“Just a reminder, I’m off next week for religious reasons. Nerd Christmas.” – Me, to my assistant the week before NY Comic-Con.
It may sound like I was being flippant with my assistant about my time off for New York Comic-Con (NYCC) but the more I think about it, the more it is a little bit like Christmas: you’re always busy trying to get everything done in a short time span, eating too much at inopportune times (NYCC helped me perfect the art of walking and eating pizza in a crowd), stressed out about everything you want to do and how you’re going to get it all done but still having fun in the midst of it all. This was my sixth year at NYCC, having attended in the past as a professional (librarian), a speaker (for the professional day for the librarians), and a fan. This year, I also had the pleasure of being an exhibitor for a brief period of time when volunteering at the Geeks OUT booth (a nonprofit whose mission is to empower LGBTQ+ voices in geek culture).
As you can probably imagine, I saw a lot and did a lot. I’ll take a page out of the Multiversity TV recaps book and offer five main reflections.
1. Cosplay is for Everyone. Really, Everyone.
If you had to ask me my favorite thing about NYCC, it’s always the cosplay. I am in awe of anyone who puts time and effort into costumes and enjoy the creativity that comes forth.
Now, when I say cosplay is for everyone, I’m not just talking about a celebration of diversity in cosplayers’ genders, body types, etc. Though let me reiterate that is very much important, and very much wonderful to see. I’m also talking about the types of characters you see in cosplay. Sure, there’s your standard superhero cosplay (you can’t go wrong with the classics), or whatever’s dominating pop culture of the moment. This year, I saw cosplay inspired by the new take on Stephen King’s IT, and several mashups inspired by that one line in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. (“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”) But then there are those fans that go off the standard popular path of con cosplay and do it so very right.
A very appropriate choice for the 25th anniversary of A League of Their Own. This mom also brought her own little Stillwell Angel (not pictured) in a Rockford Peaches uniform.
I also love the kids’ day (Sunday). Who doesn’t love a child in a cute Halloween costume? This year, strong women were everywhere — so many girls dressed as Supergirl, or Rey, or Wonder Woman — with their families joining the fun. Contrast this with last year, where nearly every pre-teen and teen I saw was sporting a Daddy’s Little Monster T-shirt and Property of the Joker jacket. Harley’s relationship with the Joker is a mentally and emotionally abusive one, not a model for a healthy romantic relationship in the slightest. I had left NYCC 2016 wanting to shake every preteen girl (and her parents) and shout “Do you realize Harley is not a good role model for your daughter at all?!” The change in tone for this year was a breath of fresh air. To see girls choosing Rey or Wonder Woman — women not defined by their relationship status, women who make it a mission to fight for love and all that is good and right in the world, independent women — gave me so much hope for the next generation of fans.
2. ReedPOP got some logistics very much right…and some not so right.
The smartest decision ReedPOP made this year: having two entrances for fans. Normally, one walks anywhere from four to six blocks north of the actual entrance to the Javits Center to enter at the northern side of the building. This is great if you’re trying to get your 10,000 steps in, not so great if the weather is anything but sunny with moderate temperatures. In September 2016, New York City transit opened up a new subway station right at Javits Center (the 34th Street-Hudson Yards station, and it does boggle my mind why it is not named for the Javits), and ReedPOP took advantage of that this year by opening up an entrance to the con for fans right on the 34th Street side of the convention center, literally across the street from the subway! For me, who used that particular subway line to get to NYCC, this new entrance was super convenient for my commute, and was run very efficiently (no bottlenecks I noticed at the times of day I was there). All I had to do was walk across the street and I was right at the start of the action. Outside of dodging some passengers with luggage trying to board buses (the location of the Javits is also a stop for those looking to travel on the low-cost intercity bus line MegaBus), it was a reasonably stress-free way to start my day.
What didn’t work for me? The location of Artist Alley.
With the northern end of the Javits (the location of Artist Alley in years past, aka “the airplane hangar”) closed for expansion, Artist Alley was moved to the southern side of the convention center on the lower level. (This is the side of the Javits that is closer to the subway stop I mentioned in the previous paragraph. If you’ve been to NYCC in years past, you may remember this section, the 1E section, as both a theater for panels and a virtual reality showcase.) The placement allowed for fans who may have never checked out Artist Alley before to find it. I remember not actually going to Artist Alley myself until about 2014 or 2015 because I had no clue where it was! However, this is a smaller space, which means less artists can show their wares, and there’s less room for fans to move around safely and comfortably. (And anyone who was there on the Thursday of NYCC had the added “bonus” of a busted HVAC system in that space, making things very, very, warm.)
I’m not sure there is an easy solution to this until the construction on that northern end of the Javits Center is all done. Move Artist Alley offsite, and you run the risk of artists not being able to make their panels in the main space on time (or for new fans not familiar with Manhattan geography to find it). Keep it in the same space, and discomfort for attendees will drive people away, and limit the number of artists that can exhibit. I’ll be keen to see what ReedPOP does with Artist Alley next year.
3. Themes of social activism seemed amplified this year.
There’s always a thread of social activism through NYCC panels, mainly talking about various forms of diversity in comics. No doubt due to our current political climate, these panels took on an amplified sense of urgency, particularly the panel on the Kickstarter campaign “Mine!,” a comics anthology to benefit Planned Parenthood. With extra security present to shut down troublemakers, the panel was both a sobering reminder of the current state of affairs for women’s healthcare in the US, and a rallying cry to use our love of comics to promote the greater good.
Panels on that topic of diversity also took on that same tone of urgency and rallying cry, reminding creators and readers to (in the words of Tee Franklin), “season our comics.” While there are still people out there that don’t take too well to this (there was an incident with a comics retailer criticizing Marvel at their retailer panel for making Iceman gay), the embrace of diversity from creators and readers alike is winning. Which is good, but does not mean that this battle is won.Continued below
4. Marvel Missteps
Something about Marvel just didn’t seem right to me this year. They had a great booth that always seemed packed, but the weekend was not without omissions and missteps.
Of course, we all know that Marvel pulled its Punisher panel (and canceled other promotion worldwide) after the Las Vegas shooting, leaving them with a big hole for a show that had been teased intensely on social media for most of the last month. I had a suspicion that the formal release date was due to be announced at that panel, and another rumor I heard was that it was going to drop right on Netflix as soon as the panel ended. No one can argue against this move: it was absolutely the right thing to do, and I wish it has been done sooner, instead of 48 hours before the panel was scheduled.
Another hole I noticed was a Chris Hemsworth-shaped one. With Thor: Ragnarok dropping in less than a month , I really didn’t see much of anything wide-scale for the movie. My only conclusion thus far is that the big promotional push was at San Diego Comic-Con, but with the largest convention in the eastern half of the US less than a month before the movie’s release, it didn’t make sense to me that there wasn’t a panel or a screening.
The third “uh oh” that came up this weekend was a partnership that already seemed questionable on paper and completely failed in execution. On Saturday, Marvel was due to announce a collaboration with defense giant Northrop Grumman for an all-ages Avengers comic featuring “Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus” heroes side by side with the Avengers. The intention was to focus on aerospace engineering and technology. The internet saw it as anything but: comments likened it to “war profiteering,” a “partnership with death merchants,” among others. (Let us not forget Tony Stark, who built his fortune in the weapons industry, later walked away from it after he saw its effects.) The announcement and the partnership were canceled by the end of the weekend.
Add in to all this the lukewarm-to-horrible reception that the Inhumans TV series received, and it hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for the home of Spider-Man and Captain America.
5. Much Humanity. Much Nerds. Much Awesome?
I left the topic that I’m sure is on everyone’s mind for the very end: the crowds. Early attendance figures show that over 200,000 attendees came to NYCC 2017, and that’s awesome, especially for someone like me who remembers days when it wasn’t cool to like nerd culture. But at what cost do we sacrifice safety for fans and employees for popularity? There were more than a few times in these crowds I did fear for my safety, or for the safety of people around me (especially children). These were times I wondered if a fire marshal had been on site to view crowds and limit entry into the Javits because (God forbid) if the worst happened, there would have been an incident on par with the Who concert disaster in Cincinnati in 1979. ReedPOP has answered some of these concerns: signage encouraging fans to not block the aisles and expansion of programming to other venues, including Madison Square Garden and the New York Public Library. Yet, people still flock to the home base of Javits Center, because that is where the action is, the main set of panels, the exhibitors, the artists. Until the construction of the Javits Center is complete (scheduled for 2021), NYCC is going to be a case of a lot of humanity in a smaller Javits Center footprint. As with Artist Alley, I’ll be keen to see how ReedPOP continues to overcome these challenges.
I’m also left boggled by the decision to sell only single day passes this year. ReedPOP’s official line was due to the construction, which, in post-con reflections, is very fishy to me. Never was there a more appropriate time to have multi-day passes, to allow fans the flexibility to skip a day if needed. With only single passes, there’s a pressure to get your money’s worth, which means you’re going to want to be on the main con campus all day. And because that makes perfect sense, everyone has that same idea . . .which leads to the crowds that I have a love/hate relationship with for the duration of the con. The cynic in me says that the true reason was money. They are a for-profit corporation, after all. I truly hope ReedPOP, being a company that professes its love for the fans, reconsiders this decision and brings back the multi-day passes for 2018. It will make fans happier not just for saving money, but for their health and safety.Continued below
New York Comic-Con will be back next year at the Javits Center on October 4 – 7, 2018.