The first annual New York Comic-Con was held this weekend, as is obvious from our extensive coverage of the convention. It's the first major convention with this level of talent and publisher participation to hit New York City in years, if ever. In the weeks leading up to the show, Reed Exhibitions, the conference organizer responsible for the New York Comic-Con, managed an incredible media blitz to promote the show that saw coverage in much of the major New York media. Saturday afternoon, the show became a victim of its own success when City Officials shut down the show for a long period due to safety concerns. Instead of the various publisher announcements being the big news of the show, it was the show itself-- its successes and failures-- that ended up being the big news.
The show opened to professionals at noon on Friday for an industry conference, while the public would be let it at 4:00 PM. I arrived at the show around 3:00 in the afternoon Friday. I began by making my way to the press office, where I was greeted warmly by the staff. They put through my request for press credentials right away and I was on the convention floor in minutes.
The hall itself appeared to be smaller than the one used for WonderCon two weeks ago, as were the aisles, but it was nicely laid out. Artists Alley was alley like, but it would really be best described as an Artists Horseshoe. It was placed around the outer edge of the convention hall and seemed to be the perfect way to handle what is usually a rather ghettoized section of most conventions. With it surrounding the convention instead of shoved off to one side, it made that section of the hall much harder to ignore. In fact, it was rather impossible to avoid spending some time in Artists Alley, which is a good thing.
Talking with exhibitors at the show, they all universally said the professional expo was a huge success. Book buyers, librarians and publishers eagerly spoke with exhibitors, many saying they've never had this kind of exposure to the publishing world. A number spoke of mainstream publishers approaching them with publishing and licensing deals. As one exhibitor quipped, it was a Publishers Paradise, which makes sense considering the city plays home to most of the major publishing houses in the United States.
Once the convention opened to the public at 4:00, the hall quickly filled with enthusiastic fans looking to score their first chance to spend time with their favorite creators. As the evening wore on, the hall became more crowded, with many concerned that Saturday could be a real mess. Two weeks ago at WonderCon in San Francisco, the show was shut down on Saturday for a short period by the Fire Marshall, then when it was finally reopened the number entering the hall was closely monitored. Would the same shut down be seen at the New York Comic-Con as well?
Ultimately, Friday could only be called a total success. A show with a lot of hype lived up to it and New York City saw its first major comic book convention take place in style. The layout was professional, the staff was helpful and courteous and the enthusiasm felt on the floor was infections.
I got a late start and missed an earlier ferry to New York from New Jersey-- where I stayed with a friend-- so I didn't arrive in the city until approximately 12:00. I had been in phone contact with CBR's Augie De Blieck Jr. when he arrived around 11:00 and said the line was already wrapping around the building outside in the cold. About 20 minutes later, Augie called to say City Officials had shut down the show. It was overcrowded already. Not a good sign.
I met up with Augie and we made our way down to the press office to get his press pass. The system which proved so efficient the day before, broke down under the crush on Saturday. Press members would fill out a credential request form, which was then taken upstairs to the printers. This process took about an hour to fulfill on Saturday, which left the press room with a number of rather frustrated members of the press, from online comics media to major media outlets like MTV and VH-1. All the while, reports were that no one was being let onto the floor and that ticket sales had been suspended. The line to get in began to snake around the inside of the Javits Center.
When Augie finally received his press pass, we made our way to the lobby to see what the situation was. What we discovered was a line of angry and disappointed fans, who weren't afraid to share their frustration. There were two lines, one for exhibitors, press and the like, and another for those with paid admission. I was told that those standing in the exhibitor line were left waiting for more than half an hour before being let in, while those in the paid admission lines waited much longer, over two hours according to some reports. People came to me with stories of crying children and angry attendees, who weren't afraid to get in the face of con staff, security personnel and even State Troopers. Many fans were turned away by security and told to try again tomorrow. After the show, I received a handful of e-mails from angry attendees who paid to get in, but decided to leave when the situation appeared untenable. It was clear the convention and staff were completely overwhelmed by fan interest, which led to periods of total disorganization and breakdowns in communication.
It was at this point that Augie and I decided to leave and get lunch. The situation at the convention center didn't appear it would get better in the immediate future, so we met up with some friends and made our way to Midtown Comics, one of the industry sponsors of the show. I've never visited Midtown Comics before, so I can't compare the level of traffic on this Saturday to any other day, but without a doubt the store was packed. I spoke with a number of people in the store who told me they made their way there after being turned away at the Javits Center. Midtown Comics became the overflow location for convention attendees.
During the lunch which followed, I stayed in regular contact with CBR staffers working the panels. They all told me the same story for hours: the show floor is closed or it's taking an unusually long time to get in the convention. And if you left the convention floor to attend a panel, use the restroom or get a drink, you weren't getting back in the hall any time soon. Professionals and fans alike were left in the lobby wondering when they might get back in.
Around 4:00 PM I got word they were slowly letting people back into the hall, so we all made the walk from Times Square (where we had lunch) back to the convention center. Indeed, the hall was once again open and it was still quite crowded around 4:30 in the afternoon.
I spoke with a number of exhibitors who said that during the shutdown it was standing room only in the convention hall. Most agreed city officials made the right call, that there was barely elbow room on the narrow aisles (reportedly only 8 feet in width) and the situation appeared dangerous at times. I was also told by a number of creators that the set-up of Artists Alley-- which worked so nicely on Friday-- was quite a mess during the heaviest periods on the convention floor. There was really no room for fans to line-up for creators without impeding the flow of traffic.
But, despite the insanity experienced on the convention floor, every retailer I spoke with were pleased with their sales on Saturday. And all of them said they would happily return in 2007 for the second edition of the show.
Despite the problems experienced on Saturday, I'd still have to call the show a success with some caveats. From what we saw on just Friday and Saturday, it's clear we have the makings of an excellent show. As often is the case with a new business that experiences quick success, there will be growing pains-- although rarely this dramatic. The New York City media blitz, plus the better than expected weather, proved to be a perfect storm that fueled interest in the show. And while the situation on Saturday was incredibly frustrating for everyone involved-- fans, exhibitors as well as convention organizers and staff-- the reaction to the show proves people are clearly interested in supporting a convention in the Big Apple.
Word is that next year the convention will be held in a larger hall. At this point I'd say the hall would need to be almost twice the size it was today to adequately service attendees. Reed Exhibitions will have to carefully look at how this years convention went down and make the necessary changes to avoid the same problems cropping up at the 2007, which currently is set to take place February 23-25.
As the saying goes, "Time heals all wounds." While the missteps of this convention won't be forgotten, they will likely be forgiven.
CBR's coverage of the New York Comic-Con is Sponsored by Comics Unlimited.