New York Comic Con 2020: A Look Back

The original logo from 2006, reprinted for the 15th anniversary. This was retired when webspecs became commonplace in 2017, and ReedPOP redesigned their entire data branding in response.

Well, the fifteenth New York Comic Con just concluded ten days of pop cultural programming in Manhattan.  While ReedPOP does not release exact data points, initial estimates set the attendance at the Javits Convention Center at 480,000 with 335,000 unique visitors.  (In a move to encourage the greatest number of attendees, RP limited the availability of multi-day passes in 2014.  While there was some grumbling from past attendees who weren’t able to buy the VIP tickets, the expansion of the show to additional days starting in 2015 allowed attendees to buy a two- or three-day pass for earlier in the week, when the show was less hectic.)

Off-site events were also successful, although some events are difficult to tabulate:

  • The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Festival (SF4) attracted an estimated 150,000 attendees, mostly at the AMC Loews 34th Street 14 theater complex.  “Proposition Player” opened the festival with a gala premiere at The Ziegfeld Theater near Rockefeller Center.  (It opens with a wide multi-platform release on October 30th.)  A work print of “Marvel’s Secret War” missing some special effects and the final fifteen minutes closed the festival with a benefit for the Hero Initiative.  While a more detailed report can be found at our sister media site, Zoetropical, it should be noted that five Kickstarter films were acquired for general distribution, and two “studio apartment” movies will be re-produced with a full studio budget.
  • RP reports an 85% attendance rate for off-site “multi-media” events.  The YouTube Theater at 44th & Broadway sold out all weekend events (including Columbus Day), with some events setting records for online streaming.  The media “upfront” presentations (a public version of the sales events hosted during the summer by the media conglomerates) held at the Theater at Madison Square Garden were well attended, as those who could not get tickets for their favorite shows and networks settled for the less popular events.  (Free swag is free swag, especially to your friends back home in Middle America, or those who shop on eBay.)  Some grumbled over the presentations and access, but it should be noted that Reed only serves as the ticketing agent, with the various companies working directly with MSG staff to run each event.
  • Approximately 5,200 people attended the Yesteryear Radio and Television Festival at the Hotel New Yorker, sponsored by the Paley Center for Media.  Of special note was a 50-year retrospective of PBS, an analysis of NFL football broadcasting (1970 marking the creation of Monday Night Football), and programming centered on 1995, including a 25th anniversary cast reunion of Star Trek: Voyager and a live reading of a Pinky and the Brain episode.  (3,000 souls singing the P&B theme song is truly epic!)  The Paley Center also offer comics and pop-culture retrospectives at their midtown center during the month of October.
  • Times Square was once again a mess of mass media.  Closed to all vehicular traffic since 2017, various companies once again rented sections of the Times Square Plaza to promote products to the general public.
    • Viacom turned their MTV studios into a mini-comic-con, broadcasting all ten days on VH1 and online, while promoting various Viacom properties outside and at the Marriott Marquis next door.
    • In a watershed moment, ABC’s Good Morning America broadcast live from the Javits on “First Friday”, October Ninth, and included both Disney and other properties throughout the ten days of NYCC programming.  Live with Kelly and Michael also devoted segments to the more unusual aspects of NYCC, including one episode where all audience members were in costume!  The View took a more distant view (sorry) of the craziness, although there were con-friendly guests on that week.
    • The contretemps between the “character actors” who charge tourists for photographs and the IP holders, which occurred in 2018, was avoided when the costumers could not compete with the cosplayers who wore better costumes and did not charge for photographs.
    • Ambush marketing was curtailed when the Times Square Alliance hired street teams to collect all discarded promotional material and had the companies fined for littering (minimum fine: $50 per item).
    • Toys R Us was mobbed each day for con exclusives, generating revenue by selling those slots to specific toy lines.  There is a rumor that RP might be creating a fan-centric version of Toy Fair, as the gaming and toy exhibitors have maxed out the space allotted to them at NYCC.

Javits was once again maximized for comics and pop culture, with a few tweaks here and there.  Artists Alley in Javits North experienced constant traffic all ten days, with the “Artists Only” tickets turning that room into a comic con all its own, with separate show hours.  Some of the more famous artists had booths on the sales floor, but NYCC offered access to these greats with featured signings in Artists Alley.

Both Hall 1A and 1E hosted large panels, with most of the smaller panels occurring at Javits South, part of the Atlantis megaplex built over the Hudson railyard.  Virtual ticketing linked to attendee badges facilitated crowd control, and the events were streamed live online. Hall 1B, long the center of media and entertainment booths, expanded into Hall 1C as virtual tracking of attendees and pre-ticketing for events removed the necessity of queue halls.  (Scheduling panels early in the morning before the show floor opened also helped reduce the length of queues.)

Gaming, podcasting, autographing, fan groups, and general fun was once again anchored up in the “treehouse” at the fourth floor Galleria and River Room.  An event stage was commandeered for cosplay photos in between scheduled events, as was the official “photo wall” usually used for celebrities.

Dedicated entrances and exits allowed for smaller jams of humanity, and the RFID tags in badges allowed convention organizers to monitor traffic in real time, to deploy security to choke points, and to note “troublemakers” which appeared at multiple bottlenecks (usually either cosplayers or photographers).  The RFID tags also helped with Code Adam situations, as all children and teens were given a secured wristband in addition to the usual lanyard ID.  (There was also a kids-only exit where families had to be scanned to reduce any possibility of abductions, and to reduce the annoyance caused by strollers.)  The high-tech tags were used only for security and counterfeiting prevention; vendors scanned the printed barcode on the badge if an attendee wanted to join a raffle or mailing list.  Pre-registration required a photo, which was printed on the badge to reduce “double dipping” among friends.  ReedPOP didn’t enforce this too strictly; it was mostly an emergency back-up for police to use.  One welcome aspect of the RFID system: it also improved the wi-fi and phone service inside Javits.

To help with crowd flow, the utility staircases on the show floor were turned into exits, with security stationed to prevent anyone except for con staff or security access back onto the show floor.  This worked fairly well, especially when escalators were one-way from the second floor concourse: up to the show floor, down to the event rooms.  Elevators continue to be a weak point at Javits; added security should limit the use.  The cabs are small and slow, and barely ADA-compliant.

The show floor continued to be sold out well in advance.  A section of the small press pavilion was reserved for first-time exhibitors, determined by a lottery, to encourage diversity and to add to the “coolness” of NYCC.  Another lottery was also held for former exhibitors who could not meet the reservation fees, or make it onto the waiting list.  RP noted that all three lists continue to grow each year, and that stricter requirements might be instituted for next year (as the lottery is subsidized by exhibitor fees).

A similar situation also occurs in Artists Alley, but this is mitigated by every booth/table being the same size, and by a rising scale (a fifth-year artist pays more to rent a booth than a first-year applicant).  Some artists grumble about this, but many move to “the adult table” of the show floor, following Alex Ross’ example; or they “sublet” from one of their publishers, selling art and signing books for a few hours each day; or they form a collective, like ACT-I-VATE.  A few even take a sabbatical from the hectic nature of the show, either avoiding the convention circuit which now exists nationwide, or attending one of the other small shows which occur elsewhere.  (A few attend the Frankfurt Book Show.)

As with any large pop-culture show, there continues to be grumbling with the major booths and traffic.  In 2015, NYCC tried dividing the sales floor by turning Hall 3D into meeting or panel rooms for the major exhibitors, encouraging exhibitors to downsize their exhibition space.  Even with large aisles on both sides of these booths, this didn’t work well.  Although there were large exhibitors located on the other side in Hall 3E, many exhibitors in that hall (toys, electronic games, small press) felt neglected, even though the Crystal Palace entrance encouraged attendees to enter.

Nothing seems to work to battle congestion.  No matter how large or small the booths are, a huge number of fans will congregate like moths to a theater marquee.  No matter where placed, each megabooth becomes a mini-Kabaa, with the faithful circulating seven times, pointing towards displays, and uttering the usual banalities.  Spacing seems to help, as does ticketing and line control.  But let’s face reality… each exhibitor is bringing their A-game, debuting the Next Big Thing, and trying to get as many eyeballs and column-inches dedicated to their IP.  Even if the D23 Expo were held the same weekend at the Waldorf Astoria, Marvel’s booth would still be overrun at Javits.  ReedPOP has placed a limit on the number of megabooths on the show floor (as well as downstairs in “La-la-land”), as well as limiting “quads” (four-booth layouts) for other exhibitors.  While this doesn’t discourage crowding (a celebrity will draw a crowd regardless of the venue), it does increase the number of exhibitors at NYCC.  By spreading out the megabooths, NYCC also increases the exposure to the booths located near these exhibitors (although some prefer not to be located nearby, and aisle traffic is always heavy).

What does help is running the show for ten days, from the “First Friday” before Columbus Day through the following Sunday.  The seven weekend days (including the holiday) are jampacked, just as they have been since 2006.  The Thursday before the show opens is reserved for the press, as the exhibitors finalize preparations, and this reduces crowds a little, as journos visit the booths before the crowds, and then spend the rest of the show off-floor with interviews and panel reportage.  (The addition of actual press conferences raised the quality of comics journalism, although some editors and publishers would rather avoid them.)

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are less hectic, although many fans will take off work to attend the Con during these days.  (Sometimes, these are the only tickets left, the equivalent of a nosebleed seat at the World Series.)  ReedPOP originally offered group tickets to local high schools for creative workshops scheduled during these days, but the mongrel hordes eventually ended that program.  (ReedPOP reactivated this initiative as a visiting artist/writer series during the month of October, with professionals spending an entire day at a local high school.)

So what does the future hold?  As happens every few years, talk turns to convention center expansion or replacement (the Javits dates back t0 1986).  The “Battery Park” plan seems the most feasible, filling in the waterfront behind the center, adding more space, and connecting to the third floor of Javits over Twelfth Avenue.  Others push for a “fair grounds” plan of multiple buildings, possibly near Flushing Meadows which has express subway service, Long Island Railroad, freeways, and parking.  (And a history of hosting TWO World’s Fairs!)  Myself, I’d like to see a vertical convention center, a skyscraper of exhibition floors which can host numerous shows simultaneously, or be rented out to a single company as a show room.  Perhaps with a big ramp, like the Guggenheim!

Until something is done, the best NYCC can do is offer more programming outside the convention center.  The Angoulême-ization of NYCC has already begun, as seen in Times Square and at various venues around Manhattan.  Cultural centers, most notably the Japan Society and the Goethe-Institut, have scheduled comics events and exhibits to coincide with the show, as well as exhibiting on the show floor.  (Wouldn’t it be cool if NYCC had a country guest-of-honor, showcasing a particular country’s comics output each year?!)  It would be glorious to see the entire city embrace comics every October, with an exhibit at the Guggenheim or MoMA, a comics (ha!) opera at the Met, maybe the Krazy Kat ballet at Lincoln Center!  Perhaps a CowParade of superhero statues!

What do you think?  Did you attend NYCC ’20?  Take part in any of the off-site events?  Skip town?

Comments

  1. 15th? What you smoking?

  2. Oh, I get it. I guess this isn’t a new site. My mistake.

  3. Torsten Adair says:

    Yup. Six-day weekend, thanks to Sandy. Maybe back to work on Friday.

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    I thought the headline was quite clear.

  5. Torsten Adair says:

    News, opinion, commentary, general love of comics and related fields…

    Instead of my usual “here’s what they should do next year to make it better” post, I decided to go fast forward.

  6. I feel you. I usually like your articles, Torsten. Just didn’t feel this one.

  7. That was exhausting. I think I’ll skip 2021.

  8. FIFTEEN YEARS I’ve been covering this con (plus the 3 NY Anime Fests, way back in the day), and the food STILL sucks at the Javits! At least the cross-town subway extension from Penn Station to the Javits should be up and running by next year.

    =8^)

  9. Torsten Adair says:

    This being New York, it’s not too surprising that the 7 will reach Penn Station before Moynihan opens.

    The food… yeah, another irony, given the number of chefs in this city. I still buy the box of breakfast bars, but now get my caffeine via patch, avoiding all that HFCS nastiness (and Starbucks lines).

    Now that I think of it… you know what would be really cool? Since the High Line extends all the way to 34th Street, they should turn that into a cosplay promenade! Just like the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue, but better!

  10. The Beat says:

    Torsten, this is the craziest shit I’ve ever read.

    Good work.

  11. Torsten Adair says:

    If it’s crazy and it works, it’s not crazy…

    Wait ’til you see my piece on Stately Beat Manor, situated in the scenic Hudson River!

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