Being a geek, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those who now control and drive pop culture media is both the best and the worst thing in the world right now. That dichotomy is no more evident than at New York Comic-Con, the ever-expanding and an increasingly maddening little brother to the San Diego Comic-Con. And if the former is Nerd Xanadu, than New York would have to be considered Nerd Valhalla; less shining opulent paradise, and more sweaty, blood-stained battlefield where the spoils of war are only attained after hacking through throngs of cardboard Thunder Gods and spandex Valkyries.
Or perhaps Nerd Purgatory is more apt, due to the endless lines and all of the waiting, waiting, and more waiting you’ll do with the promise of enlightenment in the form of a five-second encounter/photo-op with geek luminaries like Felicia Day or John Barrowman; or dazzling riches like con exclusive action figures and variant collector’s issues waiting for you at the end of the labyrinthine queues of lost and hungry souls.
Now, you might have the impression that I had a terrible time at this event and that I’m leaning towards warning all of you to never dare set foot inside this temple of fool’s gold. But, while I didn’t exactly have the best time at New York Comic-Con this year—a lot of it was damned frustrating, to be honest—the sights, the sounds, and the opportunities for unique encounters at the show are more than worthwhile. For example, I ended up at an Irish Pub having a burger and beers with a bunch of cartoonist and illustrator friends, and among the ranks was V for Vendetta artist David Lloyd. That was pretty damn cool. I also got to have my photo taken with G.I. Joe and Wolverine author Larry Hama, who was a childhood icon of mine and the man who introduced me to comic book storytelling.
This was in addition to the usual geek eye candy that stretches from one end of a vast sea of red plush carpeting to the other – sexy, crazy, and awesome cosplays; action figures and highly detailed premium sculptures behind lighted glass cases; endless aisles of comics and trade paperbacks; t-shirts, hoodies, and other apparel emblazoned with the logos of every superhero imaginable; vendors selling rare items from all the major geek properties – Star Wars, Dr. WHO, Star Trek, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and more; Lola, the flying red convertible from TV’s Agents of SHIELD behind ropes at the huge and colorful Marvel Comics booth; a glittering maze of LCD screens with playable demos of all the hottest new video game titles from Nintendo, PS3, and XBOX; and a kisok that featured—I kid you not—Stan Lee cologne. Excelsior!
So while the New York Comic-Con can often feel like a slog—or at worst, a war—if you plan, work hard, and aren’t afraid to sweat and bleed for it, you can come away from the battleground feeling triumphant and rewarded.
Time for the letter grades:[divider]
The Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan is a colossal steel and glass structure, but even this leviathan is starting to feel claustrophobic and bursting at the seams trying to accommodate the record 130,000 geeks jammed into its foyers and food courts. This number of attendees now makes the New York Comic-Con roughly the same size as San Diego, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that both events are outgrowing their facilities. Right now, the California convention center is trying to push through a controversial measure to add over 740,000 more square feet of floor and panel space to its current 525,000, while NYCC is making due with 760,000 total, with no real room for expansion in its present location. As geek culture becomes more and more ingrained in the popular vernacular, the masses of crowds are only going to get worse. So, while the Javits is undeniably modern and aesthetically pleasing, with gorgeous panel rooms and a spacious, red-carpeted show floor, the writing is on the wall – this event is oversold and it going to have to cut down on passes sold in the future.[divider]
Cosplay is always a highlight at the New York Comic-Con, and 2013 is no different. We have a massive 179-picture set of cosplayers from the show floor, and that represents only a fraction of the thousands of lyrca, sheet metal, and duct-taped hordes of individuals showcasing their costuming skills and living the dream of becoming their favorite genre character for a day or two. This hobby has exploded into its own burgeoning (and strangely controversial) industry, with bona fide professionals like Yaya Han (who was in attendance) and Jessica Nigri leading the way, and cable networks like SyFy capitalizing on the movement with their Heroes of Cosplay program.
This was a down year for the con in terms of major announcements, surprise guests, and overall panel content. Added to this “meh” factor was the ridiculously frustrating wait times and the inability to access the “Main Stage” (where all of the major panels are held) without camping in it all day long. I was hoping to catch Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD panel, which was rumored to have surprise appearances by Samuel L. Jackson and perhaps even Elizabeth Olsen (the rumored Scarlet Witch). I felt that two hours was plenty of time to gain access to the room, regardless of how long the line was. Little did I know, that thousands of con-goers stormed the building at 10AM, ran directly into the “queue hall,” and parked their butts in the Main Stage, fully intending to sit through all of the panels (even if they weren’t interested in many of them). Since the hall isn’t emptied after each panel, I ended up waiting two hours in a massive line for nothing. The SHIELD panel started with what looked to be over 300 people ahead of me in line, and there was no way 300 people were leaving the theater, so I was denied admittance. It’s truly unfortunate that NYCC is following in the disturbing footsteps of San Diego’s infamous “Hall H” practices, where fans camp out overnight, literally spending 12 hours waiting in line, then 12 hours camped inside the panel room. It makes it impossible for folks like me who find the notion of doing that utterly insane…there has to be a better way.
At any rate, highlights this year included the aforementioned Agents of SHIELD panel with Agents Fitz and Simmons; a Walking Dead panel with most of the cast present, Dc’s 75th anniversary of Superman panel, the Marvel Comics panel, which featured a pretty big announcement from Neil Gaiman regarding the publishing return of Miracleman/Marvelman; the reveal of a new canonical Star Wars villain, the Inquisitor at the Star Wars: Rebels panel from Lucasfilm; a 50th anniversary Doctor WHO panel (another one that I was unable to get into, despite arriving an hour early); as well as panels covering Archer, The Venture Bros., The Walking Dead 10th anniversary (in publishing), and oodles more.
There was also a cosplay contest; after parties; con exclusive items; autograph signings (click here for a full celebrity listing); appearances by the Star Wars 501st charity group; a DC comics display featuring all of the Superman costumes from the 1979 film up to Man of Steel; and photo-ops with the Ghostbusters‘ Ecto-1 car, the Batman Forever Batmobile, and the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future.[divider]
There’s no issue with finding your way around the Javits Center. The ReedPop organizers do a terrific job with the floor maps, signage, and well-laid out programs. The challenge comes in navigating the place through the sea of humanity clogging the escalators, food lines, and passageways. Things get especially tricky and time-consuming when visiting Artists’ Alley, where all of the comic book illustrators and folks selling posters and prints are stationed. This area is separated from the main show floor by a long passageway that links up with the main foyer – a notoriously jammed and heavily trafficked location. Visiting this area requires some planning and foresight; it’s not uncommon to spend up to 20 minutes walking from Artists Alley to the main entrance or the show floor during the busiest periods on Saturday.[divider]
If you purchase your tickets in advance, the prices are very reasonable for what is basically the second-largest comic convention in the world. Single day passes range from 30-40 bucks depending on the day (Saturday is the most expensive), and you can get a full four-day pass for $85. That price gets you into just about every area of the convention, and all of the panels and events as well. Of course, you have to play extra to have an artist draw you a sketch, have a celebrity sign an autograph, or to pose for photos in the vehicles like the DeLorean, but that’s par for the course for any major convention. The food choices are also surprisingly decent and reasonably priced (for New York, anyway). Your budget will probably be busted by paying for travel, food, and accommodations in the city itself, but I can’t fault the convention for that.