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The New October Convention Season

by  in Comic News Comment
The New October Convention Season

With last week’s announcement that the young but venerable New York Comic Con would co-locate with Reed Exhibitions’ other big nerd-centric celebration – the New York Anime Festival – for its fall 2010 weekend, comic fans and industry watchers gained more than mere confirmation that longbox hunters and cosplayers would be rubbing elbows next October. Reed’s move presented perhaps the final piece of evidence that the industry’s major U.S. convention season has grown outside its traditional summer window, bringing with it one of the biggest battles for content creator support and fan dollars ever seen in the con business.

As the combined NYCC/NYAF behemoth slumbers through the upcoming winter, two new players to the convention circuit fire up next month in the form of the first ever Long Beach Comic Con at the Long Beach Convention Center from October 2 – 4, and Wizard Entertainment’s rechristened Big Apple Comic-Con at New York City’s Pier 94 on October 16 – 18. While the distance of the entire country makes direct competition for attendees between the cons unlikely, the two-week gap between events certainly means competition in terms of exhibitors, guests and the always vaguely-defined “buzz factor.” The tale of the two cons earns extra attention thanks to the players involved and the similar focus of the shows.

Over the past two years, the comics press has reported widely on the restructuring of the publishing, event, and retail player that is Gareb Shamus’ Wizard Entertainment. Amidst the staff cuts and convention cancelations, Shamus has also aggressively expanded Wizard’s convention business by adding both the Big Apple show and 2010 conventions in Anaheim and Toronto – all branded with a new “Comic-Con” label along with the company’s remaining anchor shows in Chicago and Philadelphia.

On the other side of the equation, October’s Long Beach Con is being organized by a suite of past Wizard employees led by former Senior Vice President and con organizer Martha Donato, who’s organizing the LBCC through her company, MAD Event Management. Each show boasts impressive names from across the pop culture spectrum on their guest lists, with LBCC promoting appearances by the legendary Stan Lee, comics superstars Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, acclaimed newspaper cartoonist Berkeley Breathed and actors Thomas Jane and Seth Green. The Big Apple show will be headlined by Lee and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, and feature comic creators from Andy Kubert and Adam Kubert to Carlos Pacheco, and movie and TV talent like Willem Dafoe and Ioan Gruffudd.

“From a fan point of view, this show will deliver an experience that won’t look the same as other shows they may attend,” Long Beach Comic Con’s Martha Donato told CBR. “It comes down to having assembled a group of people who enjoy this industry and have spent many years running and attending shows. We have a shared vision of Long Beach Comic Con that will allow us to produce a well-balanced and fun-filled event.”

“Marvel has been a huge help in getting the show off the ground,” Donoto said. The publisher will provide an exclusive copy of “Amazing Spider-Man” #606 with a special cover by J. Scott Campbell for the show, while publishers from BOOM! Studios to IDW will have other exclusives on sale in Long Beach. “Aspen has committed to fully support the show, which were really excited about. They have some cool things lined up.”

On the Wizard side of things, Shamus spoke with CBR shortly after the wrap of the company’s Chicago Comic-Con, saying that despite highly publicized changes at the company, he and his staff remained dedicated to a strong con slate. With respect to Big Apple, Shamus told CBR, “That show, quite frankly is going to be sold out imminently. We’ve definitely got a lot of stuff going on for that show, so we recommend people staying in tune because we’re going to have incredible announcements on a day-to-day basis for that show. We have a lot more [guests] on the way. Joe [Quesada] and Jim [Lee] are awesome, and we’re going to have a great time with them for sure. I’ve been friends with those guys for a really long time, and it’s going to be great to be in New York with them for the first time in a while.”

Programming hasn’t been finalized for Long Beach or New York, but it can be expected that both the LBCC and Big Apple Con look to capitalize on the lack of a New York Comic Con in 2009 when it comes to nabbing announcements from the publishers, executives and creative guests in attendance. Reed will be watching how the shows develop as well. NYCC show runner Lance Fensterman spoke with CBR about his plans for the con’s year off, saying, “Of course we pay attention to the other shows. We always pay attention.”

However, for now, Fensterman’s focus stands on improving the stated goals of his now twice-as-large New York show, the New York Comic Con/Anime Festival hybrid. “We have a good formula, and that formula is: listen to what the fans tell you they want, listen to what your customers say will help their business, and then abide by that. Produce it well and honor those requests,” Fensterman said. “I’m just a dumb independent bookseller, and I kind of believe that at the end of the day, customer service wins out over everything else. And if you give your customers everything they want and you do it well, you’re not going to go wrong, no matter what else is going on in the marketplace.”

Until 2010, Fensterman looks forward to visiting the Big Apple show this October. “You got to check it out. You want to see it. We’ve always gone to the Big Apple Con under Mike Carbonaro. New York Comic Con, since its inception, has been a great supporter of them. We’ve marketed for them. We’ve always given him free space at the con and have always been a big supporter of Mike’s. We knew when we moved our show to the fall with Mike’s show in November, it was going to be tough for him. We had met as recently as a couple of months ago. So we’ve always been supporters of the Big Apple Con, and we’ll be there to check it out.”

For now, the talk amongst competitors remains very cordial, but the future remains relatively uncertain. Fans on both coasts will certainly have plenty of opportunities to mix it up with their favorite nerd celebrities this October, and most likely next year as well, although exactly which players will be set up where and when remains to be seen. Donato said that the Long Beach convention “will always try to avoid conflicts with other shows,” and that this year they “were definitely trying to keep away from the summer months, and when we first started talking about this, October was the only opening in the [convention center] schedule. It seemed to work well on every front. Our goal is to keep the show out of the summer. The convention calendar is looking crowded for October 2010, so we’ve already starting talking to [the convention center] about other options. September may be a possibility for us.”

In New York, the expectation that Shamus will take his newest convention head-to-head with the combined might of New York Comic Con and the New York Anime Fest has people talking, but the Wizard owner explained that the first people to find out where Big Apple’s 2010 show will land will be attendees of the 2009 event. “Right now we’ve only put the October date on for this year. Obviously, we’re going to be doing it next year,” Shamus said. “We’re still working on dates, but we’ll let people know at the show what the dates are going to be for that event.”

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