Two Cons, Two Weekends, One City: A Comparison

FilmBuffOnLine Comic Book Movie Editor William Gatevackes had the opportunity to attend the Big Apple Comic Con and the New York Comic Con on consecutive weekends. These are his observations.

Big Apple Comic Con, October 2, 2010:

I think the above photo presents a fairly accurate portrait of the Big Apple Comic Con. In the forefront, you have a mingling of a rather adult aspect of pop culture, in this case the alternative soft-core porn site Suicide Girls, with a big aspect of geek lore nostalgia in the form of some Star Wars cosplayers. In the background, far in the background, are some comic books.

Wizard World’s two forays into the New York market have been comic book conventions practically in name only. They bear more in common with the Chiller Theatre conventions than they do with San Diego Comic Con.

It wasn’t always this way. The Wizard conventions started off as your typical comic con. You would have a smattering of other pop culture items–your weapon sellers, DVD sellers, etc.–but the focus was on comics. It’s Chicgo convention was the one that people thought would one day rival SDCC.

Now the Wizard conventions have begun shifting into events where the promoters get in touch with outside agencies who represent a number of celebrities. These agencies provide the pop culture icons for the show. These stars sell their autographs anywhere from $20 up to $70 or more.

These celebrities were given the prime location–on the first floor directly in front of the front doors. The first thing fans saw were professional wrestlers and their booths. A cool breeze kept the temperature pleasant, and, while there was a bit of crowding at the entrance, but, for the most part, the space was roomy with freedom of movement.

Comic book creators, however, were consigned to the depths of the neighboring Hotel Pennsylvania, in the dank and threadbare basement of the Hotel. The Artist Alley was crowded into a small ballroom here, and it was hot and stuffy and barely passable.

The exhibitor area was on the third floor and had a eclectic mix of vendors. Yes, there were a number of comic book sellers, but there were also booths from storage companies in Manhattan, a company selling plus-sized underwear, and even a man speaking broken English trying to get people to sign up for some kind of estimates from Home Depot. It had the patchwork feel of a convention trying to get vendors–any vendors–to sign up so there weren’t any empty spaces on the floor.

As for a film presence, well, outside of celebrities like Julia Jones and Dan Fogler in the signing area, the biggest movie-related item attached to the con was IFC’s official DVD release of The Human Centipede. The three leads were at the con, and copies of the DVD were sold. I only passed by their booth once, and I found no crowds around the table and the people manning the table–the actors and the woman selling the DVD’s to be bored.

New York Comic Con 2010. October 8-10, 2010:

By contrast, the New York Comic Con wants to be the East Coast version of the San Diego Comic Con that it wears the fact of it on its sleeve. This might have been the year that it actually accomplished this goal.

This year’s con, which joined forces with the New York Anime Festival, welcomed an estimated 96,000 guests through its doors. It’s about 50,000 off from San Diego, but it’s getting there.

The number of people meant that even though the con had more of the Javits Center for its use, it was still cramped and crowded. The growing pains did not stop there. People were complaining about the volunteers, who often pointed them in the wrong directions and made them stand in wrong lines. Certain people at the Stan Lee meet and greet complained that it was well organized and when they got there, they were told they couldn’t shake Mr. Lee’s hand or have their picture taken with him–two selling points for the $400 ticket to the meet and greet–because Mr. Lee was under the weather. And some Manga/ Anime fans complained that they felt the NYAF was given a short shrift in comparison to the American comic industry.

But the important thing is that a lot of the focus of the NYCC was on comics. Artist Alley took over an entire wing of the convention floor. Dealers were in large supply. All the major publishers had booths and a lot of smaller publishers did to. And many aisles were taken up by small-press publishers, tying to get an audience for their work.

But what makes SDCC the biggest convention in the world nowadays is the influx of film studios. San Diego’s geographic closeness to Los Angeles makes it fiscally feasible for movie studios to go to that con to promote their wares. New York’s geographic distance from Los Angeles puts the NYCC far behind SDCC in this area. But there are signs that it is catching up.

FOX Home Video and Anchor Bay had booths at NYCC. Eric Bana came to the con to promote his new film, Hanna, and M. Might Shyamalan celebrated the tenth anniversary of his superhero themed Unbreakable here as well. Film actors such as Seth Green, Adrien Brody, and Bruce Campbell were on hand to hold panels and sign autographs for fans.

The NYCC and Big Apple cons were originally scheduled for the same day until the Big Apple blinked. This was a wise decision on behalf of Wizard, because it really would not be able to compete. The Big Apple is an example of Wizard’s conventions morphing into something other than a pure comic book convention. The NYCC is growing into a multimedia juggernaut that might soon rival SDCC in terms of size and prestige. New York may be able to support two major comic cons a year, but if it’s not, then NYCC will be the only major comic con in the city.

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About William Gatevackes 1934 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.

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I think my only disappointment with NYCC this year is the lack of movie panels in the IGN Theater. Sure we got the HANNAH panel (whose footage looks great) and Shyamalan (even though questions were pre-screened) but I was expecting some more. Disney blew it big time but not having a TRON panel this close to the release of the film. At the Feb `09 show they were able to be there to pimp UP, so I was surprised that they weren’t there this year.