Last month I went on about Marvel’s foreign language editions just so you’d all have some background about what Marvel and I were doing at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Now I can finally get to the Book Fair experience itself, at least from this guy’s point of view.
The Frankfurt Buchmesse (as it’s called there) is perhaps the world’s largest book publisher’s convention. Publishers from all over the world, publishing everything from paperbacks to art books to cook books to encyclopedias to comic books (gasp!) get together each October to conduct business and exhibit their most recent wares. What sort of business is discussed? Well, foreign licensing, for the most part. Negotiating the rights to publish other people’s copyrighted properties in other editions, usually in other languages. There may well be foreign distribution rights discussed as well.
Each publisher has a booth to decorate with its product line, and the bigger the publisher the more space it contracts for. Compared to some of the biggies, Marvel had a pretty small space. On the plus side, though, thanks to our larger than life display figures of Wolverine, Cap, and Spider-Man (to name but a few), and our free comic rack, our booth was considerably more eye-catching than most and certainly very popular with the browsers. Another advantage of a compact space is that we could set up, inventory, and take down the whole thing in but a matter of hours. This year the Marvel booth was staffed by Fran Burke from International Licensing, Helen Carter from Marvel U.K.’s International Licensing, publisher Mike Hobson, Marvel V.P. Joe Calamari, International Licensing head Michele Gagnon, Bob Riscica, from McAndrews and Forbes Holdings Inc., Marvel’s new parent company and oh yes, myself. While the others were engaged in meetings and negotiations from 10 to 6 for the better part of the week, my job was mostly to mind the store, keeping free comics in our spinner-rack, telling people the display figures were not for sale, and helping conduct the daily raffle for a free MARVEL MASTERWORKS signed by Stan Lee. Okay, I did bring all of my vast knowledge and experience to bear when asked an occasional question by Marvel’s foreign licensees about our upcoming domestic publishing program, which was technically why I was brought along. (Hey, you don’t have to be Marvel’s Executive Editor to be qualified to stock a comics rack – but it doesn’t hurt.)
It’s hard to describe just how big the Book Fair is. If you’ve ever been to the San Diego Comics Convention, which is the largest comics convention I’ve ever attended, then I can tell you that the Frankfurt Book Fair is easily ten times bigger than that. There are several huge pavilion buildings with three floors each all filled with exhibitors. And its not just the trade that attends the Book Fair. This is one of the biggest annual events in Frankfurt, so the whole city seems to turn out. The Marvel booth had scores of school age kids coming by at all hours – some of them must have been ditching school, I’d imagine.
It was great to talk with German fans. While most of them get the German editions of our books (published by Condor Verlag), the older fans tended to collect the American editions that managed to get imported into town. Most European schoolchildren are required to learn English as a second language so I did not encounter too many people who I had trouble speaking with. Know what? Popular taste in comics in Europe is just about the same as it is here in the States. Everyone asked me what projects Todd McFarlane, John Byrne, and Frank Miller were working on, same as here. Most flattering, of course, was autographing copies of my work, some of which fans particularly brought to the Fair for the express purpose of having me sign. One fan told me he recognized me from my caricatures that appear atop this page (and here I was telling everyone they don’t look a thing like me!). It’s a very odd sensation to have your work and reputation go places you yourself have never gone. Since the American editions of our comics are a lot harder to find than the German editions, I can only figure that those familiar with my work have read it in translation. Who knows how well my stuff reads in another language?
Besides talking with various Euro-fans, I was also interviewed for two fanzines and for the Armed Forces Network television news. One of the fanzines was a science-fiction/fantasy/horror ‘zine called Ankh which is on its sixth issue. The other was a new ‘zine totally devoted to the art of graffiti, and I was interviewed about the use and influence of graffiti in comic art. It looks like I’m going to have to learn German in order to read what I said in print. The TV interview, which went over the commercial cable channel aimed at American servicemen stationed in Frankfurt, aired while I was there but I managed to miss it. A number of folks reported to me they saw it and said I didn’t disgrace myself, Marvel, or America too badly.
I also got the chance to talk and exchange views with some of my European counterparts, the editors, writers, and translators for Marvel titles. In particular, I was shown an enjoyable evening or three by Marvel’s two publishers in the Scandinavian countries, Semik and Bladkempaniet. All of my Scandinavian companions were fascinatingly erudite and extremely cordial to this American. Ans Loos, Henning Kure, Terje Nordberg, Dag Kolstad and all the rest of you – if you’re reading this, let’s do it again sometime huh? One of the many things I learned was that in Icelandic (the language spoken by the Vikings), new foreign words like “television” aren’t just brought into the language intact, as is the case in many languages, but are translated into something equivalent, like say “radio with pictures” or some such. In this way, the Icelandic tongue remains pure. Now if that isn’t interesting, what is? How many non-German comic book people does it take to put away 179 beers in four hours at a typical German pub?
To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to going to the Book Fair when Tom DeFalco first informed me it was proudly required of me, even tough I’m of German ancestry and have never been to Europe for longer than a weekend. After all, I’m a guy who takes comfort in his routine, who likes having weekends with nothing to do so he can get caught up on his freelance. But going to Frankfurt turned out to be an incredibly positive experience for me. Not only did I get a first-hand look at the worldwide impact of Marvel comics, and not only did I have a great time spending ten days without plotting or scripting a single page, and not only did I come away with a sense that book publishing is a noble profession to be in and I was part of the international publishing community…but I also found my creative juices so revved top that I dreamed up no less than ten new special projects for Marvel I may have never otherwise thought of. Exposed to so many other book formats and types of publications, I couldn’t help but think of how Marvel might adapt some of them to its universe of characters,. Five of the ten projects I have since proposed have gotten the go-ahead, but don’t expect to see any of them at your favorite comic book store till late 1990 at the earliest. I’m saving the other five for after some of the first ones come to fruition.
So there I was alone at the Frankfurt airport, one hour before my flight took off for America, spending the rest fo my Deutchmarks on souvenirs. And what did I find at one of the airport newsstands, but the latest issue of the German edition of CAPTAIN AMERICA, featuring my stories from issues #331 to 335 in one digest-sized edition. I bought it, and then spent much of my eight-hour trip back to New York looking up virtually every word in my German-English dictionary, trying to figure out what I wrote.