Once again, publishers, publicists, booksellers, bibliophiles, and other assorted individuals converged for the annual BookExpo America trade show, held last week. And once again, I joined those 18,000 trades people, returning to Chicago just a month after C2E2.
As a change of pace, the show was moved to Chicago (last seen locally in 2004), and BookCon, the consumer show which occurs on the weekend, was shortened to one day.
So what did I discover, experience, enjoy, and endure? All sorts of goodness!
First, here’s a photo of my “cheat sheet” for BookExpo… Three days of graphic novel programming:
The fun began weeks before, when I received my badge and discovered I’d been upgraded to VIP status. What this meant… there is a small space in the far southwest corner of Hall F1, accessible via escalator. BEA had created an oasis for VIPs and Librarians, featuring coffee, tea, and the occasional snack. Lots of windows, comfy couches, and numerous electrical outlets. What more do you need? (How about an early case of Con Crud? I was popping Vitamin C regularly on Tuesday and Wednesday, trying to get it under control. Fortunately, it remained so, although I worried about being viral.)
So Wednesday, I awoke at 3 AM, to catch the first flight out of JFK on JetBlue. I was lucky… I caught an earlier subway than planned, and airport security was quick, although I knew about the Port Authority’s complaints about TSA backups.
I get on the plane, grab my window seat, and discover that the aisle seat is occupied by Sven Larsen, VP of Marketing at Papercutz! There was another stranger in the middle, so I grabbed a nap instead of gabbing. Besides, I’d see him at the show later.
My plan to check in early at HI-Chicago and take a nap failed, so instead, I used the facilities at the Chicago Public Library, and then headed to McCormick Place, to check in early, and find a quiet corner to nap. But that didn’t happen. Instead… I chatted with the BFG promo staff, and marveled that, if you had told me as a kid, that Disney would be making a Roald Dahl movie in partnership with Steven Spielberg, I would have either been skeptical, or I’d have had a nerdgasm.
(I just watched this, and my allergies are acting up. *SNIFFLE*)
But I’m not going to bore you with a travelogue slide-show of my vacation.
Instead, some highlights:
Shannon and Dean Hale have written a Young Adult prose novel about the origin of Squirrel Girl. She’s 14, moving to a new town, has been hiding her abilities for years, and discovers that “crime is a butt”. I read it that night in bed, and frankly, this should be a movie! I’ll be taking the Squirrel Scout pledge as soon as I figure out my squirrel name.
Seriously, if you want a good read, love Marvel having fun with the Avengers, and/or wonder about the socio-political natures of tree vs ground squirrels, read this book! (Eoin Colfer is also penning an Iron Man YA novel!)Raina Telgemeier spent four days in Chicagoland! Two at BookExpo, one at local schools, and one at BookCon. And THEN flew to Toronto for TCAF! #rockstar
I read her new book, Ghosts on the plane home, and, well, it’s her best yet. You’ll cry a little.
Also, she announced that she is at work on her next book, and that one of her assistants/colleagues, Gale Galligan, will be producing two more Babysitter Club graphic novels for Scholastic. (And me… I’m wondering what a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle graphic novel would look like…) (Go read Gale’s comic NOW!)
Image did a fine job with their signings: Marjorie Liu, Ed Brubaker, and Skottie Young. It was nice meeting them formally, as comic cons are a bit hectic, and these lines were shorter. (A few years ago, before everyone figured out how to sell graphic novels, Image hosted Todd McFarlane. NO line. This year, it wasn’t comic-congested, but the fans kept the creators busy.) Plus… free comics! (And good ones at that!)
It was also nice meeting the nice people at Joe’s Comics, the quiet yet successful publisher of Disney graphic novels. I just missed meeting Stuart Levy of Tokyopop, which is once again publishing graphic novels in the U.S.
Diamond Books had a good mix of clients: IDW (with an awesome signing by Berke Breathed), Joe’s Comics, Paizo, Cleis, Lion Forge (giving out the best swag), Action Labs, Image Comics, and Valiant. (Valiant had the best surprise, as a former co-worker from my days at the bookstore is now working for them!)
Boom was an aisle over, but had great real estate at the front of the hall! As always, Boom is publishing many fine titles, including Grant Morrison’s secret origin of Santa Klaus! I was able to chat with Hope Larson about Goldie Vance and other upcoming titles, like a pirate graphic novel!
Jim Ottaviani did a signing at Abrams for The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded. Abrams always has a strong GN list, but I wasn’t feeling much excitement at the booth. I did enjoy flipping through their Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two, because I had a complete set when I was a kid (still do, actually, including the little slip cases for the cards!) The production values on the cards are much better than “New Hope”, and have some wonderful production art, as well as models. There’s another volume for “Jedi”, if you want the complete set.
Box Brown has written another book for First Second, this time about the crazy, mostly unknown history, about Tetris. How crazy? Robert Maxwell and Mikhail Gorbachev are involved! Brown even discusses the psychology of the game, why it is so addictive! (The answer relates to diner waitresses.)
And over at Penguin Random House…? Well, there wasn’t a lot on display, but I still stood in line for:
- Jennifer Holm, Full of Beans, a prose novel. (Much different than her graphic novels!)
- Berkeley Breathed, signing a poster for The Bill the Cat Story: A Bloom County Epic
- Jeffrey Brown, Lucy & Andy Neanderthal
- Lisa Yee, Wonder Woman at Super Hero High (DC Super Hero Girls)
- Judd Winick, Hilo Book 2: Saving the Whole Wide World
I do wish the PRH would better promote their publisher clients, especially the many graphic novel publishers! Publishers like: Archie, DC, Dark Horse, Kodansha, Vertical, Legendary…
Oh, and speaking of PRHPS… The Smithsonian is publishing a new line of graphic novels!
Lots to see in three days, and I had a blast!
Then Saturday…. BookCon! I bought a regular ticket… $40, but really, ReedPOP has treated me nice over the years, and frankly, I just wanted to view it all as a fan. No “press” or “professional” glamour, no stress, just relax and view it from the front lines.
I got there early… about 8:15 am. Already, there was a steady stream of people walking along the Central Concourse towards the first Skyline Ballroom. (The bottom two sections on the map below.) That line of walkers extended onto the bridge to the South Building. I continued to walk it back, just to see how far it extended… and met an electrician who worked at McC, who was there with his charming home-schooled daughter. I chatted with them for a while, and then joined the line at 9:20, which reached to the shuttle bays on the South Hall (where the Wall o’Tools is located). We moved at a slow pace, but got to the ballroom at about 9:45.
All the autographing lines required a wristband, but I got mine (Gene Yang, Lucy Knisley) quickly. Then we were directed out of the ballroom, into a line which snaked through the pre-function space of the ballroom.
It ran along the west wall, to the back, north side of the ballroom. I was in the second snake at the back… it would eventually reach four snakes before running back along the ballroom wall. We got moving at 10:15… everyone was orderly, no rushing, everyone was in good spirits.
Some fans already had big stacks of books within the first thirty minutes of the show, but the biggest buzz (PR + sugar) were the big thick donuts that Jenny Han was handing out to promote her latest bestseller!
The crowds were big, but not difficult to navigate. Estimates were 7,000 attendees, mostly young teen women, which is sort of a flipping of the typical comic con demographic. There was lots of excitement, lots of social media driving fans to their favorite authors! (Even the BookCon store markets more to women! Four cool designs for women, one boring shirt for men!)
I didn’t have as much planned on Saturday… just one panel to watch, and the autographing, which went well.
My only complaint… some publishers in the BookCon section (Hall F1) either abandoned their booths completely, or didn’t really know how to market to the general public.
Having accomplished most of my mission, I left early, as I had heard that O’Hare had crazy backup lines at TSA screening. I hired an airport shuttle, but really, I should have taken a taxi to the nearest subway, and taken the El, as there were MASSIVE traffic jams on the freeways that Saturday afternoon! (Even looking at Google Maps NOW, it’s still a mess.) Once at O’Hare, it took 45 minutes to get to the front of the ID screening, even with three TSA officers on duty. Scanning took five minutes, which included them opening my bag to take a swab. (I was a bit afraid that it wouldn’t close again…it was STUFFED with books and clothes.)
I had a lot of time to kill before my 8 pm flight. Terminal L (no, seriously) was skinny, and didn’t offer a nice stylish airport bar with good food as is found in most every other airport. Terminal K was a bit better, but after walking the length with thirty pounds on my back, I opted for the food court, eating a big plate from Manchu Work.
Boarding went smoothly, (I’m still wondering how the Reed staff got to the gate in time… maybe they were pre-screened), and it seemed that almost everyone was a bookie of some sort! This time, I happened to be seated next to a publicist from Disney Press! We didn’t chat much during the flight… she was reading Tetris and I was reading Ghosts (twice!). While waiting to deplane, we exchanged cards, and made it known that I wanted PR about Everything Disney, not just Marvel! We both geeked out over the Squirrel Girl novel (you won’t believe Thor’s secret!)!
The subway from JFK is only 30 minutes, so I got home at around 1 am, and slept in the next day. It’s nice… having a Sunday to recuperate from a convention/conference!
While some were disappointed in the short one-day BookCon, other regular BEA attendees preferred McCormick West to the Javits Center. (I can’t really blame them, but that should change if/when the Cuomo expansion gets built.) I didn’t notice any reduction in booth sizes or events… it seemed like a regular show, even if some publishers reduced their staffing levels.
So… what’s happening next year?
While I was walking every aisle of BEA, I spied the map above. I immediately recognized it was the Javits Convention Center, and I thought that Reed Expo had posted the wrong map.
Turns out, they had done the booth draw recently, and this was the initial plan for next year. Turquoise means “available”, green means “on hold”. As payments are made, green turns to blue.
Two big bits of juicy info from the ReedPOP staffer:
The plan has flipped. Halls 3D and 3E (the chunk on the left) will be the “BEA Only” zone, and Halls 3A-C will host both BookExpo and BookCon exhibitors.
ReedPOP, which runs BookCon as well as many other fan events such as C2E2 and New York Comic Con, will run the entire show.
Yup, Lance Fensterman, who once ran BEA before becoming the head of ReedPOP, will once again be in charge. (Although, really, Mike Armstrong, Event Director, will do most of the heavy sweating at BookCon, and Brien McDonald is still running BEA.)
BookExpo will be shortened to two days in 2017 (although there will be programming and conferences on Wednesday), and BookCon will revert back to a weekend-long event.
What would I like to see at future BookCons?
- Every publisher passionately promoting their titles to the public, actively engaging readers.
- More graphic novel signings!
- Every major graphic novel publisher. (DC once was the leader at BEA, but is MIA since moving to PRHPS.)
- A quarterly show which rotates around the country, reaching voracious book readers. (Many book festivals are already huge events, some taking place in convention centers, like the National Book Festival.)
- Category pavilions, geared to specific fandoms, like Science Fiction, Cooking, Graphic Novels, Romance, Mystery. If nothing else, at least a dedicated panel room or programming track for these topics.
- Crowds in the six-digits. I want it to rival the Frankfurt Book Fair AND Comic-Con!
Next year, it takes place the week after Memorial Day. Both Captain Underpants and Wonder Woman hit screens that weekend! (Plus Divergent a few weeks later! And other geeky goodness!) Tiaras vs. Tighty Whities! DC, or BVDs? Who will win the PR battle? (Probably Disney… Guardians, Pirates, Cars, Spider-Man…)
Exhibitors, you can register here for space. (If you’re into behind-the-scenes info, they explain it all very clearly.)
Did you attend BookExpo or BookCon this year? What did you think?
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!