NY Comic Con & Anime Festival 2011: General ImpressionsOctober 18, 2011
The writing has been on the wall for a while now. Since New York Comic Con started in 2006 it was clear they wanted to be the East coast version of the San Diego Comic Convention. New York Comic Con went straight to being a big con even in their first year with a cavalcade of big name guests and over 30,000 attendees. But this year with an estimated attendance of over 100,000 it is clear that while it has still not caught up to San Diego Comic Convention it seems that NYCC has finally gone from being a big con to a megacon. This is for the better and the worse. I know that I heard more grumbling than ever before from people I knew on twitter. For some people this year the convention crossed a line and has become simply unpleasant. But for others it was finally reaching its true potential and they reaped the rewards of that growth.
As someone who attends two or three anime conventions already every year, I wanted New York Comic Con to be a crazy, huge bonanza like the Las Vegas of conventions and this year really felt like that was coming to fruition. It was a place where I spent a lot of money, ran on adrenaline, and sometimes forgot what day it was all the while surrounded with great friends, a-list talent, similarly minded strangers, and a few out of control jerks you hope to never see again. New York Comic Con like any great event is unforgettable but hard to describe and capture for those who did not experience it. Still I’ll try my best to relay the overwhelming weekend experience.
With any convention this huge the first question you have to ask how good was the crowd control. While people frequently (an unnecessarily) line up for almost everything at Otakon the lines at NYCC are essential as 70% of the panels were filled and had to turn people away. So getting in the right line at least a half an hour in advance was vital to see anything vaguely important on Friday or Saturday. The staff was usually pretty good at being on top of keeping the lines orderly. They had signs to mark the end of lines and were usually polite but firm in stopping the lines from blocking traffic. Of course it was just my luck to get into an altercation with someone on a line because I was just obeying the staff’s instructions. Fortunately the staff was on my side and it was mostly just a nerd with big mouth and a bad attitude so nothing really happened. No pens were stabbed into anyone’s eyes. From what I understand most of us ran into at least one person on a line like that throughout the convention. I think staff could have used a little more rope or taped lines. Every panel room had a distinct area for people to line up for them but a physical indication of were the lines where it would have made the staff’s job of line wrangling a little easier. The major problem as always is there are some distinct bottle neck points. While this made checking for badges easier it also made entering and leaving certain places arduous whenever a big event let out. Getting on the escalator out of the panel section could be a nightmare. It was often easier to talk to the escalator in the B section than wait for the escalator right in front of A.
This was the first year an extra “preview” day was added to the convention. Thursday’s appeal is really shorter lines for demoing games and picking up the exclusive toys. And with only 3 hours on the clock that is the most you can hope to accomplish because this convention is big on a massive scale. However, Thursday is not really an option since it is only included on the 4-day passes. So Friday is actually a great time to go if only one day is in the cards for you because it is a full day of conning as opposed to most Fridays at a typical convention. Many people are working or in school so the crowds are not at horde levels and there is still plenty of free promotional stuff that day along with first class programming. Still crowd control with the exception of Sunday was very well done and definitely improved over the last year. I was pleased to see clearly indicated “end of the line” signs as well as many line staffers with megaphones in order to direct traffic. A nice addiction to the end of the line signage would be what line it is exactly because many of the longer lines where not directly outside their destinations. This could be accomplished with dry erase boards on polls to be held up. Also queuing lines in the same place all the time would be helpful too so if you’ve been to that panel room earlier you are already ahead of the game. For example, on Friday they weren’t having people queue up for the IGN theater in the special queue hall but that was changed around by Saturday.
I think that I was one of the kindest people towards the New York Anime Festival last year. I don’t think I was anywhere as insulted by the placement and treatment of the anime events as compared to my fellow anime bloggers. I also had the most optimistic look on the future of the NYAF. I will admit I was so wrong. This year the New York Anime Festival was totally the anime ghetto. Everything was smaller and less important. The NYAF hall was clearly separated from the main events like last year but was even more of a hike to get to. There were only a handful of fan panels and they were in area that could only be called a cafeteria with a screen. All the anime and manga industry events were with the rest of the comic panels which gave them legitimacy but anything else had a distinctly discount feeling. Least year I felt people were letting their self loathing give them the impression that the NYAF only existed to keep anime kids corralled away from the rest of the convention. This year it was impossible to get any other impression. I wonder if they will finally put the NYAF out of its misery next year and just have manga and anime content integrated like any other form of entertainment or will they just keep the NYAF as a playpen for the young otaku.
As I see it, the real problem with combining an anime con with a comic/videogame/entertainment con is that the core values and structure of programming are vastly different. NYCC proper doesn’t have amateur fan run panels but that is what most anime cons are primarily built on. Big comic conventions like this are extreme, glitzy, and have a lot of commercial push. Now I’ve never been to Anime Expo, but Otakon never has that feeling, even for how big it is it feels more grassroots because it is. That being said, I can understand why Reed Exhibitions has decided to combine them. First, the attendance numbers of NYAF were abysmal for the cost of the space and if anyone walked into a fan panel room last year you’d see it about 25% full which is an unfortunate waste when you can get wall to wall people for other things. Many con kids are content to hang out and look at artist alley (which was nice and large) so that is exactly what they made the priority. There was a lot of anime programming going on as a smaller piece to the larger whole. I don’t see why it should be anything more than that in a mixed media convention, with more than 100,000 people anime is just a piece of the pie. They should just eliminate the name NYAF and make it a collective NYCC, period, which would make it less confusing and less of an expectation.
I did notice the number one complaint is still as true as it was last year. The reception in Javits Center is horrible. There are dead zones littering the convention center and getting any sort of wi-fi is a challenge. I heard even if you sprang for outrageously expensive wi-fi at the convention center it was still spotty depending where you were. Thankfully the convention app was functional while you were offline this year. That said it is still a major pain to get a text 10 minuets late or have to go outside to tweet. With all the construction going on I can’t see why they did not do something to boost the signal inside the event. I can’t see other trade shows not having the same problem and being equally upset.
Food still seems to be a bit of a toss-up at the Javits. On the plus side, there were more options in the convention center itself though of course that says nothing of the prices. Outside on the street were tons of hotdog carts but they were all selling the same thing. If you went down a little ways on 11th ave there was a Halal cart or two. But where are the food trucks? New York City is in love with food trucks! Perhaps the street construction was the hindrance to that this year, but I hope they can tempt some over for the coming cons.
When I got home on Sunday I got into a big discussion with people on twitter who had an absolutely miserable time this year. As someone who grew up going to sci-fi, comic, and tech conventions I was far more used to an exhibitors halls focused convention. I will admit that I started the convention with an anime con mindset. I expected to go from panel to panel and if I could not get into what I wanted I would just go a room over and see a panel there. You have to be much more deliberate with a megacon. Any panels at a peak time require major thought into how you are going to get in. If you want to see the panel on the new show you have to get in line at least an hour in advance. And it might be better to show up a half an hour in advance to the panel before the one you want to see and just camp out in the room like you would with a Hall H event at San Diego Comic Con. After you leave a panel you go to line for the next panel you want to see in an hour not the one just about to start. I know to someone who is not used to this way of thinking it can be aggravating and possibly just ruin your experience. Since NYCC broke a six-figure attendance this year I only see this trend getting more extreme. Bigger guests and more high-profile events mean more attendees and longer waits. If you enjoyed the con like I did I see it only being bigger and better next year. Bigger guests, more premieres, nicer giveaways, and more selection in general. If you dislike the con it will only be worse. More waiting, bigger crowds, less anime content, and just a greater emphasis on pomp and circumstance.
While NYAF had a huge seating section, it was the only one found in the entire convention center. There was a small section near the Intel booth on Saturday and Sunday, but there needs to be more, more, more of that. Bringing in benches to line some of the walls in the show floor would be great. I realize they want to prevent people from congregating for too long but we will just sit on the floor. However, if there is designated seating, people could be directed there in the hopes of keeping other areas clear. But there would need to be very good road signs. More signage and directing is always welcome as long as everyone is clear on it. I’d really like to see TVs with an updated schedule of events around the con as well as new additions and autograph signings. Luckily not a lot of things had cancellations and changes which was impressive.
For all that I have said so far I don’t want to come off as disliking the convention. NY Comic Con has some amazing guests and some impressive talent. The fact that they were able to get Hiro Mashima and Makoto Shinkai was fairly amazing. There was so much American comic talent in the artist alley and on panels. There were high-profile video game, movie, and TV show premiers and sneak previews. I can see this being as an important an event as San Diego Comic Convention in a year or two. The problem is that if you are going exclusively for anime content you will be disappointed. Despite the fact that they kept the NYAF name the anime and manga programming is merely a track of the show more than an actual sister convention occurring at the same time. It is like going to a sci-fi convention and hoping to do nothing but Blake’s Seven related events the whole convention. You really have to want to see the comic content and see the anime content as a just an occasional treat. Otherwise you are going to be insanely bored. NYCC has ascended to a whole other level with all the benefits and flaws the brings. I always had something to do. I got a ton of free swag and saw some amazing stuff in the exposition hall. If I could not get into the panel I wanted to could always go up to the dealer’s room or go outside to tweet. I had a great time but I understand why some people would not be coming back next year.
I had a spectacular time. I suspect we’ll see even more space in the Javits next year as the final bits of construction are completed. If there was an ounce of unused space this year, I’m pretty sure that will be rectified for the next convention. New York Comic Con is a place where a lot is going on, there is rarely downtime because the convention brings comics, TV, anime, movies, books, and videogames right to the fans. This year was a big leap over last year. I can’t wait to go in 2012, it’ll make for a grand ole time.
More NY Comic Con and Anime Festival and 2011 posts:
NY Comic Con & Anime Festival 2011: Tweets
NY Comic Con & Anime Festival 2011: The App
NY Comic Con & Anime Festival 2011: Exhibitors Hall
NY Comic Con & Anime Festival 2011: Panels
NY Comic Con & Anime Festival 2011: Screenings
NY Comic Con 2011: Venture Bros.