Matching the upbeat mood of BEA in general, graphic novel sales are growing and comics offered a lively presence at this year’s BookExpo America. Despite the absence of DC, Marvel and major indies D&Q and Fantagraphics, the show was full of comics exhibitors and programming. High profile comics events carried over into BookCon, the new weekend consumer book show, which presented an all-star comics panel Saturday—with bestselling artists Jeff Smith, Raina Telgemier, Jennifer Holm and Ben Hatke—and a packed public conversation with actor/comedian John Leguizamo, who previewed his much-anticipated graphic memoir Ghetto Klown, on Sunday.
Comics events began the Tuesday before BEA with a one-day French Book trade-sponsored symposium, held at the French Embassy, that included extensive data on the French and U.S. comics markets. The conference also announced the fall launch of Europecomics.com, a digital initiative expected to provide on-going information, and selling opportunities for French and other Euro-comics. French publishers have circled and studied the North American market in the past, and the symposium marked a renewed effort for them to find ways to market their extensive comics lists to U.S. consumers.
On the uptown stage on the exhibition floor, the Best of Fall 2015 Graphic Novels panel kicked off comics programming at BEA, on Wednesday, with a lineup of artists that included Ben Hatke (Little Robot, First Second), Derf Backderf (Trashed, Abrams), Jeremy Sorese (Curveball, Nobrow) and Maggie Thrash (Honor Girl, Candlewick).
The latest trends in comics were all in evidence on this panel, and throughout BEA. Kids’ comics continue to attract new readers and rack up sales (see Kids' Comics On the Rise at Book Expo 2015). Image Comics and non-superhero comics in general continue to be much in demand, and new (Lion Forge) and revived publishing programs (Valiant) are picking up steam and looking to grow sales in the book trade. Digital publisher Lion Forge was showing off its move into print, adding forthcoming print editions from Roar, its kids’ comics line, including Punky Brewster and Saved by the Bell, and the action spy series Knight Rider, the first of its forthcoming trade paperback collections.
Papercutz publisher Terry Nantier had a host of artists signing (including writer Julian Voloj and former gangleader Benjy Melendez, subject of the graphic memoir Ghetto Brothers Warrior to Peace). And in international news, Viz sales and marketing director Kevin Hamric said the manga house is distributing English-language titles (Naruto, One-Piece, Bleach and others) into Japan (print and digital) and Singapore (print only) for the first time. Hamric said fans “are clamoring for English language manga overseas.”
Graphic novels have been hits in unlikely places, as well. Skyhorse Publishing has become something of an “interlocking brick toy” publishing specialist, following the success of The Brick Bible and The Brick New Testament, by Brendan Powell Smith, which retell some of the Bible’s grislier moments via Legos in a graphic novel format—the content is strong enough to have been banned at WalMart. The two volumes have sold half a million copies, leading to brick adaptations of Shakespeare, Greek myth, Dracula and Frankenstein, as well as a line of Minecraft chapter books, based on the building block video game. “It’s kind of what we’re known for,” said a Skyhorse rep of the line.
KuoYu Liang, v-p of Diamond Book Distributors, told PW that fans and retailers are asking for Image Comics (one of its clients) in even the most exotic places. “I travel all the time around the world, and seeing Image Comics on display tables in bookstores in Kuala Lumpur is a big thrill,” Liang said. “Indie bookstores want Image books and other creator-owned content,” he said, committing DBD to a “big initiative” in 2016 to promote graphic novels to independent bookstores, which continue to lag in adding graphic novels to their shelves.
While most of the comics publishers on hand willingly stuck around for BookCon—for veterans of comic-cons, selling to the public is old hat—the five day schedule for BEA/BookCon drew mixed reviews, with some out-of-towners noticeably dragging after nearly a week inside the Javits Center. However, IDW’s v-p of sales Alan Payne was buoyed by the enthusiasm of the BookCon fans who came in on Sunday. “At first I wondered if we needed Sunday, but I can see that the fans are still excited.”