At the risk of overstating things, I may have just read the single greatest book of all time, Capstone’s DC Super-Pets Character Encyclopedia, a compendium of more than 200 heroic and villainous pets, compiled mainly from the line of Art Baltazar-illustrated chapter books for young readers.
You see, here are four of my favorite things about comic books: 1) colorful characters of what has become known as the DC Universe, 2) pets and animal allies of superheroes, 3) Art Baltazar’s artwork, and 4) encyclopedias, profiles, atlases, maps and suchlike detailing the often-exhaustive trivia of a byzantine superhero universes.
In other words, this is a book that is pretty much perfect for me, despite that, at 36 years old, I’m well outside the target audience for the DC Super-Pets line of books.
I’ve read a few of those, but despite the copious amounts of Baltazar illustrations, they’re really hard to get into. They’re not comics and they’re not picture books, but illustrated prose; technically all-ages, but harder, I think, for grown-ups to get into than all-ages comics might be, as there’s no getting around the fact that an adult reader is going to feel like they’re being talked down to (and for good reason).
But this book is pretty much perfect for adult fans of Baltazar or those curious about the Super-Pets line who haven’t been able to get into those books, as it excises the worst part — the prose for kids — and boasts the best parts, the pictures and the often somewhat-insane characters starring in them (for example, there’s a book titled Swamp Thing vs. The Zombie Pets, in which Swampy and his animal neighbors in The Down Home Critter Gang come into conflict with Solomon Grundy and his gang of undead pets).
I devoured every page of the encyclopedia, and much of its contents were somewhat shocking.
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.