More and more you will hear the joke/thinly veiled criticism/complaint that there is no actual comics related material at conventions named San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con. While that is not exactly true it does seem like the main draws to both events is the events centered around video games, movies, and TV shows. There is still comic related booths, panels, and merchandise but it all seems to get drowned out in a sea of other media. The other media are guests at the party that everyone wants to talk to but comics are the guy giving the party but still being ignored in the corner next to the veggie dip. Even when the big movie being presented at a convention is based on a graphic novel it always seems a world apart.
In some ways Special Edition NYC ‘s mission statement is to get back to the brass tacks of comic conventions about comics. In that regard it was a 100% success. There was not a booth or panel for a movie, show, or game in sight. The panels were all about comics and so was most everything on the show floor. There was a booth talking about local food in the area but other than that most everything in the dealer’s room section was either comic companies, people buy and selling back issues and trade paperbacks, and comics related merchandise and services. All the panels were on topic and run by someone who was a part of the industry. Even menagerie of styles that was Artist Alley was made up of people having some section of their wares that was American comic related.
This meant for better and for worse the convention embodied its laser focus.
This year ReedPop, the company that runs mega-cons like NYCC and PAX East, decided to test the waters for putting on a smaller, comics-only focused convention in the heart of NYC. It has been a long time since I was at a con’s debut, but this was in a familiar place with a similar set-up to NYCC’s Artist Alley.
I was only able to attend on Sunday, but as soon as I entered I realize this was really a one day type of con. This wasn’t detrimental in my mind, it was kind of peaceful.
This was definitely a small first time comic convention. When you usually go to the NYCC it seems like the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is about to explode like a bottle of diet Coke that just had a Mentos dropped in it. This event was clearly never meant to fill all that space but it is very different to see the Javits Convention Center without all the hustle and bustle. I distinctly remember entering through the southernmost doors and seeing the empty space where the exhibition hall usually is and just heard the faint echo of music coming from the darkness. It almost felt like it was setup from a horror movie in which a foolish character would venture into the restricted area and then be devoured by a creature of nightmares. If you went there you would more probably just find the cleaning crew who just wants to do their job in peace but it shows how much smaller this show is.
When you got to the extension that the convention was held in there was a vibrant crowds you expect from a convention. The main bulk of Special Edition NYC fit in the area that last year only held the Artist Alley of NYCC. With this event the show room and the artist alley are all in one space. The front is where all the commercial sellers set up and then when you got to the half way point of the hall you just crossed into artist alley. Past that, all the way in the back, was the area where you could buy NYCC tickets before they went on sale online. That was without a doubt the most popular section. It was not that the other section were not getting people, it was just while not every person went to every table almost everyone who came through the door spent some time on that line.
Oddly enough panels were on the complete opposite side of the convention center. Normally they would have been closer but the normal panel space in the basement seem to be under construction. Hopefully this means they are renovating those room before NYCC. They usually look so drab and dark. A new white paint job and some better lighting would improve those rooms exponentially. That aside it meant that it was a major hike to get to the panels. I know that I would always start the day by going to the dealer’s room & artist alley, make the long journey to the panel area, see then panels I wanted to see, and then leave right after that. Technically I could have gone back and explored show floor more but the distinct effort involved made it so it was just simpler for me to head home after my last panel. I think I would have been more tempted to do some last-minute exploring had both sections been right next to each other. The distance was hardly insurmountable but it was long enough and empty enough that you were never going to casually go back and forth.
I don’t think I have been to a convention with so many parents with little children before. Tweens and Teenagers are hardly an uncommon site at any nerd convention. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about elementary school children and younger. My Saturday was basically me listening to crying babies on my commute, crying babies on the show floor, crying babies in several panels, and crying babies on my way home. It hardly ruined by experience. While I’m hardly a fan of screaming infants they were no more disruptive than the Sonic fans who did not know when to let the people on stage talk or people trying to strike up small talk during a panel. It is more an illustration that the audience here was a bit different then what you might be used to at other cons. You normally don’t get adults with very young children at your standard con outside of very select sections and even then it is usually on Sunday when its “Kid’s Day.”
The North Pavilion of the Javits Center is a great space, I’ve sung it praises in our NYCC reports, and it is no surprise that it is also the newest section to the convention center. You walk in the North Pavilion and wish the entire center could be so inviting.
The space seemed well suited for the artists and dealers on the show floor. However, the artist alley section was occupying the back portion of the pavilion, which made the focus of the convention seem to be dealer’s selling back issues. Which I suppose is technically a focus on comics, but not exactly what one would hope for. Still, once you got to the artist section, there was a lot of variety. There were only a handful of publishers in attendance as well.
I was surprised, and happy, to see so many more food offerings since the last time I was in the Javits. Hopefully that holds for NYCC.
Kate will be doing her own write up of Show Floor but I wanted to point out one fact I noticed while I was exploring the area on my own. I feel there is this common complaint that the anime convention always has sci-fi, video game, and superhero comic art in the artist alley but the same is not true in the other direction. I think this idea is another case of people coming to a preordained conclusion, quickly running through the artist alley for a few minutes at most, seeing what they want to see, and then patting themselves on the back for being correct. I would say about 70% of the tables in Artist Alley had at least one piece of art that you could purchase that was anime related. There were only 2 people who had predominantly anime themed art but most everyone either had some item that was from Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, Attack on Titan, or One Piece. Admittedly those four titles are probably currently the titles with the closest to mainstream visibility but it was nearly impossible to ignore. It was even more common than Dr. Who or Sherlock which only had a limited presence in general.
Also it is important to remember that some of the artists were only promoting their original work and therefore did have anything to sell that except for items from their IP. Those people did not even have anything like Superman or Spider-Man at their table.
It is another example how what we assume exists, what we focus on, and what we see when we delve deep can be three very different and equally misleading sets of data points.
The attendance seemed sparse on Sunday, never allowing the con to feel frantic. I noticed a lot of families on Sunday which was a nice sight. I observed a lot of groups taking in the show as a leisurely pace; posing with the Batman standees; listening to the DJ in the hall; and taking a break outside in the beautiful weather.
It definitely felt like a new convention as far as the crowd went, with a lot of things like this the word just doesn’t get out enough. I think they tried to bring more people into the con with the lure of buying NYCC tickets early, and that certainly did have a steady line all day.
This convention really reminded me of the comic and sc-fi conventions my parents used to take me to when I was a wee laddie. While they could be multiple day affairs the average attendee usually only showed up for one day. You usually showed up whenever you felt like rolling in, browsed the show floor for an hour or two, attended a few random panels, got the selects signatures you wanted, and then went home pretty much satisfied you had seen everything. This is pretty much sums up any Creation Entertainment convention in a nutshell. If you’re expecting a giant weekend Saturnalia of something like Otakon or Comic-Con International you were going to be sorely disappointed.
I’m sure if Special Edition NYC tried to be more of a general media con it would have gotten bigger numbers. If it had some booths with new PS4 games, a panel about Orphan Black, and Nathan Fillion as a guest the whole affair would have been much bigger even if it was only two days. That is the power of the mixed media convention. But that the same time it would have been a completely different beast. I know that there is a core contingent of anime fans that enjoy going to events that make their main mission statement for the convention to be about anime and manga and not Homestuck, League of Legends, The Avengers, and Doctor Who. Special Edition NYC filled that niche. If you wanted American comics they were all over in an undiluted form.
And it is worth noting that this was the debut of Special Edition NYC. This was not the crowd for a convention held for 10 years. All new cons start small with a very particular handful of exceptions. That said Marvel, Archie, and Valiant were all present in full force. There had small tables but their presence was all over the convention. DC did not have a booth but they sent several guests to do panels and they hand Batman standees by the entrance to the show floor. It showed that the big boys of the showed up but only those in New York fully committed. The big two and several other did not pull anywhere near their full weight behind the event but at the same time they did not ignore it. If anything it was a little surprising that more of the indy comic publishers based in NYC did not attend.
Special Edition NYC will never be NYCC. Only something with a menagerie of interests can draw that large a crowd. But it does not have to be that. It can be the young brother than caters to a more specialized audience. If it continues to do that it can easily distinguish itself as its own convention. That is if ReedPop considers it something worth growing.
I think one problem for this convention is going to be the price tag ($35 for one day). This was the initial reason I wasn’t attending, it is just too much for what is offered. Unless you attend a lot of panels, you can easily walk through at a slow pace and still be done in half a day.
If this price is due to being at the Javits (which I suspect is certainly a big factor), they should move it to a different location in the city. This con is much, much smaller than NYCC so there are sure to be other spaces suited for it.
A small artist-focused convention like MoCCA costs $5 a day and it also hosts panels. I’m not saying I expect Special Edition NYC to be $5 but I think it needs to find a more reasonable entry fee.