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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/23/2008 Archived Entry: "BookExpo 2008"

BookExpo 2008

by Tom Good

There were some fascinating and wonderful people to talk to at BookExpo; the challenge was to find as many of them as possible in the large crowds. People with very different kinds of goals inhabit the social ecosystem, and the scale of the event means that nobody has the time, energy, or interest to engage with everyone and everything there. So all attendees must solve a filtering problem, like sorting through e-mail to pluck the most valuable messages from a sea of spam. But everyone has their own criteria for what's interesting to them.

Some people wore costumes to stand out from the crowd, so stormtroopers, pirates, cowboys, and characters from children's books prowled through the aisles. Others relied on clever lines to grab attention. One of my favorite lines was, "Have you smelled our book yet?" This wasn't as weird as it first sounded, since it was a scratch-and-sniff book. Dax and Lloyd Garner (pictured above, far left and center) promoted their book Corpse of Freedom with an unusual prop: an artificial corpse. They apparently wheeled it around in a wheelchair and it was a big hit with some striking food workers.

A few people reminded me of the sort of overworked, under-appreciated smart person you might see as a minor character in a Dilbert strip. There's a cruel paradox at events like this: the people who would most benefit from getting noticed -- like up-and-coming authors -- have the most difficult time doing so. Naturally, busy attendees want to spend time talking to people they already know, and among those they haven't met, they pay more attention to people who are already famous. After all, that's what fame means: people who aren't your friends pay a lot of attention to you.

Walking a lot was a daily ritual at BookExpo, so anything that altered the ease or rhythm of walking immediately captured my attention. Some exhibitors had laid down a very deep carpet over the existing convention center carpeting. This created zones where my feet sunk in so far that I felt like I was walking on sand, or atop a mattress. Women in high heels found it difficult to balance, prompting one publisher to quip, "we make the carpet like this on purpose so that girls fall down . . . then we swoop in."

Figueroa Hotel

I stayed at the Figueroa Hotel. The hotel was perfectly located (a short walk from the convention center), and the Moroccan theme made me feel like I'd stepped into a full color, high-definition version of Casablanca. I was warned that "the bar is fun, but the staff is rude," but I can only agree with the first half of that. The bar -- recently named as one of "America's Great Bars" by Esquire magazine -- was fantastic, and I had no problems at all with the service. As a video game fan, I was also impressed by the giant mural of Grand Theft Auto IV on the exterior of one side of the building. I felt that inside and out, this was the right place for me.

Noise from the street was noticeable Friday night and Saturday morning, so I was glad I'd brought earplugs. There was also quite a bit of light coming from the building across the street all night long, and the room's curtains only blocked about half of it. This made no difference to me, because I do not need complete darkness to sleep anyway, but those who are more sensitive to light might want to bring an eye shade.

The breakfast buffet was a great bargain, with a separate charge for each item but very low prices. I wound up paying about $7 for breakfast, and I'm used to having to shell out more than that for a glass of juice at expensive hotels.

The Figueroa is not a high-end luxury hotel, so anyone seeking that will be disappointed. What it is, though, is a very fun and atmospheric place. It feels more like staying in a very large, interesting house than a normal hotel. The comfortable feeling of the public areas makes it a great place to hang out. Next time I'm going to be at the convention center, I will definitely want to stay there again.

Book highlights

One of the first books that caught my eye at the show was Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time by Susan Madden Lankford. This book contains hundreds of striking black-and-white photographs, as well as interviews with inmates and jailers.

First Second Books was showing a trailer for Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel. They also had a beautiful book about how to draw comics called Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, and Eddie Campbell's The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, a charming story about a circus acrobat, illustrated with watercolors. I asked about nonfiction graphic novels, and was guided to a World War II story called Alan's War: The memories of G.I. Alan Cope.

Udon came through with some great Korean manwha, including the amazing Dorothy of Oz series. As soon as my girlfriend saw this one she threatened to "steal it" from me, and she doesn't even normally read graphic novels.

DMP's booth had a huge graphic of the Speed Racer manga, which I previously reviewed on this site. Black Sun Silver Moon, published by Go! Comi, also looked intriguing. The story involves a priest, a cute little dog, and zombies.

Kodansha showed off a beautifully illustrated, clever book called Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide. This is like a "field guide" to the monsters of Japanese folklore and culture, including tips on subjects like "how to survive an attack."

I was pleased to see the eat.shop guides at BookExpo. I have owned eat.shop.portland for years, and it is just as useful for a long-time resident as for a visitor to the city. We picked up some of their other city guides to review.

At another booth I got a short hands-on demo of the Amazon Kindle e-reader device. I was blown away by how much better the screen looks in real life than it looks in photos on the web. The ergonomics seemed questionable, but the quality of the text display was great.

Food and Drink

Ginger Mayerson took me to Sushi-Gen on Friday night, and I liked it so much that we went back again on Saturday night for another evening at the sushi bar. I can't remember the last time I went to the same restaurant two nights in a row, but that's how good it was. I've had plenty of sushi both in America and Japan, but still found some great things there I'd never had as sushi before: kampachi (a type of yellowtail) and baby squid. The latter would make a great disturbing-looking item to show to a sushi novice to make them flee from the room. It visually resembles a tiny Cthulhu over rice, but it is actually quite delicious. I also really enjoyed the Spanish mackerel, the Toro, and the Uni.

Sushi-Gen is definitely an old-school traditional sushi bar, a place where they'll think you're crazy if you only order California Roll. It's also the sort of place where asking the staff for recommendations is essential, because otherwise you might miss out on something great.

BookExpo ends promptly at 5:00pm each day, so there is plenty of time for nightlife. There were BookExpo parties to go to, but late one night I wanted to get away and relax a bit, so I went to Roy's, at 800 South Figueroa. A few months ago I had a great time at a Roy's in Hawaii, so I expected it to be good, and it was. The bar was fun and the service was fantastic. This is another place I intend to visit again next time.

Panels

A panel on "Sex in graphic novels" discussed how age ratings are assigned to (or omitted from) graphic novels. Tokyopop once left the decision up to the subjective opinion of individual editors, but now the company has a ratings committee and a more formal system with a list of content indicators that should be used. Tokyopop emphasized that their policy is to treat love and sex scenes with the same ratings guidelines regardless of the sexual orientation of the characters. A librarian talked about problems with a Marvel Iron Man comic that was very violent and showed characters in thong underwear, but was rated "all ages." Several panelists mentioned the graphic novel Blankets as an example of a work that features nudity and sexual content, but handles it in a tasteful way that would probably be acceptable for most teens.

Wendy Pini, creator of Elfquest, talked about how Elfquest may look at first glance like it could be for much younger readers than its actual target audience. Her latest project, Masque of the Red Death, she described as "erotic science fiction horror for a female audience." A panelist from Top Shelf explained that they avoid putting age ratings on their books, in part because some authors such as Alan Moore refuse to work with publishers who insist on ratings. He questioned why graphic novels should have to have age ratings when ordinary novels do not.

A panel on "the new literacy" painted a rather depressing picture of a world where most young people no longer read for pleasure. Gene Yang, whose graphic novel American Born Chinese was a finalist for the National Book Award, said he told his students that he drew comics and he thought they would find that cool, but they didn't seem impressed. But lately he has noticed more students bringing comics to school. He also mentioned that some kids with dyslexia who struggle to learn to read English can learn to read Chinese just fine.

Jordan Mechner, creator of the Prince of Persia series of video games, gave a presentation about video games and graphic novels. He said that he created comics as a child until he got a computer. Today his video games have sold over 10 million copies world wide. Prince of Persia has been made into a graphic novel and will also soon be a motion picture. He said he drew inspiration for his games from movies like Indiana Jones and The Thief of Baghdad.

Wrap-up

I'd recommend BookExpo, especially if you go to explore and see what happens, rather than going with overly specific goals. It's a great place to meet people and discover interesting things. And it's so big that it takes at least a day just to see everything.

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