New York Comic Con returned to the Javits Center October 6-9 at full strength for 2022. The event drew 200,000 attendees, according to a spokesperson for ReedPop, the show organizer.

The show floor was crammed with enthusiastic fans of media and with cosplayers, who enjoyed elaborate displays from mostly manga and toy companies. However, the show floor was not crammed with mask-wearing attendees. Despite a mandate from ReedPop that masks would be required—and volunteers handing them out at the door—enforcement was lax, with less than 50% of the crowd wearing one at many times. Compliance was similarly mixed among booth workers and creators who set up displays. Although some booth workers were vocal on social media and in-person about their alarm over the lack of Covid masking protocols, many workers behind tables were unmasked most of the time as well.

Whether NYCC will be another super spreader event, like some recent pop culture events, remains to be seen, but it was clear that the general public anxiety over Covid is receding in this new and more complacent era.

As for the show itself, it was also clear that after three years, exhibitors were showing off their biggest hits. Toei Animation dominated the show floor with a spectacular 30 foot high balloon of Monkey D. Luffy, the main character in Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, one of the most popular and bestselling manga series in the world, and featured in One Piece Film: Red, a new animated film, which will debut in the U.S. on November 4. One Piece was everywhere on the show floor, with displays at the Crunchyroll booth—which streams the series—and Viz Media, which publishes the print manga series in the U.S..

Manga series Dragonball Z, Bleach and Chainsaw Man were also prominent—the latter two are also returning on streaming platforms as anime.

But the traditional comics presence on the floor and in panels was far less prominent. Although comics publishers have been pulling back from large comic cons due to continuing concerns over the Covid pandemic, (see “NYCC '22: Bright Lights, Big Fandom” and “San Diego Comic-Con Is Back”), their impact was even more diluted by being scattered around the show floor. DC did not set up on the floor and although Marvel had its usual large booth, it was mostly used for fan giveaways.

IDW appeared with a large new booth which centered on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Godzilla series; and publishers Scout, Storm King and Zenescope had prominent displays near the center of the show floor. However, other publishers were often placed in out-of-the-way locations.

Z2 Comics and U.K. house Rebellion, publisher of Judge Dredd, were both placed in the video game section. Z2 featured appearances by rappers Ice T, Chuck D and Czarface. The signings were well attended, but the booth was overshadowed by the nearby presence of a huge set-up for the wildly popular mobile game Genshin Impact next door.

Other publishers were scattered in a less desirable area under a low hanging section of the Javits show floor, with Vault Comics in an especially hard to find location jammed against a popular food stand. Daniel Crary, special events, Vault Comics, told PW, "We were very disappointed by our booth placement. To not be near a single other publisher was unfortunate. We heard many times that no one could find us."

Privately, publishers were not shy about expressing their ire at the placement, with one saying bluntly: “It sucks.” There were also complaints about access to programming, with even exhibiting publishers being held to two panels across the four days of the show.

Asked for comment on these complaints, ReedPop v-p, global comics portfolio Kristina Rogers, told PW, “We had some later bookings for our show floor this year that hindered the creation of a proper pavilion area for several of our key exhibitors. We are already looking towards next year and how we can work with exhibitors earlier to ensure we create stronger neighborhoods to bring both exhibitors and fans the experience they are looking for on our Show Floor.

For the publishers that did show up, there were benefits. IDW’s Keith Davidson noted that TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman’s appearances were just as successful as predicted, with the entire team of the smash hit The Last Ronin, starring the venerable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, on hand for ticketed signings. He also noted that they were keenly aware of being one of the only large non-manga publishers with a presence at the show. “Internally we talk about how can we capitalize on this. How can we make this even more of a comics focused area for people who are coming here next year?”

Rocketship publisher Tom Akel noted their booth was located against a 20-foot high wall at the back of the Viz booth, and with a very narrow aisle between them it was hard for people to find their booth. “I’m not sure ReedPop did a very good job of placing the publishers, who are a big part of the industry,” he said. Despite the challenges, the publisher, which focuses on print editions of popular webcomics, had a successful show, with appearances by webcomics stars Leeanne M. Krecic, (Let’s Play) and Nick Seluk (The Awkward Yeti) among others.

The scattering of comics publishers away from a central exhibition area was in sharp contrast to a section in the front of the show floor that held all the traditional book publishers, including Macmillan, PRH, Hachette, Disney Books, and Abrams. Publishers in this area were generally positive about the show, and author signings drew long lines, including a huge one for acclaimed cartoonist Gene Luen Yang, whose American Born Chinese will become a streaming TV series on Disney+ next year.

The lack of prominent displays for comics publishers was also in contrast to huge booths for apps and retailer websites like Whatnot, The Comic Vault and CGC, the pop culture collectibles grading firm. Combined with the massive displays of manga, it was another sign that western comics publishers, who formed the core of New York Comic Con when the show launched, and whose IP is the basis of much of the content on display, are being overshadowed by the apps that sell their products.

Still, one observer noted that major comics publishers like DC, Image and Dark Horse made a conscious decision not to exhibit. “They didn't show up and this is what you get.”

It wasn’t all troubling show floor optics. On the lower level of Javits in Artist Alley, the comics industry was in full swing with stars like Scott Snyder, Frank Miller and Peach Momoko drawing long lines of fans to their tables. Momoko, a Japanese artist who does variant covers for Marvel, had a line so large that she actually left the show early.

It was also in contrast to industry panels, such as “Comics in the Post Pandemic Era,” presented by Publishers Weekly and moderated by this writer, where representatives of Lunar Distribution, First Second, Rocketship, Square Enix, and PRH discussed the huge rise in sales over the pandemic period.

Comics were also showcased at Friday’s Harvey Awards, where The Good Asian, Chainsaw Man, Squire and Lore Olympus were among the winners, and Hall of Fame inductee comics writer and novelist Neil Gaiman gave a heartfelt speech.

Perhaps because of the absence of most large publishers, comics news was sparse—announcements of a new level of service for DC’s digital comics platform, and a team up between collectible auction site Whatnot and publisher Heavy Metal leading the way.