The biggest topic of discussion about NYCC this year is the placing of Artist Alley. It was moved to its own pristine environment in a white, well-lit hangar in surprisingly orderly fashion. This created a number of strange features, some positive, some less, depending on your perspective. It was at the end of a long hallway that, though spacious, could become a bottleneck on busy days (which was most of the time this year). For some, it was a long walk from the main floor to the alley, and that may have been detrimental. Quite a few people, however, thought that the layout was ingenious, creating a kind of holding tank for people once in the alley, creating a slower-paced viewing environment that promoted discussion. Whatever the pros and cons of the layout, there was one unanimously agreed on outcome: it was the most profitable Artist Alley in years, with many creators selling out or nearly selling out of their wares. The walkways were consistently thronged and the separate location for Artist Alley created a smaller con experience within the NYCC that also resonated with many comics creators.
There was a wide-range of talent represented, too, and a slight upward curve in the trend toward self-employed artists or writers bringing their work to NYCC. Some of these creators were interacting with Kickstarter, others were self-publishing in print in the hopes of being picked up by a creator-friendly publisher like Image or IDW, and some were publishing digitally on free platforms while bringing print copies to con to sell. This may well signal a trend: the rise of indie creators taking up their place at NYCC.
Jamal Igle was beaming from his recent successful MOLLY DANGER Kickstarter campaign, signing cards, selling posters, and greeting fans of all ages. Igle, who’s had a successful mainstream career, but moved into projects close to his heart with MOLLY DANGER, featuring a ten year old superhero, has had a long history with mainstream cons and could comment on the ways the changes to NYCC this year compare to years past. Artist Alley was better than he expected this year. On Monday and Tuesday, when he was setting up his table, and first viewed the new alley location, he was, frankly “worried” that the alley was “off the show floor”. Experience of the con changed his mind. His sales were very high, selling out of posters and greeting a steady flow of fans. Completing the MOLLY DANGER funding before NYCC was a big weight off his mind and energized him for the “fun part”, talking up the series and filling fans in on the completed first draft of scripts and second one underway. He’s hoping to start penciling in November, he said. Igle’s well-publicized Kickstarter campaign, and its success, has inspired other creators taking the road toward self-publication, and it may be that creators like Igle have made other self-motivated comics creators feel more welcome in a still mainstream-dominated Artist Alley.
Writer/Artist Neil Dvorak puzzled and amused congoers in Artist Alley by ingeniously importing a complete desk set and study as the set-up appropriate for his ACTIVATE-launched but print-for-sale comic EASY PIECES. Complete with oriental carpet and old-world charm, Dvorak’s office displayed his clear-line drawn semi-autobiographical narrative comic to the curious onlookers while also offering a deluxe set for sale in an intriguing brown-paper envelope.
Dvorak went digital only a couple of months before con, attracting attention for his detailed, and often psychological, commentaries on modern life. His upbeat attitude drew people into conversation and he quickly sold out of his comics. Like Igle, his sign-up sheets were full of e-mail addresses awaiting further notification about his upcoming work. He was impressed by how “pleasant” the whole con experience had been, from dealing with staff to interacting with the inquisitive. This was his first NYCC, and as someone the furthest end of the spectrum from superhero mainstream work, that was hardly surprising. But he found Artist Alley a welcoming place and will definitely “keep doing cons” based on this experience. He had attended NYCC before as a civilian, and commented on the new AA location: “I noticed right away that it was a bit more removed from the main floor than from last year and that was a concern, but the space was brighter and had a nicer atmosphere. I think it worked out great”. The high traffic didn’t daunt him, and he “found the crowds fun, intelligent, and engaging”.
Writer Matthew Rosenberg of Ashcan Press was celebrating his one-year anniversary of being a committed comics writer, having launched that endeavor at last year’s NYCC. His comparison of his AA experience last year to this year’s brought out a slightly differing perspective from Igle’s and Dvorak’s. While he loved the aesthetics of the location, commenting: “An airplane hangar full of comic creators, what not to love?”, he felt that “Traffic seemed down a bit from last year in AA but not nightmarishly so. The placement of AA definitely hinders the casual con guest from finding AA and that hurts sales a bit.”.
Rosenberg was also hoping to get a chance to speak to editors in AA and found the distance to the show floor problematic. Separating creators from the publishing representatives can take away opportunities: “That is a really important part for young comic pros and it meant you had to abandon your table for hours at a time in order to hopefully find the one person out of 100,000 you were looking for”. Sales of his self-published series anthology series MENU, however, was good, as were past projects, like THE URN, and he was pleasantly surprised by how willing people were to “seek out new stuff” this year. He said, “It felt to me like a great balance between the Big 2 folks and the smaller press folks” and also noted that there were “alot of people with books on Archaia, IDW, Oni, Image, Dark Horse, etc.” With alternative presses on the rise, the gap between their interests and indie publication is may be narrowing.
Writer Frank Barbiere and his collaborating artist Chris Mooneyham were proudly launching the first issue of their new self-published series 5 GHOSTS, having pushed pretty hard to have the issue ready by NYCC. It was presented in impressive prestige format, slightly larger than your average comic, and on signature paper with a sepia tint to tie into its pulp-homage aspects. The supernatural-influenced period mystery straddles quite a few genres and Mooneyham’s stark, moody artwork impressed crowds immediately. 5 GHOSTS sold out in short order. Barbiere, like Igle, was worried when he saw the AA floor location, separated from the main floor, but once ensconced, he liked it far better than the old location because the hangar gave a “smaller con feel”, more like BCC or Heroes Con.
The traffic he felt was good, and the bright lighting contributed to a positive atmosphere and vibe. He felt that these factors contributed to the fact that fans were taking time to chat, and a big plus was that they were not distracted by the noise and multi-sensory sprawl of the main con. People were really paying attention to creator owned work this year, he commented, and listening to what new creators had to say, focusing on the quality of the work rather than the “hype” main stream publishers can generate. This was his third year in AA, but “by far the best”. He’s another creator who definitely plans to return.
Artist and colorist Tim Yates, a Kubert School graduate like Mooneyham, represented a new series launching from IDW in January called JINNRISE, which he contributed to as colorist. He’s also working steadily on a creator-owned series and was sketching away on some promising characters. JINNRISE is already available on Comixology but is soon moving into print also. A preview will be upcoming in the next couple of weeks for the series featuring middle-eastern mythology and was highly optimistic that the series contains “stuff that people haven’t seen before” in terms of content and appealing style. It features an all-out struggle between aliens and genies, otherwise known as Jin and will move through a consistent storyline as well as containing one-shots that focus on “exploring different characters”. The New-Jersey based team that produced the comic, from Jabal Entertainment, are steadily being drawn into con representation. Like Igle and the other self-motivated creators in the alley, Yates was simply trying to draw attention to new and fresh ideas in comics, and their presence is slowly but surely changing the face of the con experience.
While superheroes will always be a big draw at NYCC, fans are demanding more choice and variety in their comics, and Artist Alley seemed to provide a more level playing field this year for healthy competition among good ideas. The more AA becomes an indie-welcoming environment, the more diversity it will attract. High sales and steady traffic helped get the word out at NYCC that a raft of interesting work is on the rise and on the whole fans and creators were happy with the evolution in Artist Alley at NYCC in recent years.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.