics surveys: In October Yale will publish editor Ivan Brunetti's An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories:
Brunetti’s choices make for a highly personal book (“my criteria were simple: these are comics that I savor and often revisit”) that serves as a broad historical overview of the medium and a round-up of some of today’s best and most interesting North American comic artists. Included here are works from such well-known artists as Robert Crumb, Kim Deitch, Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Ben Katchor, Charles Burns, Gary Panter, Seth, Phoebe Gloeckner, Daniel Clowes, Lynda Barry, Joe Sacco, and Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, as well as many other pioneers whose names may be less familiar.
I'm also lookin' forward to Yale's In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists by Todd Hignite:
The artists, some of whom rarely grant interviews, offer insights into the creative process, their influences and personal sources of inspiration, and the history of comics. The interviews amount to private gallery tours, with the artists commenting, now thoughtfully, now passionately, on their own work as well as the works of others.
This book is illustrated with 499 color illustrations for $29.95! I am so starting to save my dimes for this one right now!

Here's the Yale University Press catalogue spread for the Anthology book featuring a cool one-page Brunetti comic:


And the front cover of the Yale Fall 2006 catalogue is illustrated by Seth! You may not be able to tell at this size, but each of the catalogues the characters are reading features a famous comic character! I'm declaring this the best Fall trade catalogue cover design in the book business!:


(By the way, Yale UP guys, when you return home to New Haven, please tell Rory Gilmore a little stuffed bull was asking after her and that he thinks she's cute! Please! But please do not tell the same thing to Paris Gellar. She kinda scares me.)

Over in the Princeton Architectural Press booth, they're getting geared up to publish Strips, Toons, and Bluesies: Essays in Comics and Culture by D. B. Dowd and Todd Hignite:
Strips, Toons, and Bluesies gives comics the serious attention they deserve. Rather than focusing on the punch lines, this book celebrates the rich visual and verbal pictures comics have brought to both mass and marginalized audiences. It shows how these works—from fifteenth-century woodcuts to Depression-era bluesies to contemporary zines—make passionate statements about what is most important in their creators' lives.



Now let's swing around a little closer to the Norton booth and visit Fantagraphics:


My very good pals at Fantagraphics Books (hi Eric! hi Greg!) had a fun and busy show, starting out with a very amazing interview with Mister Gary Groth in the brand-new issue of Bookforum:


Read it here, and then you'll understand the level of excitement around Fantagraphics in this, their 30th anniversary year. I got to peek at early pages from Tom Spurgeon and Jacob Covey's fun-filled oral history of Fantagraphics, Comics as Art: I Told You So. You'll love reading about Gary as a teenager, I promise! The big event at Fantagraphics's booth this BEA was a couple signings (one in the BEA autograph area, one in the Fantagraphics booth) by Linda Medley of her amazing Castle Waiting.


Both signings were brisk and fun and so busy that Fanta didn't have any books left over at the end! (Always a good thing, because one of the BEA jobs of yours truly is hoisting all those boxes to get shipped back to the Norton warehouse!) Even without a signing, the Fantagraphics booth is a fun place to hang around: I got a chance to meet Publishers Weekly graphic novel newsguru Calvin Reid and chatted about the state of the BEA (my personal analysis: a great town to hold a convention, but there's some serious kinks in the state of the Washington Convention Center as far as signage and food service).

Well blow me down! Here's the (not-yet-final) cover of Fantagraphics's Popeye collection reprinting the classic Thimble Theater strips, starting this fall:


Fanta was also givin' away copies of their Free Comic Book Day Funny Book, which Eric kindly told me was not suitable for a little stuffed bull:


But I did get to pick up a couple cool bookmarks with Maggie and Enid on 'em!

Down a few steps in the Norton booth I was introduced by Norton editor extraordinaire Bob Weil to Denis Kitchen and Karen Berger, and a few seconds later got to meet and chat with the amazing Mister Kyle Baker, who kindly gave me copies The Bakers and Nat Turner. (I hope I didn't come off as too much of a chattering little fanbull, Kyle! I totally raved about The Bakers and Plastic Man but forgot to mention how much I love Why I Hate Saturn and the old Shadow series!) There were many questions in the Norton booth about when the Crumb Genesis project will see print (not this fall, sorry!), but for Norton-fans who need their graphic novel fix, this fall will bring a new hardcover omnibus of Will Eisner's New York, containing Life in the Big City: New York, The Building, City People Notebook, and Invisible People, plus a few never-before-published sketches and illustrations Mister Eisner did for the project before his death last year:


Norton will also be reissuing the three books contained in last fall's hardcover omnibus, A Contract With God, A Life Force, and Dropsie Avenue, in three separate paperbacks coming this December. Mister Bob Weil told me there's lots of Will Eisner reissues to come, so watch your bookstores!

Just a couple paces down from Norton you'll find busy busy Newmarket Press! Duck in among the Su Doku books and movie titles to grab some free string cheese and raisins (promoting their new title The Dorm Room Diet), and if you ask Miss Heidi nicely, she'll show you the beautifully designed pages from their coming-out-this-week book The Art of X-Men 3: The Last Stand. I especially liked this because it was not only chock-full of gorgeous color photos from the movie as well as lots of behind-the-scenes making-the-movie info, it also contains dozens and dozens of panels and pages from Marvel X-Men comics showing the history and influence of the comics on the movie franchise. Plus, I got my photo taken with the very pretty Miss Halle Berry! (Just for that, Miss Berry, I will forgive you for Catwoman):


Dodge across the busy busy aisle (overheard at BEA: "This is just like Frogger!") and make a quick beeline for the Penguin booth, which was promoting more Penguin Classics with covers designed by major comics artists:


This poster was only for display, by the way. You missed the boat by not having a version to give away, Penguin! This is the sort of poster book managers would enjoy displaying in their stores. I'll forgive ya, however, because Penguin distributee Putnam is publishing the book I'm most excited about overall in Fall 2006 (indulge me a moment in my non-comics glee, please): a new Dick Francis mystery, several years after his last one, bringing back his one-handed ex-jockey hero Sid Halley:


Buoyant from the promise of a new Dick Francis, I practically skipped down the aisle to the Farrar, Straus and Giroux booths (hi Spencer!). FSG division Hill and Wang had a nifty folder hand-out promoting their new "Novel Graphics" series, starting with Malcolm X by Andrew Helfer and Randy DuBurke, Ronald Reagan by Helfer and Buccellato, and The 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon:

The Reagan book's got a cover that makes him look like Two-Face!:


A few hoofsteps down the FSG aisle leads me to the wonderful Drawn & Quarterly booth, where I chatted for a while with the always-amazing Chris Oliveros, Peggy Burns, and Tom Devlin, who told me all about their Fall list, especially the book I'm so eager to see: Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip!! As a lifelong fan of the Moomins (and having always had a bit of a crush on the Snork Maiden), I'll be in line for this one when it comes out, you betcha:


D+Q's fall catalogue itself is an amazing thing of wonder which is beautifully designed as a two-sided full-color foldout. It's gorgeous, but knowing bookstore book buyers the way I do, they will complain about the non-traditional format of the catalogue. If I were you, FSG sales reps, I'd just smack 'em when they complain!:


The Houghton Mifflin booth is home not only of always-pleasant Lynn Hildebrandt (hi Lynn!) but also of the prestigious Best American Series. Imagine my surprise when I discovered 2006's line-up includes The Best American Comics, edited by Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore!:

Contributors include Robert Crumb, Chris Ware, Kim Deitch, Jaime Hernandez, Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco, and Lynda Barry—and unique discoveries such as Justin Hall, Esther Pearl Watson, and Lilli Carré.

Upstairs—a long, long, long way upstairs—you'll find the BEA childrens' book pavilion including Candlewick Press, which I looked for my good friend and former upstairs neighbor Sharon Hancock but didn't spot her. On the other hand, I did see that Candlewick is coming out with what they call "The Marvel True Believers Retro Collection":


On the one hoof, hooray for introducing kids to the classic Marvel illustrators of yesteryear rather than just simply the Ultimate Spider-Man Mark Bagley art that is seemingly used for every other licensed Marvel product. On the other hoof, I'll be disappointed but not surprised if the classic artists in this book (like Dave Cockrum and John Romita, Sr.) aren't credited. We'll see. Candlewick, we know that your license with Marvel on these created-for-hire characters means that Marvel owns the characters, not the artists, but you can please kids and collectors by at least listing the artists' work within your pop-up and activity books! Think about it...won't you?

Back down endless series of escalators to the main floor and let's drop in on the graphic novel section of the BEA, shall we?:


Most of the major and indie publishers of pamphlet comics and graphic novels were represented here: Marvel, DC (off to one side of graphic-novel land), Devil's Due, Gemstone, Image, Dark Horse, and others. Here's the small (two 10 foot by 10 foot spaces) Marvel booth. They did a number of signings with popular creators and their booth advertised the big names they have writing for Marvel:


They had plenty of comics available for free giveaways, including Storm, Moon Knight, X-Men/Runaways, and...um...Previews? (well, think of it as their fall catalogue):


Were these really the best comics to be giving away to represent Marvel's line to booksellers? Hmmm, let's think about that and I'll come back to it a bit later after I visit Gemstone and pick up a FCBD Uncle Scrooge comic (ultra-fun, even tho' it was last year's FCBD giveaway!):


The graphic novel pavilion area is fun to visit, but I'll be honest, the DC booths, as always, are a wonder to behold:


Spanning many booth spaces, the DC area featured huge poster displays of their iconic characters towering over the rest of the graphic novel area, plus plenty of books from all of the DC lines from mainstream to Vertigo to Cartoon Network to CMX. There were plenty of big-name author signing events, and various comics and GNs available as free giveaways:


You could even grab politely take a set of the iconic DC symbol buttons and bookmarks:


DC's big summer movie event was well-promoted with a lot of Superman items as well as specific Superman Returns books on display. The trailer was running on screens throughout the booth and DC people were quick and helpful to point out related books for the bookseller interested in capitalizing on the movie's approaching release.


I also picked up a copy of DC's Fall 2006 catalogue, which was a thrill a minute to go through. DC's books to be published through October have already been discussed excessively on the internet and the comicsblogosophere, so I won't go into the catalogue pages that listed Showcase Present: Challengers of the Unknown, All Star Superman Vol. 1 or Absolute DC: The New Frontier. But for November and beyond? Five words, fanbulls: The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1:


THE ABSOLUTE SANDMAN VOL. 1 collects issues 1-20 of The Sandman and features completely new coloring, approved by the author, on the first 18 issues, as well as a host of never-before-seen extra material, including the complete original Sandman Proposal, a galley of character designs from Gaiman and the artists who originated the look of the Sandman, and the original script to the World Fantasy Award-winning THE SANDMAN #19, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," together with reproductions of the issue's original pencils by Charles Vess. Also included are a new introduction by DC's president Paul Levitz and a new afterword by Gaiman....Price: $99 US. Page count: 613 pages. Trim size: 6.75 x 10.25". Format: Hardcover Slip Case.

Ho hum, you say? Not impressive enough? How's about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill?:


England in the mid 1950s is not the same as it was. The powers that be have instituted...some changes. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have been disbanded and avoided, and the country is under the control of an iron-fisted regime. Now, after many years, the still youthful Mina Murray and a rejuvenated Allan Quaterman return and are in search of some answers....LOEG: THE BLACK DOSSIER is an elaborately designed, cutting edge volume that will include a "Tijuana Bible" insert and a 3-D section complete with custom glasses, as well as additional text pieces, maps, and a stunning, cutaway double page spread of Captain Nemo's Nautilus submarine by acclaimed LOEG artist Kevin O'Neill....Price: $29.99 US. Page count: 278 pages. Trim Size: 6.75" x 10.25". Format: Hardcover.

Peter David's Sachs & Violens gets a trade paperback in December (is this the first time a book published by Marvel is now published by DC?):


Plus, who can resist Showcase Presents: Unknown Soldier Vol. 1:


Or Showcase Presents: Shazam!:


Other November and December DC trades include (but are not limited to) Captain Atom: Armageddon, Ex Machina Vol. 4, The Golden Age Dr. Fate Archives Vol. 1, The Adam Strange Archives Vol. 2, Blue Beetle, The New Teen Titans: Terra Incognito, The Spirit Archives Vol. 20, 100 Bullets Vol. 10, Fables Vol. 8 and the traditional much, much more. Looks like it's gonna be a Johnny DC Christmas this year!

BEA ends, as always, mid-afternoon on Sunday, with every exhibitioner at the show listening for the first ripppppp of a tape gun signaling someone a few aisles over has started to pack up their booth early and now it's time for you to too. We got the Norton booth broken down and packed up in record time, and it's time now to relax after this long weekend, soak my aching hooves and think about what I've seen and learned at BEA.

'Member a few paragraphs ago when I said I'd get back to Marvel? Let's talk 'bout that now.

Now, I'm just a little stuffed bull stuffed with fluff, but I know a thing or two about a thing or two selling graphic novels into the trade bookstore industry. Despite some of the dark moans over the state of the industry, we're actually living in a time that's very good for comics publishers and fans: more material, old and new, is available in more markets than ever before. The rise of the awareness of comics among general libraries and bookstores can be argued as taking business away from the Local Comic Book Store (LCBS), but I'd like to suggest that introducing a new fan to comics via a trade they find at the local B&N, Borders, indie bookstore or library is a solid first step to getting him, and very importantly her, to set foot inside the LCBS to discover the world of the monthly floppies as well. I know it's a simplistic view, but the more outlets you can find comics and GNs in, the better it is for the industry. The book trade industry is very aware of the importance and strong sales potential of the medium. They've seen it happen not only with the manga explosion but with everything ranging from Chris Ware's ACME Novelty Library to Batman Begins tie-ins.

Comics do sell. But there's still some booksellers who don't know that, or even more, don’t know how to capitalize on that. If you've got a smart comics-savvy employee in your bookstore, that's a big plus: he or she will know what's hot, what's selling, what's classic, and what needs to be on your shelves, plus more important, what's appropriate for your market, store, and various customers. We've seen serious court cases involving accusations of pornography in which the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has stepped up to help out LCBSs accused of peddling pornography. As comics spread into general bookstores, it's not a matter of if the same thing will happen at your local library, B&N indie bookstore, it's a matter of when. (It's already started this year with manga collections in libraries). This is the year Alan Moore's Lost Girls comes out. Could there be a bit of outrage just waiting to happen on that book? The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund will be busy. So will The American Booksellers Association.

This isn't really a post about neighborhood outrage or legal difficulties, however: it's a post about education: about educating a trade bookstore that may not understand the strength (and yes, weaknesses) of comic book and manga publications and will get themselves into a situation where (at the least) they're buying the wrong books for their stores and not selling them (and maybe giving up on comics because of that) or (at the worst) having a obscenity charge brought up against them.

What does this have to do with BEA? BEA is, after the contact they have with a publisher's sales rep, the single best connection a bookstore can make with a publisher to understand they books and comprehend which ones will work well in their stores. A publisher who goes to BEA prepared and capable of presenting the best books for a bookstore (and not all bookstores are the same) is going to get the most out of BEA. A bookstore which stops at one of those publishers will also get the most out of BEA. Let's take another look at that Marvel booth photo, shall we?


Marvel is promoting, at a trade show geared for general and specialty bookstores (but not LCBSs), their all-star lineup of authors writing their comics. Admittedly they are promoting the trade paperback and hardcover collections rather than the floppies, but what's missing here? In my opinion, the characters. Yes, Eric Jerome Dickey and Neil Gaiman are big sellers for bookstores and well worth promoting at BEA. But Marvel has some of the most recognizable and iconic comics characters in the world, the characters that sell: Spider-Man. Captain America. Hulk. Wolverine. The X-Men. Promote those to bookstores. Show them it's Marvel that publishes the world's greatest adventure characters (yes, the Distinguished Competition a few booths over may object to that classification, but Marvel's never been shy about calling themselves the greatest). Do your customers know Spider-Man from cartoons or the movie? You bet they do. Do they know the Fantastic Four from last year's movie? Almost probably. Do they know the X-Men from a huge major summer movie that's coming out this week? Oh yes, yes, yes.

Marvel, I luvs you something big time. But instead of promoting Civil War which—let's be honest—doesn't mean a thing to non-Marvel-reading bookstore managers and book buyers—why aren't you big-time promoting X-Men to bookstores? "Dozens of graphic novels featuring the characters from the upcoming summer blockbuster!" (I'd argue that Marvel also needs to publish direct tie-ins to their movies that are understandable by fans who have only seen the movie, but that's barking up an old and different tree, as Marvel has pretty much dropped the ball on capitalizing on any commercial recognition and success of their past several movies.) How about a display and hand-out of "The Ten X-Men Graphic Novels Your Customers Need"? How about "Marvel Comics 101": a brochure that explains the various lines of Marvel Comics (regular-flavor, Ultimate, Marvel Adventures) without getting all fannish-retentive about it? Something as simple as "Marvel's regular comics feature our classic characters and stories ranging from 1961 through the 21st century. Our Ultimate books feature revisioned versions of our most popular characters in accessible, modern graphic novels. Marvel Adventures are suitable-for-all-ages comics starring our Mighty Marvel superheroes." Talk about the Marvel Essentials as great affordable introductions to Marvel's big names in heroes and creators. Explain the Marvel rating system for bookstores (no one knows what it is, even in the industry). List the 25 or so graphic novels every bookstore should have. (And don't just list "Every bookstore should carry all the Spider-Man GNs.") Show the Max and Marvel Knights books and suggest they are for an older audience (and get the input of a library wholesaler like Baker & Taylor, who are unparalleled in their knowledge of where certain books belong for which age levels). And instead of giving away confusing leftover #1 issues as your BEA giveaways (sorry, Storm and Moon Knight fans, but those are not where the money is going to be made in a trade bookstore), how's about a series of "Marvel 101s" for the bookstore trade that reprint a handful of stories or even excerpts of stories along with some text history? Marvel 101: Spider-Man could reprint the Lee/Ditko origin, an Ultimate issue, a Marvel Adventures issue, and maybe a recent done-in-one Iron Spider issue, followed up by a complete listing of all Spider-Man graphic novels, and how to display, sell, and market them in your bookstore? Marvel 101: X-Men would suggest GNs to promote in the aftermath of the movie.

DC does this better but not perfect at BEA. They successfully promoted books (including some by other publishers!) tying into the upcoming Superman Returns, and built interest among booksellers by playing the trailer and showing associated books. They do an excellent job of giving away a very wide range of material suitable for different levels: DC's giveaways included CMX manga samplers, MAD magazine, Scooby-Doo digests, V for Vendetta and Batman: Hush graphic novels. But I'd argue they could still step up to the plate and realize that bookstores may not be stocking or promoting the most effective and strongest-selling books possible. DC too needs a guide or brochure to explain the terra incognito that is comics to bookstores and libraries.

But Bully, you say, does anybody do this? Does anybody do this right? Heck yes, true believer. A few years back the good folks at Drawn & Quarterly produced an excellent and detailed manifesto and informational brochure geared for bookstores and librarians about stocking graphic novels, complete with booklists, tips and hints about reading levels, suggestions and stocking from major bookstores around the country. It was an exceptional and informative piece, but it's sadly out of date a little now, and needs a new revision. I didn't spot it being given out this year at the D+Q booth, but if it was, Peggy and Chris, more power to ya.

But someone in the industry does keep the flame burning at BEA and beyond: TokyoPop with their excellent updated Retailer's and Librarian's Guide Manga that was available in stacks at the TokyoPop BEA booth:


Included in these booklets: "What is Manga?" "Manga Glossary," "How to Order Manga," "TokyoPop Rating Information," "Sample Manga Pages," "Merchandising," plus links to their ever-updated librarian resource pages that keep you up to date on reviews and new releases.

With brochures, programs, and a BEA presence like this, TokyoPop has chosen a proactive response to its growing market. It's just an anecdotal guess, but I'd bet that a bookstore stopping by the TokyoPop booth got a lot more out of their visit than they did at the Marvel booth.

And you wonder why manga seems to be wiping the floor with sales over your books in trade bookstores, Marvel? Hmmmmm?

That's just my two cents from a little stuffed bull, signing off from BEA with very sore hooves. See ya next year in Manhattan's Javitz Center for BEA 2007!

Other BEA entries: Day 0Day 1Day 2


3 comments:

Sleestak said...

The Marvel True Believers Retro Collection with metallic pop-ups on every page!

Comics are fun until someone loses an eye...

MarkAndrew said...

Very nice series of posts. Marvel should hire you to do promotions for these things.

Chawunky said...

Ooh. New LoEG. Too much. That cannot arrive too early.