Battling Conventions? Talking with the NY Comic Con and MegaCon Organizers

The comic convention world has certainly gotten busy. What used to be primarily a summer convention season has turned into a year-long convention extravaganza, with the first critical shows hitting in February, beginning with WonderCon in San Francisco, on through to November which sees the Mid-Ohio Con and Wizard World Texas shows. Along the way there are a number of major conventions including various Wizard World shows in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and a rumored Atlanta show, smaller shows like Seattle's Emerald City ComiCon as well as more targeted shows like the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco, SPX in Bethesda, Maryland and this weekend's MoCCA show in New York City. Then, of course, there's the grand daddy of them all, Comic-Con International in San Diego.

The announcement earlier this week of a new show in New York City run by Reed Exhibitions, the group behind Book Expo America, brings another comic convention to an already busy circuit. This looks to be a major addition to the comics convention line-up with participation from DC Comics, Marvel, Diamond and ADV Films according to Reed. It's the first major convention to launch in New York City in 10 years, to be held at the Jacob Javits Center from February 24th through February 26 (the February 24th date is a trade show only). A major convention in New York City has been something fans have wanted for a long time, but the complexities of operating a show within New York City and dealing with the various convention unions made it difficult for most groups to get a show off the ground. With Reed's experience in the market, their chances of making a successful go of it are greater than most who enter this field.

The choice of date is an interesting one, though. For one, the New York City weather in February isn't optimum, but that likely won't be a major problem as those living in the Tri-State area are quite used to inclement weather. As for those traveling from outside the area, New York is obviously a major tourist draw, with visitors easily being able to turn a trip to the convention into a mini-vacation in the Big Apple. Finally, the date of the New York Comic-Con falls two weeks after WonderCon in San Francisco, is three weeks before Wizard World Los Angeles and it takes place on the same weekend as another regional show, Orlando, Florida's MegaCon. Clearly a busy convention month, to be sure. Why pick a date the conflicts with another show and how will the New York Comic-Con fit in with the existing conventions? CBR News spoke with Reed Exhibitions Group Vice President Greg Topalian to learn a bit more about the new show and we also checked in with MegaCon Convention Director Beth Widera to see how they feel this news affects their convention.

To begin, MegaCon's Widera said she was aware of the pending announcement a few weeks before it was actually made and it's not changed their operating procedures so far. It's business as usual for MegaCon, who have had their date set for over a year. She said there's been no thought of changing dates in reaction to the new show and that things look good for MegaCon 2006. "Half our dealers space is sold already for that particular date," Widera told CBR News.

The history of MegaCon is an interesting one. The show was sold by James Breitbiel to Mark Alessi and CrossGen Comics in 1999. CrossGen owned and operated MegaCon beginning with the 2000 show. Breitbel took a position at CrossGen while Widera, formerly a school teacher, was hired by Alessi to run the convention. Half way through 2003, as CrossGen found themselves mired in serious financial troubles that ultimately led to a shuttering of its business, the show was put up for sale and Widera came to its rescue.

During the period of CrossGen's ownership, the focus of the show was heavily CrossGen centric, which did hurt the convention's ability to draw other publishers from within the industry. Widera says she's starting to see that turn around a bit, with greater participation from industry publisher's. Marvel's Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada was the guest of honor at last year's show. Widera said that having stronger publisher participation is, "…really good for upcoming people in the business looking to meet with editors."

Widera said that a little over 22,000 attended the show in 2005, making it their most successful show yet. She pointed out that that 22,000 number was arrived at by the number of wrist bands sold for the show and that they do not count amongst that number any guest, artist, exhibitor or comp passes. As for the future of the show, specifically the shared 2006 date with the New York Comic Con, Widera's confident MegaCon will go off without a hitch. "Ultimately it might affect us somewhat, but I'm not overly concerned about it," admitted Widera. "There are definitely enough fans out there to support two shows. I feel pretty confident that most of my dealers are loyal to Megacon. I've always treated them nicely and vice-versa." Widera says that at this point none of the dealers who've committed to MegaCon have dropped out to attend the New York show.

Moving north from Orlando, Florida, the New York Comic-Con is organized by Reed Exhibitions, the company that hosts the successful Book Expo America, which is also a subsidiary of Reed Business Information who publish "Variety," "Publishers Weekly," "Library Journal" and "Playthings." The show will be launched by Greg Topalian, who was also the show manager for Book Expo America from 2001-2004 and has been with Reed for nine years. As for why they're entering the comics convention market, Topalian said, "It's clear to me it's one of the faster growing parts of the publishing industry. That became very attractive to us."

This isn't the first time a comics convention has been held at the Javits Center in New York City. In the early '90s, Fred Greenberg held two shows at the Javits Center before the cost of it drove him to seek cheaper locals. Many major publishers and retailers were attended these shows.

Topalian said that in researching the possibility of launching a new comics show, he heard a lot of compliments about the various shows currently in the market place, but kept hearing people say they wanted to see more focus on the trade. Where a lot of this came together for Reed Exhibitions was in meeting with Diamond Comics Distributors, who exhibit at Book Expo America. Diamond's Steve Geppi told Reed that he loved a lot of the events that currently exist within the industry, but that there was something missing on the East Coast. "Diamond's ability to help us drive the trade audience to the show was extremely helpful," explained Topalian.

As for the competing convention date with Orlando's MegaCon, Reed said the scheduling conflict was mostly unavoidable. "We tried our best to avoid day conflicts, but there are a lot of events out there," said Topalian. "We did want to be early in the calendar, feeling being in the spring months was more beneficial over the summer or fall. The other issue is that the Javits Center is almost entirely sold out. I will say that I really don't think you'll get a lot of attendee crossover. I think this New York event will be a major draw for the Tri-State area and a broad draw for the trade, so much of which is located in New York already." Topalian said that future, similar dates are already scheduled for the future.

Some has suggested that this new show in New York City could become a competitor to Comic-Con International in San Diego. Topalian said he doesn't' see their show as being competition for San Diego quite yet. "I have to say I'm honored that someone would even put this new event in the same sentence with San Diego," said Topalian. "San Diego is an amazing event and they do a phenomenal job. We are years away from pulling together an event of that size. It takes years to build to that kind of size. I think this can be a really significant event immediately, but venue restrictions in New York make it tough to throw a show of the size of San Diego."

Reed's spent a great many man hours researching the market by talking with members of the trade to see how they'd react to a new show launch in New York City. "One of the things we understand is knowing how to deliver what the market wants, not just what we want," said Topalian. "We had numerous conversations with publishers and game companies to see if it was something they wanted and would support. That learning and listening never stops.

"If we had gone out and went to Diamond, Marvel, DC and heard 'I don't want another show, New York is the wrong place,' We wouldn't be doing this. That is key. Our goal is in no way to start launching a bunch of regional shows around the country to take over someone else's business.

"It's an audience that's not being fully served," continued Topalian. "This is the largest city in the United States. We're willing to make the investment to deliver something we haven't seen before."

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