Last weekend I finally experienced the New York Comic Con. After hearing about it from my New York friends for years, I was looking forward to a very different kind of comic con from the comparatively parochial San Diego Comic Con. Somehow, having been to a few SDCC’s, Alternative Press Expo’s, and Wondercon’s I thought that NYCC would be more of the same, but like the city itself, the con is quite different.
The physical structure of the Javits convention center dictates some segregation of the convention. Panels are all on a windowless, lower ground level. This subterranean environment creates a sort of basic labyrinth, which can take a little while to navigate, (particularly if you take a wrong turn, and find yourself in a strange anime/cosplay/karaoke party. I managed to do that on my way to covering the outrageous Dean Haspiel panel, which you can read about as part of the NYCC coverage on CBR.) On the next level up is the main convention floor, with all manner of comic book publishers, game companies, and odd ephemera being sold. Unlike SDCC, there was very little big movie presence on that main floor, instead there was a dominant Intel area, and a slew of market stalls, where people buy costumes. On the same floor, but in a distinctly separate room from the main convention is Artist’s Alley.
Artist’s Alley is where the bulk of the interest is for me. Apart from the odd publisher signing, this is where the comic book creators are to be found, the people who write and draw comic books. Having the Artist’s Alley consigned to a separate room, found by navigating a network of dimly lit hallways was rather strange and created a slightly odd atmosphere, as if there were two conventions. This unfinished auditorium had none of the plush carpeting of the main room, and so extra achey feet were a side-effect of an interest in the medium. Despite this, the place was a hotbed of creativity, not just by exhibitors, but convention-goers too.
While wandering I met Christian Ward (Olympus artist), currently visiting from London, who told me about his upcoming work on an unnamed superhero comic which he aims to have finished by the end of next year. “I might get bored of drawing muscles” he said “but I LOVE drawing capes. Swirling lines, curving round. It’s wonderful!” Next I met David Messina (Star Trek adaptation artist), who spoke of the anxiety over his upcoming flight back home to Italy. I suggested that he drink some wine, but he explained that he has a complete immunity to almost all kinds of tranquilizers and sedatives. I remarked that this was a super power of sorts, to which he exclaimed “But it is a completely useless super power!” Personally I can’t help but wonder if his immunity to mood-altering drugs hasn’t contributed to his commitment to his art. San Francisco local Josh Ellingson was in attendance, and I asked about the inception of his new Fat Wonder Woman print. He recommended that I check out the website dedicated to the subject to see far more extreme versions of the rotund superhero. From Zander Cannon I bought his book The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA, (hoping that the detailed illustrations would help with me almost pathological inability to retain scientific information.) He explained how much he’d learned simply through the process of illustrating the book.
Stumbling aimlessly towards the exit of the convention center on the last day I was surprised to find a stall run by old design friends Chopping Block; the Chop Shop, selling the t shirt designs that they’ve become famous for. There I finally got to meet the one founder I never had; Thomas Romer, the artist responsible for the bulk of the iconic t shirts. I had to buy the amusing facial hair t-shirt; Dapper Men (141 Dudes) and we discussed the importance of facial hair on men, the viral nature of meme shirt graphics, and the illustrations that he did for Chopping Block over the decade or so. I left the convention excited to spend the evening wandering Manhattan.
This was false bravado on my part, because it being the last day of a convention, of course I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Managing to grab some pizza on my way back to the hotel, I made it back in time to lie on my bed like a zombie and wonder what happened. A giant convention is what happened, and next time I’ll make sure and keep it separate from my Manhattan vacation.
Before I got to New York, I had this fantasy about a comic book convention located in Manhattan that it would be like chocolate and peanut butter, you know; “two great tastes that taste great together”, etc. New York is an incredibly fun city to explore, and comic conventions are a great meeting place for entertainment creativity. This turned out to be a slightly optimistic viewpoint. Part of the problem is that Manhattan is just a little too awesome to host a comic book convention, not just in stature, but in size. Knowing how much of the city I wanted to explore overshadowed my enjoyment of the convention, and with friends scattered far and wide all over the city, socializing became rather complex.
Having half of my family on the East Coast meant visiting New York frequently over the years. This lulled me into a false sense of security, assuming that I would find the city relatively easy to soak up while at the convention. This was not the case, from the first night I arrived in New York I was quite the little tourist, wandering around staring up a lot and being confused by all the lights and crowds. How, in all of this spectacular urban beauty, was I meant to focus on a comic book convention? The answer was, not very well. I went every day, I spent time talking to comic book creators, friends and colleagues, but at the end of each day I resented being too tired to go properly site-seeing, or having feet too achey to walk around and discover the really good restaurants. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy New York, I did, a lot. But I wanted to enjoy it a lot more. New York is so big and sprawling that it would take an hour or so to get back to my hotel each evening, and after a long day of convention-ing, I felt like I was missing out on a big bad city.
Initially on my first morning at the convention, I was incredibly optimistic about it all. I even said to my friends “Why would I ever go to San Diego again? SDCC is incredible, but what else is there in San Diego? Here in New York you’ve got a wonderful convention in a marvelous city!” But by that evening I was already struggling to balance my desire to go do it all, and somehow also find a chance to see the city. Now that I’m back in the laid back environs of the west coast, I find myself looking forward to this weekend, when we’ll have the sedate and ramshackle adventure that is the Alternative Press Expo. Run by the same team as SDCC, and encompassing a broad range of self-publishers, this delightful little weekend convention should feel just right after the overwhelming fun that was NYCC and I fully expect to be that much more appreciative of it’s scale.