BookExpo America

The first thing I noticed at this year's BookExpo America were the name badges. Or, more specifically what was keeping those badges around people's necks. I attended BEA in D.C. on Sunday (unfortunately missing out on most of the best events on Saturday & Sunday) and on the block and half walk from the parking lot to the convention center, passed about 75 people who all had Abadazad lanyards around their necks, which complemented the huge Abadazad banners and the Abadazad stairs nicely. Clearly Hyperion (owned by Disney) put some significant money into promoting the book to booksellers and librarians, and while it's no longer strictly a graphic novel, seeing this title featured so prominently certainly made me smile.

ICV2 provided an overview of the BEA and the role of graphic novels there, including pictures of the Abadazad and Viz banners. Their assertion, and I can't argue, is that graphic novels have been assimilated into the mainstream publishers' booths so well that, according to someone from Reed Expo, next year will feature the elimination of the graphic novel pavilion as a specially marketed section of the floor. I like this move, particularly since this year's Graphic Novel pavilion consisted of basically a huge, impressive looking DC booth and a Diamond booth featuring mini-booths inside for publishers like IDW, Gemstone and Image and capped by Dark Horse and Marvel booths. The DC booth was nice to look at (in fact it was probably topped by only the Random House and Penguin booths) but didn't strike me as particularly effective. The focus of the booth were two widescreen TV's showing the Superman Returns trailer and a commercial showcasing their manga titles. While they had a nice array of display copies of different titles to look at, I was surprised there wasn't more (or at least equal) focus on their Vertigo books. It seemed that the majority of titles were superhero or manga, although DC was giving away copies of the first Fables & Ex Machina trades, likely to piggyback on the Willingham and Vaughan's signings on Saturday. They were signing Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall and Pride of Baghdad respectively, two titles that also had double page spreads in DC's Fall/Winter catalog (and two titles that I wish I could have been there on Saturday to get copies of). The most puzzling thing, though, was that about half the booth was devoted to seating. To have a table and chairs was common at most booths, since sales are being made and a certain level of privacy is expected for that but DC's booth seemed to devote an inordinate amount of space to this -- either a brilliant design decision since there are so few places for attendees to sit and rest or a poor one since it restricted the space available to promote individual books. Since I wasn't there for the signings, it may be that the layout was to accommodate the logistics of those, though most publishers simply formed lines in their booths for authors.

While the graphic novel pavilion was a bit of a let down, I was impressed by both the TokyoPop and Viz booths. Viz's, while smaller than TokyoPop's, was crammed full of display copies of just about every title they offer plus free copies of Shojo Beat, Shonen Jump and the Viz sampler from FCBD (giving away FCBD titles was a common theme at the comics publishers' booths). Surprisingly (to me at least) the focus of the TokyoPop booth was their new prose fiction line. While there were plenty of manga titles on display, it was clear that they were trying to push the prose books both in layout and in sample giveaways.

The highlights, though, came at Drawn & Quarterly (as part of the FSG booth) and Fantagraphics (at the Norton booth). Fantagraphics had much more space to work with, showing off the breadth of their catalog while focusing on Complete Peanuts. They seemed particularly excited about the potential for Castle Waiting to be a breakout hit (apparently they underestimated demand and ran out of copies at the Linda Medley signing on Saturday). And, it being Sunday, Eric Reynolds was nice enough to let me take a proof copy of a book I had been dying to get a look at, Jason's The Left Bank Gang. Meanwhile D&Q made the most of their spot to show off Kevin Huizenga's Curses and Shenzhen, Guy Delisle's follow up to Pyongyang.

The best part, though, was that in wandering the floor I constantly caught snippets of conversation about graphic novels, from someone who was amazed at how many publishers had incorporated graphic novels into their offerings to a couple making plans to meet up for Grady Klein's signing of The Lost Colony at the Roaring Brook (and therefore First Second) booth. I have many more thoughts on the Expo that I'll be getting into over the next week, but overall I was impressed that graphic novels were such an integral part of the show.


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