Panelists at the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference, held at the Javits Center on the eve of New York Comic-Con, stimulated attendees with their articulate, varied comments on the state of the graphic novel industry, circa 2006.  About 125 publishers, creators, retailers, librarians, literary agents and other members of the graphic novel industry came together to talk about the state of the business and the art form, and its future, in a first-time event hosted by ICv2, publishers of the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Graphic Novels, the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Anime/Manga, and   


Smart people, looking at the same situation from different vantage points, can come up with diametrically opposed conclusions, and that definitely happened at the Conference. Consider the comment by Al Kahn, CEO of 4Kids Entertainment, on the future of manga in the Anime and Manga panel:


'I think manga is a problem because we're in a culture that is not a reading culture.  Kid's today don't read, they read less today.  In every survey, we find that they're watching more television, they're on the Internet more, and that content, although being king, is very disposable.   Because the way content gets put out now, it gets put out free.  We're streaming most of our shows. The reason why we're streaming them is we want kids to watch them as much as they can, and get vested in the concept and go out and buy products.  The products ain't free.  The content is going to be free.  And manga in my mind is trying to put a square peg in a round hole in the U.S.  It will never be a big deal here, for the kids that are in the computer or the Internet generation, because they're not going to read.  They haven't read, and they're not going to start now.' 


But another panelist, in an earlier panel on 'Comics:  The New Literature?' looked at the impact of technology on comics and came to the opposite conclusion, that technology was actually creating a new generation of comic-friendly consumers.  Dan Brown, Editorial Director of Pantheon Books, explained why he's optimistic about the future of comics and graphic novels.


'The analogy to the comic panel is the computer screen.  You're looking at the same interplay of word and image within this little white rectangle.  And the generations that have been brought up on computers know how to look at that screen and read it immediately.  For them, comics are natural.  It's what they've been looking at.  It becomes a conduit of information that they're completely familiar with.  I have a feeling that call it a medium or call it a language, it's a universal language.  The whole controversy about the Danish cartoons in the last month speaks to that point.  Comics have a power that very few other media have.  So the future can be at once very bright and also very scary.'


Discussions ranged all over the map, from the high-level comments above to the more practical concerns of the best prices, formats, and target demographics for graphic novels.  Old-timers at the event talked about coming out of the 'hibernation' of the 90s (Vertico Executive Editor Karen Berger) into the 'vindication' represented by the current attention being paid to graphic novels (NBM publisher Terry Nantier), while ruing comics' new-found respectability (agent, publisher, and cartoonist Denis Kitchen). 


The expansion of the graphic novel medium from something directed primarily at teenagers and young adults was a topic in every panel. Jim Killen, graphic novel buyer at Barnes and Noble, laid out the potential breadth of the medium.  'We're getting to the point where people are realizing that almost any story can be told in graphic narrative form,' he said.   


And Tomoko Suga, Senior Manager, Foreign Rights Department, Kodansha, asked the question from the viewpoint of Japanese publishers.  'The big question for Japanese publishers is whether this is going to reach the general reader,' she said.


Perhaps the statement that best summed up the current state of the industry was in the introductory remarks to the 'Comics:  The New Literature?' panel by moderator Calvin Reid, Senior News Editor at Publishers Weekly.  'If there is a new comics literature, it's starting to look a lot like the old, reliable prose literature that we all know so well,' he said.  'It's varied, it's readily available.  There are books for kids, for men, and for women, and there are a lot more books on the way.'


For more information on the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference, see 'More Buyers, Librarian, Experts on ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference Panels.'


Based on the response to the first Graphic Novel Conference, ICv2 plans to pursue a second annual event next year.