The largest international trade book fair and rights marketplace in the world, the annual Frankfurt Book Fair, attracts virtually every kind of publisher in the world and the comics industry is no exception. From the stands of Diamond Book Distributors, DC Comics, Abrams and Dark Horse in Hall 8, where American firms exhibit, to featured exhibitors like Comixology and New Zealand cartoonists Dylan Horrocks, Colin Wilson and Roger Langridge—honored as part of the show’s focus on New Zealand publishing—comics publishers and related firms are visible and active throughout the show, buying and selling rights, meeting with international partners and showing off their artists.
Frankfurt is a mammoth show both in the attendance and the magnitude of floor space. It runs from Wednesday to Sunday and the physical layout of show is comprised of 11 separate exhibition halls—each of which seems about the size of BookExpo America—strung together along a lengthy series of hallways that feature the moving sidewalks you often see in airports. It can be a challenge just getting to appointments on time. While the show offers an enormous amount of programming and panels as well as marketing opportunities, signings and author events, the Frankfurt Book Fair is predominately a rights fair and publishers gather looking to buy and sell international publishing rights.
NBM/Papercutz publisher Terry Nantier, a longtime Frankfurt exhibitor who speaks French and sets up in Hall 8, said he arrived with a slate of about 30 appointments—all arranged 2 or 3 months before the show starts—looking for graphic novel and nonfiction properties for NBM and childrens’ and YA material for the Papercutz line. Nantier showed off an appointment sheet broken into half hour sequences and he was booked solidly through the weekend. Indeed over the years Nantier said he has picked up some of his most lucrative foreign licenses at Frankfurt, including the Geronimo Stilton and the Smurfs graphic novels series, which have sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the U.S. market.
Nantier said he was “buying and selling, lining up some good novels for NBM and I got a lot of interest in Papercutz’ forthcoming Annoying Orange and Stardoll comics series, both internet sensations.” He said there was interest in the rights to NBM’s The Broadcast by Eric Hobbs and Noel Tuazon, and he expressed an interest in acquiring the rights to French cartooning team Hubert and Kerascoet’s next graphic novel, Beauté, which he called “another superlative work.” Nantier called Frankfurt, “a real business meeting place. It’s not based on foot traffic on the floor, its not like BEA or San Diego, it’s all about meeting potential partners and buying and selling.”
The Frankfurt Book Fair attracts more than 7,000 exhibitors from around the world and about 280,000 attendees (including 148,000 professionals). Of interest to comics fans, the show culminates on Saturday in an open access public day—consumers pay about 30 euros to get in— throwing open the doors to a mob of consumers looking for books, and including what appeared to be thousands of teen-age cosplayers who gather in the Fair’s outdoor plaza dressed as their favorite western comics, manga and anime characters and do what cosplayers love to do: promenade about in their elaborate costumes and pose for photographs.
While most of the American comics publishers appeared to be in Hall 8, there is a big concentration of German comics publishers in Hall 3—from the big publishers like Carlsen to Tokyopop (the German subsidiary is thriving, publishing up to 20 volumes a month) and firms like Splitter Verlag, which offers a large list of lushly illustrated sci-fi, fantasy and adventure comics. There are manga publishers (Shogakukan among them) in Hall 6 and also located in Hall 3, the Comics Hall, is the Comics Center with a large stage area for presentations and on-stage interviews, a reading room with comics of all kinds available to browse and a signing area that was perpetually jammed with fans looking to get signatures and unique drawings from the artists. Many French comics and illustrated book publishers are in Hall 5 and 6 and, we were also able to meet and chat with the publishing team behind Repodukt, the German equivalent of a U.S. indie comics house, which was exhibiting in nearby Hall 4 and publishes a new German language edition of Dylan Horrocks’ acclaimed graphic novel Hicksville.
Comixology at Frankfurt
This is the second year that Comixology, the digital comics distributor, app developer and marketplace, has attended the Frankfurt Book Fair, said Comixology CEO David Steinberger, during an interview at their booth in Hall 8. “The first year was mostly a fact finding mission,” he said, “This year everyone knows us here so it’s a pleasure compared to the beginning. We can get meetings.”
Comixology has been going through a year of growth—the vendor had about 50 million downloads since its launch in 2009 and will hit 100 million before the end of the year—and has grown to be dominant digital comics vendor in the US, if not the world.
Steinberger also got a chance to talk about that and the company’s growing international audience during a Sparks Stage talk—on-stage public interviews in the exhibition halls organized to showcase selected exhibitors and trends—at the Frankfurt Book Fair with program coordinator Mark Dressler. Steinberger said Comixology has sold digital comics in 225 countries and more than 50% of its members have signed on from outside the U.S. Besides being the top iPad book app in the US week after week, Steinberger said it’s the top iPad book app in France and among the top five iPad book apps in Italy, Spain and Germany.
“And that’s with no French or foreign language content,” he said laughing, “English speaking French think we do a better job than their French language digital equivalents.” Steinberger credited the foreign market embrace of Comixology to “our consumer experience, the shopping, merchandising and reading experience is really good. Digital vendors in other countries are struggling to get readers so publishers are eager to talk to us.
Asked if Comixology plans to offer foreign language content, Steinberger said, “we should try it, there’s great content so it makes sense but we don’t have any yet. Foreign publishers are very cautious about digital, they really try to protect the retailers but you can’t avoid the future. We believe in print and digital.”
“Things have really matured in the digital comics space since we launched,” he said, “worldwide English language distribution licenses make sense. Stopping someone who wants to read a digital comic in English, just because there’s a French print edition doesn’t make sense to anyone.”
Reprodukt and Dylan Horrocks’ Digital Love Letter
The Berlin-based graphic novel publisher Reprodukt, headed by publisher Dirk Rehm, has been publishing graphic novels from all around the world for more than 20 years, according to Sebastian Oehler, who manages foreign rights and distribution at Reprodukt and has worked for the house for about a decade. PW spoke with Oehler on the exhibition floor of Hall 4, where the company shares a booth (they also share books, copublishing some of their titles) with Edition Moderne, a Swiss comics house that has published graphic novels for 30 years. Reprodukt publishes German language editions of American artists Craig Thompson, Charles Burns and Dan Clowes, in addition to New Zealander Dylan Horrocks, who was promoting a new Reprodukt edition of the graphic novel Hicksville, his much admired meta-comics “love letter” to the comics industry and medium.
Honored as part of the show’s focus on New Zealand publishing, Horrocks, along with his countrymen Colin Wilson and Roger Langridge, were featured in signings and discussions. Horrocks gave a public interview in Hall 4 on Friday, afternoon (we were able to record a short interview for PW’s comics podcast, More To Come), and he gave the audience some background information on growing up in New Zealand, obsessed with comics and scrambling to find new works from abroad. “We’re a small country,” he said, “an afterthought to the Australian market, so it can be hard to get the latest comics.”
Horrocks pointed to the enthusiastic audience for comics in New Zealand, both readers and young aspiring comics artists, an audience he said was cut off from new works being created in the U.S., Europe and Asia. That is, until the internet came along. “Hallelujah! Now I was able to get anything,” he said, pointing out the cultural reach of the web and emphasizing that all of his own comics are online via his own website. “[The Web] is transforming everything, young cartoonists in New Zealand are reading everything and yes, some of it is illegally downloaded,” he said.
“I’m excited that some kid in New Zealand can be reading an obscure manga title that I’ve never heard of,” he said, “if that’s piracy then publishers need to get together and make their books available so they won’t have to pirate them.”