2006 may be marked as the year graphic novels came of age at the annual BookExpo America show for booksellers, publishers, librarians, and other members of the book business. While the graphic novel pavilion at this year's show in Washington, D.C. last weekend was about the same size as it was in previous years (after a period of rapid growth, see 'Big Crowds at BEA'), it seemed to us like graphic novels were so well integrated into the over-all book business that they were becoming just another kind of book, rather than the novelty they'd been in previous years.
While DC and Diamond (and its family of distributed publishers) anchored a sizable contingent at the graphic novel pavilion, a number of graphic novel publishers, such as Viz (Simon and Schuster), Tokyopop (CDS/Perseus, soon to be Harpercollins), Papercutz (Holtzbrinck), and Fantagraphics (W.W. Norton) were adjacent to or part of the booths of their distributor publishers. And most notable, the graphic novel imprints and lines being launched or underway at every major book house made the effort to visit the full range of graphic novel publishers similar to the task faced by the floor warriors in every other segment; just like everybody else, we had to push our way through the crowds at the big house booths as at least part of our journey around the floor.
One of the most visible graphic novel-related projects, and perhaps emblematic of the merging of graphic novels with the over-all book business, was graphic/prose novel hybrid Abazadad from Disney (see 'Two Abadazad Volumes Out in July'), which was promoted with banners and ads in the PW Show Daily. Viz was also very visible, as it has been for the last couple of years, with a major sponsorship of its own. And that was another measure of the coming of age of graphic novels at the show--there were two major graphic novel-related sponsors, instead of just one.
Comic creators appearing at the show signing at book house booths included Harvey Pekar and Alison Bechdel at the Houghton Mifflin booth, J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog at the Disney booth, and Linda Medley at Fantagraphics/Norton. Others signed in the graphic novel pavilion, including Fred Gallagher (Megatokyo) at CMX/DC, Charlie Huston at Marvel, and Brad Meltzer, Bikll Willingham, and Brian K. Vaughan at DC.
The new ubiquity of graphic novels should not be viewed as a sign that interest is stabilizing. Graphic novels remain one of the few areas of growth in an otherwise relatively flat book business (see 'Graphic Novel Growth Continues'), and with more publishers releasing an increasing variety of books, the market seems likely to continue to grow in the coming year.
But the coming of age may, ironically, mark the end of the graphic novel pavilion as a formal area of the floor at BookExpo. A spokesperson for Reed Expo indicated that it will probably not market the graphic novel pavilion, as such, to exhibitors next year, acknowledging that the time when graphic novels were a separate category from the rest of the book business may be over.