Saturday, November 14, 2015

NYCC, Part 1

As a head’s up, this is going to be a two-parter on the New York Comic Con (NYCC). The second part will be some of my favourite parts of the con, along some pictures of cosplayers and art. This is more of an analysis of the con itself. I think as a reminder for if I start pining to go to NYCC again next year (which will not happen as Cathy will shoot me).

This year was the 10th anniversary of NYCC and it was my third time going. To say it has changed a lot in the last decade would be an understatement. When it started in 2005 San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) was the undisputed comic /geek event in North America.  New York had struggled for years to get a proper comic con going. That might seem weird, but Las Vegas, for example, is still struggling to get a popular comic con going.

The first time I went was in 2008. It was held at the Javits Center and didn’t event take up the entire building. The main show floor and Artist Alley were in the same space. I believe total attendance over 3.5 days was around 70,000 and people were complaining about how crowded it was. In retrospect, that complaint is now adorable.

I had a blast, by the way. For the curious, you can go here and read my thoughts about it.

The next time I went was 2012. The con now took up the entire building (except for a part of the show floor undergoing renovations). Artist Alley moved to a separate hall, which had some concerned about it being isolated and no one going there. Turns out to have been a great move. Artist Alley is a delightful oasis of sanity that’s slightly less batshit crazy than the main floor.

I was a seasoned pro in 2012. I went in with a plan of attack that went off the rails in short order. But I had a plan. Honest. Still, it was a great con. I was better organized, I kept running into people that I met at panels, or waiting in line for artist or writers. Total attendance was about 115,000 over 3.5 days.

I should also mention for those two cons I had a VIP pass. It gave me a special entrance to avoid the worst of the lines to get in. In 2012 there was a VIP room I could crash in when things got bad, and a coat room to store jackets and stuff I bought. It was a godsend.

Welcome to the holding pen, around 9 am
This year….this year was something else. For one thing, no VIP pass, which meant going into the holding pen with everyone else. This meant some truly biblical lines. Saturday was the longest line I have ever seen in my life. It’s a big bastard that stretches about 4-5 blocks (there are remarkable few good photos of the outside online. Trust me, it's huge). I arrived at 7:30 am on Saturday. The doors to get into the holding pen didn’t open until 8 am (thankfully the weather was spectacular that week. It rained for three hours. That’s it). The doors to the con didn’t open until 10 am.

I arrived at 7:30 and the line was close to wrapping around the building. It took 20 minutes to walk to the end of the line. It took 45 minutes to get into the holding pen once the line started to move. It was insane.

The attendance at the con was 167,000 over four days.

The thing about comic conventions like this is that they eventually hit a wall. SDCC has been at the wall for about a decade. Their attendance is around 130,000 and there is no more room for them to grow unless they expand the Convention Centre. That’s been tied up in legal and municipal battles for years, so don’t expect a sudden growth there.

The main hallway that leads from the show floor to Artist Alley.
Also a prime spot for cosplayers to show off.
NYCC hit the wall this year. There’s no more room to grow at the Center. In 2014 their numbers were around 150,000. The reason they were able to get more this year was selling more one day passes and fewer 3-day and 4-day passes. The theory being if you have a budget of, say, $500, you are going to stretch that over 4 days. If you only have one day, you’ll spend it all in one day.  Then they can bring in a new person the next day, and get them to spend all their money.

And make no mistake, they’re cramming people in there. In previous cons, Thursday was almost a leisurely day. Friday things started to ramp up, Saturday was a mad house. Sunday things would be like recovering from a hangover.

Not this year. NYCC was flat out from the moment they opened the doors. I spoke to shell-shocked artists at noon on Thursday, a couple of hours after the doors had opened and they didn’t know what hit them. “Are you sure today isn’t Saturday?” one asked me. “Because this looks like a Saturday.”

Artist Alley at a quiet moment. Seriously.
I left the con on Sunday around 2:45 to head back to my room and get to the airport. Not only was it still packed, I had scalpers outside offering to buy my pass. The doors closed at 5 pm, so people weren't going to see much. But yeah, could have sold it (no way that I did). When I went to the recently opened subway line next to the center (an absolute godsend), people were still streaming up to go to the event. Madness.

There’s already speculation about what the con will be like in future years. The last couple of years they’ve had “Super Week” in New York. It’s meant events you could go to in the evening, both before and during the con. So there were book signings, podcast tapings, trivia events, fan meet-up and even a burlesque show. On Saturday they had several tv show panels held at a hotel a couple of blocks away from the Javits Center.

I think that might be the way they end up going. That the Javits Center is the heart of things, but there will be events all over the place in area hotels and buildings to try and take some of the pressure off things. I read an article saying it may more closely resemble New York Music Week.

Which is fine, I’m just not sure that’s what I’m interested in doing. I’ve been saying a lot of sort of negative things here, and I should clarify that I did have a very good time at the con. It was fun, I got to see and meet cool people, bought fun stuff, got lots of great artwork. But man, it was overwhelming at time. It’s a lot of people in that space and everyone is amped up and excited. It’s a lot of positive energy, but it be a bit much. I can only remember one bad experience and that was on Friday when they closed Artist Alley for 30 minutes because of fire code worries. There was lot of grumbling and yelling security guards, but that was it.

One of the entrances to the main show floor.
I didn’t even see the usual swarm of sexual harassment complaints that often come out of cons like this. It really was a remarkably well run con. Some things could have been handled better, and the registration process is still a nightmare, but it’s evolved nicely.

But if it gets bigger and spreads out over the city, I’m not sure I’m interested. I love the con. I’m always going to have a huge soft spot for it because it was my first one. I love the city. But I think the next time I’m back to New York it will be just to see the city. It might be time to spread my wings and try another comic con.

Which ones are on the shortlist? Well, if the Canadian dollar continues to be in the tank, then the three best options in Canada are probably Toronto Fan Expo, Calgary Comic Con or Montreal Comic Con.

If I can go back to the US…Emerald City and Rose City Comic Cons in Seattle and Portland would be nice, albeit far away. On the east coast, Boston Comic Con has come along nicely and Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina, has always been widely respected.

But the one on the top of the list right now would be Baltimore Comic Con. It’s a three day con, which is a bit short, but it always gets a good guest list because the Harvey Awards (one of the two big comic awards) is held there. The timing is right because it’s late September. I could go a few days early and catch a ball game, or go to Washington for a few days and then head down to the con since the two cities are a hop, skip and a jump away.

We’ll see. I’m only just back from this one and I can only afford to do these every few years.  But hey, it never hurts to start planning early….

Last Five
1. Walk like an Egyptian - Caro Emerald
2. On the table - A.C. Newman
3. Boulevard of broken dreams - Green Day
4. In California (live) - Neko Case*
5. Please Mister Postman - The Beatles

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