(Ed. Note – Cosplay photos will be posted in a separate entry)
It’s been said that the long and bloody pop culture war has finally come to an end…and we nerds have won.
One would only have to step foot inside the gargantuan Javits Center for a few moments at any point during the second weekend in October to witness this reality; this paradigm shift in entertainment media dominance and across the board social acceptance for those of us who dress up as Avengers, play League of Legends like its our job, wait in interminable lines for autographs from guys who shoot zombies with a crossbow on TV every week, spend thousands of dollars on Lego sets, and rush to the cineplex on midnight opening day to see our favorite superheroes get the big-budget Hollywood treatment. New York Comic-Con is the ultimate celebration of geek culture – a four-day extravaganza of armor, lightsabers, capes, magic hammers, swords, cybernetic parts, loincloths, bows and arrows, web-shooters, laser blasters, and enough spandex and nylon to (snugly) swaddle a small country…and it’s only getting bigger.
This year, New York Comic-Con boasted an unprecedented 151,000-plus attendees, drawing more fans than the grandaddy of them all, San Diego Comic-Con, making NYCC the largest pop culture/media/comic book convention in North America. This is bad news for comic purists hoping to have a more intimate experience, but great news for East-Coasters who can’t regularly afford to fly cross-country and stay at expensive hotels looking for more celebrity panels, movie/TV show announcements, and exclusive trailer/footage premieres close to home. This includes myself and my two LeagueCast co-hosts, Adam Moreau and Shawn Carter, and we were once again there to experience the convention floor, take cosplay photos, attend panels, peruse the thousands of pieces of comic art, and simply bask in the geeky splendor. Oh, and provide coverage of this magnificent nerd mecca so we can continue attending, of course! Now usually, I’d break the convention down into various categories and review how NYCC fared with a letter grade, but I’m bored with that format. Instead, I’ll just chronicle our experiences and share some photos, and you can decide for yourself whether or not New York Comic-Con is worth your hard-earned cash.
New York Comic-Con 2014 was busier for us than prior years, as we had several high-profile interviews lined up (which you can listen to on episode #45 of our LeagueCast podcast), a prepaid photo-op with the Immortal Hulk Hogan scheduled, and Marvel Studios’ Daredevil Netflix panel to attend.
We kicked off the day on Friday with an exclusive sit-down interview with Sir Richard Taylor, who any self-respecting Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit fan should immediately recognize as the founder and creative director of the New Zealand-based Weta Workshop — the special effects house that provides Peter Jackson with all the armor, swords, bows, spears, wizard beards, orc makeup, and miniature Elven architecture he needs in order to bring Middle Earth to life on screen. The Weta staff were all super nice and accommodating, granting us access inside the Weta booth to chat with Taylor right underneath the massive head of Smaug, the great and powerful!
Over the course of 25 minutes or so (which you can hear on LeagueCast #45), Sir Richard answered Adam’s Hobbit and Lord of The Rings-related questions with wit, charm, and eloquence, and was an all-around outstanding gentleman (not to mention a hell of an artist and craftsman). Afterwards, Sir Richard took the time to write lengthy, personalized autographs for Adam and Shawn, and when we asked him to pose for some photos with us, he asked us one of the greatest questions we had ever been asked: “Want to take them out in front of the dragon?”
Following the Sir Richard interview, we hit the con floor to soak up the sights and sounds. Since it was still relatively early, the red-carpeted aisles and pathways weren’t too difficult to navigate, and we were able to check out tons of toy displays from MacFarlane Toys, Diamond Select, Mega Bloks, Lego, and others. We also browsed the massive Superhero Stuff booth, which boasted t-shirts and hoodies for basically every superhero in existence. Comic book long boxes and original comic art pages dotted the mammoth showroom, as did vendors hawking video games, movie posters, paintings, magnets, mugs, stickers, key-chains, stuffed plush toys, and other assorted merchandise from every major genre property there is — if you can’t find something to buy related to your favorite show, comic, movie, etc,. at NYCC, you aren’t looking hard enough. Oh, and did I mention the GIANT Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, and other major publisher booths, chock full of goodies and autographing areas? Yeah. The bottom line is, the show floor itself is pretty awesome, when it’s navigable. (This becomes difficult at peak hours on Saturday.)
We soon stumbled across the Travel Channel’s Toy Hunter himself, Jordan Hembrough at his vintage toy booth, and Adam posed for a photo with he and his partner Steve (sadly the show has been cancelled). Afterwards, we split up to tackle some early afternoon interviews. Adam and Shawn high-tailed it back to the Weta booth to interview conceptual artists Paul Tobin and Nick Keller, and I made my way up to the press lounge to sit in on a round table interview session with Community creator Dan Harmon, producer/voice actor Justin Roiland, actress Sarah Chalke (Roseanne, Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother), and actor/comedian Chris Parnell (SNL, Archer, 30 Rock, Anchorman). The four were at NYCC to promote the absolutely bonkers Adult Swim cartoon Rick and Morty, which features an anxious 14-year old nerd who helps his mad scientist grandfather with various experiments and inter-dimensional insanity. (Think a Doc-Marty from Back To The Future relationship, if Doc was a twitchy meth tweaker).
At round table interview sessions, you sit at a table with a dozen or so other journalists and if you’re lucky, you can sneak one question of your own in before the ten-minute time limit is up. Thankfully, I was able to get a question in for each session (one with Dan and Justin, and one with Sarah and Chris), and I even managed to crack Sarah Chalke up with a quick one-liner after she questioned what my audio recorder was. (You’ll be able to hear that on the podcast as well). I’m a HUGE Community fan, and a big follower of Dan Harmon’s infamous behind-the-scenes exploits, so needless to say, the opportunity to sit right next to guy and get him to come to life and engage me on a question I posed was a very big deal to me. If you have a website, blog, podcast, or what have you, NYCC offers excellent chances to engage geek culture celebrities.
While I was in the press room, Adam and Shawn were out in the press lounge lobby, and managed to hang out a little bit with actor Jerry O’ Connell, and managed to snap a few pics of writer/director/geek culture icon Kevin Smith and his hetero life-mate Jason Mewes, as well. Not a bad way to wrap up day one.[divider]
Despite Saturday being the most heavily trafficked day of the convention, it was our “easy” day – we had no interviews scheduled, and the only appointment we had was a celebrity photo op, so we were free to wait in line for a panel of our choice and spend plenty of time wandering the floor, browsing artist alley, and snapping some cosplay photos. After doing some strolling, we headed down to the photo-op area to briefly meet and get a nice, slick professional photograph with one of our childhood icons, The Immortal Hulk Hogan. When it comes to meeting your favorite celebs at NYCC, you essentially have two options: you can bring an item to be signed, wait in line, and pay a varying fee (anywhere from 25-100 bucks, usually), or you can pre-pay for a professional photo-op in the same price range (these ops do not include autographs). If you go the autograph route, be prepared to wait in INCREDIBLY long lines for hours, especially if it’s a particularly popular star. Here’s a photo of the line for Arrow actor Stephen Amell, for example:
Now, personally, I couldn’t care less about having someone sign a DVD cover or glossy 8X10, but actually getting to shake someone’s hand and have photographic proof of the encounter that you can look at forever? That’s a much better option, in my humble opinion. It’s also way more convenient, as you register online before the con, pay, and show up at your allotted time. You still have to wait in a line, but 30 to 45 minutes is a whole hell of a lot better than between 3-5 hours. You can have a nice celebrity meet-up without blowing the entire day. Here’s how our photo with one of the all-time great ’80s pop culture icons came out:
After we snapped our pic with the greatest wrestler of all time, we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the press room, and I headed down to the massive artist alley to visit some friends who were vending their artwork and to pick up a print or two for myself and my girlfriend. I decided to snag an autographed print from one of my favorite ’80s G.I. Joe cover artists (and all-around comics great) Michael Golden. Recently, some high-profile comics artists and other professionals have expressed their disillusionment with huge comic-cons, believing cosplayers, gamers, and new-blood “spectators” attending cons simply to snap pics, see celebs, and generally attend for the “experience” of the thing are clogging aisles and ignoring comics artists, leading to low sales numbers; but after visiting New York’s huge, spacious Artist Alley, I cannot imagine this is the case here. NYCC does a very intelligent thing and puts all of the comic professionals signing and selling artwork in one wing of the building, so the only people making the hike to Artist Alley are the diehards who are ready to buy. There’s no question NYCC is one of the premiere places to see your favorite comic book artists. Just off the top of my head, I can rattle off a list of pros I saw while browsing the Alley: Greg Capullo, Scott Snyder, Humberto Ramos, Howard Chaykin, Gail Simone, Jim Cheung, Mark Bagley, Michael Golden, Rob Liefeld, Ed McGuinness, Joe Rubenstein, and more. (Here’s a complete list.)
With my purchases secured, it was time to head to the “queue room” outside NYCC’s Main Auditorium to wait in line for good seats to the panel we chose to attend. Living on the East Coast of the U.S., I was always filled with jealous rage when I would read about the San Diego Comic-Con attendees lucky enough to get a seat in Hall H and witness Marvel Studios or Fox or Warner Brothers panels, each one chock full of celebrity appearances, details about the hot new superhero or sci-fi movies, and—best of all—exclusive trailers or sizzle reels. These kinds of massive panels never really make it to NYCC, but this year was an exception; Marvel Studios announced a panel for their upcoming, groundbreaking Daredevil live-action series, and when I found out about it, my heart surged with adrenaline. There was no way in hell I was going to miss the opportunity to see some brand new Marvel Studios footage and listen to the showrunner Steven DeKnight and the cast discuss the tone and characters of the series.
This year NYCC introduced a new, wristband-based panel policy that worked out very well for us, and seemed to be a vast improvement over the old way the Main Stage was filled. In prior years, thousands of people would rush for the “queue room” as soon as the con doors opened, wait in line for a couple of hours, fill the main auditorium and simply camp out there all day, sitting through all of the panels regardless if they were interested in it or not, just to get to the one they did want to see (usually The Walking Dead panel). This year, however, the theater was emptied after each and every panel, and the next color-coded wristband-wearing group was let in. The system is still somewhat flawed, in that you have to race down to the queue area to get your wristbands as soon as the doors open in the morning, and wait in one of the various lines for a wristband. It took us about two hours of waiting in the Daredevil line when we arrived at the Javits Center at around 9:15 AM, but we were able to secure out wristbands and head out of the queue room to enjoy the show floor, and return later.
The panel was set to kick off at 5:15, so at around 3:30 we got in the appropriate line with only around 40 people ahead of us, guaranteeing a great seat close to the stage. The feeling of excitement and electricity in the room was palpable as Marvel Studios TV head Jeph Loeb came to the podium to greet us, thank everyone involved in the new series, and bring out the cast of the show — Charlie Cox (Daredevil/Matt Murdock), Vincent D’Nofrio (Kingpin), Deborah Ann Woll (Karen Page), Elden Henson (Foggy Nelson), Ayelet Zurer (Vanessa), Shawshank Redemption‘s Bob Gunton (Leland Owlsley aka The Owl), and Vondie Curtis-Hall (Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich), as well as showrunner Steven DeKnight. Loeb conducted an awesome Q&A with the actors (D’Nofrio is going to KILL IT as The Kingpin, describing him as a “child and a monster”) and introduced five total scenes – a battle between an early version of DD (No costume, just a bandana) and a thug in Karen Page’s apartment; a quiet but menacing scene between Kingpin and Vanessa; a scene where Rosario Dawson tends to Matt’s wounds; a lighthearted scene where Karen is hired by Matt and Foggy; and finally an extended opening fight scene that featured plenty of intensity, grit, violence, and hard-hitting action. It all looks INCREDIBLE. Daredevil looks to have a dark cinematic look with tons of grit and tremendous depth-of-field unlike anything they’ve produced so far, including all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Anyone who claims Marvel Studios material is too lighthearted, slight, lacking in real stakes, and devoid of compelling drama or brutality is about to be proven VERY wrong by this amazing-looking series.
When the panel came to close we had smiles plastered on our faces, but sore, beleaguered bodies and dead feet. It was time to head home and put another NYCC in the record books; one filled with lasting memories and a big time panel experience I won’t soon forget. A trip to New York Comic-Con can be draining, exhausting, expensive, and even painful, but it can also be fun, rewarding, and vastly entertaining if you plan accordingly and maximize your time. Now that it’s the biggest geek culture convention on the planet Earth, it can take some pretty big steps to become the best, as well.
Here’s a massive NYCC floor gallery: