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The Brooklyn Book Festival

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This past weekend I took the chance to exhibit at an event outside of the normal comic book convention circuit and set up shop at the Brooklyn Book Festival. This is an annual gathering of authors, publishers, and booksellers in downtown Brooklyn. In the past it hasn’t had much of a comic book presence, but this year the organizers of the New York Comic Con decided to get involved and they invited me to take part.

What appealed to me most about doing a show like this was the possibility of reaching a new audience that typically don’t attend comic book conventions or frequent comic shops. 

I think most of us would agree that one of the real challenges facing the comic industry is to grow its readership beyond the normal fan base. Here was an opportunity to do that by making comics available alongside other books at a community event, held outdoors and free to the general public; quite a departure from the convention halls and long ticket lines.

And no question, this presence at the Brooklyn Book Festival was a real positive for comics in general. I have to thank NYCC for going to the effort to set this up for all of us. There was, however, one downside that I’d like to mention. I won’t call it a negative, but a missed opportunity.

When I arrived at the festival in the morning, I had known that NYCC had it’s own pavilion, but I was still surprised to see how separated we were from the rest of the show. It wasn’t so much that we were just off to the side; we were, but our section was still noticeable enough. The real issue was that there was a fence around the comics area, which effectively kept people from easily walking into it from the main section. They had to actually go around the fence to the gated entrance.

And what bothered me about this was more than just the difficulty for people to meander into the comic section, as we certainly had our fair share of traffic. It was more that our positioning seemed to designate us as a subsection of the book world rather than an integrated part of it.

I guess this issue really comes down to the approach of certain publishers and creators. Certainly the more genre-heavy comics fit better within the NYCC area. For example, the retailer Midtown comics was there handing out free Iron Man comics to kids and selling grab bags. This was a great way to reach out and appeal to a new generation of comic readers.

But on the other hand, the next table over was Pantheon Books. Now, I am by no means saying that Pantheon don’t have a place in a comics section; they’re clearly an asset, but wouldn’t they have been better off in the regular section of the festival? I feel that a graphic novel like the newly released Asterios Polyp would have been better served out in the main section showing people that would never think to look in a comic section that there are graphic novels that might appeal to them.

     

Drawn & Quarterly had their table in the main area. I think this was a better strategy for them. They were able to put graphic novels such as Optic Nerve and Aya out with all the “regular” books where people would base their decision to read them on their interest in the content rather than on whether they wanted to become a comic fan or not.

And that’s really the only point I’m trying to make here. It doesn’t come down to drawing a line between comics and graphic novels or saying that some are better than others. It has more to do with the fact that comics and graphic novels are very diverse in their content and some will have more to gain by reaching outside the usual boundaries around comic fans and appealing to the general audience.

I’ll be sure to exhibit at next year’s Brooklyn Book Festival, and I hope NYCC is there setting up a section for comics and providing an area for comic panels. But I think I’ll try my luck selling my graphic novels in the main section next time.

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Tyler Chin-Tanner started his own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, and writes and draws layouts for Adrenaline, its flagship series.
© 2009 Tyler Chin-Tanner.  All rights reserved.
Email: tyler@awaveblueworld.com
www.awaveblueworld.com

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Comments

  • CA3

    CA3 Sep 24, 2009 at 9:23am

    I'm kind of disappointed I didn't have the interest in dealing with the subway on a Sunday to attend the Brooklyn Book Festival myself, but I'll see if I have the motivation to attend next year. Lord knows it makes more sense than attending a comic book convention.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Sep 25, 2009 at 3:34am

    True Tyler, no reason to keep the comics section out of the regular book section. Unless you're catering to the kids and even then ... it would make sense that superheroes are situated in the kids or YA section and Pantheon at the adult side of things. Placement should be made on content, not the medium.

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