LOCKDOWN! Reflections on the rest of the New York Comic Con

…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 ColbertStephen 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. 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: Marc Weidenbaum, VP Magazines and Editor in Chief of Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat; John Cunningham, Vice President of Marketing, DC; Chris Staros, Publisher, Top Shelf Comics; Mark Siegel, 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.”

Staros 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 publishers at the show 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 print 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’t aim for 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 Media and the increased attention it gave to graphic novels, the Creators and quality of material, and the Publishers 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 novels other than manga, that a large part of the audience for that magazine wouldn’t have been participating in the medium at all 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 Jana 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.  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 chat 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!

– Christopher

9 thoughts on “LOCKDOWN! Reflections on the rest of the New York Comic Con”

  1. Thank you Christopher, to publishing such a blog about comic books & author, i am so interesting in comic books when i am seeing this page i got more comic blog pages, artists & so much fun. I regularly search books on a book search engine site which is one of the best site to search book. Try at once you may get lot of comic,funny,etc. so many books & enjoy…

  2. I’m glad you covered the graphic novel panel, as I missed that one! On positioning of books, my local Barnes & Noble has about three shelves of manga and other graphic novels in the “Teen” section (which they might as well go ahead and call the “Teen Girls” section). I hope DC is smart enough to get at least some of the Minx books there.

    As for putting the DC trades in chain bookstores: I doubt it would boost sales much. A non-comics reader might pick up Cancer Vixen or American Born Chinese because of an interest in the subject matter, or because the cover looked nice, but that’s much less likely to happen with superhero trades. They look a bit forbidding if you’re not familiar with the subject matter, and even the similar trade dress could be a barrier—I wouldn’t know which one to pick.

    If they had one or two, carefully selected for accessibility to the general public, it might work, and even draw in new readers. But I agree that the big sales are going to be in the direct market.

  3. Maybe I’m crazy go nuts but I figure stocking a copy of The Flash makes some sense. I’ve always had the impression that there was a big portion of the population who liked super heroes thanks to tv shows and movies but don’t read the comics. They might be as likely to wonder “Did they ever make a Wonder Twins comic book?” as to wonder “Is there a book that can help me deal with losing my mom to cancer” or “Who is this Louis Riel guy I saw that statue of?” If I was a parent born in the age of the Super Friends cartoon I might pick up a Flash trade for my kid before I’d look at a wall of Samurai Dragon BeBop Z and know what to pick out.

    Nicely covered seminar Chris (and weekend in general)!

  4. Brian-

    Which Flash trade? There’s nothing currently available with a young readers audience in mind. Maybe “The Greatest Ever Told” line, but that looks like a book for old men, and is priced at $20.

    – Christopher

  5. hey CB
    I think your points were all well taken. I also believe comics overall are way better today, which includes having more genres. J. Cunningham is truly part of the nerd diaspora himself and he is bringing some real book industry insights into the comics business and I think he will make a difference.

    I also think DC Comics probably should not presume what will or will not sell in general bookstores. Minx is aimed at Bookstores for sure, but most readers of all kinds–prose or comics–go to general bookstores. Anecdotally I’ve encountered older (35-50), lapsed superhero readers who sometimes reconnect when they find out their old favrites are available in book format in bookstores they go to with their kids. And at one time super hero collections were almost all you could find at your local chain bookstore.

    Its also worth paying attention to the note about girls and women reading way more than men–indeed women pretty much drive the American trade book industry–which is surely the worst kept book publishing secret that the comics industry seems to have just discovered. But better late than never.

  6. Hi Chris,

    I’m sorry if my performance on the panel was off-putting. I think most people who know me would tell you that I am far from arrogant. It’s, um…, certainly not what I strive for—at least I can only get better!

    Anyways, I popped in to say this: we DO sell Flash trades in the book chains. Ones like the Geoff Johns collections.

    And, of course, this isn’t just about Flash—it’s about all our backlist—the greater point is that we sell GNs everywhere, in growing numbers.

  7. Hey, I come off as both arrogant AND off-putting here, and this is my blog. Sometimes it’s the person listening, rather than the person speaking.

    As for the specifics of the discussion, I think that there’s something to be said for eliminating 6-7 thin, 128 page, interconnected Geoff Johns flash trade paperbacks in favor of something that a Flash fan, particularly coming from other-media, could actually pick up and follow. I think your potential for success there is limited, personally. I think that extends to the majority of your superhero output, actually, and I personally think a clear delineation needs to be made between backlist for the mass-market and backlist for the DM.

    A Flash, Aquaman, GL, or other second-string hero trade paperback that, through being violent or convoluted and “off-model” from the mass-market version of the character doesn’t really speak to the mass market at all, and it feels more like it’s the converted readers picking up that material when a comic shop is inconvenient. My 2 cents.

    Thanks for commenting.

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