With 151,000 attendees, this year’s edition of the New York Comic Con had the largest crowd ever announced at a North American con. And despite the size, it seemed to be an overwhelmingly peaceful celebration of pop culture, and the diversification of fandom.
The growth this year came from expanded programming hours on Thursday, according to ReedPOP global v-p Lance Fensterman. In the past, Thursday was a professionals-only event until 4 pm, but this year it was all fans from 11:30 on. “In the past we didn’t have the programming content to open the show on Thursday,” Fensterman told PW. “But this year we sold as many tickets for Thursday as we did Saturday.” The result was the most crowded Thursday anyone could remember.
New York Comic Con was only the centerpiece of an ambitious new program called Super Week, a slate of over 100 pop-culture themed events running all over New York from the previous weekend on. With the Javits Center capacity reached, Fensterman has ambitious plans to make Super Week a cultural event that will become as well known as Fashion Week or the New York Film Festival. “Five years from now I want to see Super Week as big a brand as New York Comic Con,” said Fensterman. “I’d love to see theaters and other venues holding exhibits, panels, screenings talks and more. It will allow us to offer a broad cultural festival that ends with NYCC. That’s the dream, anyway.” Super Week was a large financial undertaking this year for ReedPOP and its parent, Reed Exhibitions, but one Fensterman hopes will pay off. “We didn’t do Super Week for this year, but for the next five years.”
Super Week also helps alleviate the stress on the much-disliked Javits Center. Although there’s been talk of a new convention center for New York City, none is in the offing; luckily renovations and upgrades to things like the cell phone reception have helped keep the show somewhat manageable. Also, in terms of expansion, NYCC runs into the same problems as many other comic-cons: economic impact is usually measured in hotel rooms, and the majority of NYCC attendees are locals who bus, train or drive in. “Until we do that on a par with a San Diego or some other events we run, its value to the venue will reflect that,” Fensterman explained
Programming, Announcements and Around the floor
On the actual show floor, perhaps more than in any other year, this was the year of the woman. As reported previously, the Wednesday industry conference ICv2, which kicked off NYCC, was all about the diversification of the comics audience, with numerous sources presenting data that show between 40-50% of comics readership and convention attendees are female. This was reflected on the show floor with packed rooms for a dozen panels that showcased diversity including Women of DC, Women of Marvel and Women of Color panels and numerous discussions focused on gender, race and inclusion.
Publishing announcements included many with female characters or creators. DC’s biggest announcement was a Wonder Woman ’77 digital series with Mark Andreyko writing and covers by Nicola Scott.
Marvel announced several female led projects including a new mini series featuring Agent Peggy Carter written by Kathryn Immonen, a Maximum Ride mini-series written by Marguerite Bennett, a Gamora series by screenwriter Nicole Perlman, a Black Widow YA novel by Margaret Stohl and an X-men mini-series by G. Willow Wilson, who appeared at the show to discuss her recreation of Marvel’s Ms. Marvel character, now a Muslim-American super heroine. Spider-Gwen, a Spider-Man spinoff featuring Peter Parker’s longtime girlfriend Gwen Stacy, is getting her own series by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez, and Silk, yet another female Spider-man sidekick, is getting one by Robbie Thompson and artist Stacey Lee.
Elsewhere, Dark Horse and Archie’s big announcement was an Archie vs. Predator story by Alex De Campi (who is a woman) and artist Fernando Ruiz, and IDW teased the return of female-led 80s animation characters Jem and the Holograms. Dynamite announced programs for long running characters Vampirella and Red Sonja and Boom! announced a new mini series for Marceline, the Adventure Time princess. Taken as a whole, it was a powerful indication of the strides female readers and creators have made—in the past even one or two announcements would have been viewed as risky, but the influx of new readers makes it good business in 2014.
In keeping with this trend. NYCC also introduced a new anti-harassment policy that was designed with input from a committee of geek girls led by website The Mary Sue. Implementation included a place to report harassment in the NYCC app and signs which were spotted everywhere throughout the show. It was a big change from last year, where a promotion by Arizona Iced Tea that referred to “big cans” drew heavy criticism. Fensterman said the new policy was a success—there were only two harassment issues reported that he knew of and although that was still two too many, it was “less than I had at this time last year,” he said. “I would like to think our signage had nothing to do with it and people were just well behaved. We got some things much more right this year.”
The emphasis on highlighting diversity was reflected in the Women of Color panel, moderated by Regine L. Sawyer and featuring panelists Alitha Martinez, a veteran comics penciller and inker for Marvel and DC, and pioneering syndicated cartoonist Barbara Brandon-Croft, who created the first female created syndicated comics strip Where I’m Coming From, which ran from the 1980s until 2005. Library panels, including a focus on graphic novels in the schools which was packed with teachers, and a presentation by Dr. Carol Tilley, the academic who exposed the fraudulent research underlying Frederic Wertham’s anti-comics screed Seduction of the Innocents, were highlights. Bestselling cartoonist Bryan Lee O'Malley (Seconds) and novelist Cory Doctorow (In Real LIfe, a new graphic novel with Jen Wang) held a public conversation on books, publishing and being Canadian and during a stroll through Artists Alley PW stumbled on the the delightful science web comics, mini-comics and videos of Maki Naro (Sufficiently Remarkable) and Katie McKissick (Beatrice The Biologist).
Book Publishers Row
Fans jammed the areas around the 2000 aisle where book and graphic publishers are located. While Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics did not attend New York Comic Con, publishers situated in the area included First Second, Top Shelf, Abrams ComicArts, Hachette’s Yen Press, Pantheon, Papercutz and others. Simon & Schuster (1800 row) had a spacious booth on the floor to show off its prose genre publishing. Virtually every publisher PW spoke with said traffic and sales were excellent throughout the show. Papercutz’s Michael Petranek cited the Rabbids series, comics based on the Ubisoft videogame, which was very popular. There were long lines for signed copies of Lunch Witch by creator Deb Lucke and big sales of the Papercutz hardcover Classics Illustrated adaptation of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf by Riff Rebs.
Top Shelf’s Leigh Walton was showing off two Kickstarter funded projects that Top Shelf will now distribute and promote—Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Mullligan and Molly Ostertag (it raised more than $60,000) and The Leg by Van Jensen and Jose Pimienta ($12,000). Shannon Wheeler was promoting God Is Disappointed in You, produced with writer Mark Russell; and there was much demand for Eric Orchard’s Maddy Kettle: The Adventures of Thimble Witch. Walton called the show “our best New York Comic Con ever.”
Pantheon showed off an advance copy of Richard McGuire’s conceptual tour de force, Here, Michael Cho’s Shoplifter and Charles Burns Sugar Skull, and provided a tease brochure for Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, coming in 2015. Susan Van Metre, publisher of Abrams Books for Young Readers, which includes Abrams ComicArts, praised sales at the booth—“we did very well,” she said—and noted that JP Ahonen’s Sing No Evil sold out every copy. She said there was also much demand for The Art of The Simon and Kirby Studio, a hardcover collection compiled by Mark Evanier, and El Deafo by Cece Bello and David Lasky, and Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo by Chris McDonnell, an artbook compilation of the popular animated show.
Power Pop at New York Comic Con
One area where NYCC upped the star power was entertainment announcements: George Clooney made his first ever comic-con appearance on Thursday, and new trailers for Marvel’s Daredevil series and Sony Playstation's Powers debuted. DC was represented with panels for their new TV show, Constantine. And fans came out en masse, as they do every year, for a panel on The Walking Dead.
While overnight camping grounds filled with people waiting to get into Hall H, San Diego Comic-Con’s venue for entertainment presentations, have become legendary, this year NYCC decided to take a step much discussed but never previously implemented. The crowd for the Main Stage, where big news was made, was cleared of the audience between panels. In order to get in, attendees had to line up for whatever panel they wanted to go to and get a wristband. Although there were some overnight campers, wristbands were given out at starting 10 am each morning; all were given out within an hour or two.
The new system seemed to work: instead of anxiety over whether they could get in, fans knew by noon and could then get on with enjoying the con, said Fensterman. “By and large it seemed to go exceedingly well.” He cited the crowd waiting to get into the Walking Dead panel in particular as an improvement—in last years a huge logjam resulted in the hall outside the venue, but this time “getting into the panel was sane.”
Of course, there still some issues to be dealt with: numerous exhibitors felt that line security on the show floor was lacking, and Fensterman acknowledged that this is an area that needs improvement. “I would say we need a way bigger presence on the show floor with staff. We need to be there moving cosplayers, moving people on the edge. It’s always going to happen and it's part of the experience, but we need to have a better presence and control over the show floor.”
As with San Diego, however, it seems the Javits section of NYCC has reached its limit. Fensterman said data from the RFID badge system introduced last year would have to be analyzed before they could say for sure if the show is “maxed out” at 151,000. However, in the future, ReedPop’s emphasis will be on growing Super Week, an event which won’t necessarily be completely comics focused.
“We have more canvasses on which to paint,”Fensterman said. “We have two giant piers sitting out back that are empty that could house any number of things. We have many options as we step up and use this city-wide canvas.”