It may not be Con Wars, but it is con crunch. With the exploding popularity of comics/pop culture shows around the world, more and more events, some of them highly localized, are springing up. And as cons get more popular, suitable dates are becoming harder and harder to find.
New York is currently home to three major events—the indie focused MoCCA Festival in April, the sprawling New York Comic Con in October, and the art comics focused Comic Arts Brooklyn in November. And now a summer show is coming: ReedPOP, the organization behind NYCC, is launching Special Edition NYC June 14-15 at the Javits Center. The show will be purely comics focused, without the video game/movie distractions of NYCC, and held in the popular shed-like “North Hall” where artists alley was held the last two years of NYCC.
Ironically, this weekend – Father’s Day — is already hosting two other shows in the New York metro area: New York Comic Fest (thrown by Crucial Comics) in White Plains, and EternalCon in Long Island’s Garden City. It’s also the same weekend as Denver Comic Con – meaning guests are going to be in high demand. It’s also the week before Heroes Con in Charlotte, and Wizard World Philadelphia, two good-sized shows that have shared a date for quite a while without too much recent conflict.
As news of the summer Reed show circulated, The Beat was contacted by both EternalCon’s Frank Patz and Crucial’s Cliff Galbraith. It’s fair to say they weren’t thrilled by the timing, but they are also resigned to the crunch of available dates. We also reached out to ReedPOP’s Lance Fensterman to find out more about Special Edition.
According to Fensterman, ReedPOP had been kicking around the idea of a second show New York for two years. The original idea was to hold it at the same time as Book Expo, also held at Javits and run by Reed; unfortunately getting the space for what would be an ideal juxtaposition wasn’t possible.
The vision for Special Edition is “artists dealers and a few publishers if they want to participate,” says Fensterman. There will be panels but they will be more intimate, creator Q&A’s taking about work. “We really view this as a creator and fan driven event. I don’t see it expanding beyond comics.”
Fensterman hopes SE:NY (I just coined that) will have more of an indie vibe—an area where NYCC has been lacking—but it will not be billed as that. “We hope to have those brands and artists represented, but because of any number of reasons, those people [may not] come out. We want it to be artist driven and that will include, we hope, a huge indie contingent.” The show will be much more affordable than NYCC for artists and dealers, however, and Fensterman hopes that will encourage more diverse exhibitors.
Reed was aware of one of the other shows during planning and found out about the other one. Once the date was set, they did reach out to the other shows, and going forward, Reed will work to make sure dates don’t overlap. It is an unfortunate situation, Fensterman acknowledges, but that weekend was the only one available at the very busy Javits Center. “We went through availability on time frames we wanted and our first several choices were not available.”
“We know it’s not ideal,” he continued. “We try to be respectful of other events happening, but it’s an increasingly busy schedule.”
Both Galbraith and EternalCon’s Patz acknowledge that Reed reached out to them. According to Patz and Galbraith, they were told that SE:NY would not try to get guests already committed to the other two shows.
Galbraith (like ReedPOP, a regular advertiser at The Beat) announced his show last year, and says he had been hearing about the Reed show for a while, and “At the time I thought it was odd since it takes a long time to plan an event, invite guests, and do publicity. [ReedPOP’s] Mike Armstrong did contact me on the day everyone found out. So, yes they were thoughtful enough to call me and apologize, but not enough to tell me back when I could’ve done something. Armstrong did tell me Reed Pop wasn’t interested in poaching any of my guests and we’ve had no defections.
It is a popular time for show, says Galbraith. “It’s a good week, school’s getting out for the summer, the weather’s not too hot yet. We throw Asbury Park Comicon in April, so we need a bit of time to get our bearings before jumping into another con. Also, June 14 was the only date that was available for Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY.”
Patz threw his first show last year, and had a much bigger turnout than expected in an area that hasn’t had it’s own comic-con for quite a while. (For non New Yorkers, Long Island is kind of its own world.) He’s expanded to two days for 2014, with an eclectic lineup that also focuses on toys, cosplay and movies. (It’s held in a museum with an attached theater.) Confirmed guests include Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Billy Tucci and Mick Foley. “I had the date before everyone else, and local people knew about my show,” he told The Beat. While he’s considering moving his dates, that would put him in conflict with the same shows everyone else is up against. “When I planned this show I didn’t want to be near any other shows. No one was doing a show on Father’s Day weekend. Now it’s the most popular day of the year.”
Galbraith, who also puts on the Asbury Park Comic Con in April, plans to go ahead with his original dates. “Guests are booked. The venue is booked. Ads have been run. Flyers and posters are printed with June 14th emblazoned on them. The guests have other commitments on other dates. But we do have those guests, so if you want to meet Scott Snyder, Mark Waid, Herb Trimpe, Dick Ayers, Fred Hembeck, Shawn Martinbrough, Bob Camp, Larry Hama, Paul Levitz, Vivek Tiwary, Fred Van Lente, and John Holmstrom, then NY Comic Fest in White Plains is the only place you can do that on June 14th.”
Putting on comic cons seems to be a growth business, he adds. “I joked to a friend the other day ‘you know all those guys who opened those WE BUY GOLD HERE shops after the recession started? I think they’ve moved into the comic convention business.’ I’ve seen a lot of shaky cons pop up.” At the same time, he’s philosophical. “Let’s be clear, I got into this only a few years ago, and I can’t cry now that someone else is moving in on me. Business is business.”
EternalCon, NY Comic Fest and Asbury Park Comicon all fit into the role of smaller local shows. Patz has made a point of reaching out to local business and exhibitors, and Galbraith points out that transportation and parking are much easier in the ‘burbs. “Dragging kids into the city can be exhausting. At our shows, mom or dad can pull up and park close to the venue, and meet creators, buy some comics, enter the kids in a cosplay contest and be home by dinner time.”
Even before ReedPOP formally entered the picture, Eternal Con and New York Comic Fest were having a small con crunch themselves. “I was aware of a show in Long Island, but when we announced NY Comic Fest for June 14th, 2014, Eternal Con had not announced their date,” says Galbraith. “I actually reached out to Frank Patz of Eternal Con just two weeks ago and asked him if we could work out something for next year. He was very happy that I contacted him. There’s no reason to see this as a zero sum game, we talked about things we could both benefit from. I talk to Mitch Hillock of Connecticut Comic Conn all the time. I recently contacted Denver Comic Con to ask if I could copy their harassment policy — I think it’s important we all use the same language regarding that matter.”
While some have suggested an organization for con runners, Fensterman says that could run into anti trust policies. Still, at ReedPOP they stay in contact with may con organization to avoid date conflicts.
While everyone involved with the situation seems resigned to the inevitable problem of who will go where, there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it. Patz is seeking to differentiate his show with more activities and celebrity guests. Still, he says “It’s ironic that [ReedPOP] wants to help smaller publishers and little guys and yet, they are potentially crushing two little guys.”
Fensterman is aware of the problems, and hopes that ReedPOP will do what it can to ease the pain, including the non-poaching policy. “We’re not jerks,” he says. “We try not to be bullies and we’re not going to be aggressive towards others. We would never do that.”
The Great Father’s Day Confluence is just part of the greater picture of New York’s comics culture, says Galbraith. Despite DC Comics’ impending move to the west coast, it’s still the historical home of much of the comics industry. “NYC is constantly changing, and so are its cons. They have to, or they better, or somebody smarter, quicker, or more innovative will eat their lunch,” says Galbraith. “Mike Carbonaro [who threw the Big Apple cons and has a show coming up in March] once had the whole city to himself, now he’s a footnote. When Wizard bought the Chicago Con in the 90s, I thought they’d be in Javits within five years — they blew. In any business, you have to move on an opportunity or someone else will grab it. I started my shows because I was fed up with the big cons. Nothing against them, but I wanted something else. I didn’t care that some guy who played Thor or a zombie was at a con. I was there to sell comics and hang with other comics folk. Other people can throw a con, I’m throwing a party. Let’s celebrate the art form! Let’s not obscure the view with Hollywood stars and wrestlers when we have such talented people who make amazing things like comics.”
Galbraith remains busy with many ventures, including “closing a deal for a nice big juicy venue [for 2015] that I think is going to surprise a lot of people.” Given the success of his 13thDimension website, “we’re also working on something new called Monsters and Robots. It’ll be a website about all things monsters and robots, a lot of it toys, rare toys, the new vinyl designer toys, it’s really Rob Bruce’s area of expertise. We’re also launching a Monsters and Robots Con in Manhattan in 2015. And we’re looking to throw a comic con in Trenton or Princeton NJ; there’s some interesting venues in those towns. We also have our eyes on two cities outside of the NY/NJ Metro area. We have an interesting venue for a sci-fi con as well. We’re having a blast doing this and we’re really just getting started.”
ReedPOP is also moving forward; they just announced the acquisition of the Oz Comic Con in Australia and Fensterman spends most of his time traveling to other parts of the world finding the ideal situation for new shows and acquisitions—always looking for territories where there are good facilities, and most importantly, a strong fan base.
Given Galbraith’s plans to put on more shows, there may be more Con crunches in the future: Fensterman says ReedPOP will announce another event for New York later this year – one that has nothing to do with comics. One thing’s for sure, there are going to be very few weekends for NYC comics folks to say “Gee, I have nothing to do.”
Photo source: Scott Edelmann
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.