Acclaimed comics creator and theoretician Scott McCloud, author of Making Comics, will be joined by such notable creators as Kyle Baker, Nick Bertozzi, Rainer Telgemeier and Dean Haspiel at SPLAT! A Graphic Novel Symposium, a conference devoted to comics and graphic novels organized by the New York Center for Independent Publishing. Formerly called the Small Press Center, the NYCIP is a nonprofit resource center that provides a wide range of support services for small press publishers. As the comics category continues to grow in the book market, the NYCIP has responded by organizing a conference to study the impact of comics on the book industry and provide publishing professionals with an in-depth look at the category.

SPLAT!’s lineup of panelists include editors like Marvel’s C.B. Cebulski and retailers like McNally Robinson’s Jessica Stockton Bagnula. McCloud will be on hand to give the keynote address and the symposium will feature panels and hands-on workshops on everything from a discussion about who is reading graphic novels to how cartoonists and publishers go about making and distributing them to the market. The all-day event costs $125 to attend and will kick-off at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 15 at the NYCIP headquarters at 20 W. 44th Street in midtown Manhattan. Publishers Weekly is a sponsor and supporter of the event and PWCW spoke with NYCIP executive director Karin Taylor and SPLAT! organizing committee member Dallas Middaugh, associate publisher at Del Rey Manga, about organizing the inaugural symposium.

PWCW: First tell us about the New York Center for Independent Publishing.

Karin Taylor: We’ve been in existence for 20 years working in support of small independent publishers. We run a variety of educational programs aimed at independent publishers, the main one being the Small Press Book Fair, held each year in early December. But we’re doing this new symposium on comics because there is so much excitement about graphic novels. Interest is growing and growing. Graphic novels have become an important part of the future of publishing. We’re testing the interest with this symposium but yes; we also hope to make SPLAT! an annual event.

PWCW: How was the show organized and whom do you expect to attend?

KT: We were able to call on a fantastic group of comics people who came together to work as our organizing committee. [Associate publisher, Del Rey Manga] Dallas Middaugh, Gina Gagliano from First Second, Leah Schnelbach, Sharon Ma and others. One audience we expect to attract are members of the publishing industry. When I mention the program to people in the industry, everyone is interested. This is an opportunity for them to find out more about the category.

PWCW: NYCIP has organized panels on comics for your annual Small Press Book Fair, but why take on a symposium like SPLAT!?

Dallas Middaugh: I moved to New York City very recently and the first thing I found out about New York is that there’s a strong graphic novel community here. There are agents, artists, fans, librarians—so much talent and knowledge about comics all in one place. It’s kind of a perfect for a conference. That’s what makes this symposium so exciting. There’s no place else in the country where you have the quality of local speakers and participants available for the conference.

PWCW: Tell us how the symposium is structured and who you expect to attend?

KT: Well the name of the event, SPLAT!, is obviously a tongue-in-cheek title for an event intended to cater to the wider community of readers out there who have expressed an interest in comics. We’re expecting everyone from editors and book publishing professionals to teachers and librarians and we’re creating programming that will reflect that. And that’s where the people on our organizing committee—people like Gina and Dallas and Diamond’s John Shableski—have been indispensable. They helped pull all of this together.

The symposium will run all day on Saturday March 15 and feature 3 tracks covering who is reading the category and feature 5 or 6 panels that provide a general overview of the graphic novel market. Some of the professionals who will be participating will be James Killen, the graphic novel buyer at B&N and Scholastic’s David Saylor who oversees Graphix, their comics imprint. Also featured on panels are cartoonist Ted Rall, Marvel’s C. B Cebulski, agent Bob Mecoy and many others.

The second track will feature hands-on workshops with creators and would-be creators. There’s a workshop on the storytelling process that allows attendees to work with an artist and with a writer. Some of the creators who will be involved include artist R. Sikoryak; Mark Siegel, artist as well as First Second’s editorial director and James Sturm, artist and director of the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. The third track will focus on librarians and educators and will feature 6 or 7 panels of interest to them. Some of the topics they will cover include graphic novels on college campuses and defending graphic novels from censorship.

PWCW: What is going on with the category right now that makes this a good time to organize such a conference?

DM: First, the symposium is organized to focus on the creative side, the business side and on the educational aspect of comics and graphic novel publishing. And one reason to take a close look at the category is the continuing financial growth of the comics category. Graphic novel sales remain very strong. We haven’t seen a market for comics like this in decades. The category is still reporting double digit growth and continues to be one of the fastest growing channels in the book industry. 15% growth in sales is a tremendous rate of growth.

But when you discuss what’s happening in comics culturally today, they’re really a medium very much like television—there are all kinds of works, works that are both fun and intelligent. What’s exciting about comics today is that there are so many different kinds of works available to readers, which makes this kind of symposium so important. 10 years ago, a symposium like this would be principally about superhero comics and some indie works. Now the conversation is so much broader.