Returning From Comic Con International
And a Shift in Graphic Novel Publishing
Comic Con: It's Bigger Than You Think
Heading into San Diego for Comic Con, I felt as if I had been preparing for the Olympics. If you weren't already aware of it, this convention is thee pop culture event for the United States. What began as a bunch of friends, store owners, and comic book artists gathering to talk about the business has now morphed into something almost beyond description. Tickets were sold out for the entire run of the show and even the traditional publishing houses have been put on a waiting list for any available booth space.
The close proximity to Hollywood is definitely a factor in the buzz generated from 'The Con', this year it had an added celebrity component. It's not surprising to see celebrities on the floor as there are more than a few who are self-proclaimed 'geeks'. When word got out that Paris Hilton, Carmen Electra and Kim Kardashian were all headed to the show, a fear that Comic Con may have 'jumped the shark’ rippled through the vendor’s booths.
A Level Field: Emmy and Oscar Nominees are Just Guys with Book Ideas
On the second day of the Con, I found myself talking with Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men) while standing in the Dark Horse booth. He was there with a friend of his and together they were working the show with a book idea. Across the room from him, hanging out with the Kids Love Comics gang, was Oscar nominee Chris Bailey with his book Major Damage. Not too far from them was Frank Beddor, producer of Something about Mary, Wicked and author of a great series called The Looking Glass Wars. Frank also has a graphic novel titled Hatter M. What I really enjoyed about these guys is that they were just creators looking to sell a book. There was nothing at all "Hollywood" about them. In fact, I think they enjoyed their new found ability to disappear into the crowd.
When a Play Boy Bunny is a Lonely Thing to Be
There comes a point when the costume wearing fans become so numerous that only the highly unusual are worthy of your attention. Those people were usually surrounded by an army of photographers which resembled a paparazzi platoon. Anyway, with 130,000 fans streaming through the convention center, the unusual becomes the norm. One of my favorite sights was the booth for the Playboy Bunnies. Here sat a lovely young woman at a table covered with her magazine and willing to sign photos, smile for pictures and being completely ignored. The booths around her were bursting at the seams with fans wanting poster art or t-shirts to commemorate their pilgrimage. If it were a NASCAR track or NFL stadium, she would have needed bodyguards with guns, instead she sat alone.
Crowds and Baby Strollers
Oy! I realize parents occasionally have a desperate need to get out of the house. My question is this: Can't you leave the stroller and baby with someone at home? Don't you have neighbors, a grandparent... someone who can watch your kid for a day? Strollers in a building where the crowd is at maximum capacity are just not a good idea. I will note, however, that the kids did seem well behaved. I did not hear a single baby crying or any small children throwing tantrums. Thank you for that.
In fact the crowd in general was pretty good. People seem to have accepted that Comic Con is a major event and draws huge crowds. The only people who got annoyed by the crush were the booth vendors who have to walk over bodies to get to the bathroom. Con fans are so enthusiastic about the show that they wear their gear all the way home. I encountered this on a plane from Las Vegas to Philly and even on my commuter flight back home to Williamsport, PA.
The Big Difference between Comic Con and Book Expo
It has to be the fans. With Book Expo, people just can't wait to get off the show floor on the final day. Vendors are packing and taping boxes two hours before the show closes. At Comic Con, the dedicated fans will be spending money right up to the closing bell and the vendors realize every single moment the show is open there's an opportunity to sell.
NEVER Move the Con!
With the sell-out crowds for the show, speculation continues to build about it relocating to a larger venue. It cannot move. Period. It was born in San Diego. It grew there. It belongs there. To move it would be against the laws of nature.
The Shift in Publishing
Now that graphic novels are attracting so much attention there is a trend developing which should alarm the graphic novel publishers; authors are moving away to bigger houses. You see someone like Ariel Shrag pull her story from Slave Labor Graphics over to Touchstone and the reasons are not really too surprising. I spoke with Ariel after seeing her presentation of her book, Definition at the American Library Association show in Anaheim and she explained her move to a bigger publishing house. Like all authors, Ariel was looking for stronger distribution and promotional support which Touchstone provides.
There have been several other situations similar to this recently where the bigger houses have been trolling for talent. It will intensify as they figure out there is a farm system already in place to develop the talent for them. The only way for the graphic novel publishers to combat this is to ramp up how they promote their books. It can no longer be a case of creating great books and hoping fans will find you. They need to aggressively develop publicity and marketing campaigns for each new book. Authors will have to move beyond comic convention appearances and into the mainstream book shows and events. If these publishers can't make the adjustment then they may have to accept their place in the farm system for the traditional publishing industry.
Ok, it is time for a much needed vacation. As you read this, I am probably teaching my kids how to surf somewhere on the eastern seaboard. I will return to duty in a week or so. We all need a recharge now and again; mine usually requires salt water and lots of it!
John Shableski works for Diamond Book Distributors as a sales manager with a focus on the independent bookstore market, public and school libraries. He's been a moderator and panelist at Book Expo, a moderator for library panels at the New York Comic Con, a guest speaker at library events, regional book shows and a symposium coordinator. He is currently collaborating on several graphic novel symposiums across the country. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org