Well, it’s almost time for the seething mass of humanity known as New York Comic Con to kick off, and I think half the people I know want a badge.
While it wasn’t quite the anxiety and heartbreak of getting San Diego Comic-Con badge, the whole “fan verification” ordeal and hoop jumping made it even harder to get a badge for NYCC this year than in years past. One friend who I have been able to sort out with a day pass in the past suggested that she could get via the old sneaking the badge in and out, and I had to explain no, all the tapping in and out is expressly meant to stop that kind of fast and loose badge sharing.
It’s tough to explain that even I, the Mighty Mighty Beat, can’t get extra badges, but….I can’t. There’s way more security in place this year than in the past, and frankly, I’m glad. If there’s ONE THING everyone knows about New York Comic Con it’s that it’s too damn crowded! Last year (or maybe it was the year before, it kinds of blends together) the hall to artist’s alley became horribly crowded, and an outside path had to be opened up.
This was only the latest in a long running series of log jams, starting with the very first con, which got so crowded that the hall got shut down for hours on Saturday and state troopers were called in the manage things.
ReedPOP can’t really sell fewer badges, because they need to make money running the show, but they can spread things out more –– big events at the Hammerstein Ballroom, and Madison Square Garden, and the Book Con annex at Hudson Mercantile are meant to get people AWAY from the hellish Javits Center and into the compartively free and unfettered streets of west Midtown.
A couple of very recent incidents brought home to me the necessity of limiting the number of people in one spot at one time. At both Baltimore Comic Con and SPX this year, there were fire alarms that caused mass evacuations. At Baltimore, someone pulled a fire alarm at 6 pm Saturday, the prime time for last minute deal making, and a very inconvenient time, as after the all clear came it was just too late to reopen.
I wasn’t on the floor when the alarm went off, and I don’t know how many people had to go outside, but by all accounts it was fairly peaceful and uneventful. Here’a video someone made.
(BONUS: Here’s a video I made in my brief “videographer” days of a previous fire alarm situation 10 year ago with a brief appearance by Dan DiDio.)
At SPX, the “meeting area” had to be evacuated during Saturday night’s party, reportedly after a fog machine at the annual Prom set off a fire alarm. In this case, it was a very orderly procession, and really, only a few hundred people.
As benign as these events were, it did make me think: What if something really DID happen during a Comic Con? If sprinklers went off, damaging hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars worth of comics and original art, does individual insurance cover it? Or the con? I asked a few people and no one seemed to know.
Public facilities like convention centers are designed with safety in mind, but I don’t think the kind of crowds that comic cons draw were necessarily taken into account. Baltimore, to name just one example, is located below ground level and the exits are up the stairs. (I believe there is a loading dock in the back, but I’ve never seen it.) If there really was a rush to get out, the stairs alone would be quite crowded.
As I’ve mentioned many many times, The Javits Center was designed for crowds of 30,000 not 150,000, or however many people actually show up each day at NYCC. There is a loading dock exit at the back of the hall on the main floor, but once again, huge crowds would have to rush up stairs, and if you are physically challenged, that would be very very challenging. I’m sure Torsten will be along any minute with more scientific discussion of this.
Anyhoo, all of this reminded me of the actual reason that fire marshals constantly inspect comic cons and shut them down when they get too crowded: if there was an actual fire or other disaster, people would not be able to get out. (Yes, yes, I know the joke is that in NYC the fire marshal also responds well to payola, but there is a safety concern as well.)
While San Diego Comic-Con’s lack of space gets most of the headlines, NYCC is technically a larger show now, and the crowding problem is much worse. Everyone knows the Javits is a hellish purgatory of bad, expensive food and confidence sapping beige walls , but we’re stuck with it for a long time. Even the pleasant North Hall, where Artist Alley is held, will be going away after this year when it’s razed to add another, larger wing, as shown in this rendering.
New areas created by the expansion include a 60,000-square-foot ballroom, with an additional 500,000 square feet of continuous space on the same level, resulting in a fivefold increase for meeting and ballroom space. It will also feature the largest ballroom in the Northeast, according to the Governor’s office.
PS: For comparison here’s an aerial shot of the current Javits center:
One hopes the new addition will feature the airy ceilings and ample bathrooms of the existing North Hall, and not the Brutalist low-ceilinged, hold-it-or-wear-a-Depends facilities of the main hall.
New York Comic Con will be fun and a grand exhibition of pop culture in all its grungy glory. It will also be crowded. And that’s the way it’s going to be for a while.
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.