BEA, or BookExpoAmerica, was held this weekend in New York City for the first time in several years. Like the World Science Fiction Convention, it moves around the country so this was my first opportunity to attend.
The Jacob Javits centers was packed wall to wall with book sellers, book manufacturers, rights and permissions people, distributors, et. al. As Publisher’s Weekly described it, the crowds varied from heavy to gridlock, so moving up and down the aisles was a challenge. They clumped all the smaller publishers at one end, by the foreign language publishers, and the Graphic Novel section was at the exact opposite end. DC was the largest presence at the GN area, but Last Gasp, Dark Horse, Marvel, Diamond and others were all there. Interestingly, Fantagraphics was more in the middle of the show and I don’t know if there was a technical reason for that or Gary Groth’s usual elitist approach to the rest of comics.
I worked the both a few hours each on Friday and Saturday but was primarily there to see and learn. And I learned a few things, was impressed by the breadth of material available. I pity the poor bookstore owner, trying to figure out what to buy and carry in the months ahead.
On the other hand, I enjoyed speaking with the large number of librarians who stopped by the DC booth. All had GN sections, one saying it had the highest circulation of any section their library.
As I wandered, I ran into colleagues from the comics business, friends from Publishing and the odd acquaintance I never expected to see. I also missed a number of pals who flew in for the show such as Dark Horse’s Rob Simpson and that Gaiman fellow.
You couldn’t go more than a few feet before people thrust things at you. In a fifteen minute span, I had a shortbread cookie, a bag of popcorn, a slice of cake and then was handed a meatball by Steve Shirripa (Bobby “Bacala”). I tried to be selective in the books, geegaws and bound gallies I collected, making sure to bring a souvenir home to Deb, Kate and Robbie. Trust me, I could have brought up several dozen items but they were more for the buyers than me and not every title was interesting. Still, the hard sell was on and I wound up getting an autographed copy of One Tough Mother. And who is that? Gert Boyle, of course. Her husband died one night and the next day, took over Columbia Sportswear and built it into a power house.
I did intentionally stand on line for two autographings: Nick Hornby for his latest novel, A Long Way Down. I’ve enjoyed his other works and this new one has already received critical raves. To accommodate the long line, he didn’t personalize the books but did pause to make eye contact and say hello. He caught my badge, double-taked and said, “Cool.” Which I liked. The other was for Gina Misiroglu’s The Superhero Book, which I’ve heard nothing but good things about. When I showed up, she saw my badge and beamed. She explained she was quite familiar with who I was and admitted to keeping a copy of DK’s DC Comics Encyclopedia by her side while working on the inevitable sequel about the villains. Gina, it turns out, used to work for Warner Consumer Products so it felt like meeting distant family.
As I got to the smaller and independent publishers, I came across Jack Klugman, sitting by himself at his new company. His book, Tony and Me, a memoir about his working friendship with the late Tony Randall, will be out this fall. He was signing excerpts and was by himself. I lingered just a little, listening to the 83-year old actor rasp about still performing. He looked good and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat. I’ve enjoyed his work, especially his classic turn on The Twilight Zone as well as each and every episode of The Odd Couple.
There was also a panel on the future of the graphic novel which was funny, entertaining and quite interesting. It was my first exposure to Harvey Pekar in person and was my first in person introduction to Brad Meltzer, who I’ve worked with on the forthcoming Identity Crisis collection. A good time was had by all.
As a working experience, it was enlightening.