By Richard Pachter
As graphic novels and comics grow in acceptance and influence in popular culture and literature, their prominence at the Miami Book Fair International is also rising.
The fair’s diversity has always been impressive as a go-to event for statesmen, scholars, academics, novelists, and, with increasing prominence, graphic novelists. Especially recently, the fair shines a bright light on writers and artists who tell their stories by combining words and pictures on the page.
Programmer Lissette Mendez works with her staff to select authors and also collaborates closely with fair founder Mitchell Kaplan. “He’s been very supportive of including graphics novel creators at the fair,” she said.
She’s also aided by her personal passion: “I love all kinds of books and literature — that’s why I work on this. But I’m also a fan — as is my husband — so I know about the world of comics and graphic novels, too.”
Early appearances of artists and writers were few. Art Spiegelman presented in 1991, just before receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Maus, the groundbreaking visual depiction of his parents’ Holocaust experiences. He shared the presentation room with prose novelist Patrick McGrath, who read from his most recent book, Spider, a brilliant work but an odd pairing, to be sure.
But when Mendez came on board in 2007, she began working on expanding the presence of graphic novels at the fair. As a result, the fair has welcomed dozens of artists and writers since then and hosted panels on groundbreaking auteurs such as Will Eisner and Harvey Pekar.
“It’s a great experience,” said Brooklyn-based writer and artist Dean Haspiel. Along with collaborator Inverna Lockpez and editor Joan Hilty, Haspiel presented original graphic novel, Cuba: My Revolution at the fair in 2010. “We really appreciated that we had an opportunity to not only talk about our book and interact with readers in a personal way, which is not something we often get to do, but we also were able to display our art in a gallery-like setting, which was awesome,” he said.
“Seeing so many graphic novel people at such a huge international book fair helps cement the idea that GNs deserve a spot at the table, along with fiction, poetry, cookbooks, memoirs, reportage and other recognized, respected areas of publishing,” said Russ Kick, editor of the three-volume Graphic Canon series, via email.
This year, the fair has a number of graphic novel creators as guests, including Ellen Forney, Charles Burns, Derf Backderf, Aline Crumb, Chris Ware, Mark Siegal, Kick and Chip Kidd.
Crumb, who lives in France, will be talking about her own work in addition to collaborations with her legendary husband, cartoonist Robert. Backderf will discuss his book on his classmate Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer. Tackling issues of social change, racism, revolution and GLBT issues, Marjorie Liu, Dan Parent, Ellen Forney, Stephanie McMillan and Riva Hocherman will comprise a panel moderated by editor and cartoonist (and returning guest) Joan Hilty. Legendary writer-artists Burns, Kidd and Ware sit in on a much-anticipated free-ranging panel discussion on comics and life.
Author, artist, designer and editor Kidd is a return guest, having last visited in 2010.
“I love it,” he said. “I love books, just being around them, meeting readers, talking to them and signing books. Did you know that signed books make great Christmas presents?” he said with a laugh, and added, “Seriously. It’s a tremendously positive experience.”
Haspiel agrees. “I love the fair. It’s wonderful to meet and talk to readers, but I’m a reader too, and it’s a thrill to meet and hang out with the authors, and hear what they have to say.”
Originally published November 2012 in The Miami Herald.