Children’s book and comic book authors were front and center at the inaugural Play Fair, a convention for fans of toys and pop culture held at New York City's Javits Center on February 13 and 14, alongside this year’s Toy Fair trade show. Nickelodeon and LEGO were the show's major sponsors. Day One was packed as kids of all ages and their parents met celebrities, attended presentations, played with toys, participated in crafts, and got their pictures taken with character mascots. Total attendance for the two-day event was 20,000, which show organizers Leftfield Media and the Toy Industry Association said was a sellout.
Author Jon Scieszka took the Toys ‘R’ Us stage to talk about his upbringing, his interest in science, and his latest Frank Einstein title for Abrams, and then met his fans at a book-signing session. He decided to participate in Play Fair in part because of his long-time support for a cross-media approach to kids’ books and entertainment.
“Back when I was first working on Trucktown,” says Scieszka, “I had this idea that kids like toys, and they like books, and they like cartoons, and they should be able to enjoy all of them. They don’t have to do one or the other. Cartoons can do things that books can’t, and books can do things that toys and cartoons can’t.”
He agreed with Play Fair organizers that publishing should be part of this toy-focused event. “I’m glad to see books cross over more into this world,” he says. “In fact it’s really our job as authors to make this crossover.”
Independent comic book artists, including Abby Denson, Art Baltazar, Dave Roman, Franco Aureliani, Matt Loux, and Misako Rocks!, also participated in Play Fair presentations, as well as creating drawings, signing books, and meeting young fans in the Aw Yeah Artist Alley, sponsored by retailer and publisher Aw Yeah Comics.
“[Play Fair] approached us because they knew we were very kid-friendly,” says Aureliani, co-founder of Aw Yeah Comics. “When they asked initially, my reaction was to say no. We’re a comic book company and this is a toy event. But then I thought, why not try it, and it’s going very well.”
Also among the 50-plus exhibitors were Midtown Comics, which has three stores in Manhattan, Scholastic’s Klutz division, and DC Entertainment, in addition to toy companies such as Mattel, Hasbro, LEGO, and Crayola and a variety of other toy and pop culture-related companies.
Some of the other happenings at the new event included Thomas & Friends performances, appearances by the stars of the Nickelodeon programs Make It Pop and Game Shakers, toy “unboxings” by celebrity YouTubers, costumed characters, screenings of Cartoon Network and Marvel animation, and LEGO master builder appearances, along with contests, exclusive giveaways, and many other fan-participation opportunities.