Comic conventions have become the circus of the Internet era, and the circus is coming to town: New York Comic-Con, the second largest nerdapalooza in North America, will be held October 11–14 in New York’s Javits Center.
While not quite as frenzied as the fabled Comic-Con International in San Diego, the New York edition promises a three-ring spectacle of movies, TV shows, cartoons, videos games, celebrities... and even some comics.
This year’s comics guests are led by Grant Morrison, Robert Kirkman, and the Saga duo of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. On the literary side, Kim Harrison and Anne Rice are spotlighted. Given New York’s central place in the publishing world, the local talent alone makes it one of the biggest shows of the year.
Ticket sales are already way ahead of last year’s pace, says show runner Lance Fensterman, global group v-p at ReedPOP, which produces pop culture festivals around the world. “Sales are pacing about 190% ahead of last year,” he told PW. “All four-day and three-day passes are already sold, and so is about 70% of our retail inventory.” He expects all the tickets to be sold out before the show—walkup sales will not be possible. “I already know what attendance is going to be, given the space, about 100,000 to 110,000.”
The surge in interest is part of the rise of comic-cons nationwide. San Diego’s Comic-Con International (or SDCC as it is known) has long been a much dreamed of destination for pop culture fans with its mind-boggling lineup—the show has been selling out far in advance for years, and competition for badges and hotel rooms has become a mania. And smaller, local shows across North America have also seen a rise in interest and attendance, with well-established events being joined by newer cons in cities from Denver to Chicago and beyond. All of them feature a smorgasbord of comics artists, celebrities, and costumed attendees that is proving increasingly central to the popular zeitgeist.
The growth in the category was confirmed by DC Comics’ v-p of marketing, John Cunningham: “Setting aside San Diego, attendance at major shows has almost doubled in the past four to five years.”
Against that backdrop, NYCC remains a raucous carnival that takes over the entire Javits Center—or at least as much as is available. Construction on the Javits has been underway since 2009, and this year NYCC’s geography will be changed a bit in response. Artist Alley, the sprawling bazaar of original art, prints, and comics by more than 500 creators, will be moved to the newish North Hall. The upstairs pavilion will be closed for construction, and a section of the main hall will be boarded off while the roof is repaired. To offset some of the real estate loss, however, the lower level is being reconfigured with added rooms for panels.
After a few wild years of crowded aisles, steps have been taken to trim some of the press and professional registration. Pro badges were scrutinized to eliminate duplication and allow more paying fans to attend. And the press pass system has been changed, with a daunting registration process that called for such 20th-century practices as faxed clips and assignment letters. (Twitter was alight with grousing, predictably.) No on-site press registration will be allowed.
Panels in the 3,000-seat IGN theater will also be screened in a waiting room nearby so more people can watch, a move that con organizers hope will alleviate some of the crowding that took places during last year’s Walking Dead panel. Some popular panels may even be streamed online.
Another change this year is the elimination of the New York Anime Festival, which was formerly its own stand-alone show and then co-located with NYCC. But there will still be anime content. Some of the biggest guests at the show include famed video-game designer Yoshitako Amano and josei (women’s manga) superstar Moyoco Anno.
With space at a premium, time has also been in high demand, and programming has felt the crush. According to Kim Mueller, NYCC’s lead content and talent manager, there were about 1,000 panels submissions for 350 slots. To fit in more panels, programming hours were expanded and more room added for panels in the downstairs area and on the main floor.
There will be no dull spots for the four-day show—pro hours are Thursday, noon–3 p.m., followed by a preview, 3–9 p.m., for VIPs and four-day ticket holders only. “Friday has become the new Saturday,” says Mueller.”
Although still billed as a comic-con, celebrities, toys, video games, and showbiz are taking up more and more of the exhibit space and programming grid—spotlight panels are planned for both Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton)—and Lego is exhibiting for the first time, an event Fensterman jokes “makes my career at Reed complete.” Still, he notes that comics remain core to what the show is about.
Cunningham notes that NYCC has a disproportionate number of first-time comic-con attendees. Making DC’s booth attractive to new attendees is a priority, via a mix of products from different divisions of Warner Bros., DC’s parent company.
Vertical’s marketing director, Ed Chavez, notes: “I agree it’s a very young and urban crowd, and that’s actually very healthy. This is Manhattan and people have the opportunity to meet with the publishers and all the talent that lives here.”
With the public’s thirst for attending comic-cons growing, and New York’s population in no danger of getting smaller, Fensterman’s problem is basically overseeing how big the show can get. He’s quick to point out that there will be room to expand next year as the areas closed by construction open up. After that it gets challenging. “We will have to start to layer the show, sooner than later, with upstairs and downstairs [exhibits]. But we’ll cross that street when we come to it.”
Just surviving this year is the priority for all involved as DC’s Cunningham summarizes: “It’s New York. It’s going to be chaotic and crazy. The sky is the limit for their growth, so it’s a matter of survival that embraces the chaotic.”