Roaring back after a 20 month hiatus, the New York Comic Con returned to the Javits Center with a new fall date but no drop in enthusiasm from fans or exhibitors. Since the last time that NYCC was held, the idea of "Comic Con" as an all-encompassing pop culture fair has taken hold in the popular imagination, and the locals eagerly swarmed the halls to talk to their favorite comics creators, and check out new releases in toys, video games, movies and more.
ReedPop group v-p Lance Fensterman said preliminary attendance figures for this year’s show were around 95,000 visitors over the three days—allowing for the fact that not all passes had been counted yet—up 23% from the 77,000 that attended the show in 2009.
The show floor included massive displays for Marvel and DC, as well as video games from Square Enix and Intel; IDW was a first time exhibitor, and Dark Horse, Image and Archie were all represented. New York publishing houses were mostly all present except for Simon & Schuster and W.W. Norton. While smaller indie presses such as Oni Press, Fanfare Ponent Mon, Top Shelf were on hand with new books and authors, the harcore art comics publisher Some of the smaller indie presses, like Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, did not attend. The show also featured what looked like the biggest Artist's Alley in recent years. With over 400 artists and arranged with spacious aisles, the new Artist’s Alley drew impressive crowds over the course of the weekend.
Pantheon announced new books from Art Speigelman (Meta-Maus, a companion to The Complete Maus with CD, coming next fall ) and Craig Thompson (the long awaited Habibi); Titan Books drew a big crowd with Icons, a big retrospective art book on the career of DC copublisher and superstar artist Jim Lee and; and The Simon and Kirby Superheroes, an even bigger documentary tome by pioneering Golden Age comic book creator, Joe Simon, who made an appearance in the booth to sign books on his 97thbirthday. Former DC Comics president Paul Levitz showed off a mammoth oversized history of DC Comics, 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking, that he has written for Taschen. And among comics publishers the stylish fantasy The Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann and Janet Lee (Archaia); and Darwyn Cooke's newest graphic novel adaptation of Richard Starkings’ Parker crime series, The Outfit (IDW), were the buzz books of the show.
This year New York Comic Con merged with the New York Anime Festival, and while separate attendance for the NYAF isn't available, it was evident that youthful anime and manga fans were just as enthusiastic as the conventional comics crowds on the main level. While NYAF did not have a separate exhibition floor, the now-reduced show did offer a separate Artist Alley on the lower level of Javits that was jammed with artists and fans, as well as screening rooms and an exhibition stage that was filled with cosplaying contests, concerts and late night programming that turned Javits into one big party even after the show floor closed down.
Although everyone seemed to hail the show as a success it wasn't without some flaws, mostly a seeming lack of security and crowd control. Several exhibitors contacted by PW Comics Week said they had concerns about line and crowd control, and that the floor on Saturday—which was announced as a sell-out on Friday—was virtually overwhelmed by throngs of fans. Even on Sunday the floor was packed to the point of discomfort. Aisles were often clogged, and a construction area blocked off in the middle of the hall—the only way to get from one side of main floor to the other was through one of two tunnels or a food court—made traffic flow on the floor even more difficult.
On his blog, cartoonist Evan Dorkin, along with others, voiced concerns over the crowding: "The rest of the day I was mostly bored when not driven nuts by the over-crowded aisles, filled with too many inconsiderate folks walking with their heads down while texting or talking on phones.”
Fensterman acknowledged the overcrowding problems on Saturday and offered PWCW, an explanation of how decisions about public safety and crowding are made in New York City. Unlike San Diego, Fensterman explained, where there is a stated maximum attendance level, the Javits Center “has no limit on capacity.” During an event in New York City, he explained, a public safety officer will take a look at the floor and decides whether or not it is too crowded and then decide whether to shut it down. Fensterman said he and his staff must take into account the number of fans already on the floor, the tickets possible to be sold online and tickets that may or may not be purchased: including tickets still available for sale at retail outlets away from the Javits Center—beyond his control by the weekend. “There’s no easy answers to crowd control,” said Fensterman.
Even though show organizers stopped sales of Saturday tickets, Fensterman said that deciding when to shut off sales, “is a judgment call, not a science. We want a busy show so we try to find a middle ground but on Saturday we were off.” While the show employs about 150 Reed staff, security and temp workers as well as using 250 volunteers, there were also complaints that there were not enough knowledgeable staff on hand and that security personnel could sometimes be rude. Fensterman acknowledged, “there’s never enough staff at an event this size but we have to do better. We didn’t do everything right and we take complaints very seriously.”
Next year’s show is scheduled for October 14-16 at the Javits Center and Fensterman said it was clear the show needed more space. He said next year he will have use of the Galleria level, which was unavailable due to construction this year, and the show may be able to use a major hall on the lower level that was not used this year. “The show will have to be a mult-level show next year,” he said. And while Fensterman also acknowledged that many anime/manga fans were not happy that New York Anime Festival was reduced to an Artist Alley and stage, he emphasized that the show had the same level of programming and screening as in the past. But he also said that the big anime/manga exhibitors, “wanted to be on the main exhibition floor.” Asked if he will continue to brand NYAF as a separate show, Fensterman said ReedPop would seek feedback from the fans before making a decision.
But while the crowds were an issue, they didn't change the fact that the show managed to capture some of the manic intensity now expected at a Comic-con while staying focused mostly about comics and anime. "My mind was blown by this show," said IDW's director of retail marketing Dirk Wood.
On the business side, the ongoing restructuring at DC Comics—the house plans to move its digital operations and others to the West Coast—remained a point of much speculation and after-hours chatter. Two promotions were announced at the show: longtime marketing executive Bob Wayne was promoted to senior v-p, sales, and it was revealed that his print marketing team would stay in New York with print editorial. Hank Kanalz was promoted to senior v-p of Digital and will move to Burbank from the now-shuttered Wildstorm imprint to oversee DC's efforts on the digital side. Any other announcements were avoided in public panels, as a deadline looms for New York based employees to decide whether to take jobs on the West Coast or not.
However, DC also had the biggest news of the show, announcing a price roll-back to $2.99 for their periodical comics, while cutting story pages from 22 to 20 pages and eliminating backup features from books that had been priced at $3.99. Marvel independently announced that starting in January, new titles will be priced at $2.99. They also announced cutbacks in the number of titles they are putting out to concentrate on fielding a stronger line overall.
The ICv2 Digital and Comics Conference kicked off this year's con and digital strategies figured in some of the biggest announcements to come out of the show. Dark Horse plans to launch a “proprietary” digital download program in January that will start with 170 DH comics selling from $1.49 to $5.99 as well as a retail component—more details to come—that will include physical bookstores. Also on the digital front, Yen Press announced plans to release an iPad app by the holidays as well as a digital storefront; and Longbox Digital, a startup digital comics delivery system, announced a deal with tablet computer manufacturer Norton Ink, to include its software platform on the new Adam tablet, a tablet computing device set to be released by the holidays.
Despite the problems with crowding, confusion and long lines, Fensterman made the point that New York Comic Con took another step forward in its development as a national pop culture convention and as a major New York City cultural event. Fensterman said this year’s show “ really had an impact on the City. We kind of took over a part of New York. We had issues but we think the show was a real success and the exhibitors have expressed to me that they were happy with the turnout and with the national media coverage. We think the show made a huge step forward.”