Huddled masses?

April 7, 2006

I was reading Tania Del Rio’s latest Read This Way column over at Buzzscope when something jumped out at me:

“I won’t comment on the distribution agreement between TOKYOPOP and HarperCollins, since I’m not so knowledgeable about that sort of thing, but I can only hope it will bring manga out of the obscure sci-fi corner in the back of the store and into the front, with more visibility.”

Is that still really common, for graphic novels to be shunted into dark bookstore corners? I’m running through the bookstores I frequent, and I can’t think of one that doesn’t have that section in a highly visible, high-traffic area.

At the local Barnes and Noble, the graphic novels and manga occupy two large banks of shelves with spinner racks and a display table between them. It’s adjacent to the fiction and literature section on one side and the art books and hobbies shelves on the other. There’s also a permanent rack-end installation of discounted new releases next to the information desk, and they’ve started to stack manga titles on their new paperbacks table up front.

At the local Books-a-Million, the graphic novels are positioned opposite the periodicals in a wide, well-lit aisle with benches that encourage browsing. The local WaldenBooks shelves them along the wall next to the register and has a permanent rack-end installation with new releases as well. This is fairly standard in my experience with WaldenBooks and Borders Express outlets, though some have free-standing shelf units that face the registers instead of wall units.

One of the Borders I go to up in Pittsburgh has two stories with a balcony from the main floor that looks down on the lower area. Manga and graphic novels run the length of two sides of the balcony, running past new releases, mystery, and science fiction and following the overflow pattern of the register area. There’s also a large free-standing unit of new releases at the top of the escalator down to the lower level and rack-end installations featuring new releases.

Whenever I visit my parents in Cincinnati, I always stop by the Kenwood Barnes and Noble. The last time I visited, their graphic novels were facing the café, adjacent to the music section on one side and the information desk on the other, with spinner racks floating about.

So I’m left to wonder if I’ve been living in some manga utopia and never realized it. Are West Virginia, Ohio, and southwestern Pennsylvania some hub of graphic novel retail innovation? Are graphic novels still routinely huddled in the sci-fi ghetto, waiting for Tokyopop to set them free? I thought manga was giving bookstores the biggest boost they’d had in years, not languishing in the far-off corners.