The country may be reeling from the worst economy in years but you couldn’t tell it from the tens of thousands of fans pouring into the Jacob Javits Center for the fourth annual New York Comic-con this past weekend. The show opened on Friday afternoon to a respectable crowd after a morning of trade and professional presentations, but the fans showed up in force on Saturday—a sell-out for the day was announced on Friday—and the Javits Center was a beehive of enthusiasm and commerce. Reed Exhibitions v-p and NYCC show manager Lance Fensterman said this year’s show drew nearly 77,000 fans, up from the 67,000 attendees last year. (PW is a sister company to Reed Exhibitions).
Show organizers projections for growth at this year’s show despite the dire shape of the economy proved correct. Overall the show seemed well organized. Other than problems at the professionals registration on Friday—there were long waits and confusion over badges—Fensterman said this year’s show had a minimum of “organizational hiccups. This isn’t a scientific survey but I’ve received many fewer emails, phone calls and comments on my blog about problems this year. And people know how to find me if they have a complaint.”
Moving forward, after three years of constantly shifting dates, New York Comic-con moves to the fall in 2010—the show is slated to be in October for at least the next three years—and Fensterman said exhibitors were mostly “enthusiastic” about the switch. “There were more sign-ups at this show for next year than ever before. A lot of people have already committed for next year,” he said.
This was also the second year with Kids Day on Sunday—featuring a signing by Wimpy Kid creator Jeff Kinney and a variety of kids workshops—really kicked in this year and the exhibition floor was filled with crowds of kids and haggard, stroller-pushing parents. Fenstersman said there were at least 4200 kids in attendance on Sunday, “that we could track. I’m sure there were more.”
Big New York publishers like Random House looked right at home amid the bedlam, hype and wacky costumery of the typical comics consumer show. Del Rey, Titan Books, Wiley, HarperCollins, Macmillan/First Second, S&S Pocket Books, Hachette/Yen Press, Tor Books, DK Publishing were all on hand—not to mention educational, library and nonfiction houses like Lerner, Watson-Guptil, Capstone and Rosen, houses that have embraced the category and made major investments into the graphic novel market. And with some exceptions traditional houses are all selling direct to fans like most comics publishers—Abrams did a brisk business selling Craig Yoe’s Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-creator Joe Schuster andFirst Second’s Gina Gagliano said their titles were selling well. While fans seemed ready to spend money, some publishers had mixed results—DK publicist Rachel Kempster said her sales were down a bit—although others like Oni’s James Lucas said Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new Scott Pilgrim title was virtually flying off the table. (See "Scott Pilgrim Winds the Convention.".)
Fensterman said the exhibition floor was about 10% larger than last year and could have been larger but for a scheduling conflict with the Toy Fair that kept toy companies form exhibiting in force. The DC and Marvel booths were mosh pits, wall-to-wall with fans; and while some significant publishers were missing—Viz Media did not exhibit but was much involved in the programming; Go! Comi was a no-show and important indies such as Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics were absent. Tokyopop returned a year after its reorganization with a visible though much-reduced booth presence and indie houses Top Shelf, Image, Boom! Studios, Fanfare/Ponent Mon and Euro/American startup Cinebook were on hand to offer a different brand of graphic novel.
While announcements weren’t huge there was news—Yen Press picked up the popular Yotsuba&! manga license from ADV; Del Rey will take over the publishing the Penny Arcade Web comics collections and Vertigo trumpeted its new line of crime graphic novels by Brian Azzarello, Peter Milligan and James Romberger and others; non-crime OGNs from Sarah Glidden and bestselling prose novelist Kevin Baker and, in a first for DC, an original Fables prose novel by Fables creators Bill Willingham.
Kuo-Yu Liang, v-p sales and marketing at Diamond Book Distributors, called this year's NYCC, “the best comic-con for us ever. We had very productive meetings with retailers, media and publishers. We were especially excited to see the kids buyers from [distributors] Baker & Taylor and Bookazine. The Sunday Kids day was a smashing success. It was very moving to see thousands of kids getting excited.”
However even with the show's surprising success, overlying economic uncertainties loomed over many conversations as the future of the industry was pondered. Diamond's bombshell announcement of a higher threshhold for products it carries in its catalog continued to be a huge topic. Several back of the book publishers are beginning to make changes: Radical announced their books will no longer be published as 22-page traditional comics, but instead would be 48 pages, which would bump them over the benchmarks. Publishers that use variant covers — including Avatar and Dynamite — are also adjusting to Diamond's new guidelines. Meanwhile Dynamite joined Vertigo in announcing several comics priced at $1 to get new readers on board.
The elephant in the room remained digital distribution, with many rumored and announced initiatives being demoed and discussed on the floor. Perhaps the most prominent move to the web was Marvel's motion comic announcement, but the question of whether online distribution can replace the comics periodical remains an ongoing conundrum that is developing multiple answers.