Category Archives: Conventions

Info on comics conventions and events.

Just A Reminder – New York Comic Con Pro-Reg Closes Today

If you’re a comics professional planning on braving the windy streets of New York this February for the fourth New York Comic-Con, this is the last day to get free/discounted registration at the New York Comic Con website, http://newyorkcomiccon.com/.

I just checked it out, and it looks like retailer weekend badges are going to run $10 this year (Diamond had been making them available for free to retailers), which is still a pretty significant discount off of the weekend ticket price. I usually get at least $10 of enjoyment out of the con-floor, so I’m not worried. What I really need to get, somehow, is an exhibitor badge…

– Christopher

Comic Cons are Doomed To Suck? Not Hardly!

“As Josh notes, there are smaller cons that cater to indie comics – SPX, APE, MoCCa, etc. — cons largely by and for activists, who’ve decided to make that niche their bread and butter. But any con that hits a certain size has to start looking at their bottom line at all times, and, as in most arenas, what brings in the most money gets the most attention. That’s just how it is, and expecting the New York con to change it is looking in the wrong direction.” Steven Grant

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I’m just gonna flat-out disagree with this. It’s certainly much harder to have a creative and curatorial vision for a comics show, to believe in what you’re doing and keep it running when there are external monetary pressures, etc., but it’s nowhere near impossible, and while the bottom line is important, it’s by no means where the eye needs to be kept “at all times”. Far from it. Look east for inspiration, my good fellows, to the mighty shows of Europe. America may “not have culture” but there are art galleries and museums in areas other than New York and California, and all it takes is some smart event planners that know how to make a spectacle and get folks out.

I understand that Mr. Grant has a long-accumulated wealth of knowledge acquired over many years of con-going, but if I sincerely thought that “indie comics” (a phrase that means absolutely nothing, btw.) had an inherently limited audience of converts, I’d probably drop everything tomorrow and just go work in banking or something. Instead, “indie comics” actually encompasses everything that’s not WFH corporate comics, a huge field that now includes everyone from D&Q, Oni, Fanta, Top Shelf, and even Image, all the way to Random House, Simon & Shuster, and First Second.

Comics are literature, comics are entertainment, comics are excellent. The limit to the audience for comics is people who respond to art or the written word. Believing otherwise is narrow-thinking and self-defeating. We should be bigger, brighter, and bolder from now on, but in celebration of the medium, not the “culture”.

– Christopher
Quick edit for spelling.

Viz’s New Original Content Line

I hinted at it in some of my brief New York posts, but I thought I’d maybe blog a little more thoroughly about my conversation with Marc Weidenbaum, the fella at Viz in charge of Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat, about his work developing a new line of original comics for Viz. We found a bench to sit and chat for an hour on the Friday of the New York Comic Con–just after the announcement of ULTIMO! a collaboration between Stan Lee and Hiroyuki Takei debuting in Japan that very day. It’s worth noting that, for the purposes of journalistic integrity, Marc and I have become fairly cordial over the past few years, and our conversation about the new developments at Viz were much more friendly than professional. I even offered to send this to him before I posted it (something I don’t normally do) in case I got anything wrong, but he said not to bother. So, here’s my take on what’s happening at Viz with their forthcoming line of original comics.

First and foremost, Weidenbaum’s new title at Viz is “Editor-in-Chief, Magazines. Vice President, Original Publishing” which kind of makes sense, as the two manga magazines are where more-or-less all of the original content is being generated at Viz right now. The recent cover-art/interview/short comic by Bryan Lee O’Malley on Shoujo Beat sort of brought this fact to everyone’s attention, though Viz has done original content in the past, including a Pokemon comic strip for newspapers a few years ago. But the original publishing aspect of Marc’s title will likely become very important to the comics industry in the next few years.

According to Marc, it’s all about television.

Marc Weidenbaum: “We’re in a golden age of television right now,” specifically referring to the critically and commercially successful serialized entertainment offered up by HBO, BBC, Showtime, and even some of the networks. Marc feels that there are all of these wonderfully episodic shows that build up a serial storyline with amazing cliffhangers that you can’t miss. And he doesn’t seem inclined to cow-towing to any particular ‘style’ or genre of story either, with a crime drama being just as interesting and well produced as a comedy or historical epic… Editorializing a bit here, it’s no mystery that Brian K. Vaughan (for example) was picked up for LOST–his work on Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and even Runaways is built on the gripping last-page reveal, and his work is structured in an incredibly compelling way. If I’m reading Marc correctly, he sees this not so much as a model, but as inspiration for a new line of comics work: One that has broad appeal, strong construction, and the benefit of a talented and trained editorial staff.

diarycover.jpgThat last part is particularly intriguing to me, because while producing licensed material does have Viz editors sharing some of the same duties as their original-content producing counterparts in the rest of the North American comics industry–scheduling, proofing, working with creative talent–the Japanese editorial system, the one that Marc referenced a couple of times, is quite different and even more involved than anything you’ll find in North America… In a bit of a coincidence I picked up a new manga by Fanfare/Ponent-Mon at the New York Comic Con just before I was talking to Marc, called Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma. It’s about this manga-ka that goes nuts from stress and becomes a bum living in the mountains. In it, the protagonists manga editors are variously portrayed as abrasive, mean, and egomaniacs who threaten and taunt him, draw over his artwork to change it to their liking, and ignore or encourage any number of truly life-destroying behaviours on the part of Azuma-san… as long as the work comes in on time. It’s a comedy. And autobiography to boot.

But Marc’s a smart guy with–believe it or not!–creator interests at heart. He seemed to be talking about a sort of a hybrid system, where he and other editors at Viz had worked closely with Editors within the Japanese comics production system to learn from them, and have brought this system back to North America to put their own spin on it. This also tied in nicely to the fact that Viz’s big guest-of-honour the NYCC weekend wasn’t a manga-ka, but rather an editor, (one Mr. Asano who edits Bleach and Shaman King amongst other top-of-the-charts releases). Marc has a lot of respect for editing and editors in general, and the idea of working with a creator to produce the most successful and strongest possible work. It’s the kind of idea that I can feel myself bristling at, as I type it out now, but hearing it come out of Marc’s mouth I totally believed it… I do have to say that will not be the sort of editorial guidance that every creator is looking for, particularly not in an industry where the idea of editorial mandate from DC and Marvel has become so reviled that it seems every other comics publisher’s editorial guidelines are a hands-off reaction against them.

Scott Pilgrim Volume 4 CoverI was having a hard time getting an idea of this ‘line’ at this point in our conversation, what it might look like, and I couldn’t tell if it was going to be akin to Tokyopop’s “hire’m all and let the market sort’em out” original content strategy, or something a little different. So I asked him flat out–name five books published in the last few years that you could see as part of this line. His response? “None.” Really, not one book? “Not really, I don’t see a lot of the work fitting our ideas. Maybe elements of Scott Pilgrim come closest to it, or Ed Brubaker’s Scene of the Crime or Sleeper. Stuff that’s really good, solid concept-stuff but with a twist to it, a hook.” I believe I mentioned that Scene of the Crime and Sleeper sold fairly poorly at the time, but I don’t remember what, if any, response came of it.

Said I: “I’ve talked to a number of creators working in the ogn or straight-to-collection format, and many of them have very similar concerns about the system of creating a graphic novel with little-or-no input for a year, and releasing these graphic novels to sometimes little or no feedback, and then going back to the drawing board. The idea of shorter serialization has been floated as a possible remedy…” Marc responded that things were still up in the air regarding format, but had heard and shared many of the same concerns. We talked a little bit more about various successes and failures but Marc was reluctant to name names, which I can appreciate…

“You know,” I said. “As soon as I post this you’re going to get flooded with submissions. Horrible people sending you their ideas for a sequel to Dragonball Z, all that shit.”

He knew it, but made it pretty clear he had no interest in submissions right now. “Maybe in a few years we’ll open it up to submissions,” said Marc. “But right now I just want to see already completed work. What you’ve done, what you’re capable of.” So if you’re sitting on the world’s best manuscript for a 3400 part serial about a new level of Super-Saiyan, can it. At least for a little while. But I do have to say that Marc seemed quite genuine about wanting to see published work and specifically mentioned webcomics, mini-comics and self-pub’d work as well as professionally published material…

It’s at this point in the conversation that my friend writer Ray Fawkes (Apocaplipstix, coming this summer from Oni Press) walked by the little concrete benches where we were seated and came and said hello. Ray has 4 projects in development with four different publishers at the moment, is incredibly talented, and above-all sounded like the exact sort of person who would be doing books that would fit with Marc’s idea for the Viz Original Content Line. I introduced them and mentioned something to this effect, and sure enough there was a warm exchange of business cards and a plan to talk further about an exchange of work… So if Marc wasn’t being genuine when he said he would happily look at published work, he was at least putting on a good face in front of my friend ;).

Sidebar: It’s worth noting that at the big Viz Panel the next day, this exact situation came up. Here, I’ll quote from “A Geek By Any Other Name”:

“Someone just asked about whether they’d be accepting any original series, and they answered that they weren’t really looking for anything, which is a little counter to what Brigid and other bloggers heard yesterday.”

I think that’s a pretty clever answer, actually, because Marc made that quite clear to me as well: They aren’t looking for anything in particular. They’re looking for talented people who’ve done great work–at this point in the game–and are probably looking to develop something with them as opposed to just accepting or rejecting a pitch. An important bit of semantics!

Now, you have to understand, all the while I’m having this conversation with Marc… I’m feeling pretty good about all of this actually, but this nagging phrase wouldn’t stop repeating itself in the back of my mind: “THE TOKYOPOP DEAL”. I fucking hate The Tokyopop deal, flat out. It’s awful and abusive of young creators, and while I haven’t gotten up and shouted I TOLD YOU SO at anyone two years later, the number of disenfranchised and angry Tokyopop creators has more-or-less done the work for me. I’m not particularly happy about being right of course; it is, at best, a pyrrhic victory.
“Marc,” I said. “Who owns it?” I was honestly not anticipating the response.

“The creators do. It’s going to be a standard book-industry type contract, although even there we’re doing a bit of tweaking. I believe in that, and we wanted a fair deal.”

Huh, how about that. We discussed it a little further, mentioning things like other-media adaptation rights and all that, and while we really only talked in generalities, it all sounded really reasonable. Maybe even… good. Marc relayed an anecdote about visiting a comics class at SVA the previous week, I think either he mentioned either Tom Hart or Matt Madden or Jessica Abel were teaching, and he was talking about this very line. The instructor sort of built up this menacing tone and said “And now we’ve got a hard question for you, Marc! WHO OWNS THE WORK!?” which I have to admit that’s kind of amazing, that ownership and contract discussions are a part of comics instruction now. But Marc said “oh, the creators.” and just sort of deflated the instructor’s bubble (it was funny, not dickish, at least when Marc told it). You have no idea how heartening it was to hear this, the idea that copyright (amongst many other rights) would reside with the creators of the work. Of course, no contract is perfect and each one is different and be sure to get a lawyer to read things over before you sign them, etc., but just hearing an affirmative and positive reaction to creator ownership coming from the spokesperson for a massive international corporation? Even one with Marc’s long history of publishing and working with comics creators (google him)? It’s fantastic.

Our conversation sort of drifted from that point as it seemed that I’d wrapped up everything I had to ask, and started mulling over my opinions of the prospects of this line. I can’t help but feel that the possibilities of a company as well-invested and an editor as well-intentioned as Viz and Marc both are could seriously shake up comics production, where the money becomes in line in both frequency and scale as Marvel and DC; where they could develop a very creatively supportive but still professional environment; where serialization and the possibility of easy access to the Japanese market (and work produced in a Japanese-fashion) could attract a whole new generation of manga-inspired creators.

Moreso than Vertigo’s announcement at the show that they were actively scouting out “original graphic novels” and, to my mind, trying to directly take projects away from Oni Press, Slave Labor, and Top Shelf, this feels like something that just isn’t being done in the industry right now, but when laid out as Marc Weidenbaum did for me, makes it seem essential… Possibly even as important to original comics content creation as manga was to the bookstores. It doesn’t take a genius to see that serialized original content with a strong narrative hook and enticing cliffhangers are part-and-parcel of the manga experience… perhaps with Weidenbaum’s affection for top-notch (and often very mature) television shows and evocations of Brubaker’s crime fiction, this line of books could be that mythical ‘stepping stone to adulthood’ that everyone wonders about for the aging manga demographic.

Or not. It’s pretty easy to look at what I’ve written here and see it as corporate-controlled comics, with nothing to offer the comics auteur. I can’t speak for Marc on this point but I do see validity to that point of view. There’s a reason that someone like Seth designs his books right down to hand-lettering the indicia and choosing the colour of the foil-stamping on the hardcover, you know? I don’t see that as what this line is about, and quite frankly there are lots of places to publish that sort of material that do it very well (Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Pantheon, First Second, etc.). But a vision of the comics industry where compelling commercial comics don’t mean superheroes, half-assed movie pitches, or the occasional fluke from the majors (and let’s not forget that Y: The Last Man‘s commissioning editor was fired by Vertigo shortly after its launch…!)? At the very least, you can put me on that mailing list.

Anyhow, those are my impressions of the conversation I had with Viz’s new Vice President of Original Publishing. All of which are subject to the haze of memory and just having come off of a panel where I sat 15 feet from Stan Lee for an hour. Following our chat I walked Marc to a cab and resisted the urge to invite myself to his dinner with important people from Japan, which showed some tact on my part (though obviously less-so now that I blogged it). I ended up having a great dinner anyway (thank you, Dave & Raina), and didn’t see Marc for the rest of the weekend. Just goes to show you that it’s important to make time when you can, at these sorts of shows.

Thanks again for being so generous with your time Marc! I hope your inbox is not immediately flooded.

– Christopher

3 Photos from The New York Comic Con

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Kazu Kibuishi signs the movie contract for his graphic novel Amulet. The movie has been optioned by Will Smith’s production company. Kazu is pretty excited to meet him. 🙂

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There’s 3 announcements in this picture, if you look carefully. The big one is the exceptionally good news that Stephen Robson of Fanfare/Ponent Mon has signed the contract to do the English-language adaptation of Jiro Taniguchi’s masterful graphic novel series “Faraway Neighborhood” (transliteration, it could be translated a number of ways). This is, from people in the know, the Taniguchi book. In the background you can see poster promoting two new works, including Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma and My Mommy, by Jean Regnaud and Emile Bravo. This is great news, more on this later.

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Asano-san and Mr. Lee talk about cross-continental collaboration, in advance of the new Shonen Jump series Ultimo!

Having a great time, wish you were here.

– Chris

Chris @ New York Comic Con this weekend…

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Hello Folks! I’ll be at The New York Comic Con this weekend, because I haven’t missed one yet. Will I get to do a “LOCKDOWN!” post? Only time will tell. Anyhow, if you’re looking for me this weekend I’ll be all-over the “trade” programming for publishers/retailers/etc. Here’s where to find me:

Thursday, April 17th:

ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference 2008
1PM-5PM, Registration Required
Link

I’m going to be attending the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference again this year, though I won’t be on any panels I probably won’t be too difficult to find (“Who’s that guy asking all of the uncomfortable questions?”). It’s pricey to attend ($200) but if you’re involved in the business side of the industry, it’s likely worth the $$ for your professional development. I think it’s still possible to register on-site as well.

Friday, April 18th:

I’m actually not going to be on Age Appropriate Content for Kids and Teen Comics 12:00 PM-1:00 PM anymore, because of a scheduling conflict. I was just introducing that one anyway, the two librarians involved are the real draw. Instead, I’ll be at:

Buying and Shelving Graphic Novels For Kids in Bookstores & Comic Book Stores
12:00PM-1:00PM
Room 1E07
Should there be a kids comics section in your bookstore/comic bookstore? What should be in it? How should you market it?

This is actually a pretty fun subject, if your definition of fun is working out all the ways to encourage younger generations to read comics and graphic novels. I’m on the panel with some real heavy-hitters too, including Kristen McLean, Executive Director of The Association of Booksellers for Children, and Jessica Stockton, Events Coordinator for McNally Robinson Booksellers in NYC. I’ll likely learn as much info as I impart, but it should be pretty cool.

Emerging Trends in Manga Retailing
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Room 1E16
With 33 manga titles a week planned for 2008, it’s tougher than ever for retailers to manage their manga sections. Join this panel of retailers as they discuss what’s working, what’s not, and where they see the market going this year.

This is going to be a fun panel too, because all of us participating have very, very different ideas about stocking, display, etc. Much more for direct market retailers than anyone else, any retailer who’s ever asked me a manga question should probably come out to this one. That “33 manga titles a week” is just an average. We’ve already had weeks with 60+ new manga this year…

After that, I’ll likely be around the con floor or in the press room. If you need to get a hold of me, just e-mail, I should be checking pretty regularly.

See you in New York!

– Christopher

Housekeeping!

– I don’t know why you’d be browsing my site at 11pm on a Saturday night, but if you are? Remember that Daylight Savings Time is all stupid this year (it’s actually pretty stupid most of the time), and that it actually takes place at 2am Sunday morning (about three hours from right now). So, you lose an hour of sleep, but you gain… darkness when you get out of work? Sigh. Remember, spring forward!

– I haven’t forgotten about the Casanova Reviews. The problem, aside from my schedule sort of falling apart, was that the text piece in the back of issue 7 is pretty intense, and has forced me to reconsider the last few issues of the first series. So, I’m gonna read the whole thing again, start-to-finish, and give it another go this week.

– Chris Mautner of the Panels and Pixels blog interviewed me a little while back for an article he was writing on yaoi for The Patriot News in Pennsylvania. You can find it online now, and it’s called “Brokeback Manga”. For better or worse, I seem to be the pre-eminent retail representative of yaoi in North America, or at least the only one willing to go on record to discuss it, and so I offer the surprising retail views that a) Yaoi is selling well, and b) it can’t stay out of the harsh, disapproving glare of the public forever. Chris is a great guy and I was happy to be a part of the article (which turned out great, actually), but my complete lack of interest in revisiting stupid yaoi controversy will see me avoiding follow-up on some of the more questionable assertions on the part of Yaoi fans in the article…

– Speaking of me, and Media, I don’t think I linked to it but Mangacast has a podcast of the first panel I was on at the New York Comic Con, “The buyers panel”. Apparently, I’m very funny in it, and there’s a bunch of great info in it anyway. Go check it out.

– I think I’m going to write about it more in a little while, but for the time being check out Brigid’s interview with Fanfare/Ponent-Mon publisher Stephen Robson at Mangablog.

– Aside from some review writing, I’m blissfully free of obligations for the next little while, so I should be able to keep the blog posts coming with some regularity. It’s pretty depressing to go a day or two without blogging, let alone a week or whatever. Oh, speaking of which, I’m about half-done a complete wrap-up of the New York Comic Con. Does anyone have any interest in seeing it at this point, or no?

Thanks,

– Christopher

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

Lockdown! The show’s over folks, go home.

Like a carnival tilt-a-whirl that slowly grinds to a stop, the second annual New York Comic Con has come to a close. The exhaustion amongst the exhibitors, professionals, and attendees that I talked to was palpable… maybe they were all just hung over from the Rocketship party last night, that apparently drew 250+ people to the wilds of Brooklyn.

There are more thoughts on the show coming… eventually… but since I was dropping in to check my e-mail anyway I thought it’d be worth posting. It was a pretty good show, with far fewer logistical problems than last year, and a very bright future ahead of it. I’m coming back next year.

– Christopher Butcher

LOCKDOWN! Reflections on the New York Comic Con, Day 0

I’m going to be honest here, I spent very little time at the New York Comic Con today. Thursday, Day 0, is realistically for convention set-up, though someone had the very bright idea that since they’re renting the space anyway, they may as well come up with some really good programming for a select group of folks. Actually, that “someone” was apparently ICv2’s Milton Griepp, and thus a group of Direct Market Retailers, Librarians, Press, and Publishing reps converged in a meeting room underneath the setup for the big show to talk about the mechanics of the comics industry.

While this was happening for the first 3 and a half hours, I was: Checking in to my hotel; eating breakfast/lunch; stocking up on supplies; sleeping for an hour. Because of… Buffalo, basically, I haven’t really slept since Wednesday morning and so if I wanted to do anything at my panel appearance this afternoon (other than zombie-moan into the mic) getting myself presentable was of the utmost importance—only time and photographs of the event will tell if I succeeded.

I caught the last 1/3 of the “Manga Censorship” panel, which featured every participant agreeing in the same way about manga being rated to be appropriate, but not be censored, with particular focus on Tokyopop’s new rating system. This was surprising and a little creepy, to see reps from Viz, Tokyopop, and Del Rey all just… agreeing. Luckily, things got awkward when a librarian in the audience asked why they didn’t create a rating system that they could all use, and the answer wound up being a sort of quick, contrite “Because we all think our own way is the best.”

My problem with rating books is more about sales, and how certain books with certain ratings sell better than others. The best selling demographic is T FOR TEEN of course, and anything outside of that (younger or older) has its work cut out for it in trying to find an audience. Except maybe porn, and Oh, Great’s AIR GEAR. Maybe these are the same. But ratings actually become a kind of de facto censorship when it comes to licensing, as only books that fit the target demographic are selected for licensing, and mature and challenging works end up getting a very short shrift.

Unless of course you’re one of the pedants who think it’s only censorship when the government does it, in which case why are you even at this blog? Bad google hit?

us_witch-graphic-novel.jpgFollowing the manga censorship panel was mine, “Buyers Panel—Graphic Novels, the Next Three Years.” I think it went really well. I talked about yaoi and books for children, and I was mean to independent publishers probably? Not mean, but sort of brutally honest and realistic. Essentially, “If you want your books for children to sell, you must be at least this good, and you probably aren’t.” Examples included W.I.T.C.H., KINGDOM HEARTS, and BONE. Actually, it was a lot of fun having so many librarians in the room, because I kind of get the impression from my peers in retailing and the internet as a whole that no one knows that W.I.T.C.H. sells amazingly well. Or even what it is.

The other people on the panel also talked, I believe. Kidding! It was actually a pretty amazing group of panelists, and I was totally outclassed. Seriously, it was me, the guy who runs Lone Star Comics (an eight-store comics chain in Texas), the graphic novel buyer for Baker and Taylor, the graphic novel buyer for Barnes and Noble, and the person in charge of Scholastic’s U.S. school book fairs. Oh, and the VP in charge of purchasing at Diamond… I talked more than any of them though. AND! I had better jokes. Something about Yaoi and children’s comics… It’ll all come out in the transcript, I’m sure.

(A complete list of participants can be found at the ICv2 page at the NYCC site.)

FUN FACT: The guy at Scholastic TALKED ACTUAL NUMBERS. It was so rare to see someone discuss sales numbers that I took notes. They’re… a little terrifying and wonderful. Oh, and just for background for the elderly? A book fair is where a publisher/distributor brings a bunch of books to a school, and lets the kids buy them with their own money at a significant discount.

– Scholastic holds 110,000 book fairs per year, reaching approximately 56 million children per year.

– Scholastic has been offering graphic novels in the book fairs since 2004, where they debuted with a Superman project (Superman made it to fairs before Bone!)

– By his rough estimate, Scholastic has sold more than 4 million graphic novels.

As he said, they may not stock a wide array of graphic novels, but they sure as hell go deep.

Then Transcontinental Printing bought everyone drinks, including a number of delicious blue martinis for me. Calvin Reid got a picture of me drinking that might make it onto PW, so, if you want to see what I look like after I walked 7 blocks in the rain and got tipsy, there’s that.

Aside from the drinking, the after-event social was a good place to mix and mingle with folks from every facet of the comics industry. I met book distributors, buyers, publishers, literary agents, aspiring creators, even a few direct market retailers…  My panel-appearance let me converse with my comics-betters freely, and it was amazing to pick up so many divergent viewpoints on the industry that we have, let alone the future of it. I have to say it left me really excited about the medium AND the industry, and I’ve never had a clearer, better sense that this is going to be an industry that will very soon exist as more than a 500 page monthly catalogue. I have no doubt that Diamond will continue to be a huge industry mover-and-shaker, but it looks like we’ll make it out of PREVIEWS and into the real world sooner than later…

Then John Davis of BOOKAZINE took myself, Chris Powell from Lone Star Comics, and my lovely husband out for delicious Mexican food. BOOKAZINE, btw, is an independent book distributor that specializes in graphic novels. They’re sort of like a smaller, more tightly-focused Baker & Taylor, if that means anything to you. If it doesn’t: The Guacamole was really fresh and flavorful, I totally recommend “Salsa Y Salsa” at 22nd and 7th Ave.

I only saw the sales floor of the show and the set-up from a distance. It’s much bigger than last year, and brighter too. Getting out of the basement was the best thing that coulda happened to them, and despite another huge show going on at the same time (something about design?) NYCC’s presence is felt all over the Javitz Centre.

…and with that, I’m calling it a night. Gotta get up bright and early for the Diamond Retailer Breakfast at 8:30am tomorrow… I’ll take notes as we go, it should be great.

See you tomorrow!

– Christopher

P.S. Here’s a list of songs I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I arrived in New York:

“Second Avenue,” by Spacehog

“New York, New York,” by Frank Sinatra

“Lisa Says,” by The Velvet Underground