Floor traffic was light at the recently concluded Book Expo America at the Los Angeles Convention Center, due to a combination of traditionally lower attendance at West Coast BEAs, the recession’s impact on business travel, and the American Library Association conference later this month in the same venue, which kept some librarians from making the trek twice.  “This is the worst traffic I’ve ever seen at a BEA,” one long-time attendee and exhibitor told us.  Major graphic novel buyers from Borders and Barnes & Noble were not in attendance. 


Panelists (l-r) Tom Flinn, Adam
Freeman, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo,
Nick Smith, and Milton Griepp
But graphic novels were a bright spot over-all, from the busy Diamond Book Distributors aisle in the remote West Hall, to the sold out Graphic Novel Breakfast (see “First Ever BEA Graphic Novel Breakfast”), to packed programming rooms for an unprecedented amount of graphic novel programming on Saturday.  One such crowded programming room was for the ICv2 panel on "What's Good, What's Hot, What's Next," with panelists Tom Flinn (ICv2 VP-Content), Adam Freeman (Brave New World Comics), Jessica Stockton Bagnulo (McNally Robinson Booksellers), Nick Smith (Pasadena Public Library System), and Milton Griepp (ICv2 Publisher, the moderator).

Many graphic novel publishers were in the main South Hall, near their associated book distributors (Viz near Simon and Schuster, Tokyopop near Harpercollins, Fantagraphics with W.W. Norton, etc.), or corporate parents (Yen with Hachette, Del Rey in Random House, etc.), reinforcing the recent trend toward graphic novels’ increasing ubiquity at the show.


Attendees had to make a special trip for the DBD graphic novel aisle, with the West Hall of the convention center a block’s walk from the more heavily trafficked South Hall, and they did.  The South Hall had all of the major New York publishing houses except Scholastic, causing some not interested in graphic novels to avoid the West Hall entirely.  We overheard one attendee refer to the West Hall as “Siberia,” and another ask, “There’s another hall?” 


The placement of the DBD graphic novel aisle next to the children’s book area reminded us that some still think of comics as children’s books, but Kuo-Yu Liang of DBD brushed off concerns, saying, “We’re a destination.”   The aisle did have great placement within the hall, directly in front of the entrance.   


One negative note in the otherwise positive graphic novel vibe at the show was the rumbling of more trouble coming at Borders, a critical retailer of graphic novels and the #1 manga retailer in the U.S.  After making major returns after the holidays, more are reportedly in the works, with one observer telling us, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” 


And all meetings with Borders buyers for this week were canceled on Friday, with internal concerns at the company, including anticipated layoffs, taking precedence over meetings with publishers. 


Outside the Convention Center, California gas prices ($4.12 for regular) were another reminder that Borders’ credit woes (see “Credit Crunch Hits Borders”) are just one indication of turmoil in the larger economy. 


But even with the undercurrent of a troubled economy and its impact on a major retailer, the positives outweighed the negatives, and most attendees from the graphic novel business came way from the BEA noting that for another year, graphic novels are one of the best parts of the book business.