I got to the first day of New York Comic-Con just in time to catch the “State of the Industry” panel, with top brass from the biggest players in the funny book world weighing in, and it turned out that while I was waiting for the discussion to start, I was sitting right next to Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada without even realizing until some fan came up and started giving him grief about the robot tentacles on Spider-Man’s new costume. Among the topics that came up during the panel was the role of bookstores in creating the current comics market. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the bookstores,” said Stuart Levy, CEO of TokyoPop, explaining that putting Japanese manga into shopping malls opened up a whole new audience. Quesada and DC Comics CEO Paul Levitz agreed; Quesada discussed how trade paperback compilations of popular series appeal to “casually addicted” fans who aren’t committed to a weekly trek to the comics shop, while Levitz pointed out that compilations also give what was once a disposable medium a sense of history as classic stories from every era are reprinted. “It encourages people to do work that will really stand and last,” he added. (I was able to ask Levitz very quickly after the panel about the impact the sale of Lagardere’s buying the Time Warner Book Group, and he said TWBG would continue to distribute DC’s books with no disruptions.)
The panel also included Michael Silberkleit, the publisher of Archie Comics, which will turn 65 at the end of the year and is still going strong, selling approximately 700,000 comics a month with some slightly different distribution patterns than Marvel or DC, including its presence at drugstores and supermarket checkout counters. “Parents grew up reading our books,” he said, “so they know it’s good, clean fun for their kids.” When the Q&A portion started, I asked Silberkleit what Archie was doing to leverage their characters into other media, the way Marvel and DC have in books, TV series, and movies, and he said that they’re talking to several studios about the possibility of a Betty & Veronica movie. “I’ve got to guess that everybody in this room would love to see what Betty and Veronica look like,” he quipped, at which point about 150 men cheered.
Rivka, the creator of TokyoPop’s Steady Beat, immediately raised an insightful question about how Marvel and DC can reach out to more women readers (since the readership of Archie and TokyoPop already skews heavily towards the female). The short answer from Quesada and Levitz included branching out beyond the superhero genre, though Quesada cautioned that as a publicly traded company, Marvel had to make any such innovations at a very deliberate pace to reassure investors it wasn’t abandoning its core mission. (Another part of the answer came later that day, when Marvel announced a deal with YA fantasy author Tamora Pierce.) Here’s a shot of the panel lineup: from left to right, it’s Bill Schanes (Diamond Comic Distributors), Silberkleit, Levitz, Levy, and Quesada.
As to these other shots, at left we have writer/artist Colleen Doran holding up a Danish flag which other comics creators were going to be autographing all weekend to be auctioned off by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to show solidarity with the cartoonists persecuted by radical Islamists. Then there’s Jennifer Patton and Margaret H. Baker, who were promoting the world premiere of Monarch of the Moon, a spoof of ’40s serials produced by Dark Horse Comics’ film division and premiering Friday night. Below them is a larger-than-life Batman made out of Legos, and at right is Avery Misuraca, at the con shooting a pilot for a pop-culture news show called Gotham@Nite, hamming it up with Guano, the star of Nickolodeon’s Kappa Mikey.