We've discussed turning new readers onto comics several times already in this space, and no doubt it willICv2 Graphic Novel Conference continue to be a topic of discussion. Probably the most obvious reason for such behavior is that comics lovers tend to be natural evangelists for the art form which we love so dearly.

Yesterday, on the eve of the NY Comic Con, ICv2 hosted a graphic novel conference which included a number of hopeful signs regarding increasing readership. The event was held in a conference room at the Javits Center convention facility, and the panel discussions consisted of a varied mix of comics creators, retailers, bloggers, editors and publishers, as well as wholesale book distributors, a librarian and a buyer for Scholastic book fairs. Such a widespread mix of participants made for a fascinating snapshot of the industry as it featured representatives from all of the key stakeholders.Many of the participants noted seeing double-digit increases in sales of graphic novels in 2006, and the credit for this was largely attributed to the rise in popularity of the graphic novel format in general and, in particular, the continuing rise in popularity of manga. The continuing increase in manga sales to (for the most part) young girls and women has brought a new readership to comics, and may well be creating a new generation of comics fans, which can only be good for the art form.

Librarians were well represented in the person of panelist Michele Gorman. I'm thrilled to report that Gorman and her many colleagues in the audience were enthusiastically vocal in their support of graphic novels. Gorman, the author of Getting Graphic! Using Graphic Novels to Promote Literacy with Preteens and Teens, is a tireless ambassador for comics, traveling the country speaking to libraries, teachers and parents groups. Sad as it may be that the art form still needs such defense in America, it is nonetheless extremely encouraging to hear that there are librarians out there on the front lines speaking up for comics.

Not only do we have librarians fighting the good fight, but we've got another strong supporter in Ed Masessa, a Category Manager for Scholastic Book Fairs, and a passionate fan of comics himelf. Remember those Scholastic book fairs from grade school? I certainly have fond memories of loading up on books when the book fairs came calling, and I'll bet many of you do as well. Well, what I don't remember, but what the current generation of kids likely will remember, is the inclusion of comics, in the form of graphic novels, included in the Scholastic book fairs. Masessa shared some impressive figures with the audience. Scholastic hosts approximately 110,000 book fairs throughout the course of a school year and there are never fewer than 20 graphic novels included among the selection. What this means is that each year, 57 million kids are being exposed to comics through schools. Perhaps most encouraging, from the standpoint of exposing potential lifetime readers to comics at a young age is that since the spring of 2004, almost four million graphic novels have been sold through Scholastic book fairs.

The NY Comic Con proper opens to the public today (and runs through Sunday), and Saturday tickets to the show have already sold out ... which is itself a great sign for the increasing level of interest in comics. I'm looking forward to soaking up all of the positive energy surrounding comics over the next three days, and you can bet I'll be sharing the highlights of the show here.