Book Festivals: Cartoonists’ New Turf? – The Decatur Book Festival (part 1)

Now that “Crash, Boom, Pow–Comics Aren’t Just for Kids Anymore,” book festivals around the country seem to be slowly but surely dipping their toes into the murky pool of comics and graphic novels.  As mentioned in a previous post, this summer I’ll be attending Winston-Salem’s Bookmarks Festival in a few weeks, as well as this weekend’s Decatur Book Festival outside Atlanta, Georgia (for which I’ll be departing here as soon as my wife returns from dropping off our poor dog in “puppy jail” for the weekend).

I’ll be taking my camera and laptop to the festival so hopefully this’ll be a multi-part post and will include a full run-down of the event, pictures and all.  But, even before the thing’s started, I’ve noticed some interesting and notable differences between this event and the standard comics convention/expo, and given that there will most certainly be more overlap between the world of comics and the realm of prose books, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts.

A while back Bart Beaty wrote a post-SPX wrap-up in which he lamented the standard U.S. convention setup and wished for something more akin to the European model of events like the Angoulême International Comics Festival.  Maybe the book festival, as it includes more cartoonists, is a move more in that direction.  From the outset this event has been quite different from the run-of-the-mill comics convention.

I’ll preface this by saying that comics conventions run the gamut as far as how organized they are; Charlotte’s Heroes Con is an example of an extremely well-run show… and there are a few small press shows that are notoriously haphazard.  That said, the pre-planning for the Decatur Book Festival seemed to be executed with a precision almost unheard of in the comics community.  Groups of guests are apparently assigned a sort of liaison, who is available to answer questions, provide information, arrange transportation to and from the airport–even book hotel rooms for guests.

Likewise, there are little perks that, while minor, really make you feel welcome.  Here’s an example from some info sent out to the authors:

Once checked in, relax in the suite, have a drink, get online, and have a bite to eat.

  • Overlook the festival from the comfort of an air-conditioned room
  • Enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres, beer, wine, and soft drinks
  • Check your email using our high-speed internet access
  • Allow the […] marketing team to coordinate and facilitate your interviews – private offices are available

The area in which this occurs at the book festival is called the “Author Hospitality Suite.”  If you were in a band, playing a music festival, this would be referred to as the “hospitality tent.”  At a comics convention, this is called, “the thing that doesn’t exist”… which is too bad, because after a five-hour drive, a cold beer was about the best thing I could imagine.

Similarly, each author received a “grab bag” of info about Decatur, containing the such obvious information as a map, locations of local shops, locations of all the local restaurants… and even some discount coupons redeemable at local business that (I assume) are helping sponsor the show.  I’ve often wondered why comic conventions don’t do something similar to this.  I’m sure local restaurants would be interested in some form of sponsorship in exchange for being featured in such a listing.  As it is, at Heroes Con for example, all thirty thousand guests apparently eat lunch right across the street at Fuel Pizza, because no one knows there’re about three dozen other lunch joints in walking distance.

The one thing so far that did remind me of a comics event was the authors’ reception, which was held in the old Decatur courthouse this evening.  It was much like the great SPX Saturday night party… except there were a lot more people there in seersucker suits.  We had to ditch early because our daughter, Marion, was gettin’ her fuss on, but more’s to com tomorrow.

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