After attracting 105,000 fans that packed the Jacob Javits Convention Center, last weekend’s New York Comic Con was not only the second biggest U.S. comics convention of the year, it was a colorful, at times chaotic, mix of all that pop culture has to offer.
Attendance was up to 105,000 from last year’s 96,000, said show runner Lance Fensterman. This year for the first time, the entire Javits Center was dedicated to the show. Hasbro and Lucasfilms both attended for the first time, joining such blockbuster booths as Marvel’s Avenger-styled holodeck, and DC’s ode to the New 52, as well as video games like Halo. The video game contingent in particular added to the noise and smell level—one booth emitted a strong smell of popcorn that will long haunt those who were stuck in the hall.
For a gallery of photos from New York Comic con 2011, see Photo Mania.
The show also included a small but significant rollout of kids' comics properties as well as the New York Anime Fest, held this year in the light-saturated Crystal Pavilion on the upper level of the Javits Center instead of the basement floor which last year caused some grumbles among fans. The enthusiasm for manga and anime properties—you couldn’t walk three steps without running into an elaborate Naruto or Sailor Moon—belied the supposed moribund state of the US manga industry, and companies from Kodansha to Viz were on hand with announcements, including Viz’s commitment to a new “near-simultaneous” Japanese/English digital edition of Shonen Jump for North America beginning in January. Yen Press was able to top that, announcing plans for a “real simultaneous,” worldwide online release of a new Soul Eater spinoff in Japanese and English beginning this month. And Kodansha’s debuted a new iOS app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch as well as announcing several new series.
Indeed the continuing move to digital delivery was the big story to come out of the show. At Comixology panel, cofounders David Steinberger and John D. Roberts, outlined developments at the digital distributor. Comixology offers 14,000 comics from 40 publishers and 40% of its sales are from English language markets outside the U.S.. Steinberger said Comixology has been the top grossing iPad app for the last month. Comixology has about 100 retailers making use of its digital storefronts, which allow physical retailers to offer an online retailing site that is managed by Comixology.
Steinberger claims that physical stores are seeing “an uptick in print sales from digital sampling,” and he emphasized that “We’re not going to destroy print comics.” He also deflected a question from PWCW about what appears to be a Comixology partnership with Amazon to develop “Kindle Panel View” technology for the Kindle Fire—a panel by panel viewing function similar to its own Guided View technology—part of Amazon’s exclusive deal to sell DC graphic novels through the new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet. Steinberger acknowledged that a Comixology icon/trademark appears on the device but said, “there is no app on the device at the moment,” and declined to elaborate further.
Elsewhere, the emphasis was still on digital, even if the audience was more into it than then executives at times. “Marvel: The Digital House of Ideas” panel was an interesting affair, if not exactly revolutionary. After a pretty standard presentation, the floor was opened up to what turned into a very revealing Q&A. The biggest announcement in the panel came out of this, during a passing comment made by Peter Phillips, Marvel’s general manager of Digital Media: The Marvel Season 1 hardcovers, coming next year, will be day and date digital releases as well.
But other than that one small nugget, the panel's answers to the Q&A ranged from unhelpful to hostile. Questions about the inefficiency of the iOS app, lack of in-app information and upcoming projects were almost all answered either with direction to Marvel.com or “we’re working on it” and “there’s been talk, but it’s a while out.” When one library director asked the panel about lack of access to lendable digital copies in his area, it was suggested, “maybe you should move.”
Overall, the focus kept swinging back to print. The panelists professed over and over that there will never be a downfall of print for comic books. The claim was that there will never be digital comics without print comic books, because it’s “not a model that works.” At least for Marvel, there are “certainly no plans for straight to digital” comics. One panelist even went so far as to interrupt a fan asking a question to tell him that the implication that in a few years all single issues will be digital was "stupid" and that he didn’t know where the fan would have gotten that idea.
Based on the panel, it would seem that Marvel’s business plan is to get 15-year-olds to start reading digital comics under the assumption that they will then go into comic book shops to pick up hard copies after the fact, just to board and bag them.
Elsewhere, among a slew of new and returning Star Wars titles announced at the Dark Horse panel, there were also some new mini-series and prospective ongoings announced that looked promising and were a branching out from their typically franchise-heavy line.
Their three big releases for this winter are Orchid, by Rage Against the Machine front man, Tom Morello, The House of Night, based on the hit teen series by PC Cast and Kristin Cast, and The Strain, being adapted from Guillermo Del Toro’s book. Morello stopped by the panel briefly to answer some questions and talk about his process in writing and original soundtrack for the series. Each of the 12 issues will have their own original musical score available for download. All three of Dark Horse’s winter titles will have $1 first issues.
They also highlighted the new Avatar series, being written and illustrated by Gene Yang, who is working with the writers from the show to produce a story that will bridge the gap between the end of the last TV series and the upcoming new series on Nickelodeon. The book will be released in quarterly digests.
One new ongoing book announced is The Massive, a post-apocalyptic story from Brian Wood, writer of DMZ, and artist Kristian Donaldson. A three-part prequel to the story will appear in DHP issues 8-10. Another project of note was a new Conan series, also written by Wood, with a 25-issue run and art by Becky Cloonan.
“The Image Comics Show” panel was chock full of new and upcoming creator-owned titles. One notable new title is Heart, a new four-issue mini-series written by Blair Butler, comics expert on cable network G4’s pop culture, technology and gaming variety show, Attack of the Show. Other new mini-series are The Strange Tale of Luther Strode, which sold out its first issue last week, and Captain Brooklyn, a new three-issue adult comic from the creators of The Pro.
They also announced the return of The Bulletproof Coffin for a new series arc as well as the return of Nancy in Hell. The popular series Echoes will also be getting a collected hardcover release in the coming months. Upcoming ongoing series include Whisper, the first solo project by Image favorite Joshua Luna, and The Danger Club, described as “Teen Titans meets Lord of the Flies.”
DC’s wildly successful New 52 was still the talk of the show, however. A program to increase returnability to help retailers order the books at high levels was announced at a retailer breakfast on opening day. A few personnel changes were also announced: Ann Nocenti, an acclaimed writer from the 90s, will take over Green Arrow, while Marc Bernadin is taking over Static Shock. At the DC/Vertigo panel, Vertigo executive editor Karen Berger announced plans for six Vertigo titles to go “day and date,” or release digital and print at the same time between now and January, they include Sweet Tooth, Spaceman (a new series by Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso, launching in October for 99 cents in the digital format), the Unwritten, Fables, American Vampire and Hellblazer.
Berger also announced the launch of several new Vertigo series, among them ADD, written by media/cultural critic Douglas Rushkoff with art by Goran Sudzuka and Jose Marzan, it’s the story of a squad of teens trained to test media in the future; Gone To Amerikay by Derek McCulloch with art by Colleen Doran, a story about Irish immigration over the course of 100 years; and the aforementioned Spaceman. In addition Vertigo is launching Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child by Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, former editor in chief of The Source, with art by Denys Cowan, set in New Orleans it’s the story of a Voodoo queen who must claim her birthright.
Among the more lively panels was, Making Comics With Kickstarter, which started off by citing the PWCW article, Is Kickstarter the #3 Indie U.S. Graphic Novel Publisher?, and featured a lively panel of sucecessful Kickstarter participants describing how they raised the money to fund their books. Among them was veteran comics writer Jimmy Palmiotti, who raised $10,969 for his Queen Crab graphic novel project, and Womanthology’s Rene de Liz, who raised a whopping $109,301. In front of a packed room, Kickstarter’s Cindy Au moderated the panel and offered a few statistics: more than $100 million has been pledged through kickstarter for more 13,000 successful projects. The average goal of a successful project is $4,500 and the average pledge is about $70.
Even as the comics news rolled out, there was still some overcrowding on the floor, even if it never reached the panic-inducing gridlock of last year. Fensterman acknowledged an increase in security spending, but also that some people had gotten in without badges due to some security issues on Saturday. “We aren’t militant about checking badges as people go in. Maybe we should be but we’re not at this point.”
Perhaps more of a problem is the Javits Center itself—the 80s era facility is not meant for consumer shows, and clearly not designed for crowds of kids dressed as Doctor Who and Optimus Prime. New York Comic Con did make use of more of the hall this year, including the North Pavilion, which helped alleviate some crowding issues. Next year construction will be finished and the entire hall will be available for the entire show for the first time.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story it was incorrectly stated that the average successful Kickstarter campaign raises about $4,500. IN fact, the average goal of a successful project is $4,500.