After a year’s hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, New York Comic Con returned to New York City's Javits Convention October 7-10, and welcomed back thousands of fans to the newly expanded convention center. Citing health and safety protocols, NYCC organizer ReedPop promised reduced capacity at the show and followed through. This year about 150,000 fans attended across the four-day event, compared to about 260,000 fans at the 2019 show, according to the ReedPop event director Kristina Rogers.

ReedPop safety protocols also mandated that all attending fans be vaccinated and wear masks at all times. The show backed up the mandate with enforcement that included a sizeable vaccination verification station at a nearby lot where every attending fan had to show a vaccination pass (with ID) in order to get a green wristband that would allow them to enter the building. The station was well staffed and, from this reporters’ experience, verified each fan quickly.

“It feels great to be back, the show’s been smooth and the health and safety protocols were nice and smooth onsite,” Rogers said. “Having the community show up and support our policies as well as they did was the real key, mask wearing has been excellent.” Indeed most fans (though not all) appeared to keep their masks on throughout the four days,

The reduced number of fans was most apparent on Saturday, usually the most crowded day of the Con. Despite the reduction, there were still substantial throngs of fans roaming the exhibition floor and concourse areas and everyone seemed thrilled just to be back in the building. The show offered many of its usual vendors, events and presentations, with the exception of major comics and book publishers.

Indeed, all of the big comics publishers, such as the Big Two (DC and Marvel), and such big New York trade book publishers as Abrams, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan, were absent from the exhibition floor, their spaces taken over by a range of independent comics publishers who jumped at the chance to take over spotlight positions on the exhibition floor.

On the other hand, manga publisher Viz Media took its usual large booth-space. Viz was joined on the floor by Yen Press (a Hachette manga copublishing venture), and the Korean Creative Content Agency, a Korean government agency which represented a number of Korean manhwa (or comics) publishers as well as Webtoon, the fast growing mobile comics platform. Also missing from the show floor were major independent publishers such as Boom Studios, Dark Horse Comics, Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Humanoids, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, NBM, Nobrow, Oni Press, and Seven Seas Entertainment.

Independent publishers that did exhibit included Aftershock, MadCave, Scout Comics, Zenescope, a number of smaller houses, and hundreds of individual artists that set up in the sprawling Artist Alley, positioned on the lower level of the Javits. The Artist Alley area attracted substantial traffic the entire weekend and was packed with fans even on Sunday afternoon.

According to ReedPop's Rogers, Artist Alley was expanded across two halls to adhere to protocols. "We were at about 450 tables, which is about the same as prior years. Next year if we don’t have to distance the tables for health and safety, we’ll be adding more,” Rogers said

Steve Rotterdam, Aftershock Comics senior v-p of sales & marketing, said that his house, which took a large booth space at premium location on the floor, had its “best day of sales, ever,” on Thursday when the show opened. Rotterdam said, “we decided to go for it. It’s a shame the other publishers aren’t here but this has been good for us.”

Indie publisher Scout Comics, also set up in a premium location on the main floor, had a large crowd of fans on Saturday watching as artist Rob Prior live-painted a character portrait on a canvas set up right next to the booth space. Scout chief media officer Don Handfield, noting the wide aisles and open space around the Scout Comics booth-space, said, “We’ve got a great crowd watching Rob paint, and we couldn’t have done this normally.”

The in-person events at New York Comic Con 2021 were augmented by a full slate of virtual panels called the Metaverse. NYCC ticket buyers received access to selected panels and could buy digital access to the rest.

The digital side of things has been great," said Mike Armstrong, ReedPop v-p new initiatives. "By the end of things, we’ll have published 175+ panels online that would have otherwise not been seen by anyone outside of the in-person attendance.” Armstrong said the panels from three main panel rooms were live-streamed and the rest were available as VOD for digital ticket holders and Metaverse members.

“So far, our international audience for memberships and digital tickets is eclipsing 15% of the audience,” Armstrong said. “We also provided access for fans to be able to watch the digital content from the day(s) they attended the event.”

Panels were held in the newly expanded north end section of the Javits Center, which also offers a second atrium space and, from its upper levels, spectacular views of the new towers rising in the surrounding Hudson Yards area.

Exhibitors and fans encountered by PW seemed happy to be back. Kuo-Yu Liang of pop culture consultancy Ku Worldwide, a former executive at ReedPop, said the show offered a glimpse of two trends.

“One: the new normal. Mandatory vaccine, recent negative test and masks may soon be as ubiquitous as metal detectors and takes nothing away from enjoying an event. Two: Content producers changed their approach. In addition to focusing on fans inside the building, brands and creators are using video shopping and recording content with the intent of reaching fans worldwide, as opposed to being an afterthought.” And, Liang added, look for absent publishers to be back in 2022.

Rogers agreed. “All our conversations with bigger brands and publishers have been really positive regarding coming back in 2022. Between personal team comfort levels and corporate travel restrictions, we knew they’d be skipping a year. Hopefully, next year the pandemic is behind us and we can all get back to business onsite.”

“We’ve had some fans disappointed that their favorite brands aren’t here this year but that’s to be expected,” she added. “On the whole everyone’s been pretty happy. Exhibitors and artists are doing good business and fans are excited to be back together again enjoying what they love.”