By most accounts, this past New York Comic Con was a success, giving fans access to all kinds of stars, comics and otherwise, and presenting a news fusillade on many topics. It was also crowded, congested and teeming with people. Crowding has been a serious issue at NYCC ever since the very first one, which was shut down by state troopers and left many people who had purchased tickets stuck outside. Since then the madding hordes have ebbed, but mostly flowed. Crowd control was pretty horrible in 2010, and got a little better in 2011—but my witnesses say it was back to 2010 levels this year.
While I missed the Saturday logjams, reading about them online presented such a vivid picture that I almost think I really WAS there. Gary Tyrrell has an excellent account. Bear in mind, this guy works as an EMT, so he’s pretty level-headed.
Understand that when I say that at times on Saturday the crowds at NYCC were the second most hazardous crowds I’ve ever experienced in my life¹, and the worst I’ve ever experienced in New York City, I am comparing against some very bad crowds. If you look very closely in the famous Vincent Laforet photo of the 38th Street ferry docks during the blackout of 2003, you can just make me out in the crowd² and that crowd was not as bad as some of what I encountered in the 1100 aisle this past Saturday. On the docks, we were at least all moving in one direction and managed to let people off the boats so some of us could get on; on the showfloor, it was complete immobility to the extent that the though crossed my mind If there is a panic at this time, I am going to be seriously injured or killed.
So what can be done? SDCC sees similarly-sized crowds without this degree of problem, but they have a few advantages: more floor space, many entrances to the show floor (the JVCC floor is accessed in relatively few places, in some cases by escalator), a wide concourse off the floor for moving from one end to the other, wide “travel aisles” for people trying to get places instead of browse, and no construction³. The last issue will take care of itself eventually (and partially alleviate the floor space issue), the others will take some work. If the number of “you have to be kidding me” booths were reduced, the travel aisles become possible. If an endcap booth were sacrificed every couple aisles, the space could be used for people wanting to get photos of cosplayers, instead of doing it in the middle of the goddamn walkway4.
I know the NYCC people take safety seriously, but demand for passes to the con was really out of control this year. Not only were there COUNTERFEIT passes being sold and there seems to have been a thriving grey market for badges everywhere. Added to this, apparently people were walking in WITHOUT badges at various times.
While I don’t want to engage in “Everyone’s a show runner” here, a few ideas have been floating around in the last two weeks post con. NYCC has been pretty easy going about badges thus far, to the point where they don’t even have names on them. This seems kind of counter-intuitive given the demand. At PW we were very serious about getting a list of names for our booth badges, even though I forgot that the badges don’t even HAVE names. Although it’s more expensive, I’d guess, I wouldn’t be surprised if Reed changed the procedures for registration, and instituted a real one person, one badge rule. They also mail them out in advance, which San Diego stopped doing eons ago for similar reasons. I’d expect that might change, too.
But badges aren’t even the biggest issue. The main problem is that the Javits Center just wasn’t built for consumer shows. Although the Auto Show is held there, and is New York City’s single biggest event, New York Comic Con is already the second largest, and takes place over four days, not two weeks. Javits was built for leisurely B2B shows where junior account executives scurry around the drab, low ceilinged halls; not throngs of Banes and Vampire Hunter Ds strutting their stuff for screaming mobs. There aren’t enough doors in, escalators up, or programming rooms to keep the crowds flowing and entertained. While 90,000 sq. ft more will be available next year, I guarantee that area will fill up to capacity just as quickly as before.
Despite all serious questions about the show beforehand, the vibe coming out of it was very positive, and fans and pros alike want to see the show continue and grow. Some pundits are even saying it’s giving the San Diego show a run for its money, as in this piece by Jason Knize for Panels on Pages. Knize is bullish on New York Comic Con:
One big advantage SDCC has over NYCC is it’s proximity to Hollywood and all of the biggest media companies. However, it’s still not IN Los Angeles (at least for the time being), and outside of the convention center, bay, and world class animal parks, the city known as “A Whale’s Vagina” doesn’t have much going for it. New York, on the other hand, is the center of the universe. The City That Never Sleeps might not have the studio backlots of Tinseltown, but you can hop on the subway and end up at the New York headquarters of NBC, Fox, DC, Marvel, Comedy Central, and MTV. You can take in a showing of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, swing by the Ghostbusters firehouse, or troll the costumed characters population Times Square. Grab a bite at one of New York’s world famous restaurants, and rub elbows with creators at any of the city’s storied watering holes. And while a stay in the greatest city in the world might not be most frugal of comic-con trips, at the very least, the city doesn’t jack up hotel costs just because comic-con’s in town.
Knize was especially impressed by the Sunday Talk Back panel that NYCC show runners held. I agree this panel is fantastic—and the ReedPOP crew addressed concerns very well based on Torsten’s report—but it should be pointed out that San Diego holds con talk back panels every year.
This is not a “we won!” type situation, and while one show might be bigger this year or that, both provide unforgettable experiences that the other cannot. I love going to San Diego every year, enjoying spectacular weather, searching for a burrito, and smelling the sea air. Of course, New York is my home town, and I love hopping on the M34 to head over to a vibrant show and coming home to find I’m out of toilet paper. (This happens every year.) Both shows offer thrilling guests and fantastic spectacle unavailable elsewhere in the US.
A lot of NYCC boosters seem to want the show to enlarge its media offerings to SDCC-like levels but would that really be an improvement? I was very excited to see that NYCC had a large contingent of traditional publishers, and what I would like to see is the many areas—not just Craftsman tools—where the show can expand to offer new things, and not just try to be San Diego lite. We don’t need another San Diego. We need a better New York.
The other big complaint about NYCC is the lack of diversity among guests and panels. Sue at DCWKA has a thorough write up on that called Do you know the way to all male panel?:
Certainly a look at the comic creators who were “guests” at the show should have told me what I was in for. As I wrote before the show of the thirty-two “Spotlight Guests” not one was a woman. And less than 10% of the invited comics guests were woman (although since I wrote that post the total number rose from 10 to 14 guests).
But as I walked around the halls I saw so, so many women. The same on the convention floor. And I’m sure many were there for the entertainment panels like Park Avenue or for Anime and Manga. But I saw a lot of women cosplaying as comic characters from Marvel and DC. And, no, they were not all Catwoman and Black Widow from the movies. And flipping through long boxes. And getting comics signed by creators and artists.
NYCC draws a very young, mixed crowd. It’s what I think of as “the Avengers movie crowd.” It’s urban, it’s girls, it’s kids, it’s teens. Sue expanded on this in a later post:
While I walked around the hallways of NYCC I saw a diverse set of attendees beyond just white males. NYCC PR says 40% of the attendees were women. I’m not surprised. But I also saw many men and women of color. I saw another example of the diversity of attendees and the desire for representation at the one panel at NYCC that focused on queer characters. ”Gay Marriage In Comics – Revolutionary Or A Step Backwards?” When I arrived at the room I did a double take as the line for the panel was almost as long as one I had stood for DC’s new 52 panel stretching back into the larger hallway. Given that I’ve walked in and found a seat at many other comics panels that weren’t part of Marvel or DC, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised at the size of turnout which ended up so big that people were sitting on the floor.
There has been grumbling in the past about not enough women guests at NYCC, and some years it improves, and then it doesn’t. This year there were top-level women authors, and at least three “woman” panels. It would be nice to see more women represented in panels, but the way NYCC selects its panels is from panel proposals. (Panel proposals for 2013 open up in January!) Beyond that, NYCC’s focus at panels is on extending the fan experience. Some people roll their eyes at all the speed dating events, but they are always popular and part of the Reed goal to put the fan first—NYCC is a big, crowded amusement park for pop culture fans, and crowded escalators substitute for the roller coasters.
This year ReedPOP’s advertising made a BIG shift to media guests and programming, and away from comics. It didn’t matter for comics-focused people, as comics news dominated the cycle, and there was still a full slate of comics-based activities. But one reality not addressed by the amateur show runners is that as dingy and ill-suited as the Javits Center is, it is also frightfully expensive—and those costs must be passed to exhibitors. Craftsman Tools and giant video game companies buying huge amounts of floor space does pay for podcast arena and some of the other quirkier, DIY areas of the show. If advertising Christopher Lloyd over Juanjo Guarnido is the only way to pay for that, comics will find their work around. Still, I suspect the Comic Con brand is so strong now that a show headlined by Abe Vigoda and Gary Friedrich would still draw a pretty good-sized crowd.
One area where NYCC can definitely improve though is taking advantage of the people who come just to be there. I’m haunted by the knowledge that Juanjo Guarnido was just sitting there signing books, with no pre-announcements at all. Had I but known! NYCC’s vibrant mix of creators from all over the world and the local talent can make for a potent if loud brew. As I noted in my last day at the show before being called away by personal issues, I was having a fantastic time meeting smart, innovative people. The potential for more of that remains immense.
Photo above via Stewiscool
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.