New York Comic Con is now New York City’s second-biggest event. The largest is the New York International Auto Show, which “Tireless” Torsten tells us lasts 10 days plus two press preview days and draws 1 million people. That’s essentially a NYCC every day for 10 days — I’ve never gone so I have no idea how it matches up in sheer noise, hubbub and aimless shuffling. Based on this picture, probably pretty well:
NYCC reminded me a lot of the auto show, or at least how I imagine it. There were a lot of booths showing things off, a lot of new products and news, but it was mostly for display. And the crowd seemed to be there mostly to look at things and get free crap — crap that centered on video games and Star Wars and the other monoliths of our pop culture heritage.
I have to admit that the crowds were daunting — definitely not as bad as last year, when horrible logjams regularly triggered panic attacks, but still enough that after a year of shows, the idea of hitting every booth seemed about as appealing as a trip to the mall for all day shopping on December 23rd. I missed most of Saturday due to sheer exhaustion and I spent a lot of time hiding out in various booths. So my experience wasn’t that typical. But even from a distance the show was packed.
After only 6 years, New York has some of the same logistical problems as San Diego. While people without badges were definitely getting in on Saturday, security was tighter in general. But Saturday, Sunday and 3- and 4-day passes all sold out ahead of time. So essentially, NYCC is already as big as it can get. It’s hard to make any suggestions for improving the show’s audience when it’s already maxed out. The main problem, as with San Diego, is the facility.
In a word, the Javits Center sucks. As one comics industry veteran told me, “I go to convention centers all over the country, and the Javits is the worst.” It’s a dump. Although the actual exhibit space is a little larger than San Diego’s, the layout is so much more cramped and uncomfortable. Wandering around the lower level, where the programming is held, is about as pleasant as rush hour at Penn Station, another hideous product of New York’s mid 20th century municipal architecture. Both feature dismal low ceilings and drab beige walls. They bespeak the kind of dreary utilitarianism that New Yorkers are very used to, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
The Javits was not built for consumer shows — it’s made for shiny trade shows, and junior account executives in Calvin Klein. Call me unsophisticated, but I have never met an I.M. Pei building that I liked. Some people are sad that his Terminal 6 at JFK is being torn down as I write this, but it was undistinguished. (OTOH, thank God the TWA terminal is on the National Register of Historic Places.) I live around the corner from his brutalist Kips Bay Towers, a massively ugly building that successfully prevents its inhabitants from having any interaction with the street around them — probably a necessity when it was built in the ’60s, but just isolating now.
Not that Pei and his team had an easy assignment when he designed the Javits. As you may have heard, real estate is quite expensive in Manhattan, giant lots are nonexistent, and building the convention center as a multi-leveled Jenga puzzle was the only way to go. In recent years, there was talk of building a new convention center nearby, but budget cuts did away with that. Instead a single expansion Hall was built — the North Pavilion, called into duty this year for NYCC’s autographing and Star Wars exhibits. I never made it over there, but everyone said it had lots of people in it. Somehow, that isn’t surprising.
Anyway, the physical constraints of the Javits make constructing a mega-con difficult. The biggest hall — the Special Events Hall, branded as the IGN Theater — seats a mere 3000 people. Hall H famously seats 6000 and Ballroom 20 4900. This year’s marquee events, the Walking Dead and Avengers panels, were SRO, naturally, and people ended up standing in line for a long time with no chance of getting in.
There’s also the matter of the decrepit communications systems. It goes without saying that there’s no AT&T coverage — at the Diamond breakfast on Thursday my iPhone was totally bricked while a guy sitting next to me on Sprint was merrily texting. But the hideously expensive ($70 for three days) Wi-Fi was nonfunctional for most of the show too. Once again it just costs so damn much to do anything in New York that upgrading these things is something we can only dream about.
Given the ugly reality —— I haven’t even mentioned the construction that split the room due to repairs on the leaky roof — ReedPOP did the best they could in many cases. The Anime Festival was moved from the basement to the Crystal Palace, the fourth floor gallery that feels a million years away from the rest of the hall. Set among sparkling fall days, sunlight was streaming down on the colorful cosplayers, and the back balcony turned into a makeshift battle pit.
The mood certainly seemed more cheerful than last year’s. A trip to the Anime gallery really was like a trip to another world though — people shouted strange phrases from the stage and an electric energy for something filled the hall even at 3 o clock on Sunday, when I took the above photos.
Next year’s show will have the whole floor, with the roof construction finished, and hopefully halls B and C — taken up on Thursday by an electronics show — will be available for both queuing and maybe more programming. But that still doesn’t leave much room for many more people. The corridors of the Javits are narrow; aisles in some parts of the hall were narrow. NYCC is going to max out very very soon if current trends continue.
If all the above seems way too technical, it’s all born out of necessity. I spend a lot of time at the Javits — it’s home to the Toy Fair and the BEA, and countless other shows. Someday, maybe even in my lifetime, the subway will stop across the street, ending a nightmare of $15 cab rides on the rare occasion you can catch one. But the $9 cardboard sandwiches and $4 sodas are here to stay. Or as I like to say: pick up a $5 foot-long on the way over. You’ll be much better off.
The sheer size of the show did lead to a feeling of the con taking over the city however, much more than in past years. It’s kind of a meaningless statistic given how many people traveled, but even in vast NYC, 1 in 15 people in Manhattan was at the Comic Con. For the first time, local businesses were getting in on the action.
Wandering the West Side after show hours, you’d hit a pocket of badged people going into a restaurant, or a Captain America on a brave mission to lead his family back to the train station. Getting on the crosstown bus Sunday morning, there was already a Luffy on board. Manhattan can swallow up anything, but NYCC made its presence felt on many levels.
But yeah…how big can it get? How big SHOULD it get?
I don’t want to maunder on for too long here, so I’ll try to hit a few more questions more succinctly.
Will there be comics at comic con? Video games, toys and TV booths seem to be the big exhibitors at the show, and where you can expect more growth. NYCC is just too expensive for some comics companies. IDW, BOOM!, and Dynamite, the three #5 (or 4 or 3) publishers, weren’t even exhibiting. D&Q and Fantagraphics will never be there. Book publishers had an increased presence, but small booths. Still, a quick spin down the aisles late on Sunday revealed that things went well. “We’re exhausted but we’re happy,” someone at the Lerner booth told me. A table in Artist Alley costs $500 — recoupable if you are popular or doing commissions but hard for a small publisher. That said, it seemed to be humming every time we checked. Sales seemed to be okay overall, but set against the costs it isn’t a particularly lucrative show.
Will there be good programming? Programming at NYCC is an afterthought in most categories. Having more of it might alleviate some of the crowds on the show floors — that’s the general idea in San Diego — but where would this programming go? Hall E was given over to special events and the press room, leaving only Hall A and a few rooms in Hall B for programs. Opening Hall B to more and more varied programming would be a great idea. New York is home to some of the greatest artists and thinkers on the planet, and NYCC draws all kinds of cool people. It would be great to see some better platforms for them. That said, aside from the poorly attended Dash Shaw panel reported in Beat comments, all the panels seem to have been packed.
Will there be anything for professionals to do? Thursday was industry day until 4 but it was kind of a blank. After the Diamond breakfast ended at noon there were two lone tracks of programmings aimed at retailers and libraries. These were SRO with long lines to get in. If you couldn’t, all you could do was wander around the low-ceilinged halls. This was a good time for schmoozing, but it wasn’t clear that that’s all you could do at that time. Again, some more targeted industry panels wold have been a great use of the time. Or just go wide to the public from 10 am on. This might be a problem since load in was a chore, from what I heard, but everyone has to be there Wednesday anyway.
Will there be any indie comics at the show? The way NYCC is set up it’s really a show for the video game contingent. Although you could spot the odd David Mazzucchelli if you tried, this isn’t really a venue for these kinds of cartoonists, given the current direction of the show. Luckily NYC has two other vibrant indie shows, so the loss is all NYCC’s.
Will there be any white men at the show? Every time I sat and looked around me, I was struck by the youth and diversity of the crowd. There was a HUGE number of Asian, Latino and African-American attendees at the show—male and female—and they tended to be young and very enthusiastic. Up at the Anime show, white men (or white boys, more accurately) were a tiny minority.
As you got closer to the big comics booths, though, there were more of the traditional white male comics readers. Coming out of NYCC, my biggest question is: what did those kids come for if it wasn’t comics? Mostly it seemed to be anime and manga — those industries might be in decline, but based on the costumes and enthusiasm, the fandom is renewing itself, at least in the metro NY area.
The kids were probably there for movies and video games — the Avengers, Walking Dead, Halo. Do they read comics? I have no idea, but they probably went to see the Dark Knight.
The New 52 has been a success at getting outliers interested in comics again. But looking around the Javits, at the ocean of non-white faces, and of female faces, it became VERY clear to me that all the angry blog posts begging for more diversity in the comics isn’t just a few loudmouths—even though they are treated as such by the big companies. It’s the reality of the world. Reaching this audience through inclusion might just be the most important goal for the mainstream comics industry’s continued survival.
I’ll have more on this point in my next long post.
Was NYCC a success? Oh yes! There were signings and concerts and panels and artwork and parties and all the rest. People came to do and see things and they did. Comic Con is here to stay.
Postscript: While looking for a stat, I managed to find my NYCC coverage from past years. Just to see where we’ve come from (and how similar my ledes are over the years) walk with me back to the innocent days of 2006:
It was a good weekend for comics. The New York Comic-con garnered a huge turnout while an industry report released during the convention reported that total graphic novel retail sales rose 18% in 2005, to $245 million.
With an overflow crowd that forced the organizers to close the exhibit hall for several hours on Saturday, the first annual New York Comic-con is estimated to have attracted nearly 30,000 fans over three days. The convention was the first national comics convention held in New York City in many years, and the turnout virtually guarantees that next year’s convention will need a bigger exhibition hall at the Javits Center.
Sparkling early spring weather put a spring in everyone’s step as the 2008 New York Comic-Con, held at the Javits Convention Center in New York from April 18-20, drew an estimated 64,000 fans and professionals in what everyone agreed was a strong show that spotlighted the many facets of the world of graphic novels.
And my comments from 2010: New York Comic Con 2010: Battling crowds:
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:
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.