Begun, the Con War has: More on the Big Apple/NYCC match-up

Next year's same-weekend, same-city showdown between Reed Exhibitions' New York Comic Con and Wizard Entertainment/Gareb Shamus's Big Apple Comic Con looms large in fandom's collective mind. But what about the here and now?

By several important measures, this weekend's inaugural Shamus-owned Big Apple Comic Con was a major success. For starters, it received an avalanche of enthusiastic coverage from the mainstream press, from both local and national outlets. (Lack of this kind of promotion has been a problem for Wizard shows in the past.) Meanwhile, guest of honor Jim Lee was thrilled with the show, while his fellow headliner Joe Quesada signed on with Shamus's new GeekChicDaily newsletter (as seen in the photo above). And a look around relevant message boards, Twitter accounts, and comment threads provides any number of happy anecdotes regarding apparently terrific bargains from the show's retailers (Acme Novelty Library #19 and The Collected Doug Wright for four bucks apiece!) or delightful interactions with its nerd-heaven line-up of comics pros (Lee, Joe Quesada, Joe Mad, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams), geek icons (William Shatner, Adam West, Billy Dee Williams, Linda Hamilton, Carol Cleveland) and crush objects (Kelly Hu, Adrianne Curry, Bottomless Suicide Girl, Linda Hamilton, Carol Cleveland).

But it wasn't all sunshine. (In fact, thanks to the lousy weather, there was barely any sunshine at all.) The show was dogged by the usual complaints, from lack of carpeting to lack of comics content to the location's drab industrial design to sparse attendance, particularly on Friday and Sunday. Programming woes continued to plague the show, as Gary Coleman canceled and promised spotlight panels on big-name guests William Shatner and Pete Rose failed to materialize (or, in Rose's case apparently, were never actually planned in the first place). Meanwhile, industry figures including Mark Waid, Cully Hamner, Jeff Suter, Chris Sotomayor, Chris Eliopoulous, and Matt Fraction reacted negatively, and publicly, to aspects of the show and/or Shamus's conduct.

The strongest response, unsurprisingly, came from NYCC's Lance Fensterman. On his blog and in an interview with Newsarama, Fensterman used the occasion of Shamus's 2010 Big Apple date announcement to tout the thus far overwhelming industry-exhibitor advantage NYCC has over Shamus's show. His blog post includes a litany of positive qualities he argues NYCC possesses (and, implicitly, Big Apple lacks), many of them hinging on issues of honesty and ethics, and concludes thusly:

So what do I think of the Big Apple dates? Ask Marvel. Ask DC. Ask Sony. Ask an artist alley participant. Ask a creator. Ask a fan. You’ll get a clear answer of just who these choices of dates are intended to serve.

With many in the industry taking sides, former CBR columnist Rich Johnston, of all people, emerged as something of an unofficial spokesman for Shamus and Wizard during the show (at which he appeared on Wizard's dime, although his accounts are probably more accurately attributed to his greater access to decision makers in Shamus's organization than to his self-deprecatingly described status as a "paid shill"). At his Bleeding Cool site, Johnston reported big advance ticket sales. He described Big Apple's ejection of NYCC staffers as a response to the Reed employees' "soliciting" (a charge Fensterman denied on his blog). He trumpeted the Saturday afternoon intervention of FDNY fire marshals to ease overcrowding (in an echo of similar events during NYCC's first year, which was either wildly successful or disastrously disorganized depending on who you ask). And he announced the initial guest list for Shamus's Anaheim Comic Con, whose scheduling directly against Reed's C2E2 show in Chicago presaged the BAC/NYCC smackdown. The Star Trek-heavy list also includes Brian Michael Bendis--a huge name whose attendance, like that of Lee and Quesada at Big Apple, proves Shamus still has some major industry pull--and Heidi Klum, the recent Wizard/Shamus slate's most A-list celebrity yet (provided she shows up).

Finally, Johnston offered the most in-depth rationale for next year's controversial scheduling move thus far offered by Shamus or his spokespeople:

Wizard World wanted an October date because they believe it’s the best month for such a show – which is why this year’s show is happening now. They initially went for the weekend before NYCC but were bumped due to a bicycle race. Wizard know the comic publishers and comic creators will go to NYCC over Big Apple, although hope some may do both. They know that people have already committed to the NYCC. But they regard “Comic Con” as no longer defined as being principally, or indeed at all, to do with comics, something that coverage of the shows seems to back up these days. They’ll be running a pop media show, so we’ll get wrestlers, sci-fi show actors, musicians, traders and a batch of star guests – and what they lose in comics, they’ll make up in prosthetic aliens. With the NYCC combining with the Anime show taking over the whole of the Javitz, you may get two very different shows on the same street with less crossover that you’d initially expect.

This appears to jibe with what one user of the Wizard Universe Message Board says he was told by Shamus himself:

Now - here's something new "straight from the horse's mouth", while my friends and I were in line for Joe Mad who should walk by but Mr. Gareb Shamus himself. Now, I've met Gareb years ago at the Philly show and I asked him (not in a mean way) what was the idea behind his deciding to make his show the same weekend as the NYCC. Gareb answered that they felt that weekend was the best weekend to have it because September had too many holidays. He followed that up by saying that the guests they have (Media guests I would assume) lined up for next years show are going to be so huge that nobody will want to miss his show. And yes, for those wondering he had a straight face when he said all this to me. He truly feels that everyone will come to his show instead of NYCC.

While a conscious move away from comics as even the nominal focal point of Shamus's "comic cons" may make sense from the point of view of positioning, it's not difficult to anticipate fan reaction. But perhaps fan reaction isn't what Shamus et al are concerned with: The wave of mainstream-media press, the shift to an email newsletter as opposed to a blog or other less one-sided methods of online interaction, and the emphasis on multimedia guests all appear to indicate that Shamus's target audience isn't comics fans or other hardcore fandoms at all, but nerd-curious, celebrity-centric civilians. But will they find Shamus's product more appealing than they would NYCC, an already wide-ranging entity (to put it mildly) whose comics content nonetheless looks like Angoulême or APE by comparison? Only time will tell.

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