BookExpo America, the annual trade show highlighting the publishing industry’s plans for fall and winter seasons, was held at Manhattan’s Javits Center last week, and among all the other things I did over those four days, I sat in on a panel discussion on “The New Graphic Novel” hosted by Publishers Weekly senior news editor—and PW Comics World co-editor—Calvin Reid.
Here’s some highlights from that hour-long session:
Paul Pope introduced his forthcoming graphic novel, Battling Boy (First Second), by describing how he’d realized, after finishing up a stint on Batman, that “there wasn’t a lot of stuff my teenage nephews could read.” So he created his own epic, which he described as “world mythology meets world comics,” taking equal inspiration from Moebius and Jack Kirby with a heavy dose of his passion for manga, which always forms “the skeleton of my storytelling.” Read some of it here.
Faith Erin Hicks discussed how the limitations she experienced early in her comics fandom led her to create her own books, “the comics that I wanted as a teenager but didn’t have the opportunity to read.” (Not that things were completely hopeless; she recalled finding a copy of Jeff Smith’s Bone and “it was like light hit my brain.”) Her first major webcomic, Demonology 101, was over 700 pages and took five years to write and draw—“that’s how I learned how to draw,” she confided. She’s currently working with Dark Horse and the video game company Naughty Dog Studios on a tie-in prequel to The Last of Us, a game set in a world overrun by
zombies “The Infected” and recently released Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong with writer Prudence Shen, about a group of cheerleaders and nerds facing off in a robot-building competition.
Gene Luen Yang talked about the origins of his new two-volume epic from First Second, Boxers and Saints, set during the Boxer Rebellion in turn-of-the-20th-century China. Splitting the story into two books allowed him to look at both sides of the conflict, which he said mirrored his own “internal struggle” between his Chinese heritage and his Catholic faith. (One of the main characters in Saints is based on one of Yang’s ancestors, who converted to Christianity after enduring years of family scorn due to bad astrological omens associated with her birth.) He also admitted, in response to an audience question, that he had given a lot of thought to doing a straightforward adaptation of the Chinese folk legend of the Monkey King, which plays a key role in his National Book Award-nominated American Born Chinese—but there were so many great versions by Asian artists already, “I don’t see what I could add,” he said. “But if I hit on a myth that hasn’t already been translated into some awesome manga...”
Pope talked about how he’d already worked out the extended story of which Battling Boy is just the first volume, and how he enjoyed the freedom of working outside the mainstream superhero format and its “endless recitation of pop formulas” like 5-page fight scenes and phony death scenes. “This is like a concept album,” he said of working in graphic novels.
And Hicks talked about how putting her work online had been a crucial element to raising her visibility among readers and building up a fan base, expressing thanks that her print publishers allowed her to put up pages to generate interest in books before they officially came out. She also revisited the teenage frustrations that led her to start making her own comics and compared it to today’s market: “I look at what’s available to read now,” she said, “and I wonder—how will I have the time to read all this?”