There’s no denying that there are few exhibitors at Frankfurt , with some major stayaways — but in terms of visitor numbers, on day one at least there was little change from last year. Attendance was 45,753, down 0.8% from last year (353 fewer visitors), while traffic in the agents centre was up 5.8% from last year to 3,850 visitors. Table occupancy was up 2%, and some agents felt there were “more transactions” this year.

At a Q&A session Wednesday, fair director Jurgen Boos said he was pleased with the success of the China initiative, which has already (with help from translation subsidies) increased the number of titles translated from Chinese into German: last year eight literary titles were translated as against 160 this year, while some 400 “other” books were also translated. He praised “the multiplicity of voices” that can be heard, “official and dissident”. It was, Boos said, “an important first step, more than we could have expected.”

On the social front, while there was no denying the downsizing and cancellation of parties (though Hachette’s eve-of-Fair bash was as generous as ever), the bars at the Hessicher Hof and the Frankfurter Hof were as busy as usual.

In the business of making deals, one book generating lots of conversation is a graphic novel project by the King of Pop. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently Michael Jackson was working on a comic book for years with friend (and son of Deepak) Gotham Chopra and now Random House’s Villard imprint is prepping to release the fruits of this seemingly unlikely collaboration. The book, Fated, is about a Jackson-esque pop icon named Gabriel Star whose fame has left him isolated and emotionally cut-off. After a suicidal swan dive from his hotel one night, Star survives only to see his celebrity grow and discover that he’s becoming, per the publisher, “something not quite human.” No word yet from Random House on foreign sales, but we hear the house is showing bits of the book to foreign houses. The title’s slated for a June 2010 hardcover U.S. release—the art’s black and white and the book is small format—and Mukesh Singh is illustrating.

One title that’s got quite a few foreign houses talking—some with their wallets—is Deborah Harkness’s Discovery of Witches. The book, which Carole DeSanti at Viking pre-empted world rights to before the fair for a rumored $1 million, is about the romance between a witch (in denial of her powers) and a 1,500-year-old vampire. Viking’s planning a winter 2011 publication and word in Germany is that rights have sold in Brazil for six figures. No word at press time from Viking on the deals, or the money; Sam Stoloff at the Frances Goldin Agency closed with Viking in the States.

And the chimp memoir that Twelve’s Cary Goldstein nabbed before the fair, TheEvolution of Bruno Littlemore, is getting some love from foreign publishers. Agent Brian DeFiore is handling foreign rights on the title, which is written as the life story of the first chimp who learns to speak, and he reports that, already, two foreign deals have closed with rights sold in both Italy and Brazil.

Although one scout said some foreign editors seemed squeamish about the book—apparently a few Europeans didn’t warm to sex scenes between the eponymous primate and his human lady love—the book has been earning kudos as a strong literary effort. It’s the debut of 26-year-old Iowa Writers’ Workshop grad Benjamin Hale and Goldstein called the book “an extraordinary and singular debut.” Twelve is planning to publish in early 2011.

Click here for more coverage of the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair from PW and BookBrunch.