NYCC 10: 3 1/2 days that changed the world

IMG_2110.JPG
It’s been a long year of change in the comics industry, and New York Comic Con feels like the end point of an arduous but rewarding journey. We were just doing a search for blog posts about the show and already found fairly fascinating two think pieces that show the ascendance of nerd culture as a boon — or a threat, depending on how you view it.

Simon Pulman has a blog called Transmythology, devoted to transmedia storytelling, and his take on the con presents a thoughtful view unencumbered by the kind of fretting most comics types have:

One final thing that struck me as strange about digital comics: apparently, Marvel views digital comics as a way to drive traffic back to the comic book store.  Its hope is that people will read a comic on the iPad, become intrigued by the story, and begin buying physical books; it even structures special offers around this concept.  I still cannot believe that this is actually Marvel’s business plan – I’m quite confused to be honest.  To me, they are saying to readers “now that you’ve enjoyed this conveniently accessible, digitally malleable version of the story, please drive to the comic book store to buy the physical copy of the next issue – for more money.”   That seems incredibly backward to me, and I’d love for somebody to explain to me why it’s not.


Beyond nailing the circular thinking behind a lot of the industry. Pulman was impressed by Artists Alley:

I have two general impressions from Artist’s Alley.  The first is that these creatives are in the same state as most of the representatives from the big brands: they know that digital and multi-platform storytelling are going to be important, but they have absolutely no idea how.  The second is that there are far more skilled artists than storytellers in the independent space.  Most of the comics I looked at featured exquisite artwork married with clunky dialogue, uninteresting plotting and (more often than you’d think) uncomfortable themes.  Therefore, I would suggest that seasoned storytellers have a great opportunity to partner with skilled artists to collaborate on something new – and great.

And then we have IGN’s Michael Thomsen with Medium Anxiety: Culture Shock at New York Comic Con — Thomsen must have been really traumatized by the show because he found its cacophony of fandoms, images and ideas quite alarming:

While comic books are fundamental, they have evolved into one of the most obscure of all the forms of human creativity. Walking through the clustered halls of New York Comic Con, the East Coast’s biggest celebration of all things nerd, I can’t get away from the impression of a community stuck in a loop, speaking to itself in idioms that seem to have long ago lost their power. This is the world of cosplayers, high-detail miniatures, crates of old comics, and rows of new ons—most of which offer escapist parables in high fantasy, science fiction, spandex super powers, or reinterpretations of anthropomorphic manga cuties. These are the ugly stereotypes that give weight to the worst interpretations of “nerd” and “dork.” And yet, taking NYCC as a reasonable representation of what comics have to offer, the stereotype is more true than not. Comic books are juvenile, vulgar, mimetic, and fixated on escapist tropes of the most impersonal scale. That’s not all comics have to offer but it’s an ugly majority.


It’s a rather unfocused essay, but in the end Thomsen finds more honesty in the clash:

NYCC is a celebration of the opposite kind–a sacrifice of the self to the most superficial and extreme aesthetics of comic books. It’s constrictive, a knot of human ostentation in which movement is slowed to crawl, happening in small spasms the same way food passes through your intestines. When I finally pushed my way out the Javits Center doors I heard a familiar song. At the end of the block there was a man in jeans, t-shirt, and a Boba Fett helmet playing the Superman theme on an accordion. On the next block, three teenage boys with swag bags sat on a curb by a McDonald’s drive-thru laughing at two pigeons violently pecking each other over a dropped French fry. I wonder if they’d like Persepolis? I hope so.


Was this really Nerd-pocalypse? It was something, alright. Without all the movie star stuff from San Diego to distract attendees, this was the most epic assault of nerd culture yet foisted upon America.

201010110316.jpg

More to come.

Comments

  1. Not seeing you was one of the only low-lights of this con for me, Heidi. I’ve actually finished my con report “early” for once:

    http://elayneriggs.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-york-comic-con-2010-report.html

    Mostly photos but hey, if anyone’s interested…

  2. It was a heck of a good show. I was a little disappointed to only be there on Saturday. And, like Elayne said, sorry to miss you, Heidi!

  3. Well, there was some synchronicity (Howdy, Van!) and some surprises. I missed Elayne, didn’t notice my coworkers, but I did visit the people who were stationed at booths.

    Overall, a great show, I posted my highlights via Facebook.

  4. Wow at the Michael Thomson article. Is it just me or can it be summed up as “Eew! People got geeky fan cooties on my comics!”

    There are shows celebrating wonderfully personal and rarely escapist self-examining indie comics and creators – they’re called Stumptown and MoCCA. If there weren’t it would be sad and point to a lack in comics culture, but they do exist and they are beloved.

    But there are also things most comics fans like which, gasp, could be described as nerdy and dorky. OH NO! Is it really a sign of lack of creativity or some deep personal failing to spend three days a year playing with your favorite toys which, yes, other people designed? Or does it just hurt the self-image of people who like comics and had somehow managed to convince themselves that “geeks like comics” was a terrible false stereotype?

  5. J. K. Simon says:

    Protip regarding the Michael Thompson piece: Anybody who considers ‘escapist’ storytelling to be an inherently bad thing is a tiresome, pretentious snob utterly incapable of providing anything close to an interesting or useful insight.

  6. Conscript says:

    “One final thing that struck me as strange about digital comics: apparently, Marvel views digital comics as a way to drive traffic back to the comic book store. Its hope is that people will read a comic on the iPad, become intrigued by the story, and begin buying physical books…I still cannot believe that this is actually Marvel’s business plan. That seems incredibly backward to me, and I’d love for somebody to explain to me why it’s not.”

    Because it’ll work. It might only work 1% of the time, but it will still work. The real thing that interests me is whether the new paper-comics customers brought in by digital will even compensate for all the customers that will move from paper to digital because it’s cheaper.

    Digital and paper will need to fuel each other for either to succeed.

  7. I can see Pullman’s reasoning.

    However, here is something I realized this weekend at the Con:
    Yes, I can find all sorts of obscure stuff on the Internet.
    But how can I find it if I don’t think to search for it? Or even know about it?

    I found some color film (CMYK separations) of Jack Kirby’s New Gods at the Con. Sure, I could probably discover that online, IF I knew to search for it.

    I discovered a brand new graphic novel adaptation of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, illustrated by Eric Drooker! From Harper Collins, one of the biggest publishers in the U.S.! I actively search for new GNs, and knew nothing about this.

    Had I not walked by each and every booth at NYCC, I would have missed both.

    Working at Barnes & Noble, the idea was to make each store a community center. Find a way to encourage people to come to the store. Once they are inside, then you sell them passively by them walking down the aisle to the cafe, or actively by engaging them. Offer a loss leader like cheap soda or a free item, and the money lost on that item will be recouped by selling other items to the customer.

    Bookstores offer certain things better than the Internet:
    * expert human interaction: answering questions, recommending titles, discussing the title.
    * browsing: almost a zen state, as your eye scans titles, not looking for anything in particular.
    * an excuse to leave your computer/office/home.

    The new business philosophy is: What can be sold in a physical store which cannot be digitized? What services can a store offer which cannot be replicated online? How can I make my store a destination, and how do I convince people to visit on a regular basis? How do I get people to advertise for me?

  8. Tom S says:

    I think it was just a very crowded show and it wasn’t as good as last year. Those who are focused more on the NYAF aspects really thought it was a bad show. They really need to put a harder cap or use every inch of the space. They didn’t use Javits NOrth and the four floor for examples.

  9. Synsidar says:

    The key sentences of Thomsen’s essay on NYCC and comics might be these:

    These are the ugly stereotypes that give weight to the worst interpretations of “nerd” and “dork.” And yet, taking NYCC as a reasonable representation of what comics have to offer, the stereotype is more true than not. Comic books are juvenile, vulgar, mimetic, and fixated on escapist tropes of the most impersonal scale. That’s not all comics have to offer but it’s an ugly majority.

    Thonsen’s perspective is one that many writers and readers outside the comics field probably share. Creativity and originality in superhero stories are discouraged, because new characters lack name recognition and original plots are confusing to readers. But the alternative is endlessly recycled material.

    Thomsen probably has as much respect for close-ended graphic novels as he has for literature generally.

    Someone could refute Thomsen’s attitude toward comics and related culture by explaining what, exactly, was the point of remaking NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

    SRS

  10. The fourth floor was under renovation, which is why Hall 3C had the two detours.

    NYAF, when it was separate, had the dealers and the artists alley in Hall 1B, right next to Hall 1A where the panels were held. This year, the dealers were “mainstreamed” on the Third Floor (which I’m sure the dealers appreciated, given the floor traffic), while the Artists Alley was kept downstairs, outside the panel rooms in 1E. Big events (like jPop stars) were held over in 1A, which would affect the mood of anything happening in 1E.

    As for traffic, I avoided most of the floor on Saturday, but Sunday was almost sold out, and I had no trouble navigating the aisles that day. They probably will expand into 1B and 1C, but the question is, how do you move people downstairs without them feeling segregated from the action up on the Third Floor?

  11. Synsider, that’s not a particularly fair challenge. Was the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street useless as art? Well, yes. Probably. (Though it did make money, and I imagine it made its audience happy, and that’s no small thing.) Was The Dark Knight useless as art? Many mainstream critics would beg to differ.

    Could superhero comics benefit from being more open and original? Sure! In fact, you’ll find many mainstream superhero comics creators saying that very thing, and working towards it. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good comics being produced.

    But more to the point of his article at length, he doesn’t like fan culture. He doesn’t think cosplayers are suitably creative. He’s astonished by all the nerds and dorks there doing their nerd and dork things. There are so many of them! They play the accordion while dressed as Boba Fett! It horrifies him. He doesn’t think any of it is creative enough. They are dressing like other people’s ideas! They are enjoying somewhat cliched escapist entertainment!

    And yet, is the lack of creativity really what disgusts him? Is dressing in typical clothes for one’s age cohort while watching period cinema or enthusing over sports particularly creative? No. And somehow I doubt he’d be as horrified by it. Most things that most people do for light entertainment during their leisure time isn’t, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Thomson seems appalled by the sheer exuberance and numbers in which people he does not approve of are unashamedly celebrating the aspects he does not like of a medium he loves.

    Thomson might well respect closed-ending original graphic novels, and that’s a completely valid preference. (In fact, I’m pretty sure he does care about graphic novels or he wouldn’t be as horrified in the first place.) But coming to New York Comic Con and expecting that to be the norm is ill-informed bordering on disingenous.

    He is shocked, shocked to find that there are nerds and dorks at this comic con!

    It’s like ordering a cheese pizza when you hate cheese – yes, it will have cheese, and thus you will hate it. Perhaps you ought to have ordered a cheeseless pizza instead. But many, many people do enjoy it, and the fact that you don’t doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them or their pleasure.

  12. @ Torsten Adair,

    As someone who (I believe) has been buying a lot of books lately (10+ per month), but none of them from a B&N, I have to say that very little that you mentioned would entice me to visit one or your stores. And the few things that sound promising in the abstract, would likely not translate well into the real world (at least for me).

    “Yes, I can find all sorts of obscure stuff on the Internet.
    But how can I find it if I don’t think to search for it? Or even know about it?”

    That’s a great idea in theory, but the reality is that you don’t have room in your stores for much of a selection. After the DVD’s & Blu-Rays, the cafe, the Calendars and other items that are related to books but are not books, you simply don’t have that much space to begin with. And then what space you do have needs to include titles like LOTR, Twilight, Harry Potter, etc. that are hardly unknown to most consumers. If there were a B&N that was able to stock hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of books, then it would increase my interest in visiting your stores because I would think that I might find several somethings of which I was previously unaware. But you just don’t have that much space, so selection can never be one of your strengths.

    “Working at Barnes & Noble, the idea was to make each store a community center. Find a way to encourage people to come to the store. Once they are inside, then you sell them passively by them walking down the aisle to the cafe, or actively by engaging them. Offer a loss leader like cheap soda or a free item, and the money lost on that item will be recouped by selling other items to the customer”.

    This is another reason why I’m not often a B&N customer. When I think of a bookstore, I think of going there to buy books. If I were to want a cheap soda or a free tchotchke then my primary destination wouldn’t be a bookstore. And this also highlights one of the primary distinctions that separates a B&N store from Amazon, Book Depository, etc. They offer the best discounts on the books themselves, while you look to offer great discounts in other areas. As someone who is primarily interested in buying books, your deals simply don’t seem very applicable to my situation.

    But a bigger barrier that prevents me from going to a bookstore isn’t the free stuff, it’s all the people who sit around and read for free and make your store a USED bookstore rather than a NEW bookstore. Lots of people who aren’t washing their hands after using the bathroom, and are sneezing on the books and eating over the books and sometimes smearing the ink and folding spines and paper and so on and so forth. Perhaps I am in a minority in this, but I know that I am far from the only one who equates “Brick & Mortar Bookstore” with “Used Bookstore”. If you could only find a way to shrinkwrap new books (perhaps all but one copy?), then it would be a big help in restoring confidence in the cleanliness of your wares.

    “Bookstores offer certain things better than the Internet:
    * expert human interaction: answering questions, recommending titles, discussing the title.”

    Not necessarily. When dealing with a person, we never know what their likes and dislikes are, and where their interests lie. If someone believes that Twilight is the greatest piece of literature from the last 20 years, then there’s a fair chance that I’ll feel quite unhappy with anything else that they choose to recommend to me. If I ask the person whose strength is in historical biographies for suggestions about sci-fi titles, then there’s the definite possibility that they won’t be able to provide much help to me. Or if I ask a romance fan about war titles then the result could be the same.

    With the online recommendations and reviews, then we know what people who have read a book think of it, and often we can see more than one opinion. Both are more useful imo then any conversations that I have ever had with any bookstore employee.

    “The new business philosophy is: What can be sold in a physical store which cannot be digitized? What services can a store offer which cannot be replicated online? How can I make my store a destination, and how do I convince people to visit on a regular basis? How do I get people to advertise for me?”

    Those seem like good questions, though I don’t have any recommendations for you. I hope that the reasoning that I’ve given is useful in understanding why some book buyers may not find a B&N very enticing. I don’t know if you are interested in trying to appeal to consumers such as me, but in case you are, then I wanted to reply. Good luck to you either way.

  13. Chris Hero says:

    I’ve been buying comics (and books and movies and music and video games) on-line only for the past few years and I have to say, I’m learning about so much more than I ever did from going to a store. Between Amazon’s reviews and discussions and forums, I’ve learned about *way* more than any store could possibly have a knowledge base about. 2dopeboyz.com in particular has been a godsend.

  14. Good to see that The Beat has recovered from the food-sourced downer of a mindset at SDCC three months ago to tackle the task of entering Javits and experiencing NYCC/NYAF on its own terms…

    As ever, I find these NYCC recaps more instructive in what they don’t remark upon rather on what they do:

    Again, NO comments on the pervasive presence of the Gaming Industry on the Javits Floor? Pre-Con articles seemed proud to tout that various Gaming-related Exhibitors accounted for a full quarter of the total (500+?) booths. As a non-attendee, I GOOGLE’d “new york comic con” for news and updates during the past weekend… and it seemed like more than HALF of the news searches referred to upcoming videogame releases. (And photos of the booth for the “Michael Jackson Experience” for the Wii looked HUGE.)

    Nothing on the second-class treatment of the Anime fans who went to Javits for the “NYAF” portion of the Convention? Shunted off to the side by the larger and dominant “NYCC” half, and its Cosplayers either mocked or leered at by the attending Mainstream MARVEL/DC fans? Checking the Exhibitor List at the NYCC website, I counted some 90 “NYAF” tagged exhibitors; I wonder how did they fare with the overwhelming non-Anime Fans? And much longer will REED Pop Group ‘blend’ the Anime Festival with the Comic Con with this uneasy Convention mix?

    And finally: I know the REED p.r. spin is that ‘NYCC is the COMICS Convention of Conventions/It’s the anti-SDCC!’… but how accurate is it really? Granted, there were NO presentations, panels or attending Movie Stars for the upcoming TRON,
    CAPTAIN AMERICA, THOR, AVENGERS, COWBOYS AND ALIENS and GREEN LANTERN films nor WB handing out ginormous bags as at SDCC this past summer— surely East Coast Nerds would’ve enjoed a “Flynn’s Arcade” set up in a nearby warehouse?— but other NON-Comics elements at Javits this year seem to undercut that p.r. spin: that 25% Gaming Industry presence + 90 NYAF booths + The CULTYARD’s “art, design, collectible toys, pop-tech and fashion of the underground pop culture scene” pavillion to me adds up to a total of nearly HALF of NYCC’s booths as NOT being “Comics”. Maybe it’s time to start a new meme: NYCC is the mostly-Comics Con?

    Fascinating— and revealing— reading here.

    /laptop analysis of a Con I didn’t attend OFF

  15. “photos of the booth for the “Michael Jackson Experience” for the Wii looked HUGE”

    It was.

    True, there was little to no HOLLYWOOD presence, at least not like there is at SDCC (although I did see the Green Hornet car and bike on display), but there was a huge presence from the gaming industry. And heck, even half of the Marvel booth was dedicated to video games.

    And here’s my little observation/commentary on the state of actual comic book publishing: the T-and-A comics publisher Zenescope had a larger booth than Top Shelf and Oni combined.

  16. Synsidar says:

    If someone is going to spend a lot of time doing something, he should be able to describe some sort of benefit from the activity, even if it’s nothing more than exercising brain cells. If there is no benefit, the person is wasting time on a type of fetish.

    Reading stories that are devoid of any mystery, ideas, or artistic virtues — the reader knows what’s going to happen from the start of the story to the end, and the enjoyment comes from seeing familiar characters say familiar lines and do familiar things — is arguably a complete waste of time. Young children are fascinated by cartoons on TV — one might watch shows on Cartoon Network 12 hours a day if he was allowed to — but a parent will shut off the TV and order the child to do something else.

    One reason to be suspicious of involvement in fantasy fandom is that observers see people become fans of and devote time to material that deserves only scorn and brusque dismissal. The TV show Space: 1999, for example — the idea that a nuclear explosion could send the Moon hurtling through space on an interstellar journey is farcical, unworthy of any sort of serious attention. I watched a couple of episodes when they aired in the ‘70s, enough to know that the show was garbage. Yet, decades later, I see that the series is considered a cult classic and has devoted fans and memorial Web sites. Would they be better off masturbating instead?

    The way some people react to SF/fantasy programming is so different from the way they react to, say, romantic comedies that observers think there must be something wrong with them. If the show’s episodes regularly raise interesting philosophical issues or challenge a viewer’s intellect in other ways, that’s fine, but losing oneself in a fantasy world because the real world is unpleasant and imagining oneself living in the fantasy world is better is escapism of the worst sort. Such activities are what Thomsen was condemning.

    SRS

  17. Jesse Post says:

    AO — I don’t think Torsten was boostering B&N as much as using it as an illustration of his larger point: the value of real world interaction with products and producers. Part of his appreciation of NYCC stemmed from finding products he never even knew existed, much like the pleasure of finding a book you didn’t know you wanted in a bookstore.

    I happen to agree. Internet browsing isn’t the same experience as bookstore browsing (or any kind of real world browsing). An internet search starts with something you already know you like or want, either by you searching or by the website recognizing you and making a recommendation. In a bookstore or comics convention, as Torsten points out, you can just walk around and discover.

    Last week I went to B&N to buy a magazine and a latte and walked out with the “Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena.” No internet algorithm would have pointed me to that one! But those internet algorithms are great in their own right for different reasons.

  18. Jesse Post says:

    Oh, and to follow on that point, along with Torsten, this is something I personally love about NYCC specifically and cons in general. I always leave every con with some kind of buried treasure (this time it was back issues of “Electric Company Magazine”). And if not purchasing, there’s a pleasure in checking out the collectibles as museum pieces.

    Not to mention running into friends, hearing your favorite creators talk about your favorite stories, paying too much for hot dogs, etc., etc. Cons are awesome and NYCC is especially good at it.

  19. Here’s what comicbook stores must realize: They are a specialty bookstore, just like the stores which specialize in mysteries or science fiction or cookbooks or technical journals. Their customer base is more loyal and habitual, but it is still specialized.

    Unfortunately, bookstores, not matter who owns them or what they sell, are being hammered by digital e-books.

    Comics shops have been lucky, as the comics publishers, until recently, have been hesitant to enter the digital marketplace.

    So, to compete, the stores have to sell product which is not digitized or offers something better than the digital version, offer outstanding service, host author events, create a community, and be the go-to place for comics and other pop culture ephemera. If the store can offer stuff that exists no where else, if it can replicate that “Brigadoon” glamour where the fan realizes “I didn’t know that exists, I might never see it again, I better buy it now”… then that store will be successful.

    But, yeah, I buy a lot of stuff online as well… Got Alan Moore’s latest book/record/artifact sitting on my desk, waiting to be read (which I learned about online). Had to order it from the UK publisher. I use BN.com when I want to send something to my nieces/nephews and don’t want to bother with the packaging and shipping. I’ll read comics in just about any format, but I prefer paper.

  20. Karen says:

    I’m a little mystified by Simon Pulman’s mystification about the digital-to-print model.

    Aren’t we already seeing print versions of web material like A.D., xkcd, Hark! A Vagrant, and more too countless to mention? People seem to be happy to pay for something they got free online because people still like books on shelves and in their hands and in their backpacks.

    In addition, many publishers have found that online access–even free online access–drives print sales. MIT Press did a study that found this, after they made many of their books available online. The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute put their entire publication series online in free downloadable PDFs and saw print sales skyrocket. These are academic examples but I recall BoingBoing running a piece a couple of years back about HarperCollins making some Neil Gaiman chapters available online and seeing print sales soar as well–both of that book and his backlist.

    Online access serves as a discovery tool–a far better one than the stingy Look Inside! of Amazon, which often gives you no more than the front matter and a lot of This Page Left Intentionally Blank–and helps a reader determine whether he or she actually wants a print version. And there are still enough people who want either the collectible aspect or the tactile aspect of print to keep print in business a while longer.

  21. Synsidar says:

    I’m a little mystified by Simon Pulman’s mystification about the digital-to-print model.

    Pulman was probably thinking specifically of the market for comic books. At $3.99 apiece, the Big Two’s comics are overpriced for the story content. Unless someone is a collector, the digital versions of the comic books are good enough to make paper versions redundant. I have an AVENGERS DVD, produced by Marvel, that has scanned versions of the comics, and owning that eliminated any interest I had in buying book-form collections. Digital versions of any series will be good enough for me, especially if they’re cheaper. Also, iPad owners say comics artwork looks better on it than the artwork does on paper.

    I can’t say how necessary the weekly ritual of going to the comics shop and getting new releases is to maintaining the habit. If the turnover rate for readership remains high and paper comics disappear, new readers won’t be introduced to comics via printed copies. If cartoon and video game versions of the characters become popular, the comics might become irrelevant.

    The existence of the comics format isn’t dependent on the existence of the Big Two, of course. There will always be a market for serious graphic fiction. But if one takes into account that boxes of miscellaneous comics are routinely thrown away because nobody wants them, and the prices for digital versions of back issues will certainly be less than a dealer would charge for them — there’s a real possibility that the Big Two can’t sustain themselves by selling digital comics. DC Entertainment’s restructuring can be interpreted as a mandate for the comics division: Show that you’re worthy of investment dollars, or you’ll be sold or eliminated.

    SRS

Speak Your Mind

*