I got to play the part of an explorer this past weekend, as I strapped on my messenger bag of many pockets and tied a pair of Converse to my feet — seriously, I need to investigate less cool and less painful footwear — and attended the first ever Special Edition: NYC comic convention here in, duh, New York City. I boldly went — along with a few other thousand people — where no previous convention goer had gone before!
Except this convention was put on by ReedPOP, the same company that puts on New York Comic Con every year, and took place in the Javits Center, where every NYCC has taken place. The surroundings and signage all looked similar to what I’ve grown accustomed to when it comes to cons in my hometown. So what felt different about this convention? What necessitated its creation when New York City is already home to one of the biggest and fastest growing conventions around?
This one was all about comics.
That was pretty much this show’s main selling point, from its name (which makes the show feel like a limited edition variant of the main NYCC) to its comic-focused guest list. There were no wrestlers or former child stars at this show. There were no inexplicably elaborate set-ups for Kellogg’s Krave cereal, or the latest Black Eyed Peas dancing games. If you’ve attended NYCC in the past two years, then know that the entire show floor lived in the large-ish hangar-like area usually reserved for Artist Alley — and everything there was about comics. Marvel, Archie, and Valiant had tables set up with the usual assortment of comic book vendors behind them, unloading their stock in dollar bins. This felt like a comic convention, which is just how it was sold to all of us.
As someone who still goes to every convention for strictly comic book stuff — and okay, getting to meet John Ratzenberger in San Diego was pretty dope, too — this con felt perfect. It also didn’t feel very different, for the most part. I tend to spend all of my time at New York Comic Con in Artist Alley, doing comic book things, so I didn’t really feel the lack of main show floor. My surroundings were pretty much the same as they have been at other NYC shows, except halved to accommodate venders in space reserved for more artists at the larger NYCC show.
The biggest difference that I noticed — and boy was it hard to miss — had to be the crowd. There wasn’t one. This show does not come anywhere close to New York Comic Con when measured on the Dear Lord Get Out Of My Face And Move scale. I hopped on the train on Saturday morning, the first morning of the show, in Queens and began my trek to the Javits. Usually this journey is populated with people in costumes, all spilling out onto the street at the 34th St. stop, wandering as if possessed towards the almighty Javits. This time, there was only one other guy on the train with me — a dudebro in a Deadpool shirt, disgustingly trying his best to get the attention of a woman he did not know. (Sidenote: Women don’t owe you a conversation just because they’re riding on the same subway car.) The walk to the convention center was not a cosplay parade; the overwhelming fan presence on 34th St. that morning was actually whatever you would call Ed Sheeran fans. They all looked as if they had been sleeping on Manhattan sidewalks for the singer. That’s devotion.
When I got to the Javits, I was shocked to see no line of people. Everyone that strived to get to this show on time formed a sizeable-yet-compact crowd on the far northern corner, inside the convention center. That left the rest of the center’s three-city-block-long expanse completely empty. I had a panel to cover right at the start of the show, so I wandered over to the panel rooms located on the complete opposite side of the Javits and — I saw no one. It felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there, or like we had all arrived at the show way too early. The one thing that shocked me enough to take a picture of was the sight at the Javits Center Starbucks: No line. During NYCC, one would assume that Tom Hiddleston was working as a barista judging by the lines growing out of the Starbucks. That was not the case during Special Edition, not in the morning nor in the afternoon or early evening on either of the show’s two days. I was also surprised at just how quiet every area outside the show floor was, especially considering that a comic book convention was going on. I felt the urge to post a video of the quiet to Instagram, but then realized that I would be taking a video to record what the Javits sounds like when it’s completely quiet, so I didn’t.
The show floor itself stayed just crowded enough to not feel totally empty for the majority of the weekend. Gail Simone and Ryan Stegman seemed to have the two most popular tables, from what I could tell, and Greg Pak had a steady stream of people at his set up when not on panels. Marvel had all of their Young Guns — Mahmud Asrar, Nick Bradshaw, Sara Pichelli, David Marquez, Valerio Schiti and Stegman — at the front and center of the artist area. The rest of the show floor was filled with talent; DC newcomers Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV were located on the far left of the show floor, across from “Battlepug” creator Mike Norton and just down from writer Joe Kelly and artists Kris Anka and Mike Del Mundo. Special Edition really brought out the big guns and legends for the show, too; Ed McGuinnes, Mike and Laura Allred, Kurt Busiek, Jerry Ordway, Peter David, Tony Daniel and Chris Claremont were all present.
There were a couple of things that I found frustrating about the show, and hopefully they were just first year kinks and not a sign of big changes in the way ReedPOP works with the Javits Center. First, there was no food court. The area I love for both providing me overpriced chicken fingers and fantastic sights like Sith Lords ordering pizza by the slice was completely dark all weekend. That makes sense, especially if you remember that I just spent nearly a whole paragraph praising the convention center for being empty. But the replacement options located just off the show floor just didn’t really cut it. Yes, there was a Pinkberry kiosk — I got to see “Spider-Man 2099” artist Will Sliney get his first ever frozen yogurt treat — but the food options were limited to pretzels and paninis. This is probably me being picky and unreasonable, considering just how much money it probably costs to get that food court up and running on the weekend, but this would have been bearable if the Javits wasn’t located in quite possibly the most post-apocalyptically desolate section of Manhattan. Food options are scarce when you shut down the food court.
My biggest problem with the show involved the massive security hired to run the panel rooms. I’m talking about a guy stationed at the top of the escalator descending into the panel section having to ask every attendee which panel they were attending. Attendees were not allowed to freely move about the panel rooms; everyone was put into a line. Every time I tried to get into a panel with my media pass, Guy #1 would have to walkie-talkie down to Guy #2 — located at the base of the escalator — to make sure I could attend. A security guard even told me early on Saturday morning that my media badge didn’t get me into panels. People get media badges specifically to cover panels. For a convention as laid back and casual as Special Edition was, walking over to the panel room area came as a big shock. Fans and pros that have been doing this for years were a little taken aback when told that they had to form a line to get into completely empty panel rooms.
That’s really what annoyed me most about the panel room section; security guards just doing what they were told were clashing with fans that have been doing this for years. The security guards weren’t aware how this has worked in the past; they probably didn’t know that fans have never had to provide the name of the panel they were going to attend before entering the area. And I saw a lot of confused looks on convention-goer faces as they were told they had to form lines for every panel. This rigid security caused minor bottlenecking issues at the escalator; I cannot imagine the crowding pandemonium that will occur if these practices are kept in place for New York Comic Con.
Those quibbles aside, I had a good time at the show. I loved seeing old co-workers, I loved running into people I only talk to on Twitter, I loved meeting new people (Nick Bradshaw and Annie Wu were great to talk to), and I loved seeing Kris Anka meet someone cosplaying his Storm design. I loved having a comics-focused show in my hometown, and I hope it sticks around for a while. I also hope that more restaurants pop up on 11th Avenue, because no one should have to depend on McNuggets and Flatizzas for sustenance during exhausting convention weekends.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).