In a few days, the eclectic comics and pop culture mix of New York Comic Con (NYCC) will stretch well beyond the walls of the Javits Center, becoming a new 11-day event series that organizer ReedPop is billing as New York Super Week. With NYCC as the focal point, the series, spanning October 3–14, includes food and drink discounts, gaming tournaments, exhibits, and comedy shows at participating venues around the city. NYCC, which drew 130,000 people last year, is slated for October 9–12 at the Javits Center, but organizers say New York Super Week will be a massive investment in terms of marketing, sponsorships and collaboration with organizations and venues. Also changing this year at NYCC: technology upgrades and an overhaul of the event’s antiharassment policy.
Creating a Super Week
While there are thousands of Thursday-only badges left for NYCC, the annual convention is sold out otherwise, as is exhibitor space inside the center, organizers say. According to ReedPop global v-p Lance Fensterman, the inaugural New York Super Week is a response to the annual crush in the 760,000-sq.-ft. Javits Center. He says that NYCC’s programming shouldn’t be limited to a single, albeit large, venue.
“We wanted to make sure that more people could access more content, and we really wanted to take over the entire city,” Fensterman says. “We see this as just the beginning, with Super Week growing every year.”
As of press time, New York Super Week comprised 130 events in more than 20 venues, from comics shops to concert halls. Some events require a ticket, while others are free and open to the public. One event features astronomer Neil Degrasse Tyson interviewing author Malcolm Gladwell about Star Trek; another is a hot sauce–eating contest. In some cases, ReedPop reached out to organizers and coplanned events. In others, existing events were invited to piggyback on New York Super Week.
For instance, Columbia University librarian Karen Green’s event during Super Week was scheduled somewhat coincidentally. When she heard about Super Week, she was in the middle of organizing a comics exhibition at the university’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The exhibition Comics at Columbia: Past, Present, Future opens October 6, featuring graphic works from as far back as the 18th century. “It’s not just original art. There are letters, contracts, transcripts, administrative documents,” Green says. “For example, William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, taught at Columbia for a year, and we have his appointment application and card. It’s an overview of the ways comics can be thought about.”
Meanwhile, at the Javits Center...
While ReedPop’s primary focus is expansion this year, it made efforts to upgrade NYCC’s badge technology as well as its antiharassment policy. Several incidents of harassment at last year’s NYCC and other recent events have made this a big concern in the comics community.
Fensterman says that ReedPop collaborated with The Mary Sue, the widely respected feminist geek culture website, on the language of the policy. He says it’s now comprehensive, describing various types of harassment (e.g., “unwelcome physical attention”) and bolding the statement that “cosplay is not consent.” Fensterman also notes that NYCC’s mobile apps will have a built-in button for reporting incidents of harassment. (The button won’t go live until the week of NYCC to prevent misuse.)
“If someone is feeling unsafe or harassed, they should report it to anybody in a security shirt,” he says. “We’re trying to give people multiple options with which they can help us create a safe environment for everybody.”
NYCC has always had a reputation for immense crowds and long lines. Last year ReedPop introduced NYCC badges with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which allowed badge holders to activate a badge by creating a unique ID and entering personal information. ReedPop saw RFID as an opportunity to keep better track of traffic (staff use scanners at doors), make it harder to counterfeit badges, and integrate social media. As reported by PW last year (see “Comics Get Global at New York Comic Con,” Sept. 30, 2013), ReedPop saw better traffic flow but some backlash when badge holders found their Facebook and Twitter accounts automatically publishing posts about NYCC; that feature was quickly shut off and apologies were issued.
This year, badge holders can opt in to having their social media accounts connected to their badges, Fensterman says. NYCC event director Mike Kisken notes that this year, for the first time, some exhibitors will have badge scanners they can use for marketing purposes. “The exhibitors can tag everybody who comes to their booth [and gets their badge scanned], and they can put them in for drawings and specials,” Kisken says, emphasizing the “connectivity between fans and creators.”
Comics Publishers Change Things Up
In response to attendee crowding and an increasing breadth of pop culture programming at NYCC, comics publishers are moving away from tried-and-true methods of exhibiting. At last year’s NYCC, DC Entertainment decentralized its exhibit space, spreading its autograph sessions and media tie-ins around the Javits Center. This year, the company is taking a similar approach, with an exhibit at the center’s South Hall entrance that includes a display of Batman suits from the major films, as well as DC-themed video game kiosks from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
“I don’t think the best way to maximize the visibility of the cool kind of memorabilia we’re bringing in is to put it on that show floor,” says John Cunningham, DC’s v-p of marketing. He adds that DC works closely with ReedPop on NYCC and the company’s Chicago convention, C2E2. “Everything we’ve done last year and this year is in absolute collaboration, with [ReedPop] taking the forefront of trying to find ways to work with us––and I assume some other exhibitors––to maximize the space.”
For a smaller company, such as children’s comics publisher Papercutz, the big concerns are staffing logistics and diversifying its content. Papercutz is based in Manhattan and releases 50–60 titles per year, with six full-time employees. “It’s funny: for New York–based publishers, San Diego Comic-Con, in some ways, is an easier show,” says Sven Larsen, Papercutz’s v-p of marketing. “In our case, our staff stayed at the Hilton Gaslamp, right across from the San Diego Convention Center. New York is a more demanding show, partially because we all live in New York and go home to our families at night. It’s not like San Diego, where you can enter a cocoon for a week and live in the convention.”
Staffing aside, Larsen says Papercutz is set to promote and give away new comics at New York Comic Con. Papercutz will have preview copies of its first original graphic novel, The Lunch Witch, created by Deb Lucke and set to be released in March 2015. The company will also have promotional items for a new graphic novel based on video game publisher Ubisoft’s Rabbids series, now also a show on Nickelodeon. It will host signings and panels on both graphic novels.
“We have seen more and more people get into [the graphic novel] space and also the trend seems to be creating original material for kids,” Larsen says, adding that Sunday is Kids Day at NYCC. “There’s opportunity in that market.”
While publishers like DC and Papercutz get creative about space and content, individual independent creators are trying to make some noise among the masses––while not going broke. Artist Michael Bracco, whose creator-owned, zombie-flavored comics are released by New York–based publisher Alterna
Comics, is splitting a table in Artist Alley with writers Michael Isenberg and Oliver Mertz. The three are planning to release Dead Classic, a 20-page comic uniting two stories with an undead theme.
Bracco lives in Baltimore and teaches art at a middle school, frequenting smaller shows in Baltimore and Philadelphia. How’d he offset the costs of travel and renting a booth at NYCC? “Splitting a booth with somebody who lives in the area and staying with them,” he says. “The opportunity arose where it wasn’t going to cost me a complete arm and a leg––just a couple knuckles. The timing was right. It’s a show that I like to be a part of, but it’s not always feasible.”
Looking ahead to next summer, Fensterman says ReedPop is planning another iteration of Special Edition: New York—a smaller, more comics-focused convention, held for the first time last June at the Javits Center. It didn’t sell out, Fensterman says, and 2015’s event is still unscheduled. “But our aim was really to say, ‘We want to make sure we are always catering to that hardcore comic fan,’ ” he says, adding, “We’ll do it next year—it’s just a question of when.”
Rich Shivener is a writer from Cincinnati, Ohio, who writes regularly for Publishers Weekly and has contributed to Writer’s Digest and Cincinnati CityBeat, among other publications.