Home Conventions Big Apple/Con Wars wrap-up

Big Apple/Con Wars wrap-up


So, for everyone who asked us, this weekend’s Big Apple Comic-Con at Pier 94 in Manhattan drew a big crowd, and was a well-run show. Wizard’s conventions have always been well run, professional events, and this was no different, with lots of signage to guide people around the somewhat rambling and stark venue.

From what we could see, crowds were light on Friday and Sunday, but very busy on Saturday. Paid Wizard blogger Rich Johnston reported that the Fire Marshal came to slow the line and a video of the queue to get in shows a line that — by New York City standards — was nothing out of the ordinary but still bustling.

In fact, if it weren’t for all the controversy over Big Apple choosing the same dates as New York Comic-Con in 2010, the headline for this year’s Big Apple would probably be what a huge improvement Pier 94 is over the Penn Plaza Hotel as a venue. While the last few small Big Apple shows moved to a high floor ballroom, (which we didn’t attend) for years they were held in a low ceilinged, leaking cavern draped with blue tarpaulins that kept light out and smells in. It was a dismal, demoralizing place, that Evan Dorkin only last year described as “the worst convention I’ve ever had the displeasure to sit through.”

By comparison, Pier 94, where the show was held (registration and panels were located a short walk away in Pier 92) was wide open, high-ceilinged and airy. This year’s Big Apple had the misfortune to be held on an early winter day, gray, raw, and damp. A giant hangar on the river wasn’t exactly the coziest place on earth, and the cement-floored venue couldn’t help but mirror some of the dismal day outside, but it wasn’t soul-crushing, either.

Where the show seemed to have the most organizational problems was panels. Even the Jim Lee panel was sparsely attended. Some people touted in the program book — JG Jones — weren’t even at the show, and announced panels for Pete Rose and William Shatner never materialized.

Problems aside, however, it was a place where people came and had fun. The nerdlebrity turnout was huge and there were lots of bargain-priced comics to buy. The loud thumping music at the front of the room and rows and rows of longboxes aren’t everybody’s idea of a good time, but the dealer/autograph show has a long history in New York. (That said, aging sitcom stars and Playboy models wearing enough pancake make-up to spackle a bungalow inhabit their own little townhouse in discomfort-ville. If you thought the pleading look in some indie cartoonists eyes was bad, it’s nothing compared to the black hole stare of a one-time TV star that no one wants to talk to — Seconal for all!)

It wasn’t hard to find positive reports on the show on the internet. A fan named Freddy wrote

through Sunday this weekend in New York City and Jen and I made the trek out there yesterday, mostly to see the Trick ‘r Treat screening/Mike Dougherty Q&A at night. Although i’m not so much into comics, which is pretty much what 98% of this convention consists of, it was still an awesome time and in the end it was well worth the $35 charge to get in. Ya can’t put a price on tons of free swag (most of which will go to you guys) and some awesome experiences!

Lest we forget, Phil Seuling held a monthly dealers show for years in the ’70s and ’80s. Michael Carbonaro, originator of the Big Apple con, was definitely emulating these shows with his ideas of the Big Apple. Getting autographs from sports figures and celebs also has a long history as an activity. It may not be your cup of tea, but for some people, it provides a very satisfactory experience. The Chiller Theatre, a similar show focusing on horror, is held twice a year in New Jersey, and always gets a strong turnout.

All of which is still begs the question: Why? Why pick the same date as another show being held a mile away on the same street as “the best weekend to have it,” as owner Gareb Shamus told a convention goer. It seems, on the face of it, stupendously stupid.

Artists and dealers we questioned about the conflict were completely unanimous in total bafflement about the announcement. Terms ranged from “idiotic” to “silly” to “What are they thinking?” Not one dealer we spoke with plans to attend the Big Apple instead of the New York Comic-Con. “I know where Ill be next year,” Shelton Drum of Heroes aren’t Hard to Find told us. “The Javits.” (Drum also runs Heroes Con, a show which has had ongoing scheduling conflicts with Wizard World Philadelphia in recent years.)

Artist/letterer Dan Nakrosis said, “Next year, I’ll be here on Thursday, and the Javits on Friday to Sunday.” Basement Comics’ Al Stoltz said next year “I’ll be down the street.”

We asked Shamus directly if he would answer some questions about the show and he offered to set up an interview via Wizard’s PR person. As we write this, he has yet to respond to our questions. However, Rich Johnston did present Wizard’s case for the date:

Wizard World wanted an October date because they believe it’s the best month for such a show – which is why this year’s show is happening now. They initially went for the weekend before NYCC but were bumped due to a bicycle race. Wizard know the comic publishers and comic creators will go to NYCC over Big Apple, although hope some may do both. They know that people have already committed to the NYCC. But they regard “Comic Con” as no longer defined as being principally, or indeed at all, to do with comics, something that coverage of the shows seems to back up these days. They’ll be running a pop media show, so we’ll get wrestlers, sci-fi show actors, musicians, traders and a batch of star guests – and what they lose in comics, they’ll make up in prosthetic aliens. With the NYCC combining with the Anime show taking over the whole of the Javitz, you may get two very different shows on the same street with less crossover that you’d initially expect.

Again, as mentioned above, the kind of media guest autograph show that Wizard is talking about here is actually a reasonable, sustainable idea. If it were planned for the spring — when there’s a big gap in major East Coast shows — no one would say a word and there would even be support for a show that fills a niche.

However, picking the same dates is leaving everyone with the feeling they have to take sides–not a fun place to be– for no real reason. And most comics pros and dealers are simply going to choose New York Comic-Con. (Sean T. Collins has a big roundup of reactions and comments via Twitter and so on over at Robot 6.) Also, intentionally cutting down dealer support in a still dicey economy seems like a questionable move at best. As for fans, a poll at Brad Guigar’s Evil Inc. site shows that people think this is a bad idea by a 96 percent plurality.

For his part, NYCC show runner Lance Fensterman is making his stand for a show that he feels is much more than a media autograph show.

There is a fundamental difference in philosophies between our organizations. We approach our shows by thinking about the fans, the industry and the exhibitors first and ourselves second. We believe that if we serve the fans, the industry, the guests and the exhibitors first we will be rewarded with a good show thus a good business proposition. How does putting an event on the exact same dates as NYCC (or even C2E2 for that matter) do anything to help the fans, exhibitors or guests?

I am not claiming that we are altruistic and do everything s right all the time. Far from it. If you read this blog, I think you know, that I know, we screw a lot up, but we don’t run from our mistakes or criticism, we listen and we learn. And yes, we operate these events as businesses. But we believe our success comes directly from treating people well and helping them grow there business (Midtown Comics busiest 3 days of the year are during NYCC – that is success to us). Good business is not doing what you want for you and taking a short term gain.

The war between Reed and Wizard — which seems to have been touched off when Reed announced a Chicago show running four month’s prior to what was then known as Wizard World Chicago — has heated up in other ways. While Shamus’s new GeekChicDaily newsletter — started with producer Peter Guber — has gotten a lot of attention, it’s also become the centerpiece of a new entertainment conference prior to the Anaheim Comic-Con, an idea similar to the conferences Milton Greipp runs prior to NYCC and SDCC:

DailyCandy eventually grew beyond a newsletter, publishing two books. The GeekChic founders are already moving to expand their brand. The first such venture will be a conference called GeekChic University, designed for marketers and executives looking to reach the geek audience.

The event is taking place at the Anaheim Comic-Con, one of six run by Shamus’ Wizard Entertainment. Wizard is providing resources to GeekChic, including promotion and some shared editorial staff.

Even more troublingly for Reed, the term Comic-Con is creating a lot of confusion among the mainstream media and doubtless potential attendees, as this story from local New York news station NY1 shows:

Some comic book fans aren’t waiting for Halloween to put on their best costumes.

They are taking part in the annual Comic Con festival at Manhattan’s Pier 94 this weekend.

Fans took part in a costume competition and met stars of their favorite classic television shows, like Adam West from “Batman” and Lou Ferrigno from “The Incredible Hulk.”

“We want to see William Shatner and other stars. These are famous people on our planet as well, and we must hobnob with the fancy famous people,” said one fan in an alien costume.

“I came out for Comic Con all weekend and I’m looking forward to hanging out with all the artists, the celebrities and all the people dressed up in costumes,” said another fan.

Sloppy reporting like this is the norm, and will definitely create confusion among consumers — especially if, as Johnston writes, Shamus/Wizard “regard “Comic Con” as no longer defined as being principally, or indeed at all, to do with comics, something that coverage of the shows seems to back up these days.”

If that’s true…why even call it Comic-Con?

By taking this aggressive stance, Shamus is throwing away a lot of good will that he still has in the industry, again at a time when his former core business — magazine publishing — is changing drastically. As one dealer we spoke with told us, “It’s a tough time for everybody — we don’t need all this competition.” The bottom line is that no matter who ultimately triumphs, there are no winners in Con Wars.

[Photo via Steve Bunche]


  1. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. Shamus obviously thinks he can drive Reed’s show out of business.

    Good luck with that, Gareb.

  2. Well-run? Professional? Not sure what show you attended, but the one I attended Saturday afternoon with my daughter was akin to visiting Tuscany only to be forced to eat in an Olive Garden. At the airport.

    Disappointing is the nicest thing I can say about it. Maybe it was good for the suburban nostalgia crowd, but not for comics fans — nor comics professionals. Phooey.

  3. ^^ how short memory is to say the Big Apple shot the first volley. I would argue NY shot the first volley by scheduling a show in Chicago. I mean like them or hate them, there has been a big comics convention in the Chicago area for many, many years. For NYCC to come into that town (Yes, I know it’s Chicago vs. Rosemont but even in the old Chicago Comicon days, it was considered a Chicago show) is hubris at it’s highest. There are any number of other cities across the country, but they chose Chicago specifically to kill Wizard. Hey it’s their right, but don’t whine now that the table has turned.

    In fact, I would argue NYCC stoked the flames by taking part in a Chicago party this year, and posting on their website text that read: “ Wash the stink of Rosemont off you with booze!” I mean, c’mon. You can’t call someone out and then cry when they take you up on it.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of Wizard. But for NYCC to go out of their way to confuse itself with SDCC for the last three years, it seems kinda stupid that they’re freaking out that people are confusing this NYCC with their NYCC.

    Maybe someone should tell the SDCC people to do a show in New York and let the best show win :)

  4. Sorry “comicsfan” but you’re timeline is off. Go do some research on Wizard World Philly and Wizard World Atlanta – long before Reed entered the game.

    And C2E2 coming into Chicago during a different month and in a whole ‘nother part of town – that’s competition.

    What’s being done with Big Apple/NYCC is called being a crybaby.

    And NYCC confusing itself with San Diego? Who’s payroll are you on?? Let San Diego come do a show in NY. That would be great. Because they would have the class not to run it the same weekend as NYCC.

    That’s the point you are very obviously ignoring.

  5. Michael you missed the point completely.

    Timeline is in reference to the NYCC vs. Wizard shows.

    My comment was because someone earlier said the first punch was thrown by Wizard at NYCC. And I still think it was NYCC going into Chicago.

    But I do agree that shows in or around the Philly and Atlanta area have just as much to gripe against Wizard as Wizard has against NYCC for going into Chicago. But as my grandma used to say, two wrongs don’t make a right.

  6. To me, a key point is that Shamus first tried to schedule his show next year a week before NYCC, obviously trying to steal their thunder and deplete whatever spending money people would bring to NYCC the following week.

    Shamus lost the good will of comics fans a few years ago when he scheduled a con against the previously scheduled Heroes Con. Perhaps he should be called Shameful…

    Oh, and anyone who would appeal to the geeks with something called GeekChic doesn’t know their audience very well…

  7. I would imagine that GeekChic Daily isn’t targeted towards geeks as much as it is to the people who will spend tons of money trying to reach the geek audience, which would seem to be one reason why Gareb Shamus is a successful businessman.

  8. I wasn’t so much paid as had my airfare and hotel paid for. There’s some kind of difference there, but I’m not sure what.

    As to “why call it a Comic Con”… well, why call it a comic? Most are rarely funny. A number of graphics are not that graphic. And many novels are not novel. Words and phrases change their meaning, and looking at mainstream press coverage of the likes of San Diego and NYCC, mainstream meaning of Comic Con is less and less to do with comics as well.

    Insisting to be called a Comic Con it has to have comics up front and central is fighting a losing battle, up there with manga only coming from Japan and graphic novel to not be a collection of serialised chapters.

  9. “I wasn’t so much paid as had my airfare and hotel paid for. There’s some kind of difference there, but I’m not sure what.”

    there is no difference, Rich. Stop it. you whored yourself out, so live with it.

  10. I paid $35 on Sunday, wandered around for three hours, found some cheap comics, some unusual comics, and was disappointed.

    I’ve attended almost every variant of Big Apple (the first St. Paul Con, Pavilion, Penn, Pier) and this was possibly the cheapest and most lethargic version I have attended. Empty booths (Spielberg and Tassaud’s was gone on Sunday), low attendance, poor layout (the panel rooms? More like a panel barn, half of which was a video room), bad lighting, poor heating, no carpet…

    I hope this show succeeds, but the Past is littered with much better shows which are no more. Having worked science fiction cons which were completely staffed with volunteers, this show should be much better.

  11. Rich Johnston said:

    “As to “why call it a Comic Con”… well, why call it a comic? Most are rarely funny. A number of graphics are not that graphic. And many novels are not novel.”

    Wow, that’s original.

  12. “The loud thumping music at the front of the room…”

    This was a major problem at the Chicago Wizard show for a few years. I was across the convention floor and could barely talk to a dealer. And it has been written about before by many people, but apparently Wizard and Shameless don’t care.

  13. ephraim

    “(c) 2006-2009 Heidi MacDonald and Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.” Taken from the bottom of the page.

    Rich Johnston may have been paid to blog for Wizard, but Heidi has a full time job for Reed (who own NYCC). So if you’re going to say he’s whoring out to Wizard you better call it both ways.

  14. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and many other cities are large enough to to host at least two major comics conventions a year, if they’re properly spread out. It allows the local fan more than one opportunity to see the creators. There’s a fair number of walk-ins that visit, but on the whole it’s people already interested in the medium. It is a relatively finite audience.

    Taking that audience and asking it to choose between two shows means each show will get diminished attendance. Only a small percentage of fans will attend both. It means both shows will lose to a degree.

    Everybody that had a good review of Big Apple called it a very good local comics show. No one I read said it could hold a candle to the NYCC. And right now it it can’t. It’s “the other show”.

    Maybe in a few years, if it had the support of the Big Two (hell, any of the Big Five) publishers, it might be able to rise in esteem. Instead, they’re taking on the Big Boy right away.

    I would LOVE to see two or more big shows in NYC. Just not at once. Major film releases try to spread themselves out so there’s less first weekend competition. I don’t grasp how Gareb sees this to be a good move.

  15. FYI, I don’t have a full time job at Reed. I’m an independent contractor. But agreed, I can hardly be seen as impartial.

    It was suggested by a few people that Rich was brought to the Big Apple directly to counteract my own blogging.

    Ironically, the complaints I got about this post are that it’s way too easy on the Big Apple Con.

  16. A few years ago, I had a job at Reed Elsevier in New Providence NJ, working in the mailroom.
    Ok, it’s only tangentially related to the topic, but I thought I’d share anyway.

  17. “It was suggested by a few people that Rich was brought to the Big Apple directly to counteract my own blogging.”

    We should really play off against each other and try and maximise this kind of thing.

  18. It is ludicrous of course. Obviously Wizard see you as a Reed propogandist. Despite the fact that such accusations would, given the opportunity, make sure you presented their case as fairly as possible, in order to avoid them.

    Next up: Choker Vs Chase Variant

  19. I’m so glad that CCI has built that ‘monopoly’ here in the West Coast,
    and all my Con-going money is spent on SDCC, WONDERCON and APE. (With APE a “freebie” thanks to the free entry allowed with that year’s SDCC pass.) These CONS are enough to scratch my comix nerd itch, so I’m never tempted to travel and sample the others… though reading about them here on The Beat is fun just to see what I’ve missed.

    It’ll be interesting to watch the REED and WIZARD corporate giants battle for the Comic-Con crown in New York next Oct— the City so nice, they gave it TWO competing Cons in the same month, same weekend, and even the same street! And, it’ll be fun to read the arguments for and against the other from their “partisans” in here, and other comics board…

  20. I’m not bragging, but:
    small press indy con: MoCCA
    dealer show: Big Apple
    humogous show: NYCC
    anime/manga: NYAF
    children: Kids Comic-Con
    trade show: NYCC/BEA
    book festival: Brooklyn

    No company shows yet, like D23.
    No library sponsored festivals.

    Now… in 2007 and 2008, Big Apple held shows parallel with MoCCA. MoCCA partnered… there was a shuttle bus, and I think tickets were cross-honored. Very little overlap, nobody mentioned it.

  21. Seeing as Rich Johnston is bought and paid for by Avatar, can we assume that Avatar will not be going to the Reed conventions?

  22. Bloody hell I hope not. As I understand Avatar will most defitely attend Reed conventions. And hopefully I’ll come too. I can only justifiably attend three US cons a year, which is still insane, one of them has to be San diego, so I’m hoping one for Reed and one for Wizard…

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