Slated to be held Wednesday October 9 at the Javits Convention Center the day before the 2013 show opens, Comics Ahead!, this year’s ICv2 conference at New York Comic Con, is a half-day of panels devoted to examining the growth in comics and graphic novels over the last two years and discussing ways to continue the expansion in the immediate future. The program will include IDW president Greg Goldstein, artist Jamal Igle, First Second editor Callista Brill, retailer Gerry Gladston of Midtown Comics and comics and media analyst Rob Salkowitz among other industry figures.

Organized by ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp, the event brings together a broad selection of industry leaders and professionals—from publishers and artists to librarians, retailers, wholesalers and marketers—to discuss the issues and look to the future. The program will also feature ICv2’s much-anticipated annual White Paper, a comprehensive survey of the size and current sales trends in the comics and graphic novel marketplace.

To get a preview of the event, which is cosponsored by Publishers Weekly and includes this reporter and PW graphic novel reviews editor Heidi MacDonald, PW Comics World interviewed Griepp about the conference and what attendees can expect from the program. More information on the conference can be found on the ICv2 website.

PW Comics World: Is there a specific focus to this ICv2 conference, which is themed “Comics Ahead!” this year?

Milton Griepp: Comics have been in the incredible situation of having growth in both print and digital over the last few years, and now graphic novels are growing in all channels as well. The goal of the Conference is to discuss how to keep that growth going, taking “comics ahead.”

PWCW: Obviously the ICv2 White Paper on the comics and graphic novel print and digital marketplace is always an eagerly awaited feature in your conferences. Can you give us a short preview of your report?

MG: I’ll definitely be spending some time on the graphic novel space, which is turning around in all segments, including manga. Another focus will be the digital world, where the growth rate is slowing, but still robust.

PWCW: You’ve organized three panels for this years conference, what kind of trends and themes can we expect to hear from them.

MG: In “From Creator to Consumer” we’ll be looking at the potential of disintermediation from Webcomics, digital comics, Kickstarter, and closer relationships between creators and their fans, and how some are using the new tools to strengthen traditional publishing. It’s a great panel, with the head of the Webcomics collective Act-i-vate, a successful Kickstarter creator, an editor from a major house that’s publishing comics from Webcomics, a digital comics executive, and an executive from Diamond Comic Distributors. That’s a lot of viewpoints represented, so we’re expecting a lively exchange.

In “Graphic Novels in a Digital World,” we’re going to look at whether graphic novels, which are coming out a period where they’ve been lagging comics and are in a somewhat fragmented digital market, can lead the way to bigger, broader audiences, the way they seemed to be doing through the middle of the 00s. This panel has tons of expertise, with a variety of publishers, a distributor, an academic and author, and a specialist in the world of graphic novels in schools and libraries.

And in a real big picture panel, “The Rise of Geek Culture,” we’ll be talking about the future of geek culture, which has become the #1 North American pop culture trend, and ask what can be next when there are prime time shows and movies tied to comics seemingly at every turn. This panel has an ad agency executive, a futurist and author, one of the top comic and graphic novel retailers in the country, and an executive from Skybound, the home of The Walking Dead.

PWCW: On the eve of the 7th annual New York Comic Con and an expected crowd in excess of 100,000 attendees, what’s your perspective on its growth into a major comics/pop culture venue and on the steady growth trend of even smaller all-comics indie festivals and shows.

MG: I think the nationwide growth of conventions, including mega-events like New York Comic Con, reflect the strong feelings of community around geek culture. People want to be around others that share their passions, and conventions are a great way to do that, whether on huge scale like this week’s, or smaller comics-only events.