Running around the Book Expo America today. Things that happened.
I missed the unveiling of Kazu Kibuishi’s new cover for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The remaining five new covers will be revealed over the summer. I’m sentimental about Mary Gran Pré, but Kazu’s covers are very nice.
As I walked in I spotted TMC’s Robert Osborne about to settle in to sign his new book. A fellow was talking to him animatedly. I worked with Osborne (sort of) at one of my very first jobs at the Hollywood Reporter, when we both sat in a giant cauldron of tension and bipolar disorder called the advertising department. I thought, Heck I haven’t seen the guy in person in 25 years, I will say hello although I knew he wouldn’t remember me. The fellow who was talking to him wanted to have a picture taken so I volunteered. I looked at the guy’s badge. Turned out it was Thomas Peak, son of the late Bob Peak, who was there for this book. Oh Bob Peak.
I chit chatted with Bob Osborne for like 30 seconds saying we had worked in “the big room together” a bit and caught up on a few mutual acquaintances. (He said I looked familiar, which was kind.) Then he said “Those were some of my favorite days,” and I said “Me, too.” I’ll return to this in a bit.
I did some time at the Publishers Weekly booth and did an interview and helped someone get a badge to get in for the day, then started walking around the aisles. The mood was a bit more upbeat than in some recent BEAs—we know that digital isn’t going to strike books down dead, we’ll just evolve—but the show itself is way smaller. There used to be a whole hall devoted to people putting their books in boxes to ship back home—now it’s just a curtained off area of the main hall. Far far fewer exhibitors and more of them sell things like bookmarks and gummy worms. BEA will never go away, but it will evolve.
Then I hung out in the Diamond Books aisle for a while — everyone was set up there: Dark Horse, Image, Valiant, IDW, Boom, Top Shelf, Oni. At BEA you just hang out in the Diamond aisle and it’s a rolling comics cocktail party — every one shows up there eventually. At one point I was part of an extemporaneous “The future of comics” focus group consisting of myself, DBD’s Kuo Yu Liang, Valiant’s Fred Pierce and Atom Freeman, and Archaia’s Mel Caylo. It was really just an informal chat, but everyone was upbeat. “Stores are coming to us saying GNs are the one area thats growing,” said Liang. Hastings and Books a Million are expanding their GN sections. I offered my own theory that comics shops and the surviving indie bookstores are becoming more alike and will eventually be perceived as part of the same class of retailers.
Fred opined that the survival of comics shops at the same time bookstores were languishing was due to the weekly nature of the product. I think that’s an incontrovertible fact: the Wednesday crowd is the bread and butter for most stores, and always has been and gives customers a reason to keep coming in even through the worst of all the recent recessions.
Atom noted that Valiant had learned a lot from ComicsPRO, the comics retailing organization, and their annual show is a must-attend.
I stuck around the aisle and enjoyed more chit chat with other folks who wandered through. There was a lot of talk about yesterday’s article on Karen Berger and Vertigo. (Valerie Gallaher has more.) Vertigo and proto-Vertigo were the covered wagons that carried old timey graphic novels through the prairies of the book business, so it was a natural topic.
Top Shelf’s Leigh Walton filled me in on all the promotion being done for MARCH, the comic about the life of Rep. John Lewis, who is not shy about talking, and is going to give the book an almost unheard of level of promotion for a graphic novel.
One topic came up over and over again, as it does every time I talk to comics folks: how high the level of GN product is now. There are so many more books you can give to your friends hoping they will like it.
Eventually I hooked up with Z2 Comics Josh Frankel and we headed to the lone graphic novel program of the BEA, a panel on “The New Graphic novel” with Calvin Reid talking to Gene Luen Yang, Faith Erin Hicks and Paul Pope. While I listened to it, the previous chit chat still in my head, I jotted down a list of “The Big Six:”
The Dark Knight
Those six books basically created the graphic novel market as it exists now. I guess you could and should add “Manga” to the list, but there isn’t any one title that was a breakout in the way Persepolis was, say, instead it was an entire category.
At one point Calvin mentioned my recent article on comics in libraries, and a few people actually applauded lightly. That was embarrassing, but not so much that I didn’t mention it here. The panel had a good sized audience, which was impressive considering it was up against a bunch of cocktail parties on the floor. The audience was mostly booksellers and librarians and they all seemed familiar with all three cartoonists and asked very smart questions.
Afterwards, Josh, Calvin and I went to the closest bar for a drink, and in doing so managed to stumble into a party Amazon was throwing for CreateSpace, its self-authoring tool—free G&Ts and pizza! Yow! We contemplated our next moves. Lorenzo Mattotti, Charles Burns and Gengoroh Tagame were all having events! What to do? Well, I’d met Burns and Tagame, but never Mattotti! My choice was very simple.
In Italy Mattotti is pretty much an all around art and design god, and he’s known here for his New Yorker covers, and Fantagraphics has been putting out his recent work in Englias, but what put him on many people’s radar was a book that came out in 1986 called Fires. It was published in the US by Catalan, a company that brought over a lot of great Euro comics in the 80s. FIRES, which came out around the same time as Dark Knight and Watchmen, pretty much blew everyone’s mind at the time becuase it was a real graphic “novel” an intense story about a young naval officer named Lieutenant Absinthe who either loses his mind or contacts a higher intelligence in the form of cherubs from a flaming island—or more likely, both. It’s a lot more complex than that but aside from the incredible art, it was a real story that developed and had a literary shape and theme. Mattotti’s expressionist art channeled diChirico, Hockney and classic comics for an unforgettable and searing book.
At SOI Mattotti presented a talk of over an hour—I missed the beginning due to trouble getting a cab, so he may have mentioned Fires, but the part he did show was slides of his art over the years and some commentary on what worked and didn’t and how it came about. So yeah, pretty priceless. He finished with a sort of motion comic version of OLTREMAI, his new book, which consists of spectacular double page spreads of lose inks depicting an imagined sequel to Hansel and Gretel. The work consists of lush black and white art with the central focus of each image perhaps only a tiny white or black shape, all in flawless compositions.
Well, heck , you can watch the movie for yourself:
Unfortunately this was a long talk and the video was long, and free G&Ts left me (and a few other attendees) a little sleepy at the end. It was, to say the least, an intense evening, and quite amazing.
Oh yeah, I said I would come back to the story of The Hollywood Reporter, which owned its own printing press for years. At the Amazon party I chit chatted with a smart young lady who’s the social media intern for one of the authors there. She didn’t have a card, and I’ve forgotten her name but she was very smart. I mentioned the romance that both Robert Osborne and I had shared for the newspaper milieu and the printing press days of The Reporter. She smartly pointed out that you don’t need to own your own printing press anymore (although don’t tell that to the risograph crowd) because you own other tools, like Twitter and Tumblr and other social media. Fair enough.
After a day at the fair, it was clear that nothing is dying, but things are evolving, faster than many would like, but it’s a powerful evolution. More on that tomorrow, if I survive it.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.