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.
I spent Wednesday in New York City at BookExpo America, which bills itself as “the largest book industry event in North America.” It took up a good portion of the Javits Center but was weirdly unlike a comic convention: There were panels and celebrity appearances and autographs, and all the publishers had booths, but they weren’t selling books. They had big stacks of one or two that were being given away for free, and everything else was display copies. It’s a very different vibe from a comic con, because the attendees aren’t so much fans as potential customers — retailers and librarians. Also, there were no costumes, although you could get your picture taken with a life-size inflatable Captain Underpants.
Comics were there, of course. Diamond Book Distributors had a booth, and IDW Publishing, Image, and BOOM! Studios were in the same alley, while NBM/Papercutz, Disney/Marvel and Fantagraphics were on other parts of the floor. Most of the big publishers have a graphic novel line as well, so there were some display copies sitting in the booths. And I was there to take part in the Hottest Graphic Novels of 2012 panel, which was well attended and well received.