Lance Fensterman is increasingly running an empire of his own. As v-p at Reed Exhibitions, not only is he the show runner for BookExpo America, the book industry’s annual convention, and the four-year-old New York Comic Con, but a growing portfolio of consumer shows, including the just-concluded video game show PAX (in partnership with founders Penny Arcade), the New York Anime Festival (to be held Sept. 25-27), and next April's C2E2 comics show in Chicago. The NYCC has also partnered with this weekend's Brooklyn Book Festival to add a significant graphic novel presence. Fensterman gave PW Comics Week a quick snapshot of how the "fantasy economy" is holding up and even expanding. (Reed Exhibitions is a sister company of Publishers Weekly.)
PWCW: So how did you get involved with the Brooklyn Book Festival?
Lance Fensterman: We realized we had about a year and half between shows [this year's NYCC was in February and the next one isn't until October 2010.] We wanted to do something for fans and customers in the meantime. This year it struck me to do something cool in the fall. We didn't want it to cost any money--we weren't interested in profiting off it. Partnering with a literary non-profit is a way for our exhibitors and existing customer to reach a different audiences for little to no money. It's just a cool opportunity for fans to come and hang out with artists.
PWCW: What kind of space are you offering?
LF:There will be about 30 tables under a big tent, a stage for panels and places for signings. We'll have artists and publishers. D&Q is exhibiting in their usual location [in the main body of the Festival.] We've got a dozen or so artists, a handful of publishers, a couple of retailers, and 6 or 7 different panels including Dean Haspiel and the ACT-I-VATE crew, Tom DeFalco, Phil Jimenez; Jim McCann is doing a panel from Marvel. We'll have some SF stuff and some anime. It's going to be a nice cross section of different aspects of graphic novels and anime. I think it will be interesting to veteran fans who also into the literary scene.
We've been supporting the Brooklyn Book Festival since its inception and the chairman Johnny Temple from Akashic Books does a great job. I really admire what they are doing over there and wanted to support it and grow a different element that they haven't really emphasized
PWCW: Well, the announcement got a big response when it was mentioned on the Beat. It seems Brooklyn cartoonists really want to represent.
LF: Brooklyn is a hotbed of comics! It also has great shops like Rocketship and Bergen Street Comics.
PWCW: Moving on to the New York Anime Festival, what's going on this year?
LF: Yoshiyuki Tomino, the director of Mobile Suit Gundam, is one of the big guests. This year we're having a huge video game tournament, part of the World Cyber Games. We're hosting the national finals; the winners go to China to represent the US. We're also holding 10 different cosplay masquerades on Saturday night. Anime News Network are sponsoring and co-branding our main theater. They are great to work with.
With the recent news coming out [about Tokyopop and ADV], the manga and anime industries are having some struggles, but the fanbase continues to be strong. This year, registration is solid, about 20-25% ahead of last year's ticket sales at the same point.
PWCW: Given the troubles, are there many publishers exhibiting?
LF: It is minimal. Del Rey has been a big supporter and they continue to be a big supporter. We have a few anime vendors. Anime shows are more of a lifestyle event, about buying DVDs, books, apparel and toys. People really come to hang out. The fan base is strong, but the question is finding a way to monetize it
PWCW: Will this show remain profitable with vendor support diminishing?
LF: It's got to change. We're a company that does exhibitions and this essentially is an event that doesn't have an exhibition. We will need to change. But when you have that many fans that want to hang out and see screenings and meet voiceover actors, there is a community to serve. But there is a different way to do it. Next year, New York Anime Fest and New York Comic-Con will be two weeks apart. We need to play off the two show's strengths.
PWCW: Well, as if all that wasn't enough to keep you busy, you are also launching C2E2, a show in downtown Chicago, How is that shaping up?
LF: So far, it's good, really good. It's already bigger than the first year of New York Comic-con. We're happy about that. The guest line up is starting to shape up, and we'll be having some big announcements about that soon. We have announced Alex Ross, Jeff Smith, Ethan van Scriver and Ben Templesmith, which is good seven months out.
PWCW: With a downtown show at the McCormack Center there are a lot of transportation issues. How are you dealing with that?
LF: We'll talk to fans and get the word out about the venue, how do you get there, where can you park. We're going to make it very clear where the cheapest parking lots are, and we'll run shuttles from the lots. The Metra stop is in the building. There will be hotel shuttles. We're going to make this as easy as possible. We're not under any illusions—downtown Chicago is great and challenging at the same time. But…it's not rocket science.
PWCW: What kind of publisher support are you getting?
LF: Crazy strong, literally every major publisher is on with very few exceptions that I can think of. We're starting to turn our attention to other exhibitors, video game companies, movie studios and such. I think there are two things aiding this—a hunger for a really strong, well resourced, professionally run event in downtown Chicago in the middle of America—an area with a huge fan base—plus, we've proven ourselves in New York. The fact that we've shown that we can do what we've said we're going to do has made it a lot easier to launch Chicago.
PWCW: New York Comic-Con has a huge book publishing presence. How is that shaping up for Chicago?
LF: Some book publishers will come to Chicago but probably the ones most strongly affiliated with the space; the ones that don't have [a strong graphic novel or genre presence] may not take the trip.
PWCW: Of course, now Disney owns Marvel! Any thoughts on that?
LF: Disney has been a good supporter of New York Comic Con in various ways. This year they screened the first half hour of Up, and did a Surrogates panel. So we've had a strong relationship with Disney. We're also tight with HarperCollins [Disney's book distributor]. So obviously while we don't know what the new strategy will be, we'll work with them!
PWCW: With the fantasy economy staying strong, there seem to be more and more comics conventions popping up, and some are scheduled very closely with yours. Is this a concern?
LF: The choice of dates for Anaheim [the same weekend as C2E2] is curious, but I don't run any other business but my own and I'm sure there's a valid reason for that. My first concern is with the fans and with my exhibitors. We have a strong track record based on New York, and when you do right by your fans and your partners, good things happen regardless of what else happens.
PWCW: Finally, there's has been a lot of talk about Book Expo evolving from a trade show to a more consumer oriented show. Can you tell us anything about how that is playing out?
LF: We're working really hard on a public component for the show. It won't be in the middle of the Javits Convention Center, but in the city, we hope. My stance has been there are a lot of public book fairs, but there's only one national book industry event and we have to be a little protective of what happens there; it's unique. But there's clearly a cry for more media coverage and more awareness of books, and that's about going public. We're meeting with our executive steering committee in a few weeks; I think we can do some exciting things.