Given the poor state of the economy, it’s hardly surprising that the mood on the convention floor was a little subdued yesterday. No where was this more evident than in the manga sector. Two years ago, at the height of the so-called "manga bubble," all of the major publishers had booths, announced new licenses, sponsored artist signings, and conducted portfolio reviews for their fledgling OEL programs. This year, only two publishers, Del Rey and Yen Press, have a major presence on the convention floor. Viz isn’t exhibiting at all, while Tokyopop has only a minimal booth and no panels scheduled. (Viz does have a few meet-the-artist events scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, including a signing with Benjamin, author of their first full-color graphic novel.) Also missing in action are a number of smaller companies who had been a presence at previous New York Comic-Cons. Thinking back to 2007, for example, Go! Comi unveiled Wendy Pini’s Masque of the Red Death, while NETCOMICS invited Marley, creator of the critically acclaimed Dokebi Bride, and announced an ambitious new slate of titles.
Though the number of anime and manga-themed panels were down from previous years, librarians and educators remain enthusiastic about manga’s potential to hook teens on reading. Our panel "Newsflash: Teen Girls Read Manga!" was well-attended, as was "Are You There God? It’s Me, Manga." We were peppered with great questions from the audience about manga for older female readers, the failure of the Minx line, and using manga in the classroom. Look for a more detailed follow-up post soon, including some recommendations for classroom-appropriate titles. (And yes, we’ll warn you if there are naked people or strong language in any of the books!)
If manga is a lesser presence at this year’s convention, kid-friendly comics are more visible than ever before. It seems as if every publisher has at least one or two all-ages titles they’re eager to promote. Many publishers are gravitating towards the Toon Book approach, packaging their comics in a more durable, picture-book format that seems calculated to appeal to parents who are open-minded enough to consider Maus or Perseopolis literature, but whose favorable impression of comics doesn’t extend far beyond such New York Times-sanctioned titles. Only the Big Two aren’t doing much to boost the visibility of their all-ages titles, focusing most of their programming at older male fans. That’s a pity, as both DC and Marvel are publishing some of their best all-ages titles in, well, ages, as evidenced by series like Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, and the just-released Wizard of Oz. Let’s hope they make a better show on Kids’ Day.
My laptop battery is on low, so I’m going to sign off for now. Stay tuned for more detailed reflections on the convention, as well as information about the best panels of the weekend.