Comics at the book con: A day at BookExpo America

BookExpo America takes place the Javits Center, just like New York Comic Con, but it's a completely different kind of show. It's a trade show, not a consumer show, so the folks in the aisles aren't fans looking for a fix, they are potential customers to be wooed. And what you see there is a pretty reliable guide to what everyone will be talking about in a couple of months.

So if you happened into the little graphic novel enclave at the right time, you might see Gene Luen Yang sitting there, pen in hand, ready to autograph a free Avatar graphic novel for you, or maybe Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights pioneer, sitting next to Andrew Aydin, with ashcans of their graphic novel about Lewis' life, March, and while you might have to wait a few minutes for your turn, you wouldn't have to stand on the sort of long lines they might draw at San Diego. The pace is more leisurely than a comic convention — the creators chat as they sign your comics — and the blasting noise of video game and movie displays is blissfully absent.

It's true there aren't a lot of comics publishers at BEA, although there are a fair number of book publishers who include comics in their lines. Abrams didn't send their ComicArts people, but if you consider Diary of a Wimpy Kid to be a comic (I'm always happy to claim that one for our side), then they were well represented, and many attendees had Wimpy Kid stickers on their badges.

First Second was highlighting Yang's Boxers and Saints and Paul Pope's Battling Boy, but you had to know to look for them at the Macmillan booth (First Second is an imprint of Macmillan). They even had advance review copies (ARCs) of Battling Boy. Yen Press was handing out catalogs and ashcans of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children from a central location in the Hachette area. Candlewick Press had a nice display of Francoise Mouly's Toon Books, and the Lerner and Capstone booths also had prominent displays of graphic novels.

Most of the graphic novels were clustered in one area near the entrance, however; the only dedicated graphic novel publisher I saw that wasn't in that little enclave was NBM/Papercutz. While NBM publishes indie and European graphic novels with a certain niche appeal (the Louvre series, Rick Geary's true-crime stories, Zombillenium, Dungeon Monstres), the children's publisher Papercutz has a more pop-culture slant — it releases the Smurfs graphic novels as well as licensed series based on Lego Ninjago, the Annoying Orange, Garfield and the Disney Fairies. Papercutz's guests were veteran Archie artist Stan Goldberg (who now illustrates its Nancy Drew and Three Stooges graphic novels) and JayJay Jackson, writer and artist of Stardoll, based on a "megahit social gaming phenomenon" that I, being old, had never heard of. But the book people kept picking up when I was hanging out at the booth was Ariol, Emmanuel Guibert's lively school story featuring a cast of cartoon animals.

Diamond Comic Distributors was the anchor of the graphic novel area, and the company's representatives were keeping busy. BOOM! Studios had a generous display of graphic novels, with particular attention to its kaBOOM children's properties: The Adventure Time and Regular Show series and the Peanuts graphic novels. While attendees lined up for the Avatar signing, Dark Horse's Jeremy Atkins gave me a sneak peek at The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, which looks stunning. I also had a nice chat with F.J. DeSanto, the writer who is doing an American-style adaptation of the classic manga Cyborg 009. And I played hooky briefly for a tour of the nearby Valiant offices; more about that later.

There's a lot more to BEA than just the exhibit floor, but as I was only in New York for the day, I didn't get to go to the Toon Books party, see Lewis at the authors' breakfast, or go to the panel on "The New Graphic Novel," moderated by Calvin Reid and featuring Yang, Pope and Faith Erin Hicks. Next year, though, I might allot a bit more time.

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