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A visitor looking at one of the few comics available at the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair 2020. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Image Credit:

Sharjah: Comic books, especially those featuring Marvel and DC superheroes, are a niche category that have now been eclipsed by other genres, exhibitors at the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) said on Tuesday.

Though Manga comics from Japan can be found relatively easily at this year’s SIBF, mainstream American comics featuring the likes of Superman, Spiderman, Batman and other popular characters are few and far in between. Last year, there was a dedicated on-site comics section at SIBF. However, this year, there is no such section and general booksellers seem to have largely given comics the pass this season.

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A visitor looking at one of the few comics available at the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair 2020. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

‘Niche category’

“Generally, comics only represent three or four per cent of sales. The rest are the general category books such as novels and autobiographies. Compared to general books, there is less demand for comics — it is a niche category. Fans like to buy comics at related events such as Comic-Con,” said Anil Varghese, purchase manager at DC Books, one of India’s biggest publishers, which regularly exhibits at SIBF. A single comic can be priced anywhere between Dh125 and Dh200.

A large UAE-based bookseller said this year they have not brought comics to SIBF. “It is normally the latest issue in a Marvel or DC series that sells well, individually. Alternatively, teens pick up several issues in a series together. They don’t usually buy one comic book that is older, because comics come in series and tell a developing story. So you want the latest issue or most of the series or a special issue. This year, we as a reseller were not in the best position to order from the US” said a representative of the bookseller.

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A young visitor at the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair 2020. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Comics vs classics

Yousef Izzeldin from UAE-based Bright Stars Books Trading said they have had several enquiries for comics. “People are passing by and asking about comics, like those from Marvel and DC. These are not widely available this year at the fair, or with us. We just have some ‘Transformers’ comics. Each bookseller has its own team for choosing what books to stock. Some of the teams, as well as parents who pay for teens’ purchases, don’t see the value of comics as much as other books. In comparison, classics are very common, though not all classics are fun to read,” Izzeldin said.

Eleven-day event

SIBF 2020 is running from November 4 to 14 at Expo Centre Sharjah. This year, visitors have to book their visit on registration.sibf.com to choose one of four daily visiting slots (each three hours long), before they enter the fair, as part of wider precautionary measures against COVID-19. There are also daily talks by authors and other personalities on the SIBF’s virtual platform — SharjahReads.com.