The first ever Graphic Novel Breakfast at Book Expo America was a resounding, sold-out success.  The breakfast, which was sponsored by Diamond Book Distributors and featured Jeff Smith, Art Spiegelman, Mike Mignola and Jeph Loeb kicked off an entire day of programming dedicated to long form comic books (the panelists all preferred to describe their works as “comics” rather than use the more pretentious “graphic novel” monicker), which according to BookScan accounted for an astonishing 11.5% of all trade paperback sales in 2007.

Jeff Smith was the MC for the panelists and began by talking about 1986, a pivotal year that came up frequently during the subsequent discussions.  Three key graphic novels appeared in 1986—Spiegelman’s Maus, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen.  These volumes opened up Jeff Smith’s eyes to the potential of the medium and inspired him to create Bone--a work that Smith stated was not originally intended for kids, though it has been embraced by a youthful audience.


Seduction of the Innocent
Art Spiegelman followed with an illustrated personal history of his life in comics that was both informative and very humorous while succinctly chronicling the history of the medium from the late 1940s to the present.  He blended images from his early work Breakdowns, which is being reissued this fall with an autobiographical introduction that nearly doubles its length.  Among the many images he showed was a page from Dr. Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent on which the good doctor demonstrated the secret symbolism within comics that drove kids to juvenile delinquency—in this case a detail of a male character’s shoulder, which revealed the image of a naked woman’s torso.

Mike Mignola talked about creating Hellboy and the way in which he has managed to incorporate all sorts of elements of folklore into a series of comics (and graphic novel collections) that is actually one giant narrative.  Mignola admitted that after working on Hellboy for 15 years he is about half done with the saga.  Mignola also commented very humorously on his involvement with the filmmaking process.  While never disparaging the work of director Guillermo del Toro and his crew, Mignola nevertheless made it plain that after spending some time assisting with the production of the movie, he was glad to get back to his drawing board where he could feel both in control and productive.

The discussion of moviemaking made for a smooth transition to the final panelist, writer Jeph Loeb, who was trained as a movie-maker.  He began his career in Hollywood, where in 1985-86 the first movies he wrote, Teen Wolf and Commando, were released.

Loeb discussed his first efforts at writing for comics on the obscure DC title Challengers of the Unknown, where he made artist Tim Sale continually redraw pages because he didn’t know how to communicate what he wanted in the script.  According to Loeb, Sale ended up drawing some 64 pages for their first 22-page issue of Challengers.  Fortunately Loeb and Sale soon learned how to work together and their collaborations have included Batman: The Long Halloween, Superman For All Seasons, and Batman: Dark Victory to name just a few.

A Full House
The powerhouse panel was not without its differences—Spiegelman took exception to notions of the movies' influence on comics, pointing out that 19th Century cartoonist Rudoph Topffer was cross-cutting in his comic strips before D.W. Griffith “was even a gleam in his father’s eye”—and the audience clearly enjoyed the spirited discussion that followed in which Spiegelman argued that now that movie special effects have perfected the illusion of human flight, film, not comics, is now the natural medium for superhero fantasies.  All in all the first Graphic Novel Breakfast was a yeasty, informative affair that had the audience looking forward to a similar event next year.