[Disclosure: I was a guest at the NJCE and participated in the programming so bear that in mind as you read what follows.]
Are there too many comic cons? Absolutely. Is there room for one more? Almost certainly. That’s the paradox that I had on my mind as I went out to Edison, NJ for the debut of the New Jersey Comic Expo. It was the first east cost event for MAD Event Management, the company that put on the Long Beach Comic Con and Long Beach Comic Expo. It is also the latest attempt at a show in New Jersey, a huge populous, comics-loving state that nonetheless has a history of comics shows that don’t quite hit on all cylinders. (The early Asbury Park Comic Con seems to have been the exception but that has moved up north to Newark.)
There are a few problems throwing a show in Jersey. It’s a suburban car state with few big cities; the biggest population centers are close to either New York or Philadelphia, which tend to take over the events. It must be said that the weekend before Thanksgiving was probably also not the best weekend for a debut show. People are saving their money for a few days later and buying wares at a comic-con may not be in their plans.
All that said, the consensus was that the NJCE was a strong show for a debut. Crowds weren’t huge and neither were sales, but despite a few bumps, the mood was good and the guests had fun and more importantly, so did fans. During the show, I felt that it was a pretty low-key outing, but as I rode the train home, I realized my memories were all good and I’d had a really nice time, with a few standout memories. I also noticed that the social media mentions of the con were overwhelmingly positive. I checked the #njce hashtag on twitter when I got some and saw that I wasn’t the person who was won over by the charms of Edison. The event had more “con reports” than shows far bigger and more renowned, which told me that it connected with the audience.
This was my first time going to a MAD event and they run an extremely professional show. The programming was excellent, and the tech and AV crews were incredibly helpful, the signage was great and so on. All the little things that make a convention a pleasant experience and not a mystery tour. So thumbs up.
As I mentioned in previous posts, I grew up in Jersey, not too far from the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison, where the show was held. I never go back to my old stomping grounds, so I was intrigued to see what modern me would think of it. Jersey is a land of forests, industrial water towers, comfortable suburbs, and Midas muffler shops along Route 22. And beneath a cold November sky it wasn’t too inviting. however the train ride out to Metuchen was a snap, barely 45 minutes, and since I have a wen phone which didn’t remember any of my Lyft or Uber passwords, once alighting, I trekked across the parking lot to the local cab company to call acab to the hotel. As you can see from the above picture, this was an interesting place, with random photos of horses races, Christopher Lloyd from Reverence Jim from Taxi and magazines from 2013 for decor. However the dispatcher was as nice as could be. Had I really taken a trip back in time?
I elected to come out on Friday night instead of in the morning because I had an 11 am panel and didn’t want to fret about waking up “early” and travelling. At the worst, I’d go to my room eat room service and read some comics on my birthday iPad. at best I’d run into some comics folk I hadn’t seen in a while and a dinner would ensue. The reality was closer to the latter, as a small group consisting of Garth Ennis, John Cassaday, Frank Tieri, Rob Stull and Dynamite’s Joseph Rybandt assembled for drinks and hijinks. In reality this show was already a win as this was good company for the evening, even though Yankee-fan Tieri revealed himself to be history’s greatest monster by rooting for the Royals against the Mets. As this con took place far off the beaten path our hijinks were confined to the hotel bar, but it is safe to say that this group made the best of it, and legally, that is all I can say about what transpired.
I got to the show the next morning about half an hour before my first panel, which was an Image Comics panel with Toby Cypress, Bryan JL Glass, Ryan Bodenheim and Joseph Linsner. There wasn’t a big crowd, to be honest, but the entire panel forged on as if it was a packed house because they are pros. I made a recording so I may run a transcript at some point. Also all the panel rooms has top notch AV! The big room had a built in screen that is better than most shows I’ve been to! I hadn’t prepared a slideshow so I decided I needed to fix that for the rest of my panels.
The one bit of news from the panel is that Bodenheim revealed that he and writer Jonathan Hickman are going to complete The Dying and the Dead in its entirety before it returns, since it has been running late, and they’ll be doing all of their books that way from now on: finishing the whole thing before soliciting it. This may be partly in response to Image’s new scheduling for creators, but it makes sense as long as Bodenheim can survive on the schedule.
I should note that the NJC&EC was a decent sized venue for the show, big enough so that it took a few passes to see everything, but not overwhelming. There was wifi, so I tried to download a slideshow for the next panel on my iPad but it was a little too slow. However I did manage to download about 10 images on my iPhone and cobble them together into Keynote. Luckily the tech guy had a lightning to VGA adapter and it was all good!
— Agent 70 (@Agent_70) November 22, 2015
My next panel was a 90 minute talk with Chris Claremont, and Walt and Louise Simonson. I’m well aware that these three don’t really need a moderator and you can just bring up a topic from bread to X-men and they’re off. So it was a privilege just to prime the pump a bit from time to time. And yeah, if 14-year-old me had known that someday I’d be sitting on stage listening to these three talk about the X-men I would have been beside myself.
The much older me was perhaps most interested that when the “Mutant Massacre” storyline was brought up, what we’d now consider an “event” that crossed over into Uncanny X-Men #210-212, X-Factor #9-11, New Mutants #46, Thor #373-374 and Power Pack #27, all books that Claremont and the Simonsens worked on. It was Claremont’s idea to kill off some of the Morlocks, and the other two joined in, even Thor, as Walt recalled “Hey I’d like to kill some Morlocks.” Needless to say, the idea of a major comics event totally driven by the creators is so far from the way today’s editorially-driven comics are made as to be ludicrous to even contemplate.
By the way, it must be said, Louise Simonsen is such a total badass, having written or edited so many great comics of the era. And as she noted, “My philosophy as an editors just to hire the best people I can and let them run with it.” Another throwback to the olden days—and there has never been a great comics editor who did not share this idea.
As for the overall show, I think the consensus from everyone I spoke with was that for a debut show it was a good day. That said, while there were enough people at the show to keep it from seeming slow, sales were slow. I didn’t talk to anyone who made more than a few hundred dollars. It wasn’t that there were too many celebrities or cosplay contests, either. It was just that, as one creator in Artist Alley put it to me, the main reason people seemed to have come to the show was curiosity. The locals heard about a comic-con coming to town, and went to see what all the fuss was about. What they found was a nice cross section of creators, a couple of publishers —notably Dynamite, Valiant and Action Labs—and a healthy cross selection of exhibitors.
On Sunday I moderated this panel:
— Lawrence Brenner (@lawrencebrenner) November 22, 2015
Which was equally informative and interesting to me. Carl Potts had all kinds of amazing stories from his long and distinguished career, Jeff King had the perspective of someone coming into comics from outside, and David and Jamal will full of good advice and anecdotes. In short, a good time. I made a recording and hope to upload it to the resource page.
One small problem with the show was the lack of female comics guests; I’m told this was noticed by the organizers and while it wasn’t ideal they will make sure it doesn’t happen again. The Long Beach shows have very diverse guest lists so this is more of a weird result of timing with so many creators already finished their con season or committed to other shows.
— NJ Comic Expo (@JerseyComicExpo) November 23, 2015
Con reports! From The Insightful Panda:
As a newly created Con, it makes sense that they wouldn’t be able to have a multitude of A-List attractions. But what they were able to bring was a convention that actually focused on the “quality of time” rather than the “quality of name”. It was a weekend where there was no need to meticulously calculate Plan A, B and C plans; but rather just walk around and make it up as you went along. With dedicated talent, tons of fans like you and incredible cosplayers – both independent and guest – NJ Comic Expo made its mark as genuinely friendly Con.
And Geek With Mak
We were excited to attend the New Jersey Comic Expo 2015 this weekend and besides the show being small, it was a fun time for the whole family. From the grab bag of Dynamite comics for early ticket purchasers to the Kids section full of free books, they were serious about attracting in fans. Also having Jim Lee headline as well as a few other first timers in New Jersey like Ivan Reis and Garth Ennis helped as well.
The convention market is glutted with shows that want to be full scale mega shows or autograph shows, and it’s the dealers who are going to have the final word on this. If shows don’t have costumers who buy things, exhibitors are going to stop coming, and I think in 2016 we’re going to see a shake out of some weaker shows, and some consolidation among the players. Yet there was clearly enthusiasm for NJCE among attendees and even nerdlebrities. (The Daredevil cast members were hanging out in the bar and mingling with fans pretty much all Saturday night.) As mentioned above I think this was a “learning show” for the attendees. They had a good time and next year will come back hopefully planning to spend — next year’s show will be held a bit earlier, November 19-20th.
— Peter Shinkoda (@PeterShinkoda) November 22, 2015
— Tommy Walker (@TommyWalker24) November 22, 2015
— Elton Wong (@nerdyviews) November 23, 2015
So yeah, even in a world with too many conventions there is room for one more. I was going to leave you with some bad iPhone photos but since everyone hates them so much, I’ll just leave with this photo of the sunset on Sunday which apparently lit up the entire NYC area, at least according to my Instagram.
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.