…so where was I, before we were so rudely interupted.
Saturday afternoon! I missed the Stephen King panel because I didn’t write it on my little piece of paper that tells me when I have to do things and be places. I really need to keep that piece of paper updated. Sorry to Doug who was totally gonna sneak me in, maybe next time! Also, I ended up missing Stephen Colbert, and… anyone else who was famous actually. Nathalie was so disappointed in me when I got back, wanting to “touch someone who touched him” and… yeah. But here’s the thing, lots of people don’t read this blog, they just skim it to see what I’m talking about this week. So I’m gonna fake’m out by bolding the important words and including James Lucas Jones’ Colbert photo from the Oni blog.
Stephen Colbert is awesome!
Heh, but seriously. Following my little chill-out in the blue room, my day was pretty-much done… or so I thought.Â I went up to meet my dinner-date, Jana Morishima from Diamond Book Distributors, and she said that dinner was pushed back and we were gonna go see a panel instead. I hadn’t really attended any panels I wasn’t on (heh… that sounds really self-important actually, sorry) and I wanted to hang out with Jana a little bit, so off we went. So let’s talk a little bit about the panel.
Chris Recaps The “Who Reads Graphic Novels” Panel.
Featuring:Â Marc Weidenbaum,Â VP Magazines and Editor in Chief of Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat; John Cunningham,Â Vice President of Marketing, DC;Â Chris Staros,Â Publisher, Top Shelf Comics;Â Mark Siegel,Â Editorial Director, First Second Books. Moderated by Jon Davis from Bookazine.
The panel started off with the participants introducing themselves, and being familiar (if not friends) with everyone except for DC’s Cunningham, I kind of found him off-putting. I’m aware that I bring my own biases to these panels, and being friends with almost everyone on the panel puts me in a wierd position to comment on the other guy, but yeah, his whole demeanor seemed a little… entitled… I guess. But we’ll get to that, you can see if maybe I’m just a jerk. So, in roughly chronological order:
Weidenbaum commented that the readership of Shonen Jump in North America identified as 30% female, and that most of the fan-art was also from females. In answer to the question posed by the title of the panel, his response was that “Artists read graphic novels.”
StarosÂ agreed by saying that at many conventions (and Top Shelf attends more than 20 per year), a lot of the time artists are reading graphic novels, as the other artists and publishersÂ at the showÂ buy from them all the time, making up for sometimes poor overall sales.
Siegel asserted that “the person who thinks that they’ll never read a graphic novel [is] a good test for the worth of one.” That’s a pretty amazing philsophy, it seems to be working out for them too. That said, I wonder if it’s a smarter move to go where the books are selling or aren’t. At any rate, Siegel sort of segued into this great, inspirational bit about graphic novels: “A critical mass of graphic novels has been reached… these are books that will go on forever.” I think I agree, I think there are just too many great, great books in printÂ for the medium to ever disappear. Which gives us a hell of a lot of ground to revitalise the industry…
Cunningham had a positve look at the year’s Bookscan numbers; he threw out a bunch of figures that I had a bit of trouble following (my bad), but I think he said that graphic novels were the second best selling category last year behind general fiction, and it may have sold more than non fiction? Did anyone get down his numbers, because… no one else has mentioned that. Anyway, that’s kind of insane if that’s the case.
Cunnigham’s assertion was that the industry needed to follow DC’s lead in being general, try to publish material for general audiences and don’tÂ aim forÂ demographics. Sort of that line that “we publish books for readers, not demographics” and the thinking behind the phrase “all-ages”. Let’s say that we have a difference opinion there. I think it’s possible, even healthy and intelligent, to create books for demographics. Like “children”. The idea that something can’t be for kids, or women, or whomever, and that it has to be potentially for every audience, is the prime obsticle facing… well, graphic novels. Make something for kids and make it good enough that everyone else will come to it. Anyway, I guess we disagree.
Back to Siegel, who told the audience that before American Born Chinese‘s multiple award nominations the best-selling books in First Second’s line were actually… Sardine and Sardine 2, which I found really surprising. I like the books, but at the same time they seem very not American? I dunno. I’m glad that they’ve found such success, but I can’t help but think that the dearth of available material for that age group in graphic novel format helps a lot…
Marc Siegel then unveiled his theory of the graphic novel “Perfect Storm” which followed out of his critical mass idea. The idea that multiple ‘storms’ all sort of got together and hit at the same time, that gave graphic novels a boost greater than the sum of their parts. For Marc, those perfect storms were the MediaÂ and the increased attention it gave to graphic novels, the Creators and quality of material, and the PublishersÂ stepping up to the plate. Totally makes sense to me.
Cunnigham piped in to say that he thinks there’s a fourth “storm”, that culture in general has become more visual. He also credited the “Nerd Diaspora,” the people who grew up on this material now coming into positions of power in determining what gets covered and how. The people who love the material are now controlling the perception of the material.
Cunningham then also let us know that in 2006, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen sold more than in the previous 4 years combined, illustrating that the market is not only still growing, but that the depths of our backlist are a great deal more valuable than perhaps we think they are.
Staros, who was pretty quiet on the panel as a whole, credited librarians as being largely responsible for his company’s growth, specifically the librarians who were working to stock more teen, and even adult sections in their libraries. He actually described them as “The Borg of Librarians” which is such a wonderfully nerdy reference. Essentially that Librarians are really connected through websites and list servs and things, and once one of them likes something or knows something, that information is rapidly disseminated. Points for Staros! The downside is that every once in a while a little CrossGen gets in the system and… it’s like uploading that virus in ID4… Wait, I crossed my nerd references. Whoops!
Weidenbaum made a really interesting note about the readership on his books, in reference to who doesn’t read graphic novels. Weidenbaum feels that the Shonen Jump audience does have some cross-over with other sorts of comics reading, but he doesn’t think that Shoujo Beat readers read any graphic novelsÂ other than manga, that a large part of the audience for that magazine wouldn’t have been participating in the medium at allÂ in 2000.
Cunningham made a pitch for bookstore retailers in particular to devote more shelf space to graphic novels, which is interesting. I honestly don’t think there’s a wider audience for about 75% of what DC publishes (in book format) than the direct market, and I don’t know what stocking The Flash in every store would do for Mr. Cunnigham. He did say something I agreed with, about the problem with stocking graphic novels with a more mass-market appeal. For example, should the upcoming Minx line of girl-oriented young readers graphic novels be racked with the rest of the DC/Vertigo output, or in the young adult section where they might more naturally find their intended audience? The next big huirdle for graphic novels isn’t going to be whether they get stocked (or in what quanitites), but in positioning. Mark my words…
Weidenbaum also made a case for the importance of backlist, noting that for a long time most graphic novel publishers simply didn’t think it was important. They learned that lesson from the book industry, along with the other staples like “memoirs are good and sell well” and “women read more than men”. Took us long enough.
Cunningham more-or-less ended the panel by saying that the books, on average, are better now than they were 15 years ago. I’m still not sure I agree with this, but it was a really positive note to go out on.
That covers more or less everything in the panel, I think? I hope that someone was recording it, there was a lot of interesting… nuance… to the conversation that I can’t really communicate here. Still, I hope you enjoyed the recap!
So following the panel (and some last-minute running around) I went for a very nice dinner with JanaÂ and Kurt Hassler from Yen Press, fresh from Yen’s fall line annoucement. It was a very interesting dinner, with Jana recently having moved from Scholastic to Diamond and Kurt’s considerable experience in book buying and defacto distribution. Plus my own perspective. We had a couple of very good discussions, I think, and I’m really excited to see how Yen Press is going to perform in the next couple of years… they have a lot lined up. Anyway, then after dinner? Drinks! After drinks? Precious, precious sleep.Â Â Heidi was talking on the blogging panel about how exhausted she is after a day of conventioneering, and I felt it at the end of every day. Sure, I called over to Rocketship to see if their party was still going on (it wasn’t; they simply partied too hard and blew out like a candle… in the wind…), but in my heart I knew I wanted the warm embrace of my bed.
Shit, I’m getting old. At least I’m hitting my stride…!
Sunday… I’m gonna be honest here, I just really wanted to sleep. So… I did. I spent the day sleeping until I wasn’t tired anymore, then ambled over to the convention to chatÂ and catch-up with friends and just chill. Afterwards my lovely husband and I joined up with Randy and James from Oni and Gina Gagliano from First Second for a truly wonderful dinner. Served family-style in just…. just stupid proportions. Seriously, head to Carmine’s for a crapload of delicious food if you’re ever in the city. We all tried to talk about something other than comic books, in deference to my husband whom I love, and we almost succeeded for a little while. Luckily Gina reads real books and so we could have excellent conversations about books, which is almost not comics. Almost.
Monday we had lunch and visited Macy’s and I freaked out about deadlines and flew back to Toronto and all’s well that ended well. I’ll be surprised if I’m not back for the 2008 show, I really did have a good time and warmer weather for the projected April 2008 date for the show would be welcome.
Thanks for reading!