NYCC 11: Far in the madding crowd

IMG 6325 NYCC 11: Far in the madding crowd

New York Comic Con is now New York City’s second-biggest event. The largest is the New York International Auto Show, which “Tireless” Torsten tells us lasts 10 days plus two press preview days and draws 1 million people. That’s essentially a NYCC every day for 10 days — I’ve never gone so I have no idea how it matches up in sheer noise, hubbub and aimless shuffling. Based on this picture, probably pretty well:
201110200259 NYCC 11: Far in the madding crowd

NYCC reminded me a lot of the auto show, or at least how I imagine it. There were a lot of booths showing things off, a lot of new products and news, but it was mostly for display. And the crowd seemed to be there mostly to look at things and get free crap — crap that centered on video games and Star Wars and the other monoliths of our pop culture heritage.

I have to admit that the crowds were daunting — definitely not as bad as last year, when horrible logjams regularly triggered panic attacks, but still enough that after a year of shows, the idea of hitting every booth seemed about as appealing as a trip to the mall for all day shopping on December 23rd. I missed most of Saturday due to sheer exhaustion and I spent a lot of time hiding out in various booths. So my experience wasn’t that typical. But even from a distance the show was packed.

After only 6 years, New York has some of the same logistical problems as San Diego. While people without badges were definitely getting in on Saturday, security was tighter in general. But Saturday, Sunday and 3- and 4-day passes all sold out ahead of time. So essentially, NYCC is already as big as it can get. It’s hard to make any suggestions for improving the show’s audience when it’s already maxed out. The main problem, as with San Diego, is the facility.

In a word, the Javits Center sucks. As one comics industry veteran told me, “I go to convention centers all over the country, and the Javits is the worst.” It’s a dump. Although the actual exhibit space is a little larger than San Diego’s, the layout is so much more cramped and uncomfortable. Wandering around the lower level, where the programming is held, is about as pleasant as rush hour at Penn Station, another hideous product of New York’s mid 20th century municipal architecture. Both feature dismal low ceilings and drab beige walls. They bespeak the kind of dreary utilitarianism that New Yorkers are very used to, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

The Javits was not built for consumer shows — it’s made for shiny trade shows, and junior account executives in Calvin Klein. Call me unsophisticated, but I have never met an I.M. Pei building that I liked. Some people are sad that his Terminal 6 at JFK is being torn down as I write this, but it was undistinguished. (OTOH, thank God the TWA terminal is on the National Register of Historic Places.) I live around the corner from his brutalist Kips Bay Towers, a massively ugly building that successfully prevents its inhabitants from having any interaction with the street around them — probably a necessity when it was built in the ’60s, but just isolating now.

Not that Pei and his team had an easy assignment when he designed the Javits. As you may have heard, real estate is quite expensive in Manhattan, giant lots are nonexistent, and building the convention center as a multi-leveled Jenga puzzle was the only way to go. In recent years, there was talk of building a new convention center nearby, but budget cuts did away with that. Instead a single expansion Hall was built — the North Pavilion, called into duty this year for NYCC’s autographing and Star Wars exhibits. I never made it over there, but everyone said it had lots of people in it. Somehow, that isn’t surprising.

Anyway, the physical constraints of the Javits make constructing a mega-con difficult. The biggest hall — the Special Events Hall, branded as the IGN Theater — seats a mere 3000 people. Hall H famously seats 6000 and Ballroom 20 4900. This year’s marquee events, the Walking Dead and Avengers panels, were SRO, naturally, and people ended up standing in line for a long time with no chance of getting in.

There’s also the matter of the decrepit communications systems. It goes without saying that there’s no AT&T coverage — at the Diamond breakfast on Thursday my iPhone was totally bricked while a guy sitting next to me on Sprint was merrily texting. But the hideously expensive ($70 for three days) Wi-Fi was nonfunctional for most of the show too. Once again it just costs so damn much to do anything in New York that upgrading these things is something we can only dream about.

IMG 6318 NYCC 11: Far in the madding crowd

Given the ugly reality —— I haven’t even mentioned the construction that split the room due to repairs on the leaky roof — ReedPOP did the best they could in many cases. The Anime Festival was moved from the basement to the Crystal Palace, the fourth floor gallery that feels a million years away from the rest of the hall. Set among sparkling fall days, sunlight was streaming down on the colorful cosplayers, and the back balcony turned into a makeshift battle pit.

IMG 6322 NYCC 11: Far in the madding crowd
The mood certainly seemed more cheerful than last year’s. A trip to the Anime gallery really was like a trip to another world though — people shouted strange phrases from the stage and an electric energy for something filled the hall even at 3 o clock on Sunday, when I took the above photos.

Next year’s show will have the whole floor, with the roof construction finished, and hopefully halls B and C — taken up on Thursday by an electronics show — will be available for both queuing and maybe more programming. But that still doesn’t leave much room for many more people. The corridors of the Javits are narrow; aisles in some parts of the hall were narrow. NYCC is going to max out very very soon if current trends continue.

If all the above seems way too technical, it’s all born out of necessity. I spend a lot of time at the Javits — it’s home to the Toy Fair and the BEA, and countless other shows. Someday, maybe even in my lifetime, the subway will stop across the street, ending a nightmare of $15 cab rides on the rare occasion you can catch one. But the $9 cardboard sandwiches and $4 sodas are here to stay. Or as I like to say: pick up a $5 foot-long on the way over. You’ll be much better off.

The sheer size of the show did lead to a feeling of the con taking over the city however, much more than in past years. It’s kind of a meaningless statistic given how many people traveled, but even in vast NYC, 1 in 15 people in Manhattan was at the Comic Con. For the first time, local businesses were getting in on the action.

IMG 6352 NYCC 11: Far in the madding crowd

Wandering the West Side after show hours, you’d hit a pocket of badged people going into a restaurant, or a Captain America on a brave mission to lead his family back to the train station. Getting on the crosstown bus Sunday morning, there was already a Luffy on board. Manhattan can swallow up anything, but NYCC made its presence felt on many levels.

But yeah…how big can it get? How big SHOULD it get?

I don’t want to maunder on for too long here, so I’ll try to hit a few more questions more succinctly.

Will there be comics at comic con? Video games, toys and TV booths seem to be the big exhibitors at the show, and where you can expect more growth. NYCC is just too expensive for some comics companies. IDW, BOOM!, and Dynamite, the three #5 (or 4 or 3) publishers, weren’t even exhibiting. D&Q and Fantagraphics will never be there. Book publishers had an increased presence, but small booths. Still, a quick spin down the aisles late on Sunday revealed that things went well. “We’re exhausted but we’re happy,” someone at the Lerner booth told me. A table in Artist Alley costs $500 — recoupable if you are popular or doing commissions but hard for a small publisher. That said, it seemed to be humming every time we checked. Sales seemed to be okay overall, but set against the costs it isn’t a particularly lucrative show.

Will there be good programming? Programming at NYCC is an afterthought in most categories. Having more of it might alleviate some of the crowds on the show floors — that’s the general idea in San Diego — but where would this programming go? Hall E was given over to special events and the press room, leaving only Hall A and a few rooms in Hall B for programs. Opening Hall B to more and more varied programming would be a great idea. New York is home to some of the greatest artists and thinkers on the planet, and NYCC draws all kinds of cool people. It would be great to see some better platforms for them. That said, aside from the poorly attended Dash Shaw panel reported in Beat comments, all the panels seem to have been packed.

Will there be anything for professionals to do? Thursday was industry day until 4 but it was kind of a blank. After the Diamond breakfast ended at noon there were two lone tracks of programmings aimed at retailers and libraries. These were SRO with long lines to get in. If you couldn’t, all you could do was wander around the low-ceilinged halls. This was a good time for schmoozing, but it wasn’t clear that that’s all you could do at that time. Again, some more targeted industry panels wold have been a great use of the time. Or just go wide to the public from 10 am on. This might be a problem since load in was a chore, from what I heard, but everyone has to be there Wednesday anyway.

Will there be any indie comics at the show? The way NYCC is set up it’s really a show for the video game contingent. Although you could spot the odd David Mazzucchelli if you tried, this isn’t really a venue for these kinds of cartoonists, given the current direction of the show. Luckily NYC has two other vibrant indie shows, so the loss is all NYCC’s.

IMG 6332 NYCC 11: Far in the madding crowd

Will there be any white men at the show? Every time I sat and looked around me, I was struck by the youth and diversity of the crowd. There was a HUGE number of Asian, Latino and African-American attendees at the show—male and female—and they tended to be young and very enthusiastic. Up at the Anime show, white men (or white boys, more accurately) were a tiny minority.

IMG 6335 NYCC 11: Far in the madding crowd

As you got closer to the big comics booths, though, there were more of the traditional white male comics readers. Coming out of NYCC, my biggest question is: what did those kids come for if it wasn’t comics? Mostly it seemed to be anime and manga — those industries might be in decline, but based on the costumes and enthusiasm, the fandom is renewing itself, at least in the metro NY area.

The kids were probably there for movies and video games — the Avengers, Walking Dead, Halo. Do they read comics? I have no idea, but they probably went to see the Dark Knight.

The New 52 has been a success at getting outliers interested in comics again. But looking around the Javits, at the ocean of non-white faces, and of female faces, it became VERY clear to me that all the angry blog posts begging for more diversity in the comics isn’t just a few loudmouths—even though they are treated as such by the big companies. It’s the reality of the world. Reaching this audience through inclusion might just be the most important goal for the mainstream comics industry’s continued survival.

I’ll have more on this point in my next long post.

Was NYCC a success? Oh yes! There were signings and concerts and panels and artwork and parties and all the rest. People came to do and see things and they did. Comic Con is here to stay.

Postscript: While looking for a stat, I managed to find my NYCC coverage from past years. Just to see where we’ve come from (and how similar my ledes are over the years) walk with me back to the innocent days of 2006:

2006: Big Crowds at NYCC, Big Sales Gains

It was a good weekend for comics. The New York Comic-con garnered a huge turnout while an industry report released during the convention reported that total graphic novel retail sales rose 18% in 2005, to $245 million.

With an overflow crowd that forced the organizers to close the exhibit hall for several hours on Saturday, the first annual New York Comic-con is estimated to have attracted nearly 30,000 fans over three days. The convention was the first national comics convention held in New York City in many years, and the turnout virtually guarantees that next year’s convention will need a bigger exhibition hall at the Javits Center.

2008: Big NYCC Crowds Enjoy Good Mood, Weather, Comics:

Sparkling early spring weather put a spring in everyone’s step as the 2008 New York Comic-Con, held at the Javits Convention Center in New York from April 18-20, drew an estimated 64,000 fans and professionals in what everyone agreed was a strong show that spotlighted the many facets of the world of graphic novels.

And my comments from 2010: New York Comic Con 2010: Battling crowds:

There’s a feeling in some quarters that NYCC has gotten a pass from serious criticism because of insiderism or media favoritism or something, but this year’s show had many and wide ranging issues that were impossible to ignore. However, note well: the general tone of the postmortems has been positive, and that’s really good fortune for the Reed Pop group. It could have gone either way. So here’s a brief rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Comments

  1. I did! I did get a $5 foot long.

  2. Stephen says:

    As an indie creator, I can tell you that the NYCC crowd was EXTREMELY supportive. My books sold like gangbusters all 4 days!

  3. You won’t find any love for the Javitz here:

    http://tonyisabella.blogspot.com/2011/10/comic-con-comic-con.html

    Sorry I missed seeing “The Beat” at the show, though, judging from that amazing photo of you, you probably have a hideously decayed portrait of yourself in your attic.

    Maybe next year.

  4. The show was different then San Diego in the simple fact that artists alley was huge…and this show, fans actually brought comics to sign…something i havent had in Diego in years. The people here for the most part were all about COMIC BOOKS…there are kinks for sure, but Amanda and I had an amazing time meeting all the fans. Each comic panel was packed as well. I never had anyone checking on me, offering me water, and seeing if i needed anything in San Diego…it was nice for a change. We actually had volunteers that knew who we were, and where we should be going. The picked some good people to run artists alley.

    Overall, it was one of the best comic shows of the year…and yes, I love San Diego, but after going over 20 years, I have only been a guest once…NYCC makes Amanda and I a guest each and every year at nyc and Chicago.

    And I always remind people…we are a 2 for 1 special since we need only one room. lol…

    You will always find things to complain about at both big shows, but I really do Enjoy them both.

  5. Gary Dunaier says:

    “Will there be comics at comic con? Video games, toys and TV booths seem to be the big exhibitors at the show, and where you can expect more growth.”

    I didn’t notice those booths too much, I guess because I tend to focus on the comics aspects – the book publishers, the back issue dealers (best buy of the show: the guy selling $3 trade paperbacks on Sunday) and, of course, Artist’s Alley.

    So for me, the ‘OMG, this place is turning into San Diego East’ moment came when I saw the NBC Universal booth on the north end of the exhibit hall – their sole purpose was to recruit audience members for “Jerry Springer,” “Maury” and “Steve Wilkos” tapings.

  6. I had a good time at NYCC and I was there mainly for the comics. I spent a majority of my time in artist alley hanging out with the artist and writers. I could care less about the video games or other programming but I have nothing against them either. I liked seeing the autographing in the North Pavalion plus that is where a majority of the kids programming was which was a good place for it as it was away from the madness of the main area. But your right about the food. I always bring a lot of bottled water and peanut butter crackers with me to eat at NYCC. I can’t wait to hang out in artist alley again next year.

  7. Torsten Adair says:

    There’s still room to grow at Javits… I’ll post some ideas.

    Are there any convention centers designed for large public events (not trade shows)?

    Does anything take over more than one hall at Moscone, McCormick Place, or Orange County?

    CeBIT and Frankfurter Buchmesse are the two closest examples to a comic con. Both are trade shows, but allow public attendance for at least part of the convention. CeBIT attracts some 335,000 attendees, using all but eight of the 29(!) buildings at the Messegelände. FBM attracts some 250,000 attendees, uses six of the eleven halls, and even has comics awards and a cosplay contest! (I’ve attended CeBIT. It was quite easy to move around, even with the gaming crowds surging around those booths.)

    Oh, and a word of warning:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COMDEX#Decline
    Could CCI be eclipsed by ReedPop?

  8. For me, NYCC reinforced the importance of the “old Pictish rituals” at San Diego, which suggest a soul and a tradition underneath all the hype. Without those, all you have is crowds of consumers and a lot of noise.

    Great meeting you!

  9. I was exhibiting, so I mostly saw the con as it passed by me. But having been to 2 previous years, a lengthy stint as an attendee at SDCC, and years of anime cons, I can still back you up on your conclusions.

    The attendees at NYCC were staggeringly diverse. It wasn’t just that they were anime fans, either; until recently, even the anime/manga community was largely white, and was initially largely male.

    I think the fundamental difference between NYCC and SDCC is the accessibility. SDCC costs a LOT to attend, and is basically a year-long undertaking, between the fight for badges and the horrifying ordeal of hotel reservations. Even if you’re SD local, parking is still staggeringly expensive, with the only alternative being the trolley. So NYCC largely proves that if you give people a way to easily attend an event like this, they will.

    Maybe most of them were there just to poke around, or in the hopes of free stuff… the lines for giveaways at Chevrolet (?!) blocked the aisles. The hourly yelling from the Marvel booth was quite deafening an aisle away. But I disagree that “most” of the things at the con were “for display”; there were a HUGE number of people selling! I think it’s a question of perception, generated by the larger companies putting so much focus on their free tote bags or t-shirts. In fact, a little girl asked me if I was “giving away” the stuff at my booth (her wording gave me the impression she couldn’t even wrap her head around it being for sale).

    So I think the issue for retailers of any kind is: how do you get these folks who are so excited by free crap (often for things they don’t know or care about), to be equally or more excited about your product… which is just as relevant to me as a (very) small company as to DC or Marvel.

    It seems the question is less “are these people reading comics?” and more “why aren’t they, and how can we make them want to?”

  10. Well, the 2000 AD booth sold out of books! This really is a first for us and we were absolutely delighted with the warm reception we received from con-goers. There were also a LOT of people saying ‘I’m looking for something different, what have you got?’ which is really refreshing and we were glad to provide :)

  11. Want to free up space on the floor? Stop selling booth space to that ridiculous LAN Party that must take up at least 1/10th of the entire convention space.

  12. FWIW Top Shelf had a record-setting show:
    http://www.topshelfcomix.com/news/748

  13. in the past 3-4 years at least, i as an indie artist do better at mainstream shows than i do at indie-centric shows, & a lot of my friends say the same.

    nycc artist alley was $500 a table, true. but mocca art fest, last time i went in 2009, was being kicked up to $450 a table for *onsite one-year-ahead* registration. & mocca’s half as many days & attracts a tiny fraction of the crowds. even day for day, i did much better at this year’s nycc (our first year attending) than i did any of the three years i exhibited at mocca.

    that is typical of indie versus mainstream shows for me recently. my best shows this year were emerald city comicon, calgary comic & entertainment expo, & san diego. my worst shows were stumptown & ape. (tcaf is a glowing paragon of an exception to this rule, as it is to so many rules.)

    i don’t have a working explanation for this yet… there’s nothing about my work that should appeal more to mainstream audiences; it’s mostly self-published b/w angsty autiobio.

    maybe it’s just that indie shows attract indie crowds, & these days that means the underemployed (youngish people who work low-paying part-time jobs so they can do their own art). i get a lot of people at indie shows chatting for a long time, enthusing over the stuff, leaving. at mainstream shows, people attend with the idea that they will spend money.

    i think it’s easy to come to a place like san diego or nycc, see all the cheesy corporate booths, & assume indie artists are being completely ignored. but it’s the opposite for me, & lots of other artists as well.

  14. i’ve posted elsewhere at this site about the crowds at nycc, so i’ll take this opportunity to comment about artist alley. had a blast there, got a ton of crap signed, scored some nice prints, and scored nine sketches from various artist well-known and not so well-known, but had a great style. i dig the set up at the alley, nice wide spaces down the rows, lots of breathing room and even empty chairs here and there to pop a squat on. my only complaint would probably be that at times it would be difficult to find certain artist that were advertised as coming to the con, but then have no way to find them. don’t get me wrong, for the most part it was very easy to find most creators (the nycc website does post their seating number&letter) and i liked the posting boards that were set up in various parts of the alley with new info of where folks were sitting everyday. other folks were harder to find, for example someone like pablo marcos (70’s, 80’s marvel artist & inker) was scheduled to show up, but once i got to the show no one had any info of if he would be in artist alley or anywhere else. i learned by saturday night that he would be at the artist choice table (i wasn’t too sure where that was and at their website it had a list of artist that were gonna appear, but no scheduled days/times were listed). to be fair the con did email me to alert me of the romita’s presense at the artist choice table on sunday. i guess my suggestion would be that along with letting us know where the creators are gonna be sitting in artist alley, maybe nycc could also let us know the schedules of creators appearing at the artist choice table, the marvel booth, dc booth, the hero initiative table, etc. of creators that they have advertised as coming to the show. no one i talked to had a problem with the increased presense of women at the show, in fact everyone felt that it was just great. i also noticed the good vibes between the anime folk and comic folk and zombie folk and that’s all good. if all of these factors continue (and i see no reason why it shouldn’t) next year’s show should be even more fun.

  15. Torsten Adair says:

    One comment on indie comics at NYCC:

    There are lots of fans who like the vibe of someone making their own comics and selling them, so they support the artist. The Cultyard also supports this vibe.

    Some of them might even have the same dream, and to see someone who isn’t rich-and-famous, someone who is like them, and who might even have some friendly advice, that’s pretty cool.

    The Anime Fest also fuels this energy. Manga fans might be even more involved with comics than the mainstream fan (possibly because the teen fans of DC and Marvel have atrophied over the years), and their passion and excitement are contagious.

    That’s what I got from this show… lots of people having fun and generally optimistic.

  16. Chris Hero says:

    I was one of the 8 people at the Dash Shaw panel. That panel was by far the best part of the show because it was just *so* comics.

    The anime floor was fun as Hell. I kinda wish that was the main floor. They need more room!

    The rest of the con? Some of the volunteers were *really* nice. I’m now out of good things to say.

  17. I was exhibiting in the Podcast Arena (far back row of Artist Alley), but my table was mostly full of my self-published comics. People seemed to respond best to my more DIY stuff, in particular my black and white photocopied books.

    I have this one comic called Stick Cats (which, if you couldn’t tell from the name, is about stick figure cats) and I sold one copy to an NYCC staffer before the doors opened on Thursday and then two more copies within the first ten minutes of the show. It’s a pretty raw looking book and I was shocked that it sold out by Saturday (not like I had that many copies… maybe a total of ten of something like that). On the flip, my glossier color stuff was flipped thru but rarely purchased.

    I think the audience for indie books is definitely at NYCC, but it’s a really cost prohibitive show for someone like myself.

  18. RRWerner says:

    Miriam-Other factors about why you might be doing better at a mainstream show is that at an Indie show like MOCCA or APE, you are competing with a whole room of other indie books and creators. Lots of competition.

    And at the bigger shows, you just simply get more foot traffic. More eyes on your work. I hear this about SDCC all the time. It is tough to get in with the demand and money needed but there is the potential to make that money back and more.

    And you are probably right, people generally come to the bigger cons to spend.

  19. D Mazzucchelli says:

    Heidi, from now on, I hope you will always refer to me as “the odd David Mazzucchelli.”

  20. george says:

    Tony Isabella said: “Sorry I missed seeing “The Beat” at the show, though, judging from that amazing photo of you, you probably have a hideously decayed portrait of yourself in your attic.”

    Which one is Heidi? ;)

  21. I’m a white guy. I was there. And yeah, there were issues. But- NYCC was a great time, on all 4 days. you just have to plan your days correctly.

    You need the VIP pass at a minimum. Gives you not much, but you do get into the showfloor faster, and in and out of most panels with no issue.

    The showfloor- see it on Thursday night and Friday morning. After that, its too crowded. Believe me when I say you can see it all in that time.

    IGN on Saturday. Get there early and stay all day. Its got great panels, and its the only way to see the marquee stuff.

    And then, pick the panels you want to see and be early.

    If you do that, you’ll be alright.

    Cant wait for 2012.

  22. Pablo says:

    Never been to New York so I can’t comment on its comic con. What I will say is that I can’t believe that New York’s International Auto Show is more popular that its comic con. Really? That might change in the future. In San Diego, the International Auto Show is the #2 or #3 event at the convention center, with Comic Con being #1. I am noticing that San Diego’s auto show is starting to get more crowded and popular every year. It takes place New Year’s weekend, but the auto show still takes a huge back seat to Comic Con.

    Oh, and even though IDW and Boom! Studios aren’t showing up at the NYCC, they are going to be at this year’s Long Beach Comic and Horror Con along with Top Cow Entertaiment and Aspen Comics. Not too many comic companies, celebrities, panels, or much free stuff at Long Beach. It has a big artist alley, however.

    Speaking of artists, Jimmy Palmiotti failed to mention in message that he WILL be attending this year’s Long Beach Comic and Horror Con. I hope your hand gets tired from signing too many autographs, Jimmy! No, I am just kidding, man!

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