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News: Report from BEA 2003
posted June 30, 2003

Notes and commentary from the floor of the Book Expo America 2003, held in Los Angeles at the L.A. Convention Center from May 28 to June 1.

Three Reasons Why BEA Is Important

The Book Expo America is the yearly meeting of the book publishing industry's buyers, sellers, and distributors -- with large contingents of talent, unabashed fans and press on hand to keep things interesting. Held in the United States' largest and most media-friendly cities on a rotating basis, publishers and distributors set up in booths and meet and greet their peers with either just-released or soon-to-be-released works, doing an enormous amount of important preliminary publicity work and presenting their best face to the industry. The Expo also features programming designed to spotlight authors and present practical tips to various interested parties. And if you look real hard at the tables and chairs set up in strange locations in various displays, a great deal of initial deal making and handshaking takes place. Basically, BEA is Comic-Con International for the printed matter set, minus the Klingons and with tightly focused freebies taking the place of free flowing commerce.

Three Reasons Why This Year's BEA Was Important

This year's Book Expo held specific appeal to publishers and distributors of comics-related material. Established alternative comics publishers like Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly were hoping to make a strong impression in the early stages of major book trade distribution deals, setting up space in the general areas that W.W. Norton and Chronicle, respectively, provided. For all graphic novel publishers on hand, special attention from those in attendance was a result of this Expo's focus on comics and manga and their increasing importance in the book trade. The show's organizers gave one day and one track of programming over to comics, in a series of panels and presentations that emphasized both the practical how-to of stocking all kinds of medium offerings and the broad range of authors and personalities working in the literary edge of the art form.

Another less talked about point of emphasis for many publishers was the chance to meet and greet with library buyers. With libraries making up a significant new buyer for many comics and manga publishers, and a significant point of sales emphasis for established companies, any library book buyers on hand were due extra attention. This was particularly true for those who were not making the trip to this year's American Library Association event in Toronto, a convention whose ability to pack them in was questionable due to the linger fear over SARS. At least one distributor with heavy participation from comic book publishers, Diamond Books, had canceled on earlier plans to attend.

Sixty-Seven People In One Line

In addition to having people in their booths, formal autograph sessions took place in a lower-level room. Comics-related signings were among the best attended. There were three feeder lines for a Saturday afternoon signing held by a group of syndicated newspaper cartoonists including Jerry Scott (Zits, Baby Blues) and Jim Davis (Garfield, coming soon to a theater near you), each of which held approximately 60-70 people. This put the cluster of strip cartoonists near the top in terms of interest for at least that part of the day in the big signing area, which held thirty or so signings at any one time. Four lines over and half a world in creative intent away, a more modest twenty or thirty people waited to speak with Bob Levin, portions of whose Fantagraphics-published non-fiction journalistic take on the Air Pirates/Disney litigation appeared in earlier issues of this magazine. Further towards the front of the hall, gathered together with their families, Fantagraphics mainstays Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez reported a steady flow of traffic at their signing earlier that day. Gilbert noted that his publisher's presence had improved significantly from past years, and that his first year at the Expo he and his brother had signed paper pamphlets.

The Eighty Thousand Dollar Question

With hundreds of people thrown together into one space for a long weekend, many who only have books in common, gossip is rampant. The press release dropped into e-mails nationwide by Fantagraphics Books was an item of discussion for many mid-level publishers and those curious about comics and the comics industry. According to Fantagraphics Director of Marketing Eric Reynolds, who headed the company's BEA presence, those who had heard the news were supportive. "I would say it was split between those who had heard about it and expressed moral support and those who hadn't heard anything. Most folks who had heard about it seemed surprised, as if they assumed that we were a much more viable company than this implied."

Fantagraphics was a high-traffic subsection of the WW Norton area, conveniently located in one main room's front section. The FBI employees pushed forthcoming efforts such as Quimby the Mouse and Jimbo in Purgatory, and a bunch of their more art-book style efforts like Devil in Design: The Krampus Postcards and the design-intensive Gene Deitch collection. While Reynolds noted that the bookstore market and comic store markets were different, certain pieces of conventional wisdom held true. When asked if it was difficult to sell books about comics, Reynolds said, "Yes and no. Standouts like Feiffer's Great Comic Book Heroes and Alexander Theroux's Strange Case of Edward Gorey do exceptionally well because the authors are known quantities and the subject matter has broad appeal. A book like Don Phelps's Reading the Funnies, which won an American Book Award and is every bit as good, has probably not done as well, because Phelps is less of a ‘name' and 75-year-old comic strips aren't as ‘sexy' as Edward Gorey."

Like most publishers, Fantagraphics gave away free material to educated potential book buyers and promote specific works. One hundred copies of Bob Levin's book were distributed, and 300 copies of early, representative works from the Hernandez Brothers were also given away. Reynolds reported that many more could have been passed out, but that those numbers represented what Fantagraphics could afford in that effort. In terms of cost, some publishers go through a transitional period when they're working with a large distributor where their participating in trade shows incurs additional expenses. But Reynolds told the Journal that the cost of displaying with Norton was roughly that of having a stand-alone booth had been in previous years, and that attendance was not mandatory. With Norton picking up incidentals like carpet and electricity, the only price increase incurred by Fantagraphics came in slightly beefing up their display. "I think it's safe to say that if we hadn't hooked up with Norton when we did, we might not exist any more," notes Reynolds. "I'm not sure the direct market was prepared to keep us afloat single-handedly the last three years. W.W. Norton is the one thing that has gone undeniably right for us the last few years, and the single biggest reason to give me hope for the future."

Two Older Issues

The morning panel on selling comics in bookstores brought up an interesting digression on the subject of shelving. Both sides were represented in the free D&Q giveaway, "Selling Graphic Novels in the Book Trade -- a Drawn & Quarterly Manifesto." One of the authors of the brief essays in that pamphlet, Paul Constant of the prominent Seattle bookstore Elliott Bay Book, made it to the show and sat on the panel.

Conventional wisdom amongst many comic book fans deplores the grouping of all comics-related material in one section at a store. Publishers and concerned readers feel that placing a book like Palestine next to a trade paperback collecting stories about Marvel Comics' Punisher serve to trivialize the medium's literary efforts and bury the best work under several feet of spine-out mass-produced entertainment of extremely varying quality. One chatted-about solution is putting comics works in sections according to the genres they best represent -- Maus should be shelved with Holocaust narratives, Sacco's work with world-events journalism, and so on. Such a solution plays into the image that comic book publishers and readers have of the material's general worth, and has a few historical antecedents in some books succeeding when shelved with general fiction.

Constant and Elliott Books head buy Holly Myers support putting all comics in their own section, "Graphica," and then avoid the confusion caused by dissimilar books being racked together by paying vigorous attention to sub-sections by type. "As the fiction head, and bearing in mind the failure of Ben Katchor's work to catch on in fiction, I can tell you that the idea of mixing graphica with the appropriate categories is a dead end," Constant writes. "They will not sell from fiction, unless they're faced out and tagged with a staff recommend card, and to suggest that kind of special treatment is ridiculous." Another writer in the pamphlet, Jaz Williams of the Borders bookstore in Bloomington, Indiana, confirms that his store has enjoyed success simply altering the graphic novels section so that an alternative or literary sub-group is made, indicating that a sub-section strategy may have legs that have little to do with how people react to a yet another name by which to describe comics.

The second old comics industry issue made a much briefer appearance. In an afternoon panel on aiming comics towards younger audiences, participants answered multiple questions on the tendency for popular manga titles to include brief scenes of what many would consider inappropriate content, or to have entire concepts driven by issues of sexual identity told with a sense of humor unfamiliar to western audiences. At one point, Tokyopop CEO and COO Stuart Levy noted that his extremely successful company was utilizing a rating system, and that he had already talked to a number of industry people about standardizing a way to label books. According to Steve Kleckner, the Vice-President of Sales, Distribution and Licensing at Tokyopop, their ratings have been a hit with the company's more than 14,000 retail clients. "We are loved by retailers and librarians because we label our books with a rating system very similar to the one used by the video game industry."

Tokyopop was loved at BEA for another reason -- they're filthy successful. Kleckner reminded the Journal that Tokyopop was "the leading graphic novel publisher in the United States." And in the context of a show that doesn't make fast and easy distinctions between comics literature adhering to western traditions and the right to left, page-per-penny approach of the Japanese publishers, Tokyopop was less a curiosity than the new sheriff in town. According to Tokyopop, titles Love Hina and Chobits not only place in the top 10 of Bookscan's graphic novel list, but have broken into the overall trade paperback lists, a first for any comics company. "It was truly a coming out party for us," declared Kleckner. With production at approximately 40 titles a month (twice that of the resurgent Viz), a cross-over critical hit with Battle Royale, the potential next big thing with Rave Master, and the potential next weird thing with a line of television show photo-driven comics they termed "cinemanga," this sheriff isn't going away any time soon, and the standard American comic book industry will feel their impact if only by gravitational pull.

Forty-Five Minutes

According to one fan chatting with a friend as they rode the escalator near the facility's South Hall, receiving a signature at one of DC's signings entailed waiting for three quarters of an hour. "And I came early," she said. DC anchored its substantial and crisply professional weekend presence with several well-attended signings by Neil Gaiman, the Orbiter team of Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran, and the Barnum pairing of Howard Chaykin and David Tischman. Their physical plant, a variation of their comic book convention set up modified for the graphic novel pavilion, provided a sharp contrast to Marvel's bare-bones single table several aisles away.

Three-Year Absence

Slave Labor Group, the San Jose-based alternative comics publisher, was one of those making a return to the Book Expo. "SLG has exhibited several times at BEA, but the last time was in 1999," editor Jennifer de Guzman told the Journal. Times have changed. "The experience then was not very positive, so the company stopped attending. However, because the BEA had a focus on the graphic novel this year and because we have better means of distribution for the book market through Diamond Book Distribution, we thought it would be a good time to exhibit again. The book market is more receptive to graphic novels now than in previous years, so we wanted to make people in the book industry, especially bookstores and libraries, familiar with our company and the titles we publish."

Slave Labor was one of a half-dozen or so publishers displaying its wares in what the banner overhead identified as the graphic novel pavilion. With many publishers choosing to display with their distributors, the pavilion was an imprecise cross-section of the comic book market, including many of the publishers focused on in programming. But from Slave Labor's standpoint, the grouping worked just fine as leverage for outreach. "Once in a while someone already familiar with comic books would stop by our booth and comment that the graphic novel pavilion 'ghettoized' the format, but I didn't see it that way," de Guzman said. "Many bookstore buyers and librarians were looking specifically for graphic novels, so it was very convenient for them to know that they could find us under the big sign. The traffic was good, comparable to what I saw on the rest of the floor when I ventured out." De Guzman noted that some major comic specialty stores might have been on hand for the graphic novel for that weekend's events specifically. "I didn't speak with anyone who said that they solely there because of the focus on graphic novels, but there were a few comic book store owners attending whom I imagine took a special interest in BEA because of it."

Slave Labor was in the interesting position amongst standard comics publishers of being able to offer titles to buyers impressed with how well manga sold. De Guzman explained it in terms of offering books that appealed to teenaged girls and young women -- everything from their Goth-tinged books like those of Jhonen Vasquez, Roman Dirge and Serena Valentino, to standard but youth-accessible fiction like Private Beach by David Hahn and Charm School by Elizabeth Watasin. "Accentuating the manga reader crossover is a way to introduce our books to bookstores and libraries, but when they see all we have to offer, they'll see that there are graphic novels that will appeal to all sorts of different tastes." The editor reported that most of the people she spoke to were librarians, and while some of the had content and budget restrictions that kept them from being interested in a lot of Slave Labor books, others were seeking to build a more varied reading selection and were prime targets. Forthcoming books particularly pitched included Evan Dorkin's trade and a forthcoming collection of the My Monkey's Name is Jennifer work by Ken Knudtsen.

Ten Seconds

According to eyewitnesses, DC Head Honcho Paul Levitz, or someone who very much looked like him, entered the lobby of the Marriott on Friday evening near 11 PM and paused for a moment, staring straight ahead.

Fifteen minutes later, Styx front man Dennis DeYoung played a short medley of his hits on the lobby's piano as a small crowd of alternative comics publisher employees looked on in bemused horror.

Despite several efforts to find a connection, this reporter believes the two events unconnected.

Four Missing Pages

Neil Gaiman spoke at a special presentation following the reception for various graphic novelists, and most in attendance stayed for the author and comic book writer's talk. In fact, with a large standing delegation in addition to those seated at tables and with constant walk-ins, Gaiman's presentation was probably the best-attended comics-related (at least in part) event of the weekend. After a bouncy introduction by Rory Root, Gaiman read his children's book The Wolves in the Walls, due from HarperCollins in August and with art from longtime collaborator Dave McKean. Despite four missing pages in the accompanying slide show, Gaiman's reading charmed the enthusiastic fans and buyers present. Of all the comics presented at the show, the new Gaiman/McKean effort was perhaps the only graphic story read in full for potential buyers, even though the work is not officially billed as a comic.

In the question and answer session that followed, Gaiman made the self-reflecting point that he was in the fortunate position of avoiding a strong link to any one property, or as he put it, "The next Neil Gaiman thing is whatever I'm working on." It was a small moment and not one very many people in attendance would probably choose to remember, but Gaiman had put the finger on his own remarkable accomplishment vis-à-vis a writer who did a lot of work in comics -- he had transcended not just a genre, but any format-related or specific-content issues regarding his own work. If DC and Marvel, each with its own Gaiman project in the months ahead, treat Gaiman with a respect and deference not common to most of its relationships with talent, the writer's ability to make a consistently strong public impression and deliver work that meets those general expectations is probably the reason. No one in comics impresses in quite the same way.

One Motivated Employee

Chatting About the Show:

"I saw someone handing out fliers for a comics-related event -- a signing or something by Batton Lash. Then I realized the person handing out the fliers was Batton Lash. But if you think about it, it's cool, because nobody will know that."

Fifteen Insiders Out of Sixty-Five

One of the bigger realizations for most people on BEA weekend is the degree to which most book buyers and librarians have caught up to the educative value, broad-based appeal, and literary merit that comics bring to the table. Rory Root, the owner of Berkeley's Comic Relief store and a businessman who offers a program to help libraries acquire graphic novels, finds alarming the difference between Expos past and present. "Throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, comics seemed to be ignored at the ABA's and BEA's. At best, comics were seen as one of the red-haired stepchildren of the world of literature. There were exceptions to how individuals reacted of course, but in general it was an uncomfortable audience for the advocacy that myself and others could put forth. Just getting a sales rep to write up your order was oft times difficult."

Root participated in two presentations -- the Neil Gaiman panel and a general discussion about bringing graphic novels into a bookstore -- and noted that while there was still hints of comics' less than reputable identity that might not be a bad thing. "In a panel dealing with selling and shelving the literary form of comics into the book field, having foam rubber characters from Yu Gi Oh handing out book bags was a tad dichotomous. Then again it might be a good metaphor for the duality with which the book market, and indeed the general public, sees comics." Although there were usually several comics people in attendance, such as Christian cartoonist Buzz Dixon, illustrator Eric Shanower, and publisher/writer Nat Gertler, Root was heartened by the percentage of the comics panels that were made up of fresh faces. "As to the audience, out of the 65 people, I would guess 15-20 were in the field. That percentage of insiders dropped as each successive panel was held." Root reported that YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) board member Francisca Goldsmith estimated that ½ of the 125-140 attending the youth market panel were fellow librarians.

There were other types of individuals in the audience beyond the buyers. The Journal noted that award-winning editor Michael Cart attended both the young persons' and arts comics panels. The former director of the Beverly Hills Public Library, Cart is currently putting together a literary magazine aimed at those in their late teens/early 20s to be called Rush Hour. Cart has already made plans to use Eric Shanower and the team of Steve Lieber and Sara Ryan on projects for the magazine, the first issue of which is set to debut in April 2004.

One Way to Push a Book

At the Marvel booth, Friday afternoon, chatting about the forthcoming text novel Mary Jane:

Reporter: "I think it's interesting you guys are trying young adult fiction. From a marketing standpoint, that's a really clever idea."

CDS Employee: "I wish we had the final cover here. This one isn't very attractive."

Reporter: "I really like that cover."

CDS Employee: [pause] "Well, the other one is much better."

Three Times the Orders

One significant function of the Book Expo is to garner sales and advance buzz on select books. For comics, the book of the show may have been Persepolis, the first of Marjane Satrapi's accounts about life as a child in 1980s Iran. In the language that BEA speaks, Persepolis had it all: a book imprint coming off a string of critical and commercial hits (Pantheon's graphic novel line), a high concept, proven sales success in Europe, an engaging author making a personal appearance, and a reasonably hot form of writing for many publishers right now, the memoir. With major publicity behind it in the form of an avalanche of feature articles (a major Los Angeles Times piece which should reach the region's humongous Iranian-American population appeared the week after the show), Persepolis should have the best chance of any major graphic novel from any publisher to find a crossover audience this fall.

That doesn't mean the Expo fails to work for important works of a slightly lesser sales profile. One book talked about and referred to constantly this year was Craig Thompson's forthcoming Blankets, the young cartoonist's massive follow-up to Goodbye, Chunky Rice. Chris Staros, on hand to spread the word, seemed particularly pleased, and believed that the BEA's focus on comics had begun to pay dividends. "The BEA was just amazing," he told the Journal. "Two years ago, I spent the whole time explaining what the term ‘graphic novel' meant, and this year everyone knew the term inside and out and also knew that graphic novels were the ‘hottest thing' in bookstores and libraries. From the big distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor to the big chains like Barnes & Noble, the word is finally out."

According to Staros, this attention paid off for his new prestige book. "Even though these folks have been carrying superhero and manga titles pretty heavily, I was one of several publishers that was encouraging the key buyers of the large chains to start racking 'literary graphic novels' equally and separately (Top Shelf, D&Q, Fantagraphics, Alternative, etc.). One of the good signs for this was their reaction to Craig Thompson's Blankets. Interestingly enough, in one weekend at the BEA, the book trade ordered three times as many copies of Blankets as the entire direct market. What this says about the long-term future of literary graphic novels in the book trade, I'm not sure, but it does make me smile to have the 'mainstream' realize that what we're doing is important, valuable, and highly entertaining."

Three Panels, One Moderator

One of the highlights of the show from a comics standpoint was a reception featuring three cartoonists whose work very successfully fits into the graphic novel format: Doug TenNapel of Creature Tech, Joe Sacco of Safe Area: Gorazde and Marjane Satrapi. As expected, the panel bounced around from the profound to the ridiculous. Satrapi's told a compelling story of being held by New York airport security before finally given access to this country and the kind driver who had come to pick her up, while one of the oddest exchanges of the day came between the other two participants. TenNapel to Sacco: "You draw great tanks." Sacco: "Thanks." TenNapel also spoke about the personal and professional leeway a Hollywood script deal afforded him, a topic on the mind of more book industry people than anyone would like to admit.

That panel featured introductions by Publisher Weekly's Calvin Reid, who worked two panels earlier in the day and nearly forgot about his third. "I forgot that I was supposed to introduce Sacco, Satrapi and TenNapel at the author reception. I was fried from doing two panels in the morning and running around the floor talking to people (about other stuff besides comics) for Publisher Weekly's BEA coverage. Plus BEA scheduled it like immediately after the Literary panel and just when I thought I was done for the day, I had to try and appear smart all over again. Although actually I thought I did a pretty good job on that panel even though I was a bit unprepared." Reid's presence through the weekend pretty much symbolized the BEA/Comics relationship -- increased press coverage, attention to several avenues for entering the form including literary, and longtime persistence paying off. "If you've been watching the acceptance of book format comics in the book industry for a while, then you have to say this BEA was fairly amazing. Not only did many publishing professionals, particularly the all-important booksellers and librarians, know what graphic novels are, there was great interest and a lively curiosity about the format," Reid told the Journal. "When I say that this was a great BEA for comics I mean that lots of people, lots of booksellers showed an enthusiastic interest and active curiosity in the conversation about graphic novels. And from what we've seen over the last few years and what publishers and distributors were telling me, booksellers were putting money and orders in support of their curiosity."

Reid's vision of how this attention might have an effect on the comics publishers themselves sounds idyllic but appealing. "When I first started being involved in BEA comics panels, I remember very few people attending. At this BEA the difference was like night and day. Still this is just the beginning. Comics publishers, in my opinion, have figured out that you have to offer a wider variety of narratives, topics, characters and sensibility in their books -- like any good publisher." Reid cited one potential weak panel -- the spotlight on literary comics publishers featuring Fantagraphics' Reynolds, D&Q's Oliveros, Terry Nantier of NBM and Francoise Mouly of Little Lit. Noting the technical difficulties in setting up a Mouly slide show tracking RAW's bookstore efforts (the gist of which seemed to be that RAW was such an extreme anomaly that booksellers were reasonably happy to work with them but everyone else thought their hands-on manipulation -- ripped covers, etc. -- were crazy) and work to be published in the forthcoming It Was a Dark and Silly Night, Reid called the panel a "little sleepy" and blamed himself.

Two Thousand Lanyards Can't Be Wrong

CrossGen Entertainment may be best known in the book trade as a company that chases new audiences through permutations in format -- in addition to comic book and trade paperback compilations, CGE has pursued various anthology digests as a way to broach a price point to readers spoiled by manga. "The CDS aisle, while no graphic novel pavilion, didn't lack for traffic," CGE Director of Marketing and Sales Chris Oarr told the Journal. "It probably helped us to be alongside the #1 and #2 GN publishers -- Tokyopop and Marvel, at least as far as book trade is concerned." CGE gave away around 1500 Way of the Rat Free Comic Book Day comics, joining at least Gemstone Disney Comics in pressing their FCBD comic into double-duty. "We handed out about 800 catalogs from the booth and another 500 or so from two kiosks located outside each of the main halls. This was up considerably from last year, Oarr continued. "A little over 400 people specifically asked to be added to our mailing list via the Expo Card Reader. That's about 100 more than last year." Nothing CGE provided attendees was as popular as their lanyards, which allowed people to put their badges around their necks instead of on their clothing. They were as ubiquitous as any promotional giveaway that weekend.

CrossGen finds itself working an interesting niche in presenting itself to booksellers, pushing books that lie somewhere among the action-packed fantasies that drives the appeal of many manga titles, the meticulous plots of traditional young teen fantasy prose, and the costumed fantasies that one associates with comics. Although no CGE representative was a member of the comics-specific panel series, Oarr took part in a book trade panel called "Targeting Teens," where he sounded to untrained ears much like the standard manga publisher. "With best selling authors and the head of Simon & Schuster's Young Adult division sitting on the panel as well, I was pleasantly surprised anyone wanted to hear what I had to say. It says something about just how far the category has come that graphic novels are seen as an important tool to get girls to your store."

Five Questions With Kuo-Yu Liang

As Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Diamond Book Distributors, Kuo-Yu Liang was one of the key personalities of the convention in terms of the graphic novel trade. Diamond's book distribution arm enjoys nowhere the near virtual monopoly and saturation that its comics division enjoys. In fact, with literary publishers aligning with prestigious established distributors, DC's relationship complicated by its prior business arrangements with Warner Books, and Client Distribution Services (CDS) enjoying deals with giants Marvel and Tokyopop and the well-capitalized and aggressive CrossGen Entertainment, Diamond offers an impressive but by no means unassailable group of publishers -- another major defection from one of its top clients and Diamond could be working with a withered capacity to compete in the book trade. Liang was a constant presence at the Diamond booth and in various meetings, as well as chairing one of the Expo's panels on book trade. In the brief interview, he describes Diamond Books' public persona in an interesting fashion, breaks down his own role at the show, admits that Timonium and SARS don't mix, and fires a warning shot across the bow of S.S. Funnybooks Are Saved.

Can you give me a general idea of how you thought the convention went for Diamond Books? How do you think your panel went?

The show was a big success for DBD and our publishers in every way possible. The booth had constant traffic from retailers, wholesalers, librarians and press. The panels were packed and good, smart questions were asked. The questions (at the booth and at the panel) have shifted from last year's "what is a graphic novel'' to "I'm starting a GN section in my store/library/wholesaler, what can I do to improve my selection/sales?''

Our publishers got a lot of press from the media and were able to meet with a number of major retailers & wholesalers one and one, including Barnes & Noble, Ingram, BWI, Koen and Baker & Taylor to name a few.

I heard that Diamond will not be attending the forthcoming ALA expo in Toronto. Is this due to lingering SARS concerns? Were you supported in this decision by the book publishers you distribute?

This is correct. After weeks of agonizing DBD decide to pull out of exhibiting at this year's ALA. SARS-related concerns for our staff was definitely a consideration, but just as importantly a number of our major customers (including BWI and Baker & Taylor) are pulling out or greatly scaling back plus a number of major GN publishers (including DC and Dark Horse) have also pulled out. In the end it just wasn't worth attending given that we will have a big presence at other library trade shows through out the year. So far our publishers have expressed understanding.

I'm interested in how various industry people spend their time at a show like this. How much of your time at the show was given over to meetings and that kind of hands-on business activity as opposed to manning the booth and greeting people who wander up?

For me shows like this are mostly about meeting with publishers and accounts. I think I had 40 appointments at BEA. In between I like to work the booth so I can interact with folks, and I like to walk the floor to see how other exhibitors are merchandising their products and what the "buzz'' is on the floor.

It's been a really chaotic 24 months as comics publishers jump from distributor to distributor. Do you think that's settled down now? How does Diamond feel about the array of publishers they represent?

I think it's settled down as far as all the major publishers have signed with a distributor and most of the inventory and account conversations have been completed. I think DBD has the most interesting group of publishers to work with. Starting with big boys like Dark Horse and Image, we have Manga (Gutsoon, IC Entertainment, CPM, Comics One), Indy/award-winners (Top Shelf, Avatar, GT Labs, Alternative), teen-favorites (Oni, Ait/Planetlar, SLG), all-ages (Cartoon, Astonish, Gemstone, Archie). You name a demographic or style and we have it, it makes it very easy to put together merchandising mixes for retailers.

Can you identify one or two specific challenges for Diamond in the next two or three years as book trade becomes more important for comics publishers?

I think the biggest challenge for publishers in the book market in the next two-three years are to manage expectations and have planning, because not everything will sell, and some titles will sell extremely well. The glut is already here, the market cannot absorb everything that is being published so both retailers and consumers will be very selective, so what you'll see is a smaller range of titles selling well and a large middle and bottom of the list getting less and less representation. While virtually anything published can count on some direct market or convention sales publishers have to be prepared for certain titles to have zero or even negative sales on the book side. On the flip side when a title works the book market -- with it's thousands of outlets and marketing muscle can really move some tonnage. Which means the publishers will have to learn inventory management -- not have enough books at the right time will mean missed sales. Reprint too many books too slow and they'll miss the peak and get lots of returns.

The challenge for DBD is to provide our publishers with real-time information and realistic feedbacks. Being a middleman is a thankless job because when a book doesn't sell it's always the distributors' fault. We feel like we're doing our job when we provide accurate data and handle the executions well, in that I have every faith that we're the best in the business.

One Piece of Comics-Related Dialogue

Saturday morning:

"Hey, I think I just saw the Riddler."

"No, that's the guy from the infomercial who tells you how to get free stuff."

"He should try to get himself some free clothes."

Six Wandering Publishers

Several publishers attended without formal booth representation. Those on hand included Chris Staros and Brett Warnock of Top Shelf, Tom Devlin of Highwater Books, Jordan Crane of Reddingk, and the team of Larry Young and Mimi Rosenheim at AiT/Planet Lar. Rosenheim told the Journal that her company basically set up shop near their distributor. "Larry and I attended BEA but didn't choose to set up a booth. It was our first time there and we wanted to have the liberty of attending some sessions, walking the floor, and meeting with other publishers, booksellers, librarians, and distributors. We were in LA on other business as well so we needed to have a more flexible schedule than having a booth would allow." Fortunately, Diamond was able to accommodate the trade paperback-focused publisher's needs. "Diamond was wonderful to us. They had our books at the booth, set up some meetings, and allowed us to use the booth as our base of operations. The Diamond booth was hopping with activity and Larry and I spoke with many BEA attendees about graphic novels in general and our books specifically. We learned a lot at the convention and plan to attend next year."

Like many of the companies on hand, Rosenheim and Young spent a portion of the show seeking out librarians and Rosenheim called that group on "the leading edge" when it came to knowledge about the form. And while their company's publishing plan includes room for a potential oversaturation of the market, Rosenheim sees a period of growth for now, particularly for those who push their works effectively. "As more and more quality books enter the book market, the perception of comics as a viable entertainment and literary option will become more prevalent and the book stores will continue to invest in the form. Success in the book trade is determined not only by books you publish but by the effectiveness of a publisher's marketing." She added, "We're confident that there is room for everyone to be successful."

A Swing of Four Thousand, Five Hundred and Eighty-Three

As further proof that the book industry in general is slightly down this year as opposed to years past, 27,143 book professionals attended the L.A. event as opposed to 31,726 in New York last year (the show's post-Expo press release notes over 2000 professionals who live and work in New York attended on day passes in 2002). Book buyers were down as well, to 6,684 from 7,049.

The 2004 Book Expo America, without a special focus on comics but with many of the same folks in attendance, will take place in Chicago. According to the business analysis web site, yearly sales of comics in book formats are expected to grow from $100 million to $120 million by then, and for the first time bookstores will handle more than half of that business.