Robert Gray: The Quotable GraphicNovelSeller

As far as handselling graphic novels is concerned, my connection began in another century when I read Art Spiegelman's Maus, which we shelved in biography/memoir section. But that was the extent of my knowledge in the early 1990s. More than two decades later, I'm still no expert, though one of my favorite books this year, Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke, is a graphic memoir. I am, however, intrigued enough by the medium to have attended two education sessions during BookExpo on graphic novels, featuring booksellers who know a lot more about the subject than I ever will. Here are some highlights from their discussions.

Rachel Person, Geo Ong, Terence Irvins

Handselling Graphic Novels to Your Non-Comics Reading Audience
Rachel Person, events manager at the Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: "A kid will come in wanting a graphic novel and the parent or the grandparent or the teacher will be the reluctant one. So it does sometimes take some gently pulling of that adult along to where the kid already is. One of the things I talk to those adults about a lot is visual literacy. I also bring up, from personal experience, my children and how every time I've seen them waiting, ready to make a leap to the next reading level, it's a graphic novel that gets them there. That's something you can talk about.... And it does often get the adults to see there's real value in a comic for a kid."

Session moderator Gina Gagliano of First Second Books, Maryelizabeth Yturralde

Maryelizabeth Yturralde, co-owner of Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, San Diego, Calif.: "Maybe it's because, as a specialty genre store, our culture is so much geek culture, the grandparents are not necessarily an issue because they're my peers. And like me, they've been reading comics that they understand.... For us, more than anything else, what we're relying on is trust in our booksellers. If our bookseller who's a great handseller of middle grade novels is someone that the parents have learned to trust for recommendations, they're going to take it regardless of format, with a little more conversation sometimes about how does this work."

Geo Ong, manager of Greenlight Bookstore in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, N.Y.: "I'm just really lucky. This situation isn't as difficult as I would assume it to be.... Our customers tend to really trust our booksellers and we have a lot of people on the staff who do love graphic novels and speak about them enthusiastically. And so the adults and parents and grandparents who may or may not have read graphic novels before will entertain the notion because we can speak about it and they can see that their kids are enthusiastic about reading."

Terence Irvins, assistant manager, graphic novels & comics, Books Kinokuniya, New York City: "I think the only difficulty is when you have parents who have some issues with content, so their inexperience with what's actually done in the medium shows in the choices they want to make for their kids. Especially when the kids are actually reading on their own and have advanced towards stuff that their parents might have some hesitation about. Overall, however, I see an enthusiasm from parents because they see what their kids are enthusiastic about themselves and they want to be closer to that."

Michael Link, Michael Bender, Marika McCoola, Zazu Galdos-Shapiro

Graphic Novels & Nonfiction: Providing a Refuge in an Uncertain Climate
Michael Link, publisher relations & events manager at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Ohio: "As we talk about the moment that we're in politically, it seems like some of these books--some new, some old--have an important role to play. And we can bring them to the forefront and find new audiences.... One of the things we're doing with display tables is making the intentional choice to try to include graphic novels where it makes sense.... Putting titles on display that might not have the same name recognition; that may not be something someone is coming in specifically to buy."

Michael Bender, buyer at Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y.: "Our whole graphic novel section has a lot of faceouts and I've definitely been trying to highlight some of these titles. But actually, my co-worker Dana, shortly after the inauguration when the travel ban kicked in, made an amazing table that was maybe a third books about illegal immigrants, a third books about refugees to the U.S. or other places, and a third books from countries that were part of the travel ban. That was not just graphic novels, but we still have that area, so it's almost like its own mini-section."

Zazu Galdos-Shapiro, buyer at the Bookloft, Great Barrington, Mass.: "To educate our booksellers, one of the things I've been doing is pulling books that I think will appeal to people based on their general reading habits regardless of format. Threads [by Kate Evans] is something I was totally blown away by. There are a couple of people in the store I'm going to hand it to because it's not something they would necessarily pick up.... but based on what they've read in the past I think they would really gravitate to it."

Marika McCoola, buyer at Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass.: When customers are hesitant about graphic novel price points, "I think there's a really important thing to point out which is that rereading things is perfectly legitimate and it's actually very good for the kids to do.... They're getting different things out of it. There's something special about following up with a story and living in it and reading it and keep rereading it. Sometimes when I hear parents say, 'No, you've already read that one,' I try to talk them out of that because there's nothing wrong with rereading a book."

"Mostly," Maryelizabeth Yturralde observed, "I'm still selling on story, just because I'm a words girl."

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)
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