Graphic novels were a bigger presence at this year’s BookExpo, held at the Javits Center May 31-June 2, than at any recent show.
Although many comics publishers were perplexed at the diminished floor traffic, they were upbeat over BookExpo 2017 (and BookCon) for the amount of comics programming, continued growth of diverse content, and increased artist appearances and comics-related meetings and socializing.
Key indie publishers Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly were absent from the show, but there were many other independent comics publishers on hand offering material for kids, teens and adults. And while there was lower profile for manga and superhero titles, there was a wide variety of nonfiction--including graphic memoir for kids and adults—as well as literary and genre fiction.
Overall, the theme for this year’s BookExpo was that comics and graphic novels aren't just for longtime comics fans—there’s a work of graphic fiction or nonfiction for every taste in reading.
As usual Diamond Book Distributors, which distributes about 50 comics houses to the book trade, commandeered a section of the exhibit floor for its publisher clients, Image, Oni Press, BOOM! Studios, Lion Forge, Piazo among others.
DBD International’s Scott Hatfill noted that while the floor traffic was down, business was good. “We’ve been able to talk with all the people we need too,” he said.
Abrams’ Amulet Books had galleys for Suee and the Shadow, a debut middle grade graphic novel by Ginger Ly and Molly Park about a gothish young girl whose shadow comes to life. Indie houses such as Nobrow/Flying Eye and Arsenal Pulp (with Body Music a new graphic novel by Angouleme prize-winner Julie Maroh) were also among the small press publishers offering new graphic novel titles for the fall.
Looking to expand its footprint in the US. Market, PIE International, a Japanese art, design and pop culture publisher based in Tokyo, switched its distribution to IPG. PIE was showing an impressive catalog of manga-related art and poster books.
Boom! Studios publisher Filip Sablik said graphic novels (and the book trade in general) had grown to about 30% of Boom’s business, and the category continues to grow. At the show he was focusing on meeting librarians, showing teen oriented Boom! series like the Lumberjanes Gotham Academy crossover with DC; and Jane, a modern reimagining of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre by Aline Brosh McKenna and Ramon Pérez.
In addition to the Hot Graphic Novels panel—the panel featured 5 books and six artists from around the world—two graphic novelists were also featured on buzz panels with prose authors. Tillie Walden, author of the forthcoming graphic memoir Spinning (First Second), was on the Young Adult buzz panel, and Molly Ostertag, author of the fantasy graphic novel Witch Boy (Graphix), was part of the Middle Grade buzz panel.
Certainly the highlight comics social event during BookExpo was A Celebration of French Graphic Novels, a rights promotional cocktail event hosted by the French Comics Association in collaboration with comics licensing specialist Ivanka Hahnenberger and VIP Brands. The offsite event presented hundreds of French comics (with English rights available) in an ongoing effort to promote European graphic novels to publishers, librarians, retailers and potential licensors. Hahnenberger said interest in Euro-comics is growing and rights sales of French graphic novels had increased from 70 in 2015 to about 127 in 2016.
There were two books (and two Katies) that dominated conversation around the show floor: Katie O'Neill’s Tea Dragon Society, to be published by Oni Press in November, drew kudos for its beautiful art, and Katie Green, whose graphic memoir Lighter Than My Shadow was hailed as a moving story focused on anorexia, depression, and abuse. Lighter Than My Shadow was first published in the UK by Jonathan Cape in 2013 and will be released in the U.S. by Lion Forge in October 2017.
Other books and authors that were getting buzz: Roz Chast, who signed posters for a long line of attendees to promote her next graphic novel, Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York (Bloomsbury, Oct.); and Nilah Magruder’s award-winning M.F.K. Book One, a original fantasy webcomic to be released in a print edition by Insight Comics in Sept. In addition, Kate Evans's Threads: From the Refugee Crisis (Verso, June) is a moving first-person account of a volunteer in the refugee camp at Calais, France.