When I was but a wee little lad I would go to conventions. I went mostly to science fiction and comic conventions. I remember my mother taking me to the old Creation conventions in Manhattan most of all. They were small affairs that mostly took up a single floor of a Manhattan hotel. The main draw was the dealer’s room and the guest signings. There were occasionally a small smattering of panels and some screening rooms but I can’t recall ever doing much with that end of the convention. I mostly came to see whatever Star Trek and Dr.Who guests they had. Our main goal was getting an autograph of whichever celebrities we wanted. Then we would browse the Dealer’s Room a bit and maybe buy a trinket or two. After that we went home. They were mostly two-day affairs but we almost always went on Saturday or Sunday but rarely both days.
In the days before ubiquitous Internet these events were far more important. Getting news, merchandise, autographs was not that easy. There were newsletters, fanzines, and mail order catalogs but you had to do quite a bit of digging to find them and their selection could be very hit or miss. The smaller your fandom the more you had to hunt for anything you might have wanted. Also anything from overseas usually meant you had to search twice as hard and three times as much. The convenience of going to a convention and just being able to get so much of what you wanted, and instantly, all in one place was invaluable. Today you can just pop on the web and get any of that without a second thought but back then it was a very different story.
In lots of ways Special Edition reminds me of those old conventions. It is not a complete throwback. The panel selection seems a bit more robust and everything seems a bit more refined thanks to several decades of conventions teaching everyone some valuable lessons. As someone who is more used to the pomp and circumstances of more elaborate affairs like NYCC and Otakon there is a distinctly more laid back vibe. This is not a full on Relaxacon but the convention is clearly more humble than something like I-CON or AnimeNEXT. It is a professionally run Castle Point Anime Convention for comics.
(Actually I wonder if the panel selection is actually richer today or did I just ignore panels more as a tween and teen?)
Special Edition’s first year (2014) seemed like they overestimated their attendance and presence. This year, they’ve reinvented themselves in a difference space with more of a low-key vibe. Don’t get me wrong, the North Pavilion of the Javits was (is) a great space but this con is still a baby and this year felt more like the beginning.
I tried to get a New York Comic Con ticket this year. Last year it was a fairly easy affair. I just walked to the back of the dealer’s room, stood in line for a few minutes, and then got a ticket without any real effort. The line was always busy but it seemed like you could stroll over any time to get a ticket and be OK. This year with Special Edition happening after all the regular tickets for NYCC went on sale and then selling out as quickly as they did led to a very different experience this year. The line to buy tickets probably could have fit dozens of the old lines in the area this queue took up. At this point you can no longer just casually waltz in to buy your passes. It is plain to see that if part of the reason you are going to Special Edition is to get a four-day pass then you have to arrive sometime before the convention starts in hopes of getting anything next year. I waited in line for 45 minutes and moved about 5 feet. I quickly realized that if I waited any longer I would probably spend a good bit of my day in line and quite possibly not get anything.
Pier 93/94 is a pleasant area as it runs along the Hudson River Park with the Intrepid not too far south of the SENYC location. The line to get in snaked back through one of the park paths. This area would also become a good hang out space later in the day once the drizzle of the morning finished.
But there were some problems inside, biggest being the ventilation of the building. The humidity had crept inside and there wasn’t good air flow making the air quality have a stale feeling By some fluke this particular week of June was actually unseasonably cool, however without such luck I dread how it would have felt. The bathrooms were also kind of icky, not terrible I mean this NYC after all and the horror stories that can be told would keep you up at night, but they also weren’t pleasant or plentiful.
On the other hand, it is definitely possible I’ve become spoiled by my big expo centers and other modern facilities.
The size of the space fit the event and despite the downsides it seemed like the right place for this particular convention somehow.
But I did not come to the convention to buy tickets. I came to report on panels (since Kate always has much better observations about the Artist Alley.) Most of my experience was sitting in rather inside baseball styled panels. But I enjoy those types of panels.
It seems that whenever I go to Special Edition I wind up at a Jonathan Coulton panel. It is not really a part of my overall agenda but it has worked out that way both times. Then again you really need at least three times in a row to be any sort of real trend. Greg Pak and Jonathan Coulton teamed up to do a kick started for a children’s book based on the song, The Princess Who Saved Herself. Most of the audience were fans of the book so the panel was more of a talk about the process of turning the song into a book and the getting it all to people via Kickstarter. I did learn something interesting things about Kickstater. Never set you deadlines in November. Apparently if ANYTHING goes wrong and things get delayed (which they almost always do) then the price to do anything skyrockets because of the holiday season. Second the key to not killing yourself and actually making a decent profit is KISS (Keep it simple, stupid). It is very easy to cut into your budget of time and money as you increase the number of tiers and gimmicks in your Kickstarter. You might not raise as much money with less complex tiers but it long long run it is probably for the best.
I also realized that people always hate Disney. But one of the biggest bulls-eyes on their back in the whole Disney Princess machine. I feel like people have always been pointing criticism at the Mouse for this but I feel like it has recently really risen to prominence in recent years. Jonathan Coulton mentioned that the original song was specially made because his daughter got into the whole Disney Princess mystique.
As a random note I also discovered that MP3 sales are much, much lower than they used to be. Apparently streaming music services have devastated that market. Coulton commented that streaming killed sales in way that piracy could never dream of. It makes sense and explains why musicians are always so very mad at Spotify for their meager royalty rates. I always assumed that streaming music was such a much smaller portion of an artist’s income. That does not really have that much to do with comics but I though it was interesting to point out.
I went to two panels about working in the industry. One focused on how to get work as a freelancer and the other mainly focused on pay. The second panel was mostly about how to get your foot in the door while the first was more about getting the money you deserve when you actually find work. They had a good synergy even if they did come out in the schedule in the reverse order of what you would need in real life.
The main tip on how to get work was be a good networker. The key to good network on the other hand is not to just randomly pester big shots. The main target should be people around you same level of experience. The skilled nobody you make friends with today might be the person who hooks you up with work a year from now. Other than that you just have to be able to grab opportunities when they come up in as organic a way as possible. In general you just have to have at least a modicum of social skill and the drive to constantly be looking for opportunities. It was clear that no two people got into the business the same way but all of them needed the charm to grasp a lucky break when they came upon it. Also you should always be accessible online in this day and age.
Beyond that than that their main advice was keep your pitches short and simple. When your showing off your work always do what you love rather than chase trends. On the other hand when people pitch work at you don’t be afraid to work outside your comfort zone. The last piece of advice was that you should always try to appreciate where you are. It is very easy to a peer as more successful and wonder why you’re not where they are. It is far more rewarding to value what you currently have and work on improving that as opposed to chasing the shadows of others.
The panel on pay on the other hand had the holy grail of any similar type of panel: Cold hard numbers. They actually spelled out what most people make in the industry. The panel members were fairly mercenary about the whole affair but it was fairly clear that it was an attitude you had to cultivate if you were going to make anything resembling a living wage in the comics industry. Everyone on the panel had some hard-won battle scars and nightmarish war stories. They stressed knowing your rights, getting professional help with any contracts, and just being willing to say no and walk away or at least argue for what you deserve.
One thing was inevitably going to come up and that was work for exposure. Harlan Ellison’s famous “Pay the Writer” speech was mentioned as it is always want to do. Let me put it this way, if someone in the audience talked doing work for exposure sometime in their career they probably would have gotten a very stern talking to. If anyone mentioned being an employer who tried to pay people in exposure they might have gotten a beating. The panelists clearly saw working for exposure as poisoning the well for everyone. I think most of the artists there would have more respect for an employer who tried to cheat them out of some of their pay more than one who only paid in exposure up front.
A completely random note: At three separate panels continuous form paper came up. Two artists reminisced that they started drawing on their parents used tractor-feed paper and other just mentioned it as a way of telling how old he was. It was very odd for three separate people to use that as a temporal touchstone.
Also Tokyopop came up. Sometimes it was in relation to their horrible contracts, sometimes it was because an artist was involved with the Risings Stars of Manga, and other times it was because of their impact of the US comic market in general. It was interesting to see Tokyopop still having this amount of influence on people even years after they are gone. Their influence may have been a distinctly a mixed bag but you have to admit it is a lasting legacy.
In the end the most important thing I took away from the panels was this: If you want to be a comics professional you must master making cat jokes and butt jokes. There are many roads to various jobs in the industry but the vital skills all of them have in common is the ability to make cat jokes and butt jokes. Once you have mastered that everything else is a merely a bonus.
There wasn’t much industry presences as far as booths went with the exception of the impressive Valiant display. The rest of the dealers were a mish-mash of the usual suspects: a lot of back issues to be had, a couple of clothing and accessory places, Midtown Comics. There was a very cool poster dealer selling vintage travel poster-inspired prints for nerdy destinations. The area was always hoping but I didn’t spend any money, I saved it all for the true attraction: artist alley.
While I love the artist alley at NYCC, there are a lot of nice things to be said about the one at SENYC. There were definitely more creators in attendance compared to the 2014 show and a lot more energy to be seen. For the most part, artists were always present at their tables chatting or sketching when I approached. And more importantly, it really felt like the creators were the stars of the show since they weren’t competing with new video games and movies among other things.
The first artist I happened upon was destiny, Bandette artist Coleen Coover, just the person I was looking for! She was selling delightful original ink drawings, all small headshots of Bandette, which there was no reason to pass up. I limited myself to just one, everyone else deserves a little Bandette in their lives, too.
I also picked up Leftover Comix from the always hilarious Tim Chamberlain. You know him best for Our Valued Customers.
I nabbed one of Cetriya‘s printed coin bags. She has just launched a Kickstarter as well!
And my final purchase was silkscreened limited-edition print by Cassie Hart Kelly. She had a lot of stylized pieces on display but I of course went for the lady archer.
Sometimes you don’t need to participate in the convention equivalent of a triathlon to have a good time. A weekend convention is an amazing experience but it often takes money, time, and energy that you don’t necessarily have. Especially as you get older work, family, finances, and age can all make it that you just can’t commit to a three-day plus experience. Special Edition is a fine day trip into Manhattan type of convention. If you like comics and live in the NYC area it is no real skin off your back to attend a few hours and get your money’s worth.
The space, the crowd, the dealers, and the events gave me a nostalgic feeling of 90’s conventions before geekery was a normal part of pop culture. Sometimes you don’t need insane, over-the-top, all-consuming cons. Sometimes you need just a bite of the nerd pie. SENYC is shaping up nicely and was a great way to spend a summer Saturday.