Preface: I did not attend NYCC as a member of the press. I did not attend as a speaker, professional, general audience member, marvin, or artist. This editorial review is simply a reflection of my experiences over the weekend, and should be taken as such.
Oh what a difference three years makes.
The Dork Knight Returns!
Yep, it has indeed been three years since I last attended New York Comic Con. Back then, there was still an Anime Festival attached to the annual spectacle that dominates a chunk of Western midtown, and while that population of otaku and cosplayers was segregated from the mass that was NYCC, it was still something. Then 2012 rolled around, the Anime Festival was shelved, and Comic Con transformed itself into a fully immersive (and massive) pop culture extravaganza. Particular emphasis need be laid on the “pop culture” part of this equation, because in the scant years since its inception, NYCC has gone from a comic convention into something closer resembling its San Diego cousin- television culture, video gaming, literature, comics, collectibles and anime, all wrapped into one gigantic package that is literally impossible to navigate, nor experience over the course of a single weekend. Believe me, I’ve tried.
To put things into perspective, the largest event I regularly attend- Baltimore’s Otakon- pulls in around 34,000 people, and packs the halls of the BCC to almost the choke point. The BCC is a rather large space, separated into two buildings and attached hotels, and still manages to hold the growing anime convention each year. New York Comic Con pulls in around 4-5 times as many attendees, into a space not much larger than the BCC, and completely devoid of mass transit access and affordable hotels. Try for a moment, then, to picture the size and scale of such an event, of the masses of people moving along painfully slowly, stopped up by cosplay photographs and snaking lines on the floor itself, and you get a general idea of what a typical weekend experience is for an NYCC attendee. And, unlike Otakon, those throngs of people are there for the entire weekend- Sunday is just as packed as Thursday, Friday or Saturday, with the line for badge pickup extended out the door.
That’s been one of the main reasons I’ve skipped NYCC for so long. Unlike the other conventions I attend, there is little actual community at the con- most of the weekend is akin to a fight for proverbial survival against the masses. Panels? Not a chance, as I’m not willing to sit in a line for 45 minutes only to be turned away. Autographs? Also slim, since shelling out upwards of $70 for a signed photo offends my “Queens Sensibilities” (not to mention digs into my food budget). What my weekend ultimately boils down to is a few scattered cosplay shots, some chatting with vendors and artists, and catching up with old friends I only see at Comic Con. It’s not that I’m not motivated to do more, it’s just time, space, willpower, and logistics make doing anything beyond “going with the flow” into an impossibility when you have X hours to attempt Y activities. It takes a special sort of masochism to navigate those halls midday, and for this man, the rewards aren’t worth the undertaking.
Now as critical as this sounds, don’t take it to mean that prospective attendees should balk at going. NYCC is a behemoth, one of the few cons that actually thrive from this mass of stimuli and competing events. The size of the con is its greatest asset, since it forces attendees to prioritize, focus on what is truly important to them, and allows plenty of “wiggle room” for those without a clue of what to do. There is something for everyone at NYCC, provided that everyone chooses to dig through a tome of a program guide in search of the exact panels and screenings that everyone wants to see. It teaches humility, as rooms fill and chances at freebies dry up. And it offers the neophyte congoer a glimpse into the wide world of fandom, which can far exceed anyone’s estimates. Comic Con manages through sheer size the same type of fandom convergence that other cons only hint it, placing it on display and offering options for the individual to select from. Every fan should go at least once, just to share in the experience, and question their own place within the fandom community.
As a fandom experience, though, its far from perfect. Every year has its issues, and this year is no exception. Most glaring of these “flaws” was the placement of the Artist Alley: the last time I attended NYCC, the Alley was opposite the show floor, with wide aisles and a good selection of artists. One simply needed to cross past the massive pavilions for comic publishers and media companies to find those die-hard illustrators showcasing wares. This year, the Alley was relocated to Javits North, a still-growing addition to the convention center that more resembles an airplane hangar than a showroom. In its former place was yet another space for shops, small presses, the gigantic Intel Booth, and some artists. Navigating that space was just as brutal as the rest of the floor, but since it was still separated by the media expositions, it could take twice as long to get from one end of the floor to the other. The Alley itself was perfectly solid- professional illustrators and their amateur colleagues shared table space, signed books and prints, and took commissions from enthusiastic attendees. But its location- segregated from the rest of the show- reminded me a bit too much of the 2010 “Anime Ghetto,” where artists and craftspeople of the otaku persuasion were kept away from the “serious artists” (as one of them put it) up stairs. One can only wonder if those same “serious artists” had similar feelings this year…though not likely, given the large foot traffic that was a constant presence in Javits North (took me a full 25 minutes to get there on Saturday Afternoon).
Image taken Sunday…afternoon.
Autographs were also in their own special section, removed from the show floor, though that was undoubtedly for logistical purposes, as the higher profile guests had their own snakes, which would have wreaked havoc upstairs on the show floor, which already had its own line issues when vendors decided to bring in talent to sign at their tables. (One point of dismay on my part- I never once saw a line for professional wrestling legends Sergeant Slaughter or Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase. Has this country forgotten those legends of yesteryear?)
As with previous NYCCs, the roving vendors had their own section, which was more clustered around the exhibits, which took up a good deal of floor space right as one entered. And those exhibitors pulled out all the stops to grab attention: Bandai had a veritable museum of new/soon to be released products, from Saiyan scanners to a Comic Con exclusive model from the anime series Valvrave. South Park built a replica of Main Street, complete with crashed alien saucer. Daisuki.net had a weekend long viewing party that easily outdrew Funimation, and the Intel booth…well, let’s just say it was one of the few places with open space, owing to its sheer mass and revolving programming. Had I not been a Comic Con veteran, I likely would have gone into overload just staring at the booths and flashing lights.
I didn’t really get to do much over the weekend. Anime panels were thin, and filled up quickly, so I elected to avoid them. As I also have become immune to vendor rooms, I also spent very little money (just at GEN Manga and IFC, on Sunday, when the prices dropped). And since I did not have a press pass for the event, I volunteered my services to a friend’s booth for Saturday and Sunday. I’ve worked as a vendor more than a few times (it’s how I got into NYAF 09), and I’ve found that sitting in that one space is actually one of the better ways to experience the con- you have water, food, a place to sit, and generally get to see the same people as a roving reporter would, just without the claustrophobia. You also get a keen sense of the community at large- what are they spending on, what are they enthusiastic about, who are they cosplaying, et al. This weekend, the “big winners” were Berserk (everyone wanted Gattsu figures), Attack on Titan, soft earmuffs, and Ocarinas, only because I was sitting across from a vendor selling them, and listening to the same 10 songs ALL WEEKEND. And “con babies”- I saw a lot of new parents with costumed children in tow, which made me feel as fuzzy as the scarves I was selling them.
Like I started this review-torial with, I haven’t been to NYCC in three years, so seeing the growth and expansion of this convention into a dominating pop culture event was a point of pride and humility. That said, I also left feeling worn out, exhausted, and a little empty. Some of that was definitely due to working all weekend, but some of that was also the “transient” nature of the con itself- I’ve come to expect a certain amount of community and interaction at conventions I attend. I didn’t find it at NYCC. And that definitely soured some of my experience. But that is coming from a longtime convention veteran, who has already been to 14 other cons this year. For the first-timer, or the inexperienced newb, NYCC likely has a much different feel. Like I said, everyone needs to go at least once to discover where that feeling leads them.
[Gallery] Comic Con After Dark: Images from Sunday night…because not everyone gets to see the con being broken down.