Seattle: Tuesday ALA final report

I wrote up a blog entry for today while sitting in the Continental President’s Lounge this morning, waiting for my plane, but when I hit send it vanished. So I’m writing this on the plane and will upload it tonight when I get home.

Robyn and I are leaving Seattle tired but with a feeling of accomplishment. We touched base with our friends in the industry, had a good meeting with a publisher we’re talking to about our future projects, enjoyed several fine meals with our pals and learned a few lessons about the book business and graphic novels in general. I am being very cautious in talking to another publisher because of my experience with Harper Collins, who published the SIP Treasury but did nothing to promote it, so naturally it died on the shelf. Lesson One in the book biz: just because somebody publishes your book doesn’t mean anybody’s going to read it, or hear about it, or care. And, on the flip side, publishers are being careful what they commit to these days because of nightmare stories like the the one I heard this weekend about a publisher who paid a $500,000 advance on a book that went on to sell a mere 6,000 copies. So why would I consider bothering with a large publisher when I can clearly publish my own books? Because you have to fight for attention in today’s media saturated world. Attention means marketing and advertising, and that’s what the big houses are good at, when they want to be. They just have to believe your book is worth the risk.

Robyn and I are carefully navigating these choppy waters as we make our final decisions now about what comes after SiP. Clearly the age of the graphic novel has arrived, and I am very motivated to try my hand at the genre. See, that’s another thing I learned this weekend… strictly speaking, SiP trades and pocket books are not graphic novels, they are comic book collections. Maus and Jimmy Corrigan are graphic novels. The Complete Bone is a graphic novel. Cerebus and SiP books are comic book collections containing a wandering, serialized story where the plot is often sublimated in order to explore the character. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a graphic novel, and won Time’s Book of the Year Award. Danger Girl trade paperback #1 is a comic book collection. Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese is a graphic novel, and won the ALA Prinze Award for Book of they Year based on its literary merit. Lost Girls is a graphic novel, The Ultimate Spider-Man Collection is not. This is all just my opinion, of course, but these are the definitions I see rising from the gene pool that is fashioning a new literary genre. However, if you go to a library you will still find all drawn stories under one Dewey number, 741.5… Scrooge McDuck and Maus on the same shelf. It will take time to sort out the details. Also, note that the award winning graphic novels are not coming from the comic book industry, but from publishers like First Second who are assembling a stable of wonderful authors working in more than one medium. These are not creators you will find mentioned in Wizard or Diamond’s Top 100. Which is bothersome, because even at the beginning of this early stage of the Great American Graphic Novel era, the division between comics and the book industry is present. There remains a generation gap between fan boys and the general public that is not bridged, not even by movies or graphic novels. I understand why, but it will be a real pisser if we finally find ourselves in the age of the Great American Graphic Novel and comics are seen as the primordal ocean of out which they crawled. I mean, look, I have to go to conventions in 3 different industries (comics, books, libraries) to promote my work. That fact alone should illustrate the complexity of navigating the future as a graphic novelist. Makes my head hurt.

So anyway, that’s what I saw happening in the book and library industry this weekend. It is the dawn of a new era for drawn stories. I think the next 10 years or so will very exciting, like rock in the 60′s, with great talents inspiring each other and raising the bar higher and higher. Eventually it may become a big, profitable business and the sharks will move in and turn it all into bankable formulas, but for now it’s just creative souls crafting stories they love, albeit in two different industries. My advice, keep an open mind, search for new authors and books in both comic and traditional book stores because their inventory is blending but it’s still two different worlds and you don’t know which one will produce your next favorite book— and, hopefully, once in awhile, maybe it will be something I wrote.

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