I'm sure there were plenty more than 18 comics and graphic novels at Book Expo America at the Javits Center in New York last week, in fact I know there were hundreds, but these are the ones that I somehow managed to drag home by foot, train, and car back to New Jersey and believe me, it was one of the heaviest hauls I've ever attempted. I might have had equally heavy bags occasionally at Small Press Expo, but I'm not even sure of that, and in that case, I only had to move them to my hotel room or the parking lot. This was extreme book gathering, and though there were thousands of prose books being given away at BEA, my focus was mainly to see what was happening in comics, however, I did bring home a few that caught my eye, particularly in genre fiction.
There were several comics publishers present at BEA, but on the whole they kept things modest, or had smaller booths provided by their distribution companies, which meant you'd find them laced in with many other types of books. That alone is an interesting experience to see, like taking an object and placing it in a totally different context to examine its properties. Comics at BEA were not at all disrespected or looked down upon, they were treated more like the eccentric cousin with fun fashion sense who might liven up the party a little, but who you never manage to see more than once a year.
I'm sure that Will Eisner would be pleased to see the way that graphic novels took their place alongside prose and art books at Book Expo, though he would have preferred to see them fully integrated into wider publisher, the way that Abrams did at the expo, and the way that Scholastic presented its graphic novels alongside other works. But those are big companies, of course, that have graphic novel "lines" within their publishing round up.
A noticeable, but understandable difference is that the purely comics publishers present were far less likely have freebie copies to give out. It's understandable because the comics publishers were much smaller than these prose publisher conglomerates, with more to lose in already strapped budgets by doing so. They were hoping for orders and potential interest from publishing professionals, librarians, school systems and the like, and fingers crossed that they made some headway there.
Despite that, I did manage to come home with enough comics and graphic novels to painfully remind me of my success every step of the way back to Penn Station from the Javits Center. But these are the burdens you bear when you're too far gone in comics to say no to a free book, as I'm sure you'll agree.
And so, Image Comics were one of the first booths that I encountered, like Diamond, set up very near a major entrance to the show floor.
They were giving out quite a lot of these "firsts" to readers for free, which is a great gesture, including The Walking Dead, but actually I read quite a lot of Image comics, so I wasn't in dire need. I did get The Manhattan Projects and Deadly Class because I haven't managed to check them out yet, though I have heard many good things about them, including editing pieces about them here for Bleeding Cool. I look forward, especially to Deadly Class. Wes Craig's artwork and layout sensibilities are an immediate draw for me.
I was very impressed by JR*Comics out of China. I knew they'd have a presence at the con, and were very enthusiastic about their large serialized line of young adult graphic novels, but they were also very generous with their time and thoughts about these books.
These three works are written by the prolific author Wei Dong Chen, and illustrated by different artists, and are each different in genre with slightly different age-groups targeted. Legends from China: Three Kingdoms (far left) is a historical saga focusing on the Han dynasty, drawn beautifully in color by Xiao Long Liang, and even contains a little extra resource material for readers. It's complexity and some violence mean it's best for mid-range ages within YA. Tales from China: Outlaws of the Marsh is more of a gangster storyline and does have blood-spatter so isn't recommended for the youngest of readers (far right). It's the most "mature" of their line. It's incredibly active and entertaining storytelling. My favorite is Adventures from China: Monkey King, which already exists in several volumes, and this is the most "all ages" of their all ages books. The artwork is very compelling and the stories are interesting, and of course, magical, which strikes my fancy.
This next one isn't strictly-speaking a comic, though it did have a nifty fold-out poster and plenty of promo-material for upcoming books:
The two-sided flipbook promoted both Star Wars books and Rebels products. On the Star Wars side of things, the most prominent is an upcoming picture book: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, coming in October, which from interior previews verges very closely on a comic format, mixing substantial narrative and images. Star Wars: Rebels is, of course, the upcoming much anticipated CGI animated series (timed between Episode III and IV in the Star Wars universe) and debuting on Disney XD in the Autumn. The only picture book I see listed related to the show is A New Hero, publishing this week, but there are many junior novels and chapter books listed for Fall and Winter.
Scholastic were very eager to get these proofs into the hands of readers, though I also think I hit it right, passing by just as they were unloading a new supply of boxes onto a table where they had grouped graphic novels together.
And these are big titles with a massive fan-base already, Raina Telgemeier's new book Sisters, book six of the series Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, and the eleventh installment of Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants. I'm new to the whole "book ARC" business, so I was a little surprised that they were prepared to hand out proofs of not yet colored comics, but no one else dodging around me to grab these books considered that a problem, believe me.
Sisters is really visually stunning, high-quality narrative which I'd buy for any young person, telling the story of the arrival of a new sibling, Amulet is also very polished and has an intricate storyline with plenty of text that will keep kids working hard to involve themselves in the narrative, definitely putting the "reading" in comics, and Captain Underpants, heavily illustrated, jumps in and out of comics format in a heady brew of gags and storytelling and definitely has the "thrills" and "laffs" it promises. Scholastic books are in many ways the cream of the crop for young readers, and it's no surprise why–they set the standard very high on their books.
I found this little pamphlet on the show floor from Overlook Press (who also publish The Graphic Canon series and have some autobio graphic novels out).
This ABC by Joel Rickett and Spencer Wilson is really written for the parents and is hilarious. It's all about 21st century parenting, trendy things, and the mish-mash of strangeness parents face these days. The letter "P" features projectile vomiting, playdate, and puree, for instance. The illustrations are cartoony, manga-ish, and easy on the eyes, too.
Fantagraphics had a well-appointed little booth and display, and they were being sure to give out this book as a proof as well as their Fall catalog.
Lucy Knisley returns to print in this very honest autobio travelogue Ah Age of License featuring her 2011 travels in Europe and Scandinavia. Knisley breaks up page layout expectation at every turn, moving between curve-hugging script on panelless pages to standard grids and full-page wordless spreads. Its energetic, funny, engaging, and always on the move, which reflects the narrative content well. It's also a very touching story about the ways in which we can let ourselves roam free during certain times in our life and have to deal with the "returning" aspect to responsibility and how we find ways of coping with that change without losing what we gained on the journey.
In some ways, this is the most unusual and inspiring encounter I had at Book Expo, talking with Harmony Ink Press, who also publish romance books.
But what we talked about was LGBTQ and differently abled issues for young adults and the ways in which genre fiction needs to catch up for young people so that they don't have limited options when it comes to reading things that connect with their lives. Speaking with them, I agreed that young people don't just want to read modern, high-school set dramas about the struggles they face, though those are a good starting point. They want to recognize themselves in fantasy and sci-fi stories too. This is an "illustrated introduction" to The 7th of London, by Beau Schemery (not a bad pen name) which follows the life of a young person attempting to raise themselves from the slum underworld of London in 1861, a place of "shadow". Looks very interesting, to say the least, and hints of steampunk themes to come.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Boom/Archaia took full advantage of the BEA turnout by having a full booth with lots of books on display for sale. When I approached the booth, I saw a raft of titles I hadn't seen in print before, though two that I was expecting expecting soon.
Firstly, a sci-fi graphic novel Darklight, by Chad Kultgen and Piotur Kowalski, which I actually hadn't heard about that came out in April. Since I'm a sci-fi fan, this particularly interested me. I learned that Kultgen is somewhat known for his New York Times best-selling books on gender and is something of a controversial figure, so I'll have to see what I make of his politics. Next, a book I'd been hearing good things about on social media that has been in the works for years, and is finally reaching readers: Interesting Drug by Shaun Manning and Anna Wieszczyk, about a drug that permits time-travel. The artwork, I can see, on the book is exceptional and interesting in more of the European school of cartooning, and with an interesting, bright color palette. Lastly, Hacktivist, which was produced in prestige single issues, but will soon be released widely in this hardback format, by Alyssa Milano, Collin Kelly, and Jason Lanzing. The book's first issue had already gotten my attention due to its social media and hacking themes, and I look forward to reading the whole arc at once to see how the themes come together and what the book's overall statement seems to be.
But actually, I made a venture into Archaia's all-ages comics for the first time properly, though everyone reads Mouseguard, of course. Spera had flown under my radar previously, and is now up to three collected volumes. These books are very attractively bound and presented, and that's what made me pick them up and have a look initially.
Spera started as a webcomic featuring "chapters", all written by Josh Tierney and illustrated by a mid-sized army of very talented artists. Reading them in collection has an interesting effect, like seeing a world through a kaleidoscope of interpretations from whimsical to dead serious, to utterly fantastic. Luke Pearson is in here, as are Emily Carroll, Hwei, and many others, all artists with a fine art grasp on visual storytelling who make the stories both ornamental and intriguing. I was right to take home Spera, and am bound to be writing more about this fantasy series about two young adventurers in a strange world of spirits and monster hunters, since I've had the books less than a week and am already nearly done with the second volume. They are very addictive and a pleasure to read.
But for the genre prose hounds out there, here are the three novels I allowed myself to put in my bursting sack of swag, and there were so many prose books shifting around on the countertops and tables of BEA, that it was really a case of seeing a word, or glimpsing a cover and making a grab for them.
Here we have Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen from Random House Children's Books. The information inside lists two illustrators, and though this proof isn't illustrated, it looks like the final version might have some. This book touts magic, riddles, and things that sound vaguely Celtic or Viking, so that was well within my wheelhouse of interests. Then there's Thrones & Bones: Frostborn by Lou Anders, which promising trolls, the walking dead, and dragons, so you can see where my sword and sorcery trends are going. It's also a YA fiction book. From Overlook Press, I also picked up Heap House, written and illustrated by Edward Carey, also YA in focus, and seemed in the gothic tradition of Gormenghast. I haven't read much YA fiction since I was a YA, but these all seem compelling and certainly suited for summer reading so they just may get me back into keeping up with new fantasy prose.
And there you have it: the books that nearly killed me in an effort to make their way to my home from BEA. Actually, what you're not seeing here is the foot-high stack of catalogs I also picked up from publishers to have a look through and keep appraised of upcoming titles. As I mentioned, this was my first Book Expo, and I think it was a very good learning experience for me. It reminded me of the increasing role of graphic novels in the larger publishing industry and the way I, as a reader, can support that inroad and help, hopefully, make room for more to come. There are many ways to explore the comics medium, and if you're only a single-issue reader, consider trying new things, like the many books listed here. You might find new roads to explore.
You can also see my previously posted photogallery from the event and brief discussion of publishers present here.
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter