Last weekend, I attended the Mid-Winter conference of the American Library Association held in Dallas, Texas.  It’s not as hectic as their annual conference held in the summertime, but it still has a large number of vendors selling to what is the largest gathering of librarians in the United States.

Since the audience is made primarily of librarians, most of the exhibitors are selling to that market.  Library furniture, electronic databases, textbooks… it’s a very different market than that seen at BookExpo America, which is primarily a trade show for booksellers.  The vibe is also very different.  Instead of the doom and gloom of the bottom line, librarians are on the front lines of literacy, actively teaching people to read, advocating titles of interest, and passionately sharing their joy with others!

Yes, I’m a librarian (B.S.Ed. Library Science, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 1994).  I do use my degree during my day job, and I actively seduce the innocent evangelize for comics, both to new readers, and unsuspecting librarians.  I attend the ALA conferences not for professional development (I’m not paid to be a librarian, and my employer doesn’t reimburse my travel expenses), but to network with like-minded people, and to discover lots of cool titles.  Many of the major publishers do not exhibit publicly at BEA, instead hiding their latest and greatest behind closeted showrooms available only by appointment.  (Big Six publishers: your stuff isn’t that great.)

So Friday night, there’s a special preview night, where various exhibitors offer special events at their booths, and a “happy hour” of free food and non-alcoholic drink is offered at the back of the exhibition floor.  (Another reason I prefer ALA over BEA!)  While I was not too hungry, I still meandered back to see what was offered.  But then I got sidetracked… at the very back of the floor was DLSG at Image Access, a vendor selling digital scanners for libraries.  I started talking to one of the sales representatives, Joseph, who was a recent librarian graduate as well as a comics fan!  He demonstrated their basic model, a scanner similar to a photocopier, except there’s a touchscreen for menus and image editing, and the output is via email or USB port (like my smartphone).  $3000, and if that was in my library, the line would wrap around the block!  After that quick demo, I began to brainstorm, especially after seeing their top-of-the-line archive scanners (The Opus 3, which has a bed large enough for newspapers and A1 sheets (roughly 23 x 33 inches).  “Ah ha!  This would be great for comics artists! Especially those with art which predates digitization!” 600 dpi scanning!  OCR character recognition!  (I tested a computer-lettered page of Nick Fury… it made two mistakes.)  Multiple formats!  I had so many questions and ideas, I spent the entire two hours of the preview at their booth, and didn’t even get a chance to get a drink!

Saturday morning, that’s when I began my meandering of the exhibition floor.  I finished Saturday evening, and then spent Sunday taking a more leisurely path, discovering titles I overlooked the first time.

So, here are some discoveries I made.  Some publishers I already knew about, others were titles I had seen online but not physically, and others were a complete surprise!

The biggest surprise?  World Book encyclopedias, publishing a series of educational graphic novels!  “Building Blocks of Science” is a set of ten 32-page books aimed at the Kindergarten to Fifth Grade audience.  Each volume features “highly original and humorous comic-style art to draw children into the material”.  Click on the link to view samples, curriculum correlations,videos, and PowerPoint slides!  It’s only available as a set, and only on their website, although your local library could probably order it.  (I also checked the encyclopedia for their entries on comics… good basic information.  Their online databases had more information, of course.)

A secondary publisher which I didn’t notice the first time around was Holiday House.  They publish a lot of picture books, but I didn’t notice any which seemed to be comics influenced.  I did notice a title with squirrels, titled “Frisky Brisky Hippity Hop“, a poem written by Alexina White (mother of Stanford, the famous architect) in 1871.  It was illustrated with photos taken in Central Park, and for me, squirrels are almost as fun as monkeys!  That began a conversation with a sales rep, and before I knew it, I was inundated with all sorts of picture books containing word balloons and looking like comics.  They do have an actual graphic novel, “Wuv Bunnies From Outer Space” (sent to save the Earth from the Funny Bunnies), which was pubwished in 2008.

Macmillan, of course, has First Second and FSG Novel Graphics, and featured them prominently.  (Most publishers use bookmarks to note award-winning titles.)  Across the aisle, though, were the picture books, and that’s where I noticed “Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth“.  It’s sort of hard not to notice… it’s thirteen inches long, and four inches high.  When you open the book, it reads vertically!  Jon Chad is based up in White River Junction, where he helps Dr. Leo Geo at the Fizzmont Institute of Rad Science.  (One critique… when I saw the cover, I thought it read “LEDGED”.  No big deal… the format made me pick it up!)

Their Henry Holt imprint featured “Take What You Can Carry“, a novel set in 1977 and 1941, while Roaring Brook Press served up “Brains for Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?!” by K. A. Holt and featuring illustrations by Gahan Wilson!

Archie Comics was the only comics publisher at the show, hosting a publication party featuring the new “Jinx” graphic novel, and announcing their initiative to better serve libraries.  (Archie discovered that their graphic novels circulate EXTREMELY well in libraries, a fact they shared with librarians in the room.)  Swag bags were given out, and one lucky librarian won a piece of original artwork by Dan Parent!

Archie is distributed by Random House, which featured their own notable titles as well as graphic novels from their associated publishers, such as Candlewick, which has the Toon Books imprint.  Of note: “The Shark King” by R. Kikuo Johnson, author of “Night Fisher”.  There’s also “Chick and Chickie in Play All Day!” and “Zig and Wikki in The Cow

HarperCollins had two surprises:

  • a collection of “Planet Tad” columns from MAD Magazine (which, I think, predates “Wimpy Kid”)
  • The Cartoon Guide to Calculus, by Larry Gonick! [Click for a 54-page preview!] [Maybe I’ll learn something this time around, instead of being distracted by the tangential curves of the cheerleader across the aisle.]

Over at Penguin, they don’t do a lot of graphic novels, but they did have these two new editions additions to their Penguin Classics Graphic Deluxe Editions:

Jordan Crane produces a comic strip introduction on the front and back cover (love that rhino!), while Ivan Brunetti interprets Willy Wonka.

(The insides are the ORIGINAL illustrations from the first editions, in black-and-white.  If all you know are Quentin Blake or Lane Smith, you’re in for a treat!)

Penguin, I know you don’t publish many graphic novels, but would you PLEASE give Jordan Crane some money to adapt James and the Giant Peach into a graphic novel?  Once that becomes an international bestseller, then you can commission others to interpret the entire Dahl library (including Tales of the Unexpected!)

Mal and Chad: Food Fight! is a graphic novel, from Penguin’s Philomel imprint, the second in the series.T

Australian publisher Allen & Unwin featured the wordless “The Hero of Little Street“.

Abrams has lots of goodies (which I already knew about), but this was a pleasant surprise:

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, edited by Kazu Kibuishi.

And finally, Scholastic Graphix:

“Cardboard”, the latest from Doug TenNapel, and “Bird & Squirrel on the Run” a buddy road trip crossed with the physical comedy of “Tom & Jerry”.

Other cool stuff?

Alexander Stree Press is preparing another comics media index.  They already offer “Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels” (which includes full scans of the Comics Journal and many comics!)

Basher Science has a line of picture books where atomic elements and other science topics are turned into kawaii characters.  Adorable, and the layout is easy to read!  There’s a Basher Basics series as well!

Graphic Universe continues their great line of graphic novels, introducing “Tricky Journeys“, a series of multiple-story-path books featuring animal tricksters from legend.

Kids Can Press has another series of books, including a new Binky story!  The styles are as diverse as the subject matter, and it all looks great!

McFarland & Company, publishers of popular culture reference and criticism (“Monty Python, Shakespeare and English Renaissance Drama”) offers an actual non-fiction graphic novel, “Werewolves of Wisconsin and Other American Myths, Monsters and Ghosts“.

And it’s not comics, but plenty fun:

“Seriously, Just Go To Sleep“, the child-friendly edition of Go the F*** to Sleep.  It even features a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson!

Next up for librarians: The biennial Public Library Association conference in Philadelphia in March!  Then there’s an appearance at C2E2, and then in June, ALA Annual in Anaheim!  If Disneyland isn’t geeky enough, there will be a mini-comics con within the larger ALA conference!