Marked by major panels at BookExpo, the inaugural New York Rights Fair and at BookCon over the weekend, graphic novel publishing was well represented in the programming and on the exhibition floor of those shows. Nevertheless, like other publishers, many graphic novel professionals expressed some confusion over the floor organization and logistics of BookExpo and BookCon, while also expressing some surprise at the reduced size of this year’s BookExpo.
Although high profile indie comics publishers such as Drawn Quarterly and Fantagraphics did not attend this year’s BookExpo, graphic novel publishing had a lively presence throughout the show, many of whom were there to meet with indie booksellers and librarians. James Lucas Jones, president of Oni Press, which was set up in a booth near Simon Schuster, its new distributor, told PW that his focus was on “educating retailers about the category,” and handing out promotional materials about Oni’s line of graphic novels for middle grade and YA audiences. Jones was particularly excited about Katie Cook’s forthcoming Aquicorn Cove,a dreamy LGBTQ fantasy graphic novel reminiscent of her earlier work, and Tea Dragon Society, which caused a splash at last year’s BookExpo.
Acclaimed children’s book illustrator David Small, who published the bestselling graphic memoir, Stitches, in 2010, returned to BooExpo with Home After Dark, his first work of graphic fiction since Stitches. Home after Dark is a much-anticipated coming of age graphic novel that examines the nature and complexities of masculinity and will be published by Liveright/Norton in the fall.
Independent graphic novel publisher Lion Forge, a fast-growing house designed to publish into the book trade as well as the comic shop market, continued its push to build its publishing program. The house announced the launch of Caracal, a new middle grade graphic novel imprint for ages 8-12, that will publish alongside LF’s CubHouse (early readers) and Roar (Young Adult) imprints. Some titles previously announced under the CubHouse imprint will now be moved to Caracal, among them Sheets by Brenna Thummler, a fall 2018 middle grade graphic novel with cover blurbs from authors Lemony Snicket and Brian Selznick, that attracted long lines for autographs and ARCS during signings at the Lion Forge/Diamond Booth.
Lion Forge was also handing out ARCs of Ezra Claytan Daniels’ much anticipated graphic novel, Upgrade Soul, a probing science fiction tale about an elderly couple that undergo an experimental procedure to extend their lives that ends up producing startlingly unexpected results. Originally produced as a digital graphic novel designed for iOS devices, Upgrade Soul was awarded the Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award in 2012, and has been redesigned to be released in print in the fall 2018.
There were a number of notable titles highlighted at the show, among them The Red Hook (Image), Dean Haspiel’s love letter to the borough of Brooklyn, crafted in the form of an eccentric superhero tale. Crowdfunded publishing star Ngozi Ukazu, who raised hundreds of thousands dollars in 2013 to self-publish, Check, Please!, about a gay, pie-baking college hockey player, is now releasing a trade book edition of the book via First Second Books, Macmillan’s graphic novel imprint. And Dead Reckoning, the newly launched graphic novels imprint of the Naval Institute Press, was showing off advance copies of four debut titles focused on the military: The ‘Stan, Machete Squad, Trench Dogs and The Best of Don Winslow of the Navy.
Titan Comics, a U.K.- based house that focuses on the U.S. comics market, is releasing a comics adaptation of The Beatles Yellow Submarine, on the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s seminal psychedelic animated film, that is adapted by illustrator Bill Morrison and colored by Nathan Kane. In addition, the house is releasing an oversized hardcover collecting two separate, previously unpublished comics adaptations of The Prisoner, the 1960s cult TV show, by comics creators Jack Kirby and Gil Kane.
The graphic novel category was also well represented at the New York Rights Fair, a new global rights marketplace organized by BolognaFiere, Combined Book Exhibit, and PW, which featured a panel on international comics rights that included representatives of the French Comics Association trade group and Europe Comics, a rights and digital comics initiative.
There were also many graphic novel signings and panel appearances at BookExpo as well as BookCon, although the BookCon graphic novel diversity panel scheduled on Saturday was marred by an accessibility issue—Bingo Love creator Tee Franklin, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, left the panel in frustration over the lack of a ramp to the dais for her wheelchair, a situation that became intolerable to her after it happened multiple times over the weekend.
There were also appearances by such comics artists as Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung (Snotgirl), Blue Delliquanti (Meal), and Tim Fielder (Infinitum) as well as an appearance by Rep. John Lewis and the creative team of Andrew Aydin, Afua Richardson and Nate Powell, that is working on RUN, a sequel to Lewis’s award winning Civil Rights Movement graphic memoir, March, slated for release in fall 2018.
Much of the graphic novel activity was centered around the publishers of Diamond Book Distributors, which distributes graphic novels and pop culture merchandise to the book trade. The DBD aisle featured publishers such as Image Comics, Lion Forge, Dynamite, Paizo, and others.
Josh Hayes, executive v-p o fDBD, the book trade unit of Diamond Comics Distributors, said the distributor was having a solid year. Among the notable works being promoted by DBD publishers, Hayes pointed to Oblivion Song (Image), a new sci-fi graphic novel series coming from Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, as well as new works coming from manga publishers Tokyopop and Udon, and from new publishers such as Aftershock, and Black Mask.
Hayes said DBD used BookExpo to “focus on our core accounts and talk to indie booksellers.” And after losing several publisher-clients over the last few years, Hayes said DBD is working on “retaining our clients with the quality of our service.” To that end, he said the firm has added internal staff, including Emily Botica, who has been named director of publisher relations.