IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES. . .
Didja hear the one about the fire marshal and 10,000 of his closest friends?
I think the best discovery for me from this weekend's New York Comic-Con was the ferry service across the Hudson. I took an 11:00 a.m. boat from Weehawken into the city, landing a block away from the Jacob Javits convention center. I'm a driving kind of guy. The train is annoying. You're stuck on it forever because it stops every thirty seconds just as it gets up to speed, there are plenty of people yapping all around you, and you're stuck with a schedule that means missing one train requires an hour-long wait for the next.
But with the ferry, there's another boat coming in twenty minutes if you missed the last one. The price is about the same as a round trip on the train. Parking is a piece of cake. And the trip across the river is all of seven minutes. As a bonus, I plugged the iPod in on the drive to the ferry and listened to some comic book podcasts. It was very freeing.
Here's a rough breakdown of the day for me:
11:07: The boat lands in mid-town Manhattan.
11:09: I'm in line outside the convention center.
11:15: Still in line, but about five feet closer.
11:20: Another five feet, at best, with an eight year old kid standing in front of me practicing his kung fu moves on unseen ninjas who so clearly surround him in his mind.
11:21: Ooh, look! The Jeopardy! Brain Bus is here holding contestant auditions at the travel fair that's also going on at the convention center this weekend.
11:30: A teenager in a black Spider-Man costume runs by to the squeals of a pack of teenaged girls in line.
11:31: Remember the ninja-fighting eight year old? He wants to get Spider-Man's autograph.
11:32: OK, I'm putting my gloves on. It's friggin' cold out. Thankfully, the wind isn't blowing. (That would come at night.)
11:40: The line starts moving. Too quickly. Rumors are starting to spread.
11:41: Yup, the guy on the megaphone is spelling it out: The fire marshall has closed off the convention center. If you don't already have your pass with a bar code on it, you're done. Suddenly, my lovely drive and ferry commute into the city is looking like a grand waste of time and $20.
12:00 noon: Jumping ahead a bit, CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland shows up at the con hall, and walks in with me. He gets us into the press room with little trouble. The most popular part of the press room? The coat rack. Piles of jackets are stacked against the wall, like something out a Salvation Army coat drive. There's also a computer with internet access set up, a long table filled with press releases, and a registration table.
12:05: I sign up for my press badge. Yay, it looks like I might get in, after all. Oddly enough, they wait to take batches of applications upstairs to print badges out. This process, they say, will take about a half hour. Hey, I'm in the building now. I can wait.
12:35: No sign of those badges yet, but I do get to chat with Heidi MacDonald, bust on Matt Brady whose fingers fly across the keyboard like a man desperately attempting to update his website in real time (oh, wait, he was), and run into some other old friends.
12:40: Jonah points out the CBR ad in the program guide. It proudly displays the names of all the columnists at the site. And while I'm honored to share the space with Erik Larsen and Robert Kirkman and Scott Shaw! and all the rest, my name is once again misspelled. I can't win. Jonah suggests changing my name to "De Block." I think it's too late.
1:00: There's a guy from VH-1 who's about to call it a day. He hopes to return on Sunday to get done what he needs to for "Best Week Ever," or whatever that show's title officially is.
1:05: I have a badge. In fact, they made two for me, but I only take one.
The problem now is that while I have a badge, they're still not letting anyone out onto the con floor. Nobody. Dan DiDio is seen in the line, passing out Superman pins to those waiting on line with him. No, this isn't guerilla marketing. DiDio is stuck in line, too, and making the best of it.
The whole thing has an eerie feeling of dj vu. There is something even more unsettling about seeing Mike Carbonaro handing out postcards advertising his Big Apple Comic Show to those waiting in line for the New York Comic-Con. His series of conventions began a decade ago when the fire marshal closed down the last big con scheduled for the Jacob Javits convention center, due to misfiled floor plans or some such. As people grew impatient to get into this con, there was Carbonaro promoting his show again. Wild.
1:10: Jonah and I decide to cut our losses and go out for lunch. Times Square isn't all that far off, so we can find something obvious, decent, and all tourist-like. On the way out, we run into a Pipeline Message Board regular, Jaime, and his friend, Peter. We all head out together.
1:30: We take a brief detour and head to Midtown Comics, a sponsor of the show and a local comics shop of near-legend. I've been there a few times in the past, but I've never seen it that packed. They might just be the biggest benefactors of the closed-down show. It seems like everyone who knew where they were and couldn't get into the con ran straight there.
I pick up three ASTERIX hardcovers. Sure, I already own ASTERIX IN BELGIUM, but this one has a hardcover. I can splurge on that, right?
The timeline is a bit cloudy from there, but we did lunch at the Hard Rock Caf, made a bunch of jokes about how the crowd in Times Square is dwarfed only by the masses at the convention center, and then headed back to the con, anyway.
It was 4:00 p.m. when we returned, and things had quieted down to an air of normality. People were going in and out freely. The show was open, with only three hours left in the day.
Now we can begin the usual con writeup.
Yes, the convention floor was very warm and very packed. Artists Alley was a particular delight. It was a true alley. All the artists sat at tables lined up along the far right wall. Six feet (although I think planners would claim eight) in front of those tables were the hanging curtains for the backs of the booths in the next aisle. Artists Alley looked like a bowling alley in the end -- artists on one side, curtains on the other. Whenever a single artist got more than three people lined up in front of them, it created a roadblock. I had to wonder if the fire marshal had really approved this plan. San Diego has done a wonderful job in the past couple of years with widening their aisles out far enough to make for a breezy con floor. I didn't expect anything quite so generous in New York City, but Artists Alley was a problem just waiting to happen. On the other hand, it was so closed off that there wasn't much cross-traffic in it. People attending that section of the con floor were there specifically for those people. It's not like people would accidentally chance upon Keith Giffen or Steve McNiven or Kevin Maguire there.
I did get the chance to chat for a while with both Giffen and his "Bwah Ha Ha" writing partner, J.M. DeMatteis. Every minute or so, someone else would stop by to ask for an autograph from the two of them of a random JUSTICE LEAGUE issue, most of which had Maguire's trademark cover design of all the characters starting up towards the reader. At one point, DeMatteis wondered just how many times Maguire had drawn that same cover.
Maguire, as it turned out, proved my undoing. I almost got off the show floor with all my money intact. Then, I ran into an original art dealer in Artists Alley with a stack of Maguire pages from JUSTICE LEAGUE and THE DEFENDERS. The JL pages were about twice as much as the DEFENDERS pages, so I picked up two DEFENDERS pages from the mini-series' first issue. They're hilarious pages, even without the dialogue present on them. You can appreciate Maguire's ability to "act" through his pencil all the more when the words don't act as a crutch. Seeing Nightmare and Doctor Strange arguing for ten panels, or Bruce Banner and Namor mixing it up for six, is something completely different in its penciled form. I'll have scans for you in a future column.
Todd Nauck squatted at Andy Lanning's table, doodling out sketches for fans who happened to find him. He had some exciting news that I can't share just yet. Sorry. For those of us who've been following his career since he was a teenager -- and I enjoyed those issues of NEW MEN, dangit! -- it's nice to see good work get rewarded.
I passed by Gene Colan's table a few times, and he always had someone new to talk to whenever I did. If I had just remembered to bring that TwoMorrows book about him with me, I would have hopped in line, too. I'll catch up to him at the next con, I hope.
Steve McNiven had times where I saw him with four or five people at his table, and others when he just sat quietly alone sketching. It was only much later that I realized he had drawn the NEW AVENGERS hardcover I had with me. I blew my chance to get that autographed.
Ran into C.B. Cebulski perusing tables in the alley, as well. There's a man who just can't get away from Marvel no matter how hard he tries. But, wait, he isn't trying! Great job! In the meantime, go check out his blog and track all his activities for yourself.
Outside of Artists Alley, I perused a couple of massively discounted graphic novel bins and walked away with nothing. It's very sad to see books you so happily paid full price for just a few months ago show up at 40% off at a convention. ::sigh::
The most horrible moment of the con, though, came at a booth somewhere in the middle of the con floor. A double-wide spread showed off the offerings from several French BD publishers, like Delcourt, Dupuis, and Glenat. They had tables filled with hardcover albums in their original French. Each was a gorgeous piece of art, with a variety of style and genres, the likes of which you only once in a while see begrudgingly in America. I wanted to see every last one of those books translated and published in the States tomorrow. I know that it'll never happen, though. So much potential sat on those tables -- and all of it wasted.
Thankfully, I have those ASTERIX books to carry me through the pain.
Peter Scolari had an end booth all to himself. As much as I enjoyed NEWHART, I couldn't bring myself to chat him up. I did find it funny to see him doing a sketch in someone's sketchbook, and what looked to be a portfolio review of someone else's. I wonder if there's a hidden artistic side of the man, or if he's putting together a comic project or something.
That was nothing, though, compared to the scheduled guest for Sunday: Gloria Steinem. She's promoting a comic of her own. Only in New York. . .
Spoke with Nick Barucci from Dynamic Forces about a few industry-related things. We've had our disagreements in the past on a couple of things, but I think -- I hope -- we ironed them out in true Jersey tradition. We screamed and yelled a lot and then shook hands and hugged like brothers.
At least, that's what Jonah said it sounded like. He's from California, though. He doesn't understand the East Coast.
Now, everyone go take a look at RED SONJA, or pre-order PAINKILLER JANE.
I saw a lot of people I wish I would have had the time to stop and talk to -- including but not limited to Mayberry Melonpool's Steve Troop, Image's Erik Larsen, and Danny Fingeroth. Unfortunately, given the tight time frame of the convention and the incessant need to be running somewhere else in that tight window, I never had the chance to stop to say hello. Dang fire marshall! I'll have stick to my standard out: "I'll see you all at the next convention."
SO, TO SUM IT ALL UP. . .
I'm still torn as to how to describe the situation surrounding this weekend's con. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer that the convention would attract a huge crowd, particularly given the support it got from inside the industry. The guest list started impressive and only grew from there as time went by. I think by the time Frank Miller announced his presence, though, anyone who was going to go was already making plans.
At the same time, you have to build in a learning curve for the crew behind this convention. Even with as much industry help as they received, running an event the first time is always going to be like playing pin the tail on the donkey in the dark, blindfolded. Growing pains are going to be part of this, and it would seem from their earliest reactions that they're handling this situation was well as could be expected. They're saying the right things, accepting blame, and planning next year's show to be bigger and better. (Quick tip to the organizers: By "bigger," I mean only in floor space. You don't need a larger guest list. Scale up thoughtfully, please.)
The big question now is how many people will trust them next year. Nobody wants to attend a show that runs into the same issues. Some people are not going to return to New York next year, no matter how many promises organizers make today. They'll want to wait to see if the situation improves in 2007 before considering 2007. There are enough established larger conventions to go around right now. Even with Wizard World appearing to shrink (bye bye Boston, with more on the way?), you still have WonderCon, San Diego, Megacon, Wizarld Worlds Philadelphia, Dallas, and Chicago, Small Press Expo, Heroes Con (soon to experience its own pains this year), Mid Ohio Con, and one or two others I'm sure I'm forgetting.
Having a comic convention in New York City worthy of the name -- and not a second rate show filled with the same local guests every month in a smelly church basement or hotel ballroom -- is an important thing, and something the industry needs to put together. The people behind the NYCC took the first steps this year, putting their money where their mouths are in an industry so desperately afraid of taking any chances. Let's hope they can garner the same kind of support next year and are able to fix what needs fixing for then.
If they don't do that, then this was just the latest big opportunity wasted by an industry that continues to shoot itself in the foot with short-sighted thinking.
Personally, it was a great weekend for me. Despite the troubles with organization, I discovered a new mode of mass transportation, got to see some old friends again and meet new ones, had fun traipsing about in the city, and had some of the fire restored to the comics-burning engines. By the time I made it back home Saturday night, I couldn't wait to read another comic and write this column. That's a good thing. It's far too easy to read comics in a vacuum, but that sucks the life out of the room, along with the air. Sometimes, it's good to geek out with a few thousand like-minded people.
While there's a big part of me that wants to rip into the organizers of this con with reckless abandon, I don't think there's anything to be gained from that for anyone. It's not like they don't understand the problem, or tried to cover it up. Let's just cross our fingers that things go better next year. If they don't, though, expect 3,000 words of invective.
Next week: I look at PREVIEWS. What comics are shipping in a couple of months.
Don't forget about the VandS DVD podcast, while you're at it, looking at each week's new DVD releases.
Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, DVD talk, Thursday Geek Talk, and more.
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