It’s taken a few days to recover from this year’s New York Comic Con, and recovery has been slowed by the vast number of out of towners who have stayed on to hang out and make merry with New York friends. It is a real thrill to know your hometown show has become an attraction for colleagues around the world, and it definitely inspires one to get gussied up and make everyone feel welcomed and well lubricated with social beverages.
The time has given me a bit more perspective and enabled me to read and listen to more experiences from the show, and I have to say that when I pegged it as “a complete success” the other day, I was incorrect. NYCC ’10 was a SUCCESS, no question, and from talking to comics exhibitors and New York-loving visitors you might conclude that it was a “complete” success as far as their goals went — exposing their wares to as many potential customers as possible, and drinking as much free alcohol as possible, respectively. I would not gainsay that these are worthy goals, and their accomplishment is praiseworthy, but there were so many other logistical and conceptual problems with the show that its success is almost baffling. There’s a feeling in some quarters that NYCC has gotten a pass from serious criticism because of insiderism or media favoritism or something, but this year’s show had many and wide ranging issues that were impossible to ignore. However, note well: the general tone of the postmortems has been positive, and that’s really good fortune for the Reed Pop group. It could have gone either way. So here’s a brief rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly:
• Panel problems. For whatever reason, the panel listings online and in the program book did not have descriptions or panelists and that’s a fail. Reading this post by Ed Sizemore, I was surprised to hear of so many interesting people on panels that I might have actually gone to, had I known the details and make-up of the subject matter. There were also several panels with people who never intended to go to them listed, and other panels that had never been scheduled listed and so on. At least one MAJOR publisher had their panel schedule completely bollixed up — one imprint scheduled against another — and had to scramble at the last minute to get it all sorted out.
Now, despite these problems, from what we heard and saw, most panels were well attended. In some cases, TOO well attended, as people had to line up and no room clearing meant San Diego-type queueing was necessary. People in New York City are very used to lining up for anything resembling a popular event. However, one panel during the Professional hours on Friday morning had exactly 1 attendee. Perhaps the fact that nowhere in the show materials was there a description that went beyond one, indeterminate word was a factor in this.
• Overcrowding. New York Comic Con was mad crowded. INSANELY crowded. Those of you who are familiar with my moaning about the aggressive and overbearing security in San Diego in 2009 may be surprised to hear this, but this time my complaint was NO SECURITY AT ALL and that was a real problem and danger to people.
Walking into the show on Saturday was a free-for-all — hundreds of people shoving against a tiny bottleneck of an entrance. No one’s badges were being checked. Everyone I spoke with thought that dozens or scores of people had just walked in without badges.
But other places were worse. The rather decrepit Javits is being renovated and expanded — the roof leaks, and it’s being fixed section by section. There was a big area of construction that divided the third floor exhibition halls in half, and there were two tunnels through the construction to convey people from one side to the other. As I tweeted, the first time I went through the tunnel there was a women with spectacular (and store-bought) cleavage posing as Rogue, and a big crowd was building to take her picture jamming the tunnel. People, DO NOT POSE FOR PICTURES IN A TUNNEL!!! Other times I went through it was uncrowded but still…people stopping to get their pictures taken was a major traffic impediment for the whole show, and perhaps it is time to just designate one promenade for people to prance around in. As many people have pointed out, for some reason the two most heavily trafficked booths — Intel and the MIchael Jackson game — were put at opposite ends of the tunnel, meaning further potential bottlenecks.
Even worse, the same thing happened at the tops of escalators — crowds would gather taking pictures and people would almost get shoved down the escalator. People were complaining about “broken” escalators on Sunday, but I suspect they may have been turned of to prevent this kind of mishap.
A few places I went on Sunday were so jammed you could barely move — the Cultyard area of the show was in a corner and just getting in and out of it was a battle. And then there were the costumes and long swords and eye poking and the lack of garbage cans and…and…and…
One of the possibly apocryphal but likely-sounding stories coming out of the show was that one professional — a San Diego veteran — was reduced to a panic attack by the crowds of this show. This place was NOT for anyone with agoraphobia.
I could go on and on but the simple matter is that way too many people were let in, and security needed to do a better job of keeping them moving in high traffic areas. The people running the biggest booths — Intel, Marvel, DC — are show veterans and knew how to keep their lines controlled, but out in the boondocks this wasn’t the case. Luckily, it was a generally peaceful crowd, and aggro tendencies were checked at the door even if the giant weapons weren’t.
• The anime stepchild: the area that has gotten the most online discussion is the melding of New York Comic-Con and the New York Anime Festival. Personally, I thought it was great — the Anime attendees kept the crowd young and they were so cute and enthusiastic they elevated the whole mood. I went down to the much-maligned Anime artists alley on Saturday and it was a nice excursion, to a more whimsical world, full of primary colors and pictures of boys kissing. I thought keeping it in its own area gave the anime crowd a chance to get together without getting in the way of the comics crowds. But mine was not a common opinion.
Japanator’s Brad Rice just came out and said it: “The con was a segmented and crowded mess”:
From my perspective, I’m looking for things to talk about. This isn’t a slight against the NYAF folks, but the cosplay was really poor at the convention. In talking with Jake, there was next to no eye-popping cosplay, save for Steampunk Iron Man. It was either decent or sub-par, to the point where I’m not even sure how many good photos we got out of it.
Industry panels didn’t have much to announce, either. Chalk it up to timing on the licensing agreements or the fact that this is the last major con of the year, but there was very little to get excited about (16 episodes of K-ON! on four discs!).
Similarly, trying to find out what to do was a nightmare. The NYCC/NYAF app worked very slow, and unless you plotted out your events beforehand, there was little chance of finding all you wanted to do. After dealing with too much frustration trying to use their web panel, I eschewed on the side of minimalism and only went to industry panels and the Crispin Freeman panel that I hosted.
Ed Sizemore had similar thoughts;
It was hard not to think of the NYAF section of the convention as being an unwanted stepchild. The artist alley and panels were both located in Hall E of the Javits Center. The artist alley for NYCC was up on the main floor and was in the same room as the small press publishers. The panels for NYCC and the ICv2 conference were in A Hall on the opposite end of the convention building. NYAF had six rooms of programming compared to NYCC’s ten rooms. I know several people that had panels rejected by NYAF, so the difference wasn’t from lack of available content. It felt like NYAF was simply tacked onto NYCC as a cost-cutting measure.
Even allowing for the “internet gripe” factor, many posts list a litany of organizational problems and end up “I still had a great time!’ for the surprise twist ending. People are always going to have many complaints about not getting to have their own peak experience that they felt entitled to, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some systemic problems.
The sense of dissatisfaction from NYAF is despite a very robust otaku presence among the show planners. From an outside perspective, I thought there was a big anime presence, but I don’t pretend to be part of that world. Reed Pop is going to have to think long and hard about what to do with the two shows — the shrinking anime/manga business simply doesn’t have enough big exhibitors left to make a standalone show at the Javits financially feasible. Anime festivals are mostly social events anyway — and part of the reason why programming went so late. The kids love to roam the halls and party it up. But getting the two worlds to peacefully co-exist may not be possible.
Let’s put it this way, at the PW booth — set up to run a raffle and so I’d have a place to eat peanut butter smeared on crackers for sustenance — two separate kinds of fan volunteers staffed the booth — some from the anime world, some from the traditional comics fan world — all of them were young women. But they didn’t pay any attention to each other whatsoever. It didn’t even rise to the level of snubbing — it was just two groups passionate about their particular thing and not interested in learning anything else.
Comedian Uncle Yo, whose avuncular sobriquet gives you the idea that he’s a trusted source, says fans need to lay aside their gripes and come together for the greater good:
I’d like to address several issues with this year’s organization. Many fans came up to me with disapproval of how the anime community was segregated this year. NYAF, an industry-ran anime con (anime cons are generally fan-oriented and fan-run) was pushed to its own corner in the basement. BUT only reason New York City is able to have an anime convention is to share a cab with the financial giant of Comic Con. It’s no secret that comic cons are now gargantuan-sized ad spaces for the movie industry: that’s just what they have become to stay afloat in the times and challenged economy. ReedPOP made a very careful gamble by merging the events. By combining both cons, dealers and artist alley participants tripled their exposure and their sales. Comic book fans got to give anime fans a shot, and anime fans had the chance to experience a huge event. Your concerns are heard – we can only make this a better show by working together and volunteering.
Obviously, a show as huge as NYCC/NYAF can’t make EVERYONE happy. And I think a lot of the complaints are because New York City is the heart of comic-dom, and everyone wants it to be a perfect, mind boggling spectacle of Kirby-esque proportions, not a grim slog through a haze of crappy posters, loud video games and $5 pretzels. Expectations were high for this years show after a 20-month layoff. Which leads us to…
• Pent up aching longing for a Comic Con: Conversely, it was obvious the week before NYCC from the twitterverse if nothing else that local people were super duper psyched for this show! It wasn’t necessarily for specific things but more for the experience that the phrase “Comic Con!” now suggests: all things pop culture, down to earth celebrities who are just fans too, parties, sneak previews, free shit, and comics! One of the reasons that the overall report from comics folk I talked with was so positive is that at NYCC, the entertainment content is still sporadic and unfocused. There were certainly some marquee events — M. Night Shyalaman, Bruce Campbell — but they weren’t the total focus of the show or even twitter.
HOWEVER, comics folks should note that just because there wasn’t a ton of movie and TV news doesn’t mean it didn’t dominate the media coverage. Every day, a news search for NYCC would yield dozens of stories focused on this or that wee tidbit of entertainment news, and nothing comics related at all, unless it was Geoff Johns’ movie plans or Stan Lee’s pact with Mrs. McAfee’s kindergarten class to create a new line of superheroes. Even MTV launching a whole line of webcomics — an event that would have been headline news in past years — was shuffled to the side.
• The youngsters: it was a very young, very enthusiastic crowd. Sure, a lot of them were there for video games or anime or manga, but I resist the notion that comics can only appeal to a certain pre-packaged kind of fan. Industry folks are always talking about outreach and here it is. The conversion rate might only be 3 percent but 3 percent of NYCC’s 95,000 attendees is 2850 people — that’s almost enough to make the bottom of the Diamond charts on its own.
In any event, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the youthful spunk and vitality of so many of the attendees. The Michael Jackson game demos were a big draw and a big spectacle, and after watching these kids try out their moves — especially the indeterminately gendered one on the end — the particularly local flavor of the show was brought home to me, the dreams and aspirations from the Bronx to Turtle Bay, from SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER to Gossip Girl. When are they going to do an SVA reality show, anyway?
These energetic X-Men created a riot wherever they went, entering Marvel’s costume contest with a 24-strong group. In particular Iceman was YouTube-ready with the kind of crowd connection that only slathering yourself in pale blue paint and putting on an itty bitty pair of trunks can create.
Note well: these vibrant, unmissable costumes were mostly designed in the ’70s-’90s. Today’s grim, gritty leather jumpsuits better fit actual people who aren’t 19, but just aren’t as marketable. All hail Dave Cockrum!
• The sales: a lot of people did way better than expected at the show. Some did San Diego numbers by Saturday. Others struggled to make modest targets. Superstars who hadn’t been to New York in a while did best. Artists Alley was nearly 400 people strong, which made for a lot of competition. But overall, this was a financially successful show.
• The drinks: As many have noted, this was a wild party convention. Coming at the end of the year — and in the middle of DC’s troubles — everyone wanted to see friends, hang out and take advantage of the numerous open bars. Call me shallow, but unlike San Diego, getting into a decent party at NYCC wasn’t very hard, and even if you couldn’t, a circuit around the four or five known comic book bars would certainly turn up friends you wanted to hang out with. By Friday night it already seemed like the last night of San Diego — perhaps because here in New York the bars stay open until 4 am instead of the 1 am (if you are lucky) of most other con cities. Coming near the end of a long convention season, NYCC was a chance to blow off steam and say the things you’d been waiting months to get off your chest.
Thursday’s opening CBLDF/Image/Beat party was a huge success, even if it was (surprise!) crowded. The mix of people from the past, present and future of every level of comics was dizzying. Even Diamond’s Steve Geppi was there. We hear the Dark Horse/Comics Alliance bash was also fab, even if we got there too late for any but the stragglers.
Every night seems to go later and later. Friday night was the huge DC Talent Party. With a bunch of folks leaving for the West Coast soon, maybe it was the biggest ever. In addition, there were caught feelings when a bunch of Zuda freelancers weren’t even invited to the party until Jim Lee stepped in at the last minute. Otherwise, it had some of the makings of a long goodbye. Today is the deadline for DC employees who have been offered relocation to make their decision, and it’s expected that soon many of the NDAs and mystery will be lifted. In the meantime, most folks from DC just looked…sad.
On Saturday Marvel and MTV held their parties, along with the Girl Geek tweet-up. Marvel’s party is covered here , and included the chance to hear Joe Quesada sing a John Lennon song. I actually have a video of Paolo Rivera singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” that should prove very handy for blackmail purposes in later times.
• The indies: Contrary to popular opinion, several of New York’s indie superstars were at the show, like Kate Beaton, but they weren’t advertised and Beaton’s experience was perhaps emblematic. We ran into Chip Kidd and Dash Shaw fretting about whether their 8 pm panel would have any attendees (Ed’s note: did it?) but Dash had been busy buying $1 comics, including ghastly examples of the ’90s indie Image ripoffs and a fine stack of Jonny Quests by Doug Wildey. Sean T. Collins spun out his comments here at the Beat for a whole column at Robot 6 about the lack of indie presence — or at least the kinds of comics he likes. At the end of the day, I think anyone who loves the comics medium would have found something of interest at New York Comic Con, whether in the very busy groups of book publishers (Random House, First Second, etc.) or in the 400 strong Artist Alley. But deciding not to fight through the crowds to do so is definitely a sensible choice given the options.
As for why there isn’t more participation by New York’s thriving art comics scene, I do think it goes both ways. A lot of indie cartoonists I know just dislike big comics conventions and would rather spend their energy on a BCGF or even King Con. That said, along with all the other organizational problems, reflecting more of this community and area of the art form is definitely something that NYCC absolutely needs to do more of. I just think that NYCC needs indie cartoonists more than indie cartoonists need NYCC.
UPDATE: Oops I had meant to include this post from Liz Baille at the Daily CRoss Hatch in this post from the beginning. It’s as fair a write-up of the experience as could be:
By Sunday morning, I had burned through ALL my postcards (and I had brought a new, full box on top of about half a box left over from the rest of the year’s cons) and all my business cards. I gave out hundreds (maybe 400-600 or so) hobo names and only had a few name tags left at the end of the weekend. At any other indie con, I only give out maybe 100 postcards at best, possibly 100 hobo names. It was insane.
I was kind of bummin’ on Friday and Saturday, because it felt like I wasn’t selling that much stuff, but once I counted my stock and my money on Sunday, I realized I actually did pretty well! It was definitely extremely stressful and draining to deal with the whole spectacle of NYCC (I barely left my table as I didn’t want to deal with the crowds), but I feel much better armed now that I know how to engage and deal with the crowd there. I’m not sure if I’ll exhibit in any “Webcomics Pavilion” next year since apparently the non-existent “tables” cost more there than in Artists’ Alley or the Small Press area, but if I can get in on any of those latter groups I might do it again.
• So, as we run out of time to get this up in any semblance of timeliness, overall, we had a blast and so did a lot of people. That fact does not negate the discomfort and feelings of scorn that many other people and segments of the crowd had. That there is a huge and thirsty audience for the kind of experience that New York Comic Con offers is obvious. That that experience can be made even better is equally obvious.
• Finally, thank yous: To Kate Fitzsimons for making sure I never had to eat scraps by bringing lots of snacks and getting me a croissant before my ICv2 panel. To Ada Price and Hilary Florido for the great times at the Del Rey and APE parties on Friday night. To the unknown Russian cabbie who returned my bag to me later that same night — YOU ARE A GOD, TOVARISCH!. To Zena, Kai-Ming, Calvin, and Jodie for general camaraderie. To Jimmy for the swell afterparty. To FMB for the laughs. And to all the friends from the world of comics we saw fleetingly or for one intense late night conversation…this is still the best business in the world.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.