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I spent some time in May at Book Expo America, the annual trade show for the retail book business, checking out the graphic novel offerings. BEA is light duty for a comics blogger, as graphic novels are a tiny part of the retail book universe, but it’s a good way to get an advance look at the books that publishers are promoting for this summer and fall, as well as what they think will have appeal for mainstream bookstores.
Here are a half-dozen books you’re likely to hear about in the coming months:
Welcome to Best of 7, where we talk about “The best in comics from the last seven days” — which could be anything from an exciting piece of news to something great fans are doing to an awesome comic that came out. So let’s get to it …
Book Expo America is the annual trade show where publishers promote their upcoming books to retailers and librarians. BEA is all about books, but comics and graphic novels are a growing presence. Diamond had a dedicated area, as it has in previous years, several comics publishers had their own booths, and several of the big publishers featured graphic novels alongside their other titles, most notably Hachette, which gave quite a bit of space to Yen Press.
I spent Friday at the show looking at which books the publishers were drawing the most attention to. Here’s a very subjective account of what I saw.
Kid stuff! Children’s and YA graphic novels have been hot for a couple of years, and the news that Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters is getting a 200,000 copy initial print run got a lot of buzz. Of course, the BEA crowd has been on board with her work for a while, and they lined up in droves for her book signing. The same was true of Jeff Kinney, who was signing copies of The Wimpy Kid School Planner at the Abrams booth; the crowd just kept on coming. And the staff at the BOOM! Studios table were hustling as attendees grabbed copies of their Adventure Time and Bravest Warrior collections as well as their third original Peanuts graphic novel, Peanuts: The Beagle Has Landed, which takes Snoopy to the moon.
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.