Friday, October 21, 2011

New York Comic-Con / Anime Festival 2011 Recap: Part One

As we've been talking about for over a week, the Exfanding Crew once again made the Great Geek Pilgrimage to New York City for Comic-Con, the pop culture convention that tries reaaaallly hard to convince you it's actually a comics convention. As has become an Exfanding tradition, Alex and I have collaborated on a joint recap of the festivities.

Fair warning: This first part is where we wax philosophical about the convention itself. If that's not your cup of...wax...we invite you to join us tomorrow for Part Two instead. There will be stories. There will be pictures. There will be...time to talk about that at the end of the post.


Nathaniel: Writing about this year's convention is like trying to explain the plot of a sandbox game such as SimCity. Though you can describe a general sequence of events--dealing with rowdy mobs in the street, then getting yourself a statue, then burrowing yourself into horrible debt--the real story comes from looking at the finished product and examining how your choices and circumstances influenced the final result.

So, let's skip to the end: I walked (or, rather, limped) away from Comic-Con with an empty wallet, a small pile of video games, a handful of books, and a fifth of the things I had wanted to bring back for other people. I had gotten into one anime screening, met a number of people who make a living off of their creativity, and snapped a few pictures of neat costumes and famous cars. I had spent some quality time with friends and family, and I did genuinely enjoy myself, but the sense of wonder and surprise that permeated my experience last year had all but evaporated, condensing into a cloud of disappointment and cynicism that trailed me at a respectable distance until I finally figured out what I and the convention planners had been doing wrong since PAX East.

Alex: Well, that's all, folks! Thanks for reading!

Just kidding. Despite Nathaniel's "cloud of disappointment and cynicism" (which he should really think about getting checked out by a doctor), there's plenty to talk about when it comes to this year's NYCC.

First off, Nathaniel's right that this year's show just had a different feel than last year's. Maybe it was because NYCC 2010 was Nathaniel's first comics convention and my first NYCC since the inagural one several years before.

Maybe it was because everything seemed so much more expensive at NYCC 2011, from parking to artists' commissions to comics, trades, and toys at dealers' booths. Maybe it was the fact that there seemed to be more people, somehow, than last year.

Maybe it's just that we're both a year older and a year wiser.

Clearly it's not that last one. So, just what was it that made this show so...strange? Because that's what it was to me, at least--strange. And that's how I've described it to people who couldn't make the trip in for the con. And, not surprisingly, that's how people I've spoken to after the show described their feelings about the con.

NYCC 2011 felt at times like a small comics show--especially early on Friday at Artists' Alley--and then at other times there were so many people that moving around was almost impossible. Getting in was a lot easier than last year--I came a little after the show opened and was able to walk right through the doors--exhibitor's badge or not.

Once inside, though, the show just...I don't know. it felt different, is all.

The pricing certainly had something to do with this feeling. Because the convention cost so much (and I know this for a fact) for a retailer, artist, or small press publisher to set up at, prices needed to be altered accordingly.

There were items on sale for multiples of actual cost, and it seemed like all "name" artists started their show commissions at $100 to cover flights, hotels, and NYC living for a couple of days.

But I don't think the cost was the biggest reason why this con felt different from last year's show.

I think this year it became abundantly clear that the organizers--and the big exhibitors like Marvel and DC--wanted NYCC to become, essentially, San Diego. And not "San Diego Light," as it's been referred to in the past.

That's the big take-away for me from NYCC 2011.

This show has grown tremendously and from all accounts it seems like it will continue to grow. It wants to be everything San Diego is, but it's tough to do all that in a space as confining as the Javits Center.

And before you go all nutty on me--I realize that the Javits is a big convention center. But its area is not great (it's right off the Westside Highway) and it has limited access to restaurants and places outside of the con to hang out.

Sure, I know enough to head over to 7th Ave for some good places to eat, but for the most part people tended to congregate inside and directly outside the show. Which made for a lot of people standing around, let me tell you.

More than that, though, the Javits is not laid out for one big convention. Rather, it's set up for several smaller shows. And that makes traversing the corners and hallways of a massive con like NYCC rather difficult as many more people than should the spaces allow try to cram through hallways from one exhibit floor to another.

Nathaniel: Compounding the issue is that the Javits Center wasn't just hosting Comic-Con; the New York Anime Festival was there, a part of Comic-Con. But not as a part of Comic-Con. Let me get this out of my system, and then we'll move on to the happy stuff.

First, let's look at the floor plan for this convention (click to enlarge):

There were two Artist Alleys in completely separate locations--one for comics and one for anime--yet all the panels and screenings for both conventions were in the same area downstairs, and all the anime and manga vendors were strewn about the Dealers' Room (or the "Show Floor") alongside all the other vendors. It's no wonder the halls were so crowded--the Anime Festival alone was so disjointed that people who came exclusively for that convention had no choice but to push through 3/4 of the convention center any time they wanted to go from one place to the other.

The convention organizers made an obvious attempt to change the location and layout of certain areas that suffered from excessively heavy traffic last year, but I'm not sure that traffic flow improved at all...and the lines just got worse.

I remember how annoyed I was at PAX East for having to wait in line at least 30 minutes to get into any panels or presentations. Aside from a screening of Fate/zero, the prequel to an anime series I saw in college and liked well enough, I missed everything I had any interest in attending. Unless you were in line two hours in advance, there was no guarantee you'd get in--and even that wasn't enough time for some panels.

The panel on the upcoming Avengers film was, unsurprisingly, the entire reason some people came to the convention. Never-before-seen footage and special guests such as the dude who played Captain America? What comics fan wouldn't want to go? Certainly not my brother-in-law, who arrived at the queue for the panel some three hours before it was scheduled to begin...only to find that the line had reached maximum capacity some 4 hours before he got there.

I've heard of people waiting in line overnight to see the latest Star Wars movie, so perhaps this shouldn't surprise me. Seven hours, though? Possibly as many as 12 hours or more for the people who got there first? That's not right. If rabid fanboyism or convention overcrowding were entirely to blame, I could more easily shrug it off, but look at just a few of the other panels and events competing with The Avengers:

- A SyFy Channel original movie about zombies
- A panel concerning an anime I've never heard of called Fairy Tail
- A talk with the developers of the Dragon Age video game series
- A conference on social realism in Spanish comics
- A pizza party

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. At least the Dragon Age panel had the sense to tout actress Felicia Day as a reason to attend, but still, I saw no place any mainstream comics fan would rather be. As was the case with Wil Wheaton's keynote speech at PAX East, there was no overflow room with a video screen set up so that latecomers could at least watch a live broadcast of this huge panel they couldn't get into.

It doesn't annoy me that there were crowds and lines. It annoys me that they so easily could have been thinned out. Without the use of flamethrowers.

Alex: But, surely, there was something positive about the show, right? Well, sure. As long as you didn't mind enormous crowds--rumor has it there were 85,000 people Saturday alone--and you saved up some serious cash to get a fraction of the cool things that were available for sale.

And, also, for lunch.

I'm exaggerating (a little), and I really do want to focus on the positive aspects of NYCC 2011. But let's just finish this bit off, shall we? I think, when it comes down to it, New York Comic-Con has become something else entirely.

It's stopped being a comics convention (if it ever really was one in the first place) and it's become a pop culture event. Like San Diego or the Super Bowl, NYCC is mainstream news and it attracts true celebrity to its geeky, geeky halls.

And I'm not just talking Lou Ferrigno and Elvira. I'm talking major Holywood players--like Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson. And I'm not picking on Lou and Elvira--they're conventions mainstays and have a definite place in comic con history.

But when you start talking about people like the entire casts of both The Walking Dead and The Avengers in the same room in back-to-back panels? That's just...that's just an entirely different level, man.

With all that to distract people from the real star of the show--you know, the comics--you'd think that retailers took a hit. It's interesting, though. I've read some accounts online that say retailers did exceedingly well this year.
Which is great, and now that I think about it, that makes sense. Retailer booths were pretty much jammed throughout the show--sometimes to the point where even if you wanted to check out someone's wares you couldn't because of the row of people standing in front of them.

The wares, I mean.



That's a reasonable place to break, right? We'll pick up again tomorrow with Part Two, and we promise we'll jump straight into the action. There will be stories. There will be pictures. There will be...time to talk about that all tomorrow.

Oh. And also. Floating car:


JoeReviewer said...

Could one of you possible point me to an Exfanding post on conventions in general. This post has gotten me interested and I'd like to see a sort of basic summary on what a con should be or something like that.

Flashman85 said...

That's what we love to hear!

I just went back and updated the "Retrospective Conventioning" post from a few days ago to link to our intro to conventions, but here you go:


JoeReviewer said...


Mr. E [PostApocolyptica] said...

Seeing as I'm using my 3Ds, I would normally use my English skills and type a variety of long, complex and sophisticated sequence of words and phrases in order to describe the laborious task it puts itself through whenever I so choose to read such posts, but I won't.

Considering that you managed to "mash together" both yours and Alex's posts (or vice versa, depending on whom sees this) last year, having two whole posts to write about the Comic-Con is certainly something I wasn't expecting. Nevertheless, both posts are extremely interesting (I've read them both, but for some reason I feel like commenting on this one), and it definitely relates back to my review, where I said that it gives an insight to the stuff that goes on the quaint little town where Nathaniel Hoover lives, which I ended up using as part of a presentation in IT.

Anyway, enough with the typing, it's time to sort out MY blog!

Flashman85 said...

Mr. E: Thank you? I think "thank you" is appropriate here. You lost me with the entire second half of your second paragraph; I imagined you mumbling to yourself and walking away...