REVIEW: New York Comic Con
Whew…I’d forgotten how exhausting Comic Con can be. This weekend saw Comic Con return to New York City for the first time in 18 months, and this triumphant return saw several improvements over the previous show:
- The floor space was doubled. Artist Alley and Autograph Alley seemed significantly larger, and there were more exhibitors.
- Comic Con was held parallel to the New York Anime Festival. What could be more fun than comics, science fiction, fantasy, video games and anime?
- Massive gaming stations (for multiplayer computer games as well as tabletop gaming) were added if you were so inclined.
Unfortunately, I think the organizers underestimated the number of people interested in comics, video games and speculative fiction. This has been a chronic problem with the NYCC, dating back to several years ago when the fire marshal had to kick people out. By Saturday afternoon, this year’s show had sold out, and crossing from one end to the other was a 45 minute battle against a rising tide of costumed humanity. Next time, rather than squeeze another booth into every last square inch the organizers just drop one row of exhibitors and expand the traffic aisles so that the crowd can have better flow. It will make the experience a lot more pleasant for everyone.
That being said, there was a lot to do at Comic Con. Between walking the booths, talking to people, demo’ing upcoming video games and trying to grab a couple of panels it was a wild and exhausting couple of days. I tried to divide my explorations into some specific categories, and so here are the highlights that I walked away from the event with:
Literary (books, as opposed to comics)
I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the book publisher aisles. I had some general observations and some specific comments:
- The expanded floor space gave the publishers the opportunity to really stretch their space. Most of the big publishers had large booths (double, triple or quadruple booths seemed the norm).
- The publishers relied less on ARC’s (advanced reader copies) and galleys to pimp their titles: most (even the big houses) were making visitors purchase their books to a far greater degree than I remembered.
- I saw far more mass-market titles than trade, which while not terribly surprising was a little disappointing.
- Most publishers (large and small) offered good author signings. Standard practice was for an author with a new title out to be signing copies of a previous book that the publisher was giving away. A handful of publishers dropped the free give-aways and instead made people buy the books.
- There were several significant genre publishers whose absence was notable for me:
- Scholastic. This is a shame considering their excellent line-up of middle-grade and YA books (especially strong in the paranormal teen romance and quirky science fiction). While the other publishers there were all pimping their YA lists/imprints, Scholastic’s absence really stood out.
- Pyr did not have a booth. Considering the impressive list that they have put together and their excellent blend of commercial and literary appeal, I was really surprised. This audience would have eaten their stuff up like there was no tomorrow.
- Night Shade Books did not have a booth. This is not really surprising, considering their size: NYCC would have been an expensive proposition. But there were a bunch of other smaller-press publishers doing a brisk trade at the event, and considering what Night Shade’s list looks like, I’m sure they would have benefited from a presence.
- Genre magazine publishers were completely absent. Again, not a surprise considering the cost of exhibiting. But I can guarantee that most of the people on that floor are completely unaware of the existence of magazines like F&SF, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Apex, etc. I’m not sure if it’ll ever happen, but they may want to consider banding together and sharing a booth in the future if for no other reason than for mutual promotion. Couldn’t hurt and may help expand the audience.
- Tom Doherty Associates (Tor/Forge) had the best-organized booth layout, keeping it simple and classic and always having it manned by well-informed publicists, marketing reps and the occasional editor. The booth itself wasn’t terribly large, but the displays were thoughtfully set up and very well managed. On display were a handful of books from their 2010 lineup and book plates for titles on their 2011 list. I was a little disappointed by the paucity of their author signings however, as they only had a handful of authors there (their major headliner being Brandon Sanderson).
- HarperCollins had the weakest booth of the lot. That’s not to say that they have weak books – but their event management just sucked. They had some interesting looking books displayed, but the booth was so understaffed that I couldn’t ask anyone about them. I was there all day on Friday and Saturday and spent quite a lot of time in the vicinity of their booth, but only saw one (rather beleaguered) person manning it both days. The displays themselves were not terribly well done, typically displaying only a handful of copies of select titles. The impression I had was that they were not really serious about marketing to the NYCC crowd, which is somewhat surprising considering the popularity of their competitors’ booths.
- Penguin Group had a rather sizable showing. The staff were generally knowledgeable, friendly, and had decent displays. Their primary strength was their large number of author signings (including Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, etc.) but the downside was that you either had to bring the authors’ books to the signing or buy them beforehand on the other side of the booth…about 30 feet away. That might not seem bad, but it’s really crappy event management: traveling 30 feet at Comic Con is a challenge, and having to do so after spending 15 minutes in line and then spending another 15 minutes in line after the purchase is quite annoying. It wouldn’t have been that hard to have a stack of books at the signing and tell people to pay for them after they’ve been signed. First Second Books (a smaller graphic novel press) managed that type of setup quite well and if Penguin had tried it, things would have flowed smoother and far fewer people would have been frustrated.
- Random House had by far the biggest showing of the lot. They practically took up two whole sections of one aisle, although all of their imprints were basically doing their own thing. I didn’t have too many notable comments on the Random House crowd, other than a general observation that they seemed to have fewer author signings than the other publishers.
Video games seemed to occupy a third of the floor space (that’s not a complaint). There were far too many upcoming games for me to comment on all of them, so instead I’ll just focus on the ones that most appealed to me:
- James Bond 007: GoldenEye for the Wii. I loved the original Goldeneye game on the N64, and they have made an awesome new version of it for the Wii. Gameplay will be instantly recognizable to anyone who played the N64 version. The graphics have been updated (though seeing this on an Xbox-360 or PS3 would be even cooler), and the multiplayer is awesome as it ever was. Don’t know how the single-player mode runs, but multiplayer was great.
- Disney Epic Mickey for the Wii. This game looks awesome. Set in a dark and twisted world of rejected cartoons, you play as Mickey trying to bring some brightness with a magic paint brush. The graphics are great, the gameplay looks fun (I didn’t get a chance to play myself, alas), and the story is just dark and twisted enough to be awesome.
- Captain America: Super Soldier for every system out there. If you loved Batman: Arkham Asylum, odds are you’ll love Captain America: Super Solider. The gameplay looks very similar (they weren’t letting anyone play the demo, but the videos and the in-person demo’s by the reps looked identical). I loved Arkham Asylum and I’m definitely buying the new Cap game as soon as it hits the shelves.
- Dead Space 2 for all the major systems. Looks like the original, only with some cool new gameplay features thrown in (jetpack!). The fun part seems to be what they’re doing with the story, basically giving Isaac a little more character and initiative than he had in the first game.
It is incredibly unfortunate that the New York Anime Festival was relegated to a single room in the deep underbelly of the Javitz Center. I found it near the end of my second day at the Comic Con, when I only had the strength to dash through the aisles pretty quickly. It seemed to be primarily full of anime artists and cosplay fans – which on the whole seemed neat – but its location was unfortunate. I wanted to find more dark, interesting anime/manga (Naruto is not my scene) but I was too late getting there to have the patience to find any. Maybe if it were better positioned, I would have thought to spend more time there sooner and found something cool. Maybe next time.
I attended (or tried to attend) several panels that I thought might be cool, but again the organizers let me down. The first panel I tried to attend had a neat title: “The Search for Humanity through Utopias and Dystopias”. Just the kind of dorky little panel that I find fascinating and fun. The panel started thirty five minutes late because of technical blunders. By that point, boredom had set in and the presentation didn’t help. Maybe I’m spoiled by corporate presentations and research papers from my day job, but I know people in the comic book industry can present well. Unfortunately, the organization of this panel was atrocious and the content ended up uninteresting.
The second panel I went to – “Editors on Editing Comic Books” – actually came off without a hitch. I found it really interesting and informative. On stage were veteran editors from the three big houses (DC, Marvel and IDW) and they basically told the audience the truth about breaking into the business. It was refreshing to see the editors pull no punches. They told the packed room that each editor has writers, pencillers, letterers, inkers and colorists who they have worked with successfully in the past, and that these colleagues are looking for work. Translation: if you want to break into the business, you need to be technically better than the current professionals, and overcome the “relationship advantage” that your entrenched competition already has. That’s a tall order, and I saw a lot of disappointed faces in the crowd. But hey, that’s the truth of it. Probably the truth of it in any medium. Those creators who internalize that message will do better work because of it, and invest the time (often years) needed to build relationship in the industry.
The organizers dropped the ball on the third panel I tried to attend as well. It was the fantasy writers’ panel, and it sounded like it would be a lot of fun with Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik and Peter V. Brett. But alas, the organizers shoehorned the event into a tiny room far off in a distant corner. By the time I got there (fifteen minutes before the panel was due to start) it was standing room only. I was three people away from the door when the organizers said “No one else! Get out of here!” and shut the door. Did the organizers think that comic book fans wouldn’t be interested in fantasy? They should have given this panel one of the larger rooms available.
I have become so disillusioned over the writing in comic books over the years, that I have to admit they’re last on my list. That’s ironic, considering that I spent about twenty hours wandering amidst the crowd of the New York Comic Con. But it was really telling that when listening to comics editors speak about their work, they openly admit to focusing entirely on the art and not caring so much for the writing. That’s understandable, considering that good art is a must-have for a decent comic book, but it’s still sad to hear editors (editors!) say “I’m in comics so I don’t have to deal with words.” There are a few exceptionally-well-written comics out there (Fables?). I tried to find some more, but alas no luck. Oh well.
I’ll definitely be looking forward to NYCC next year. Mark your calendars for October 14 – 16, 2011!