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THE COMIX STRIP: Comics Invade L.A. Times Festival of Books

by  in Comic News Comment
THE COMIX STRIP: Comics Invade L.A. Times Festival of Books
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books will be held April 26-27

The weekend of April 26 marks the thirteenth anniversary of the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and this year, for the first time ever, America’s largest literary event will have a portion of the festival dedicated to comic books. CBR News spoke to Bill Benjamin, director of events and strategic partnerships for the Los Angeles Times, and Jeff Dellinger, entertainment marketing manager for the Los Angeles Times media group, about the Comix Strip.

Earlier this year, Benjamin’s team approached Dellinger to discuss possible new features for the Festival of Books, and chief among those was the development of a comics and graphic novel area to highlight the growing impact of comics on the mainstream publishing industry. “As a comics fan going way back myself, I immediately went on that idea as my favorite,” Jeff Dellinger told CBR News. “And as we discussed the possibilities not only for this year but the growth potential, we realized that comics, graphic novels, Manga, because it was growing by double digits in the publishing industry every year, it was probably the best avenue for growing the avenue of books. So we set in motion a plan to create a new area that hopefully as the years pass will grow into a much bigger and more integrated part of the festival.”

“It’s all about content,” Bill Benjamin added. “We’re trying to keep the Festival of Books fresh and relevant, and based on the strength and growth of Manga and graphic novels and comic books, we see this as relevant.”

Because the Comix Strip was developed in January, and the actual Festival was scheduled for April, the L.A. Times had a limited time to get the new feature up and running. “We needed to get this to fans and genre readers quickly, so we came up with the idea of creating a logo design contest for people here in L.A., in and around southern California, to submit the logo,” Dellinger said.

“We got a bunch of entries, they submitted them online, we voted on them, and we actually announced the winner at Wizard World L.A.,” Benjamin said. The winner was a North Hollywood-based graphic designer named Kenny Keil.”

“He’s like a lot of people who are comics fans in that he’s also an aspiring comics creator,” Dellinger added.

The L.A. Times has radio and TV partnerships, and utilizes print and online advertising, but Benjamin believes it was the Comix Strip logo design contest that really introduced the Festival of Books to the online community. “I’m really hoping the genre community is going to come out and support this, I really hope it works to grow the Festival of Books.”

The L.A. Times has always managed to secure top-tier talent for the Festival of Books, and Dellinger wanted to make sure they were able to secure comparable guests for the Comix Strip. “Recognizable names for mainstream audiences, but also real experts in the field,” Dellinger said.

True to his word, for the Strip’s headline panel, “Comics: Superheroes of the Page & Screen,” the Times wrangled comics luminaries Jeph Loeb, Mike Mignola and Steve Niles. The panel is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, and is being moderated by L.A. Times writer Geoff Boucher. “We were looking for crossover appeal for the big panel, so people that, even if you weren’t familiar with the underlying comics property, you knew their work in other mediums, or adaptations of their work.”

Winning Comix Strip logo by Kenny Keil

With Niles’ recent “30 Days of Night” big screen adaptation, Mignola’s “Hellboy” franchise about to launch its first sequel, and Loeb’s work on the NBC hit television series “Heroes,” this group of distinguished panelists certainly fit the bill.

At 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, Charles Solomon moderates “Reading Manga: A Japanese Phenomenon Comes to America,” with Viz Media’s Liza Coppola, TOKYOPOP’s Lillian Diaz Przybyl, and Manga expert Frederik Schodt. “Manga is, if I remember correctly, the single biggest growth driver for comics related stuff in mainstream bookstores, like your Barnes & Nobles and your Borders,” Dellinger said. “It was important for us to have a panel specific to that, and to have people who really knew the content and what they were talking about.”

The third and final Comix Strip panel is “Graphic Novels: Every Picture Tells a Story.” Scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 27, this panel boasts young adult novelist Cecil Castellucci, “Love and Rockets” co-creator Jaime Hernandez, and “Peepshow” creator Joe Matt.

“I think it’s a really good representation of the industry as a whole, in that you’ve got not just the big-name comics properties, the superheroes, the capes and stuff like that, but horror graphic novels, Manga, some of the more Harvey Pekar, self-autobiographical stuff,” Dellinger said. “I think it covers a really good range of what’s out there for consumers.”

“Our 400-plus exhibitors at Festival of Books are booksellers, and they come to the Festival of Books to sell product, so we’re also reaching out to publishers also retailers,” Benjamin said. “We know from research that one of the top reasons people come to Festival of Books is to browse booths and to buy books. So we want to program things to make the exhibitors happy. The exhibitors are booksellers, and we want them to sell product and for them to come back to the festival year after year.”

One thing Dellinger wanted to stress is that the Comix Strip is not a comic book convention. “This isn’t going to be Wizard World, there aren’t going to be booth babes, and guys selling Star Wars action figures and broadswords,” Dellinger said. Dellinger likened the Festival to a Border’s Bookstore: the graphic novel section is one part of a larger whole. “The Comix Strip this year is not necessarily a destination in and of itself.” That said, Dellinger is confident that the Festival has plenty of panelists and programming that will be of interest to comic readers that are not comics specific.

A self-described “comics nerd” himself, Dellinger has high hopes for the future of the Comix Strip. “Five years ago, I couldn’t get comics and graphic novels in my local book store because the shelf space was all dedicated to other stuff,” Dellinger said. “Now not only is it there, but there’s a good selection there. They have entire shelves dedicated to superhero comics and Manga and graphic novels. Over the next handful of years, I’d like to see the Comix Strip have a bigger footprint as part of the Festival of Books. I hope it’s successful for all of our exhibitors, and I hope it’s successful for the consumers who come out, I hope they come out and enjoy themselves.”

The L.A. Times Festival of Books is a free event, and tickets for the individual panels can be purchased online at ticketmaster for $0.75 starting on April 20. For more information on the Festival of Books, go to

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