Only at a media bonanza like NYCC is the show floor a destination; a place where many attendees spend their entire convention. Each year it seems to take longer and longer to explore all of it, and to be honest I’m not sure I actually did get to every corner.
But it isn’t just the industry booths and chance to buy merchandise that has grown immense, so has the artist alley. There was an increased awareness of the real live creators just a hallway away last year and finally in 2014 it feels like everyone knows what and where they alley is.
My youngest brother and his significant other went to NYCC this year after hearing about my experience last year. Due to their schedules they only went on Friday. They came in when the convention started and left as it ended and they spent their whole day in two places: The show floor and artist alley. They thought about seeing one or two of the panels in Main Events but a quick look at the whiteboard told them that all the wrist bands for anything they wanted to see were long gone. Despite that they had a great time. Why? Because there is enough to do on just the show floor or artist alley that you could spend a whole day at either and not explore every part of it.
The last few years I have been using Thursday to explore as much of the show floor as I could. The crowds are smaller and there was not that much else to do so it was the best time to hit the show floor and play games or hit booths that would have lines that would eat up a large chunk of your time. This year however there were actually a full slate of panels this year as opposed to the sprinkling of panels you saw in the past. That meant that you had to decide if you were going to explore the show floor when it was only moderately crazy or see the panels on Thursday and then experience the show floor when it is in hyperdrive mode.
As always there are some booths that go all out, but everyone seemed to be slightly more reserved. Despite that we still had things like a giant, moving head of Smaug at the Weta display; Oculus Rift showing off How to Train Your Dragon complete with partial viking ship and fans blowing a breeze off the water; Skylanders’ trailer with a mascot which inexplicably had a person inside; and a Geico bus because . . . I have no idea.
I was impressed by the VIZ booth which had a bright and professional feel. There were many convention exclusives and early releases available. They had a special area just for pre-ordering Sailor Moon on BD. And they were giving away posters and buttons throughout the days. I was able to get the print edition of the All You Need is Kill manga early. With any purchase you also got your choice of four bags so of course I picked the Sailor Moon offering.
I visited the floor each day for various amounts of time. I never felt as if I was suffocating which surprised me in the midst of Saturday and Sunday. This may be in part because there was a marked lack of freebies from booths or at least the giveaways were very concentrated which kept overcrowding to a minimum. I walked away with new buttons, make no mistake, but it was less than I was expecting and I went out of my way to find them. In year’s past, the free stuff practically found me.
The show floor was a bit less bombastic this year. The key is less bombastic. It is still bigger, brighter, and noisier than almost any convention I have ever attended other than PAX East but it was not the barley contained riot it was last year. This has its benefits and disadvantages. It was not better or worse. Just different.
The more important question is what does it mean.
For one thing it did mean that getting around the show floor was easier. There were not any of the major choke point booths that always made the show floor a nightmare. The last few NYCCs have had a dance game and some other major video game booth that would always clog traffic around two of the main entrances. The dance game booth was always a sonic barrier as well as a physical one. It pretty much killed any flow of the crowd. That in turn would ripple out to the rest of the floor. This year while there was a dance booth it was smaller and quieter. It was still noticeable but it did not act like the clogged artery it usually becomes. Also most of the video game booths were a little more low-key so while they still got regular traffic they never acted like the Great Wall of China.
The only real choke points I noticed were the anime booths in the back. While you would usually get some slow downs in traffic (especially around the more eye-catching cosplayers wandering around) but there was always major traffic congestion in that area. A mixture of people browsing, anime fans in cosplay, and some bottleneck setups made it harder to get around. But that section is always a bit hard to navigate.
On the downside I do feel like there was just fewer giveaways and general swag. There were a few minor tchotchkes being given out. I got a free bit sized sandwich from the wikia food truck. There were a small amount of sample comics and buttons but not much beyond that. But over all there were less free shirts, inflatable weapons, food samples, lanyards as well as all the other cool giveaways that I can’t remember from last year. I admit that I have never been the greatest at sniffing out free stuff but I know the pickings are slim when Kate comes back with just as little as I did.
The question is why. The attendance was up, the content was greater, and the show room was filled. So the companies had to be holding back for a reason. The simple answer could always be the economy. When times are tough the freebies are often the first to go. The other answer could just be that companies realize that most attendees are going to come anyway and buy merchandise. There is less incentive to throw free junk at people if does not change the number of people coming to your booth. It might also just be a combination of the two.
The show floor was still worth checking out. I just like the thrill of getting free stuff so I was a little disappointed there was less of it.
The highlight of the show floor was probably the How to Train Your Dragon 2 booth that had six Oculus Rift setups that let you fly a dragon. There were places at PAX East that let you try the Oculus Rift but the line was usually crazy enough that I could not get near one without sacrificing around two hours of my convention. While the line was long for the dragon riding you could try it out after about a half an hour wait if you went at the right times. That seemed about exactly how much I wanted to wait. When I finally got down to play with one I saw that all the fuss was about.
The setup was simultaneously very simple and extremely complex. They sat you down, put on your headset (which that thankfully wiped down between uses), and then you flew around with a simple steering yoke that had other buttons but none of them were usable in the game. At the same time they had it so there was a fan to give you the appropriate amount of wind resistance as you flew. The effect was you really felt like your were a dragon rider The Oculus Rift really does trick your brain into thinking your moving fairly well. I am sure a professional hang-glider or the such would miss the subtle shifts that come with real flying but for a shlub like me it is more than real enough.
The only other thing worth noting is that I did not get motion sick while using the device. I tried it out twice during the convention and I was fine both times and I get motion sick very easily. At the same time Kate who does not usually have that problem did get a little queasy after using the device. So it can clearly make you sick but not in the way that reading in a car would do.
Ah artist alley, you really are a thing of wonder. Only in this space can one sample so many styles from a range of experienced to fledgling artists.
I had great luck this year with just happening artists at their booths. Many times they have friends, agents, and others manning their tables while they run off to panels and other obligations during the con. But as I said, I got very lucky. A highlight of the con was meeting Babs Tarr who is drawing the new Batgirl. I bought a bunch of her Sailor Moon stickers and of course asked for her autograph on the new issue of Batgirl.
Ya know, I think the artist alley could actually fit another row in there! Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate having some space to move around, but it seemed pretty okay all weekend so I’m not sure they need the double wide aisle down the middle.
I have to mention that the 3DS Stress Passes were very plentiful this year, as it usually is. Since I completed all the Street Pass games I have mostly just been collecting Street Passes to unlock some of those higher level achievements that require some of the more insane numbers like getting 999 Fantastics. But this convention was a bit different as I had just gotten Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS a few days before the convention. I was able to get so many Smash Brothers street passes. It was an unusual occurrence to see a full set of 10 passes and 7 of them not have Smash Brothers as they last game they played. I know several people I was with at the convention would play a few logical multiplayer matches whenever they had a free moment. It seemed like whenever you sat in line you could see someone playing Smash. It really makes the time pass while o line so much more pleasant. I really recommend a 3DS for anyone who goes to several conventions a year as it is a wonderful tool that makes waiting much less of a chore.
Do you know what the show floor and artist alley need the most? More places to sit! I know, I know NYCC staff doesn’t want us sitting around but people need to sit down now and then so can’t they just embrace it?
Overall, I do find myself pulled more and more towards the show floor and artist alley. At some point, as the con continues to expand in what little ways it can, I may be making tougher choices about where to spend all of my time.
I find it sort of amazing to think that New York Comic Con’s attendance numbers have now surpassed San Diego Comic-Con’s record. There is the standard amount of quibbling over the metrics that happens whenever two major conventions try to determine who is bigger but that par the course. What it means is that New York Comic Con has firmly gone from wannabe contender for the biggest nerd convention in North America to an actual rival for San Diego Comic-Con’s golden crown. While San Diego Comic-Con still has history on its side New York Comic Con increasingly has become just as much a moment for premieres, reveals, and general presentation of new media. I’m not sure New York Comic Con will ever get the carnival like atmosphere to see outside of San Diego Comic-Con just because of the nature of Manhattan streets but that does not mean inside the building can’t be just as impressive. In that respect I look forward to seeing how everything concerning the convention grows.
More New York Comic Con 2014 posts:
New York Comic Con 2014: Our 4 Favorite Anime & Manga Announcements
The Speakeasy #058: Gods of Death Love Apples, NYCC 2014
New York Comic Con 2014: Anime & Manga
New York Comic Con 2014: Panels