A certain combination of anticipation and dread is perfectly natural, I think, in the lead up to any convention. The precise content of said combination, of course, differs from show to show, attributed in part to the focus of the event and to the role a person is set to play within it.
With this year’s MoCCA Fest, for example, the dread largely centered around the amount of work I foresaw for myself over the course of the weekend as my first year in a program directing role. Ultimately, however, it took a backseat to the anticipatory aspect of things—a chance to be at the epicenter of one of the best indie comics festivals in the country.
In the weeks leading up to this year’s New York Comic Con, on the other hand, it was hard to spot the anticipation through the dread. My memories from past years’ events largely involve standing in line, waiting, and generally getting frustrated at not being able to get where I need to be in a reasonable length of time.
By that standard, the trip to Thursday night’s Comic Book Legal Defense Fund party was a pretty good dry run for the rest of the weekend. This year’s kickoff event was held at the new Village Pourhouse location on West 46th—a location which, without a good deal of forethought and maneuvering, requires a trip through the hellish depths of midtown Manhattan’s Times Square, an area which practically every reasonable New Yorker goes out of their way to avoid, but to which, for whatever reason (a Broadway show, a detour, an unquenchable appetite for Bubba Gump Shrimp), they find themselves drawn to, a few times a year.
It’s a dozen or so blocks of slow moving tourists with giant backpacks taking photos of each other and the freaks in costumes gathered there by the boatload—it is, in a sense, New York Comic Con, without the exorbitant entrance fees and boxes full of Marvel Two-in-One back issues.
The new Village Pourhouse location, likewise, is a bit of a madhouse, the standard number of party goers crammed into a far narrower space—a fittingly New York experience for all of those who traveled from out of town for the weekend’s festivities. And while all or most present seem to be having a good time catching up with old friends, I’m already deep in the throes of crowd-rage—a fact that certainly doesn’t bode well for the next few days.
I find refuge upstairs on a chair next to an extremely pregnant Miss Lasko-Gross and various members of the Zuda collective. I watch New York trounce Minneapolis in the last few innings of their second playoff game, as the crowd around me cheers on a woman on the sidewalk downstairs vomiting onto a 46th St. stoop. They should fire the person who decided to schedule two popular spectator sports for the same night.
The Comics Alliance/Dark Horse event is ten blocks away, accompanied, sadly, by another trip through the Great White Way (out-of-towners: don’t forget to visit the new Pop-Tarts store, for a real taste of New York cuisine). It is, thankfully, less jammed full of human meat than the CBLDF party, owing, no doubt, to an error of scheduling, making the show’s party schedule top-heavy, with several large events scheduled for a pre-show Thursday night, leaving Friday virtually party-less.
My plan for Friday was to take an hour or so off of work in the early afternoon, in order to scope the floor quickly, grabbing shots for my day job. I run into Ben McCool outside the convention center. He’s already sweating. Not a good sign. By the time I make it downstairs, the line out of the pressroom stretches around the corner. Word is that Reed had given out 3,000 press passes for the weekend—roughly three times the number of past years, apparently. So much for a quick Friday afternoon trip through Javits.
Upstairs, things weren’t any better, with ticket lines of costumed attendees snaking around ropes, like the saddest-ever gathering of the Justice League, framed by the Javits Center lobby. Word had spread earlier in the day that NYCC had sold out Saturday, lending credence to claims that the show is shaping up to be Comic Con East, a goal that has no doubt been in the sites of its organizers since its inception.
Any doubt was no doubt about that point was laid to rest the moment showgoers hit the floor—greeted by the Michael Jackson Ubisoft stage, thick with the output of smoke machines, the opening chords to “Thriller,” and flashing stage lights. When I arrived, someone in a full-body Gumby costume was partaking in the preview of the upcoming dancing game, a crowd of spectators looking on, as the line of volunteer dancers flashed Wiimotes in the air.
One thing New York Comic Con has had going for it in past years was a genuine focus on comics culture. Other “geek media” has certainly been present from the beginning, but certainly nowhere as invasive as it tends to be at a show like San Diego. This year, however, it’s clear that the show’s organizers have no issue letting it take a backseat to glitzier undertakings. Perhaps the show’s ultimate saving grace will be the fact that it’s so far from Hollywood that it just doesn’t make sense for movie makers to invest as much in the event—yet another reason to pray that the Spider-man musical doesn’t prove a massive hit.
And as I wade through the video game crowd, it’s time again to practice my big con mantra, “this show isn’t for me.” And it’s not. I know that. I know the fact that I’m no longer particularly impressed by the spectacle of roving bands of stormtroopers puts me in the minority of showgoers—and the population at large. Still, is it too much to ask that they don’t all congregate in the aisle at the same time?
I snap some shots and say a few “hellos,” always apologizing for being in such a hurry to get back to work. I run into Comic Book Club’s Alex Zalben, who’s carrying cups of coffee up to the Newsarama booth.
“How’s it going?” he asks.
“Terrible,” I answer.
“You know. New York Comic Con.”
He doesn’t, however. I need to check myself and remember that this is a joyous event. A celebration, of sorts. And just because the prospect of moving slowly through ever-shrinking aisles is causing me to dread the remainder of my weekend doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same.
“Sorry,” I continue. “I’m just in mood.”
I’m a bit surprised to run into Liz Baillie at a table toward the back of the room. She’s also in far better spirits than me for what turns out to be her first major show. Baillie is tabling in amongst the small press ghetto on the main floor. Thing are looking up this first day, though she’s a bit irked at having had to rent the physical table for the weekend on top of the space.
And while she’s not moving a lot of books yet, she’s positive that all of those passersby who promise to read her Webcomic actually will. Unlike smaller shows, which are still fixated on the physical comic, she reasons, attendees of events like this are genuinely interested at looking at strips online. I hope to bump into her on Sunday, to see if she’s still in good spirits, though I fail to do so. After a show like this, if your energy isn’t sapped and soul just a little crushed, you can’t honestly claim to have lived through it.
After a brief stop at the Dark Horse booth to chat with Jeremy Atkins about the publisher’s weekend appearances and a run-in with big guy in an impressively oversized Incredible Hulk costume, it’s time to call it a day.
My show on Saturday begins at around noon. I spend the first few hours working on a story for The Daily Beast. It’s a fascinating experience, given both the subject matter of the piece I’ve pitched and the opportunity to write about a familiar show from the perspective of a publication that is, to say the least, an outsider in this world.
I’ll not delve too deeply into any of that here—they pay well enough to deserve the full scope of that project.
I make my way to the First-Second Booth afterwards. The area is a cluster of familiar faces, with Top Shelf, the CBLDF, Oni, Pantheon, Abrams, and Dumbrella all within a few rows of one another—a safe haven of sorts, away from the row of flashing lights and video game explosions.
I run into CCS’s Jen Vaughan near the First-Second booth. She informs me of the existence and location of Artists’ Alley, and offers to take me over, excited at the prospect of meeting Zander Cannon for the first time. Complaints about the ghettoization of Artists’ Alley in past years were mere prelude. This time out, it’s an entirely separate room, only accessible via a walk down a long corridor full of overzealous exhibitors camped out with fliers in hand.
The extreme separation is the by-product of poorly-timed construction. It has, however, limited overflow, making the aisles of the area genuinely navigatable. Once through the hall, one enters directly into a giant Intel booth—the kind rarely spotted outside of tech conventions like CES. The company is holding a gaming tournament in the hall over the course of the weekend.
We speak to Cannon for a bit and then head off our own separate ways. I bump into MoCCA’s Karl Erickson, who talks up the museum’s Denis Kitchen retrospective, and then check out some tables in the area. It’s the standard collection of big con works, largely comprised of cartoonists looking to make their way onto the payrolls of a Marvel or DC through original pencil sketches of Wolverine. There are a few bright points like Cannon in amongst the mix, but they’re unsurprisingly few and far between.
Once out, I head home to write up the Daily Beast piece and finish work on a slideshow for the early morning panel I’m moderating the next day. The work quickly monopolizes the night, and I miss out on all of the Saturday night VIP festivities. It’s little wonder, perhaps, that I’ve become such a crotchety old man before the age of 30.
I arrive at Javits the next morning with a bit of time to kill before I’ve got to be on stage. After being told to enter five different places by security, I finally make it back onto the show room floor. Early Sunday morning at New York Comic Con is a truly glorious thing, indeed, especially in the wake of Thursday and Friday. I hear a couple behind me joke about dancing down the (relatively) deserted aisles. I’ve actually got time to walk the floor and speak to exhibitors. The prospect of a show that breezy is appealing, indeed, but it’s difficult to fault NYCC’s organizers too much for their own success.
I stop by Top Shelf booth to chat up Chris Staros. The show is going well, he tells me—though, as anticipated, he’s not selling books on the level of a San Diego. In fact, the company only ships roughly 1/10th of their San Diego allotment to the show. People come to New York Comic Con strictly for the spectacle, he explains. In San Diego, they bring backpacks along, not expecting to go home empty-handed.
The assessment makes sense. San Diego, after all, is a global destination for fans—New York Comic Con, on the other hand, is seemingly almost strictly a destination for those on the eastern seaboard, attendees don’t save up funds all year in anticipation of the show, the way they do its West Coast counterpart.
I reach the panel room at 10:20, after being turned away at three different restrooms (finally finding one tucked downstairs in a darkened hall kitty-corner to the center’s sad little food court). The space is entirely deserted save for one soul in the second row—Tracy White, it turns out.
The room is massive. This time yesterday, there was a Battlestar Galactica panel in the space, as evidenced by a few remaining posters sitting on the podium up front. Stan Lee had also appeared in the room the day prior—a sign now stored in the back of the room asked attendees to form an orderly queue whilst waiting for “The Man.”
I set up my computer as panelists and audience members trickled in for “A Day in the Studio.” White, Matt Madden, Jane Yolen, and Dave Roman join me on stage, for what proved a nice change of pace from the standard fanboy programming of large cons. The artists show off images of their workspaces and we discuss process.
I watch a group of children in the front row squirm about for the duration of the panel. They’d have done well to have learned my big show mantra, beforehand. There’s a certain disappointment inherent in doing a panel for adults featuring YA and children’s book authors—I can only imagine how dull it is to be a 10-year-old front row center during a back-and-forth about reference photos.
All of the adults present, however, seemed to have genuinely appreciated the conversation.
I hit the rest of the annexed show hall after the panel, bragging to the Indie Spinner Rack guys about what it felt like to actually be well-rested on the Sunday morning of a convention weekend—I highly recommend it to those of you who can resist the lure of an open bar.
I finish up the room and take another trip around the floor, making my way over to the retailer section, in search of a good deal on some old Jack Kirbys or Carl Barkses (show tip: all of the half-off signs begin to adorn long boxes around noon on a Sunday).
A kid next to me innocently asks a seller if he has, “any issues of 2099,” a sentence I never thought I’d hear at one of these things. He doesn’t. Of course not. Word is that Marvel buried all of them in a pit somewhere in the Arizona desert in the late-90s.
On the way out, I snap a photo of a man dressed like the Old Spice Guy. People will use any excuse to wear a towel in a public place. As I put the lens cap back on, I spot R. Sikoryak rushing through the hall, looking a little out of place as he power walks past the couple dressed as Domino and Deadpool.
I exit the building among a slew of weekend superheroes reluctantly readying themselves to rejoin the ranks of costumeless society. It seems like a good time to call it a weekend.