by Aaron Halls
From the outside looking in, I always saw Comic Con as a type of nerd Valhalla; a place where geeks of all ages and places from around the world assembled to celebrate fandom. This year, I had the opportunity to attend NYCC, my first convention experience, as a member of the press with The Beat. Would expectation match reality? Over the course of four days, I had the opportunity to find out.
Early on Thursday morning, day one of NYCC, I headed from Brooklyn to the Javits Center, a glistening building located in Manhattan. Due to my press badge, I made it inside rather quickly. But as I passed the security, a slight overwhelming feeling overtook me. The convention center’s large nature and the realization of having made it to a Comic Con seemed to hit all at once. I quickly headed upstairs to the press lounge to gather my bearings.
After some time and a quick introductory meeting with the other cool people representing The Beat, I headed downstairs for my first true NYCC floor experience. If I wasn’t totally overwhelmed when I first entered the Javits Center, I certainly was now. Walking the floor felt like being packed like sardines in a tin can. On all sides, there were mixtures of colorful cosplayers, people taking photos with cosplayers, people walking the convention floor, and people headed to panels. Booths filled the surrounding area and groovy dance music filled the air. I heard someone describe NYCC as “over sensory overload” and I can see why. It can be hard to know exactly what to focus your attention on– especially as a Comic Con rookie.
After attending a panel for Dark Horse’s next line of Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels and interviewing Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance artist Peter Wartman, I headed back to my friends’ apartment. As I walked through their door, my body felt like it had just run a marathon; I never imagined that Comic Con would leave me feeling as mentally and physically drained as it did. As I lay in bed a part of me wondered what made the NYCC experience worth enduring. What made it worth trudging through the large crowds of people for an experience that will leave you feeling tired in multiple ways?
While waiting in line at a Starbucks on the convention floor on the last day of the con, I talked to Ron Basilotto and Katelyn Dalton. They, like me, were first time Comic Con attendees; earlier that day they had gone to the Critical Role panel. When speaking to what made the NYCC experience worthwhile, they talked about a few different factors.
“I think to see all of the merchandise and the people you admire,” Dalton said. “There’s so many panels and everything, so I think that’s why it could be worth it.”
Basilotto talked about a couple more things. “Seeing the cosplay,” he said. “Seeing the people who are into the same things you’re into — I think that’s a fun thing.”
These elements were ones that I would personally get to experience over the course of the four days.
One of the coolest aspects of NYCC was seeing all of the amazing cosplay costumes that people had dressed up in. While on the convention floor, I talked to cosplayer Max Kapovich, who was dressed up as Kakashi Sensei from Naruto; this was his fifth year at New York Comic Con and his costume had taken two days to put together, as he had gotten it online. When speaking to what made Comic Con worthwhile, he mentioned the fantasy fulfillment and the accepting environment the show offered. “You get to live out your fantasy and enjoy your life while everybody else is enjoying their lives,” Kapovich said. “You get to become who you want for one day — any of your favorite heroes or anime characters – and no one will judge you for it.”
In addition to seeing the cosplayers around the convention center, another aspect of the NYCC experience is attending panels. As a huge fan of the Marvel Netflix show Daredevil, being able to attend the panel in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden was exciting. Being surrounded by hundreds of people who were all ready for the upcoming Season Three created an electrifying environment. While seeing exclusive clips was certainly nice, to me, the highlight of the panel experience was hearing from the main cast and producers and listening to their thoughts about the season.
One of my favorite moments of the panel was hearing new Daredevil showrunner Erik Oleson talk about how he wanted the characters this season to have storylines where they play an essential part. When speaking to this and the storylines involving characters Karen and Foggy, his statement had a real world undercurrent, and this seemed to draw much audience applause.
“The Karen and the Foggy story lines play a major role in the prescription for how to defeat fear and the narcissistic tyrant who would use fear against us to divide us against one another,” Oleson said. “The prescription, as I saw it, was the power of a free press, the power of the law, and the power of collective action — friendship, love, faith and that will pull us through.”
Perhaps the most personal panel for me was “Black Heroes Matter” — a panel about the current status of black heroes in our culture. Growing up as a young black kid in the early 2000s, it was surreal for me to see actor and voice actor Phil LaMarr, who not only voiced Static Shock, but also the John Stewart version of Green Lantern on Justice League Unlimited.
During the panel, LaMarr talked about why he believes black heroes matter. “There’s fictional heroes and nonfictional heroes and the reasons they matter are the same,” he said. “You cannot achieve what you cannot conceive. When you see a fictional hero doing something, you say ‘Oh, I could fly!’ It opens that up in someone’s brain — either a child or an adult.”
In voicing the animated heroes Static Shock and John Stewart, LaMarr helped give life to two of the first black superheroes I had ever seen in any medium. His point rings especially true for me because it was upon seeing his two characters that I truly believed that I could be a superhero. As a kid, and even as an adult, I think this was important because as LaMarr implies, it helped instill in me a sense that I could achieve anything I wanted to — even fly.
It was during this panel that why NYCC was worth experiencing for me truly sank in. Being surrounded by many faces who looked like mine, and who had perhaps grown up feeling isolated in representation like me at a young age– we could now all come together and celebrate.
In the end, after experiencing NYCC, much of what I had always imagined it would be held true — it truly is a gathering of everyone to embrace what they’re passionate about. At times, NYCC can be overwhelming, but the large crowds, physically and mentally draining aspects, and potential post-Comic Con sickness are all worth going through for a celebratory few days. I’m extremely grateful I had the opportunity to attend and look forward to going back in the years to come.