Expectations, I think, were largely low in the lead up to the first ever King Con. I had told a number of people that I would be spending the better part of the weekend in Brooklyn, observing the event between the three rather spread out panels I had signed up to moderate. Reactions were generally guarded, with questions along the lines of, “does New York really need another comic convention?”
Fair enough. After all, this was the debut show, and as such, the maiden King Con seemed to have been plagued by a number of the trappings that tend to befall first-time events, not the least of which was the seemingly haphazard publicity push that didn’t really seem to hit critical mass until the final days leading up to the convention.
The show was housed at the Brooklyn Lyceum, stone church-like theater space/coffee shop, which, of the course of a few months, serves as a home from everything from batting cages to chess champions. The building itself is located on 4th avenue, on the outskirts of Park Slope, just beyond the ever-creeping hand of neighborhood gentrification. It’s a strange space to say the least–in the lead up to one of my panels, I discovered a lone prop skull amongst wayward theater refuse.
I arrived at 12:30 on Saturday, roughly half an hour before my first scheduled panel—a discussion with Harvey Pekar (who the event’s planners had flown in from Cleveland as a headlining guest), along with five of his artistic collaborators, co-moderator Jeff Newelt, and a special, surprise guest, Pekar’s wife, Joyce.
Entering the building, one passes by a large window overlooking the showroom floor. By the time I arrived, a quick survey of the space put to rest any doubts I might have personally harbored about public reaction. A few hours into the first day of its first year, King Con was buzzing, with countless showgoers packed tightly into the bustling rows between exhibitor tables.
The Lyceum’s floor is a small space, particularly compared other largely indie-themed shows like MoCCA and SPX—still, no one can fault the show’s organizers for their seemingly guarded optimism when it came to potential exhibitors. Though I later spoke to one artist roaming the floor who told me that, by the time he attempted to book his table, the floor had completely sold out.
All said, one could have leisurely walked the floor, taking in all it had to offer in under an hour. Those who had no plans to attend panels the entire weekend would have been more than satisfied with a $7 single day ticket. Frequenters on indie shows would have no doubt found a certainly degree of similarity in most of the wares being hocked—not all of them, however. The community aspect being pushed by the show’s organizers attracted a new elements—exhibitors like the woman in the back right corner of the show floor selling wooden dinosaur skeletons and belt buckles.
Therein lay the show’s greatest success—other New York-based comic conventions like MoCCA and NYCC tend to focus on a national attendance base—which, admittedly, is necessary when attempting to fill the floor of the Armory or Javits Center. Any attempt to focus on the local tends to get lost in the shuffle at those larger events. King Con, on the other hand, found some degree of success amongst local artists who might not otherwise find themselves tabling a comic convention. The show’s Brooklyn location, a few blocks from Park Slope’s main drag, Union street, also made the show more accessible to casual fans, who might be turned off by the oft-out of the way locations of convention centers like Javits.
The real draw of the show, however, was the impressive lineup of panelists the show’s organizers had pulled together, including guests like Deny O’Neil, Al Jaffee, Jonathan Ames, Bob Fingerman, Peter Kuper, Neal Adams, and, of course, Pekar. The panels were held upstairs, in a large cavernous room—a bit like attempting to hold court in a parking garage or an airplane hangar. A number of showgoers had taken to calling the event the “anti-MoCCA,” due to the lack of heating (a shot at the broiling temperatures at the museum’s event this summer), something particularly well-pronounced in the upstairs area, where I almost lost feeling in my extremities during the Pekar panel.
Like the show itself, the panels were fairly well attended. Guests lined the back wall to catch a rare New York sighting of Pekar. My second panel didn’t have quite the same draw. Scheduled for 11 AM on Sunday (which, unlike the day before, wasn’t running an hour late), I think many of us were surprised to see anyone in the chairs at all, in spite the solid panel line up of Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman, Sara Varon, Matthew Loux, and Toon Book’s Leigh Stein. A couple of attendees even brought their children along. The Bob Fingerman spotlight panel that evening split the difference between the two.
So, does New York really need another convention? Judging from the general enthusiasm of those in attendance, the answer seems to be a decided “yes.” In the comic book world, there’s plenty of good stuff to go around.