Right now, I am looking out the window and seeing snow flurries. It's only been an evening or two since I was in Miami, checking on the final details and clean up from the Miami Book Fair International. Warm, amazing Miami!
In an earlier column I made the observation that bringing graphic novels to the Miami Book Fair was much like discovering a great new surf spot that was right under our very noses. After this past weekend, it certainly feels like that was a pretty accurate analogy. The crowd was great and the speakers were all phenomenal. It was a really great moment.
We launched our efforts with “An Evening with Will Eisner.” The panel had Scott McCloud, Denis Kitchen, Judy Hansen, Charlie Kotchman and Bob Weil. It was more of a cool jam session than discussion. Each has great personal memories to share of Mr. Eisner and to top it all off, his wife sat in the front of the room which was lined with his work from The Spirit, A Contract with God and The Plot.
Thursday was set up time, which is a lot like herding highly caffeinated cats. I am ever grateful l that Lissette Mendez and the rest of the book fair family are so patient. We comics and graphic novels folks bring a whole new spin to setting up a show.
Friday the invasion of students began as Friday at the Fair is Kids’ Day. The rising tide of kids swelled to tsunami proportions and the Comix Galaxy took a direct hit. We were right at home.
The Day of Education
The programming for the librarians and teachers was pretty solid. Thanks again to the phenomenal Robin Brenner for coming in from Boston to give her brilliant presentation on Otaku. Professor Adam Johnson, of Stanford University came in to talk about the GN writing program that he and Prof Tom Kealey created and he shared the book that his students created. Arlene Allen and David Serchay, both of Broward County, also were kind enough to present programs for the day. The events were all solidly attended and I was surprised that it was almost 95% school teachers and media specialists. I was really expecting to see a primarily public library audience. Not that I mind, it was just a surprising moment.
An insane act to follow
Note to authors: If you ever have to follow Dave Barry or Frank Beddor, you had better bring explosives or an electric guitar. You just can't out do these guys. Dave had a presentation with Ridley Pearson for their latest book: called Science Fair. For some reason it had to include a demonstration on dropping Mentos candies into a two liter bottle of Pepsi. With enough Mentos, you can create a geyser that will delight kids all over the world. The kids went crazy and I could see the moms in the audience making mental note to hide their bottles of soda.
Frank Beddor is an amazing entertainer and author. You should know that he is also an actor and movie producer so the man comes prepared to own the stage. My particular Beddor experience was a panel that he shared with two foreign authors. Frank reenacted his version of Alice in Wonderland called The Looking Glass Wars . He also shared the trailers he has created for his Hatter M graphic novel, which are out of this world. As Frank delivered his show, I noticed the reactions of the two other authors. They don't speak English but you could see by the expressions on their faces that they really didn't have anything to follow with.
There were great graphic novel programs throughout the book fair. Art Speigelman was on the main stage talking Breakdowns, Scott McCloud was inspiring with his presentation for Understanding and Making Comics. Francoise Mouly was teamed up with David Hajdu, author of The Ten Cent Plague. The Marvel writers: Jim McCann, Christos Gage and Brian Reed had fun talking about writing comics and comparing them to soap operas. Brad Meltzer and Chip Kidd shared a stage to discuss their latest projects. Brad’s is “The Book of Lies” and Chip's Bat-Manga, which is a great look at the history of Batman in Japan.
Hanging with the Fun Kids
There was a great evening at Books and Books where a bunch of the creators, authors and publishers all headed over to Books and Books to just hang out and tell war stories. This is where the funniest of human beings, Jim Zubkavich from Udon Entertainment, showed his true colors and had us all laughing so hard it hurt to breathe. It's these moments when I really appreciate the camaraderie of the people in the comics and graphic novel world.
Closing the circle
We buttoned up the show on Sunday evening and everyone headed home to places around the globe. Monday I had one last stop to make and headed back to Books and Books. First and foremost, it was to thank Mitchell for getting this started. I had some time to kill while waiting for my afternoon flight and where else to do that but at Books and Books? After all, this is was where we first came up with the idea of bringing graphic novels to the Miami Book Fair in a big way. When Mitchell spotted me he quickly asked if I had ever met Junot Diaz to which I said, “Um no.” Mitchell said "He's such a great guy and he would be a great one to talk to about graphic novels." With that we were on our way to Junot's corner table in the courtyard.
How do you miss the obvious?
Diaz promptly sticks out his hand and says "Hey Bro, great to meet you!" When he learns why I was in Miami we quickly dive into the conversation about the history of the comics business and how there should be better representation for people of color in the industry. See, way back in time, the comics industry was the most inclusive of all here in the U.S. Men and women of all colors and walks were employed as artists, writers and publishers. He emphasized something that really needed to be addressed and he was right. From time to time there will be a panel or program on women creators, but that's not enough. There are a lot of really talented people out there of all walks, each is due to get some time in the spotlight.
Junot was also kind enough to sign his latest book for me and shortly after that I had to bolt for my cab and get to the airport. Funny thing is the same thing happened the first time I was at Books & Books. This time in my rush, I left my cell phone behind at the bookstore, but I made my flight.
Today, while plowing through all my unanswered email, I pulled Junot's book out of my bag only to discover that he had won the Pulitzer for The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao. How did I miss that? I mean, I was going to read the book anyway. Mitchell said he is a really good writer and that's enough for me. What really impressed me about him was the fact that Junot never pointed out that he even wrote a book. That's something pretty remarkable. The guy is someone who would have been right at home with the graphic novel gang we brought over to the store a few nights ago.
Home from the surf trip
I read Shaun Tomson's Bustin' Down the Door on the flight home. Shaun, Rabbit Bartholomew and Mark Richards were leaders of a new generation surfer. They brought about a new style of surfing to the world. As 16 and 17 year old kids, they crashed the gates of big wave surfing and did things no one thought possible. They also helped to create the professional surfing industry opening the doors to the likes of Tommy Curren and Kelly Slater to earn millions and millions of dollars playing on the waves. The Miami Book Fair International could very well be something along those lines. We brought a new style of writing to the center stage and it felt really good.
For one brief moment I could hear the Ramones singin'...”twenty, twenty, twenty four hours to go oh-oh, I wanna be sedated!” We came, we saw and we brought some cool, new stuff to the Miami Book Fair International.
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, Comic Con International, 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