This is the week for celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Miami Book Fair International. I will arrive on Wednesday in time to introduce the Evening with the Will Eisner panel and program, which is quite a thrill. Eisner was, and still is, one of the greatest influences in graphic novel publishing. This evening will feature a panel discussion of his work, a showing of works from A Contract with God and a film documentary. What makes it especially sweet for me is that I have been invited to be a judge for the 2009 Eisner Awards. The Eisner Awards are the Oscars of the comics and graphic novel industry and I am really thrilled for this opportunity.
The Evening with Will Eisner kicks off the graphic novel portion of the book fair. They have had creators featured at the fair in the past, but this is the first time there has been a specific focus on the format. We have the Comix Galaxy and a whole host of great authors and creators lined up to speak like: Art Spiegelman, Brad Meltzer, Chip Kidd, David Hajdu, and Jessica Able to name a few.
In addition to the creators, we have some great librarians and academics coming to speak on how the format has impacted libraries, classrooms and universities. This list includes Robin Brenner, David Serchay, Arlene Allen and Professor Adam Johnson. They will all give their presentations on Friday for librarians and teachers.
Fortunately, I was able to convince my company, Diamond Book Distributors, that we should partner with Miami to launch their first graphic novel pavilion. I was also able to convince publishers like Marvel, Dark Horse, Udon Entertainment, Tokyopop and many others to add this show to an already busy schedule. None of us have ever set up at an event such as this…ever. Is Miami ready for a graphic novel pavilion? Everyone seems to think so and the hurricanes have all held off-so far.
The Ramones Luck Factor
When my wife was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in the early 90s I took a job with a mobile DJ service while I was waiting for a job to open in the radio market. On one particular Wednesday evening, I got a call from the dispatcher who said, “I have to pull you off the wedding you had for Saturday-you’re now working the fundraiser for the National Symphony Orchestra .”
Why they, of all people would need a DJ service was beyond me. Apparently someone on the committee had recommended that they add a DJ to fill in during the band breaks. The theme for the evening’s black tie event was: Rudolf Valentino. The band was one of the best in the area. The woman leading the band had such a great reputation that there were plenty of musicians waiting for their shot to play for her.
Anyway, the theme also meant they believed people should learn how to tango and the band was instructed to play everything that sounded like a tango. Out of the 1,500 people attending the event, maybe three or four couples made the attempt. It didn’t look good.
When the band took their first break the leader came over and said, “I hope you can figure this one out!” Now as I said, the room was black tie, age range ran from mid-20s to upper 60s. I decided to throw on a little Motown to see if there was a pulse. Sure, a few heads bobbed and some toes tapped … still, nothing. Just then, one of the event organizers came up and asked if I had “anything younger? We really want to dance!” I looked at her and her committee members and said “I have something that just might work.”
I pulled out the Ramones. I remembered a good friend of mine Monty LeFave, telling me that “you can never go wrong with the Ramones”. He was a die-hard fan and probably never played an event like this, but what did I have to lose?
So I took a deep breath and almost hid behind the console as I queued up the song. I introduced the song with some Latin sounding name I made up for this “quartet out of New York”. I actually heard someone moan “oh god, not ANOTHER tango”. When the first notes of I Wanna Be Sedated fired up the crowd went wild. From that moment on the house was jumping. It got to the point where the band would play for half an hour and I would play for an hour, so they could justify getting paid.
The night rocked.
Will the Ramones do it one more time?
Once again, I find myself in this moment where I know there is a certain amount of expectation from the Miami Book Fair International, and the publishers whom I convinced we need to be there. To us, the MBFI is a classic event for authors, poets and publishing. We, the graphic novels gang represent the ‘new school’ and a sea change in publishing. Brash, crazy and fun is what we do. Is the audience ready for us? We’ll just have to wait and see. The street fair opens on Friday, November 14th.
Maybe I should fire up the Ramones to get the party started.
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. You can learn more about graphic novels at www.diamondbookshelf.com