The third annual New York Comic-Con, to be held April 18—20 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, opens next month with a record of impressive growth (a 60% increase in exhibition floor space over last year) that suggests the ongoing mutual embrace of comics publishing and traditional book publishing is even more apparent and more inevitable than ever. Even more importantly, young readers—once largely ignored by comics publishers—are now being courted in force.

This year’s Con is shaping up to be one of the biggest and most comprehensive of all with a day of programs devoted to kid’s comics; an impressive list of superstar guests of honor, including Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, star superhero artist Alex Ross and anime J-pop singing sensation T.M. Revolution. There will be a bigger film and TV presence on the exhibition floor as well as a host of traditional book publishers, from Simon & Schuster and Del Rey to Macmillan and Harry N. Abrams, promoting the most recent titles to come out of their own aggressive investments in the comics category. In fact, much like the comics medium itself, the show has become more than just a mecca for fans of superheroes, and whether you’re a fan of manga and anime, literary graphic novels, or a librarian or teacher looking for educational comics, the show has something for everyone. [Publishers Weekly is a sister company to NYCC show organizer Reed Exhibitions.]

The show’s popularity and growth continues, and show organizers are estimating a projected attendance of more than 60,000 after drawing 50,000 last year.

But after the initial 2006 show, when 20,000 fans jammed the show, causing overcrowding, NYCC organizers keep a very watchful eye on crowd management. “I’m always worried about the size and the logistics, but not really this year,” says show manager Lance Fensterman. He adds that there will be not only significantly more floor space but also more exits, including a special exit for exhibitors and professionals, and a streamlined distribution system for autograph tickets—a point of frustration for many fans in the past.

The Big Two of comics publishing—Marvel and DC Comics—will both devote most of their energy at NYCC to promoting their upcoming superhero megacrossovers, with Marvel hyping Secret Invasion and DC pushing Final Crisis, two series that have been several years in the making. Superstar comics scribe Grant Morrison, the writer of Final Crisis, will be a guest of honor, with throngs of fans sure to mass at his appearances.

Fensterman says that NYCC will have a bigger than ever Hollywood and TV presence, citing “pretty dramatic growth in those groups.” Although most of the high-profile film-related appearances are still under wraps, cast members of the Hellboy 2 movie will be at the convention courtesy of Hellboy publisher Dark Horse Comics. “Hopefully, we’ll have the whole cast,” says Jeremy Atkins, Dark Horse director of publicity, who confirmed that director Guillermo del Toro will attend.

But New York City is to book publishing what Hollywood is to film, and the convention will reflect that as well.

One growing trend in graphic novel publishing has been the number of bestselling prose authors who are bringing their talents to the comics medium and attracting their prose fans into the world of comics. Last year, Marvel brought horror mega-author Stephen King to NYCC to promote his Dark Tower comic book adaptation, a project that scored the publisher enormous publicity—and impressive book sales—in 2007. This year, Marvel publicity director Jim McCann promises that Marvel “will be making two very special announcements in a similar vein.”

Traditional book publishers like Simon & Schuster——which has launched an effort to publish graphic novels throughout its children’s publishing division—is hosting a panel on the process of adapting novels into graphic novels.

Del Rey will promote one of its most popular novelists, Terry Brooks, who’ll be signing and on a panel. His bestselling Shannara series of fantasy novels will take the plunge this spring, adapted into the manga format, with an all-new story titled Dark Wraith of Shannara due out in April from Del Rey Manga.

Harry N. Abrams is likely to have the hot book of the convention. There has been quite a bit of buzz around Kirby: King of Comics, a prose biography of the legendary comics artist by former Jack Kirby assistant Mark Evanier, who will be signing on Saturday.

But one of the biggest new events at NYCC will be the show’s efforts for younger readers, with its first annual Kids Day beginning this year. The event—sponsored by Disney and PBS Kids Go!—will admit all children under the age of 12 (and accompanied by an adult) to the convention free of charge on Sunday, April 20.

“Basically, Comic-Con is playland for adults, so this will be playland for kids,” says Fensterman. There are more than 60 events planned for Kids Day, with games, contests, panels and workshops for children and young adults. The programming also includes a Comics 101 panel for parents who want to learn more.

“It’s about broadening appeal,” says Fensterman. “We’re also reaching out to the community and furthering the industry.”

NYCC will also launch an ambitious comics initiative in conjunction with the New York, Queens and Brooklyn public library systems during the weeks leading up to the convention, aimed at bringing children and young adults into the comics fold (and to Kids Day). The convention has planned 80—100 comics-related events in over 50 branches of the library system throughout the boroughs of New York. These events are coordinated with publishers like First Second Books and creators like Wonder Woman writer Gail Simone, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and author Mark Evanier. Cartoonist Kyle Baker, one of the NYCC’s guests of honor, will be on a library panel on African-Americans in comics.

“This year, it’s not just about having a comic-con as an isolated circus show,” says First Second editorial director Mark Siegel, who lauds the convention for integrating itself into the community.

New Yorker art editor and RAW/Little Lit cofounder Françoise Mouly, publisher of the recently launched Toon Books, a comics imprint aimed at beginning readers, will be on hand. Toon Books “have been vetted by educators to ensure that the language and the narratives will nurture young minds,” says Mouly, who will moderate a panel at NYCC for teachers, librarians and booksellers about the Toon Books launch.

Milton Griepp, CEO of the pop culture trade news site, organizer of the annual Graphic Novel Conference on April 17, will sponsor a panel focused on tweens—ages 9 to 12—and graphic novels. And while “comics that do well with this market are a relatively recent phenomenon,” says Griepp, pointing specifically to manga, American publishers are starting to see some success with that demographic.

The primarily youthful fans of manga and anime will also find much to their liking at NYCC, with a Gothic Lolita fashion show from Tokyopop, and Viz Media sponsoring a Manga Lounge, where convention goers can sit and read free manga samples. Macmillan/Tor Books will also be screening the Afro Samurai anime—featuring the voice of actor Samuel L. Jackson—ahead of the Tor Books/Seven Seas copublication of the Afro Samurai manga series in September.

One major complaint about last year’s NYCC, was the difficulties faced by small and independent comics publishers who want to attend NYCC. While Fantagraphics Books, which did not attend last year, will be on hand for this year’s show, notable indies like Drawn & Quarterly, Dynamite, IDW and Slave Labor Graphics will not attend. SLG publisher Dan Vado blames his absence primarily on the high cost of doing business in New York. “The booth is more expensive for a three-day show than what we pay in San Diego for four days plus the preview night,” says Vado. .

In response to these concerns, Fensterman says that the NYCC provides a small press section that offers booths at less expensive rates as well as a “Lend-A-Hand” program, which provides free labor for exhibitors moving goods from their personal vehicles to their booths, rather than the usual dollar per pound rate.

Despite the concerns about small publishers, there’s still great enthusiasm about the show. Dark Horse is returning for the third time. “Every year the show seems to be not only growing, but running more smoothly,” says Dark Horse’s Atkins. “With more and more companies in and out of comics using New York Comic-Con as an official launch pad for the year’s marketing campaigns, excitement continues to build with both fans and exhibitors.”

Author Information
Laura Hudson is a senior editor at the Comic Foundry and also writes for PW Comics Week.