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April 18, 2008

Initial Commentary On The ICV2 Graphic Novel Conference In NYC 04-17-08

I spent a good chunk of yesterday sitting in the audience of the Graphic Novel Conference, held in conjunction with the New York Comic-Con for the third straight year. This afternoon of programming includes Milton Griepp's presentation of a white paper detailing general trends in the comics market place and then a series of loaded panels on various talking points related to those issues. While I want to fold in some of my reaction to the Conference into a more general piece on NYCC next week, here are some of my initial observations and note-writing asides.

* perhaps the biggest and most important piece of analysis from Griepp was his observation that major buyers are no longer carrying entire manga lines, or entire lines period. I talked to a pair of retailers at the presentation that concurred, and one said that this was a heated item of discussion between himself and some of the publishers his store carries.

The picture painted was brutal in that it was asserted by one of those retailers that when sales got to a certain point not only was that series no longer purchased by that buyer by all reorders on earlier volumes were also discontinued, essentially cutting a series off from the kind of long-time store presence that Griepp indicated was important in giving non top sellers a chance to survive in the market.

In other words, structural issues are going to make it rough for everyone including non-bestselling manga titles, as retailers move to the familiar and titles continue to come out at a frightening pace. This puts into a particular bind those publishers who need to continue publishing in order to keep a license or facilitate cross-promotion on merchandising or potential anime, or, one guesses, to stay afloat.

* I thought Judith Hansen was the belle of the ball of the agents and publishers panel, abandoning theoretical and pseudo-promotional speechifying for things like a list of specific contractual items that she looks for in a comics-related deal.

* I know where they were coming from, but a moment on the agents and publishers panel where the participants rhapsodized about how awesome it was to be a comics talent right now with all of these publishing opportunities seemed way too self-congratulatory when we don't yet know how things will end up or not end up vis-a-vis these contracts and publishing avenues. I'm sure it looked just as awesome for an admittedly briefer time in 1983, 1989 and 1992 for various reasons, too.

* another interesting item discussed on that panel was how savvy people in book publishing are often asked to consult on comics-related issues in general, and how agents often do more work in packaging books because of a lack of know-how in the system on how to put an effective line together.

* there seemed to me to be some unspoken tension between some of the publishers on the 'tweens panel that generally work with individual authors and Jim Salicrup, who spoke in more editorially strategic and packaging terms.

* I also thought Dan Buckley was surprisingly forthright about Marvel's failings on such books while seated at that panel, particularly on the general cultural failure of Marvel's creators and editors to naturally make work that could appeal to kids in the way great all-ages literature does.

* only a modest amount of the semi-nauseating, self-serving kind of non-question speechmaking from the audience typical to such events -- not as bad as an NCS panel by any means, and really fewer than the average BEA panel I've attended.

* the best question from a journalist came from the Wizard representative on hand.

* it seems to me that Griepp didn't have any reason to deny that by moving away from its cheap, junk-culture pricing roots comics is now way more exposed to harm if there's a long recession, but he didn't want to say it out loud, either. In fact, it wasn't in the initial presentation at all.

* Joe Sacco's doing a book with Metropolitan?

* publishing companies are apparently including rights to comic book adaptations in prose writer contracts now.

* I thought one scary line from the publishers panel was when one of the publishing folks (maybe the one from Viz?) spoke in terms of getting back as much of the advance offered any way they could.

* Scholastic has no interest in comics non-fiction. Kids have no interest in Michael Jordan anymore.

* there were approximately 125 people in attendance. They reserved the best seat in the house for Paul Levitz, but the DC executive seemed to prefer waiting for his panel from the back row.

* has re-designed, they're rolling out updates all day as CR noticed a few weeks ago, and they're going to add a preview function.

* Douglas Wolk has much a better answer to what his next project will be than my own, "I guess I'll be working some more on my blog."
posted 8:10 am PST | Permalink

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