NYCC Preview With Lance Fensterman

It's been 18 months since the last time New York Comic-Con ascended on the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.

In that time, convention organizer Reed Entertainment's Pop Culture division has been busy on the nerd-friendly end of things, acquiring several well-known shows (PAX, Star Wars Celebration) as well as launching new brands (Chicago's C2E2). But NYCC is where it all started, and the now firmly fall comic convention remains the biggest event on the company's calendar even after a year and a half off.

This year, the show combines with its sister event - the New York Anime Festival - for one dedicated fan experience, making the usual questions surrounding the show's size, scope and security even more important. While NYCC has been used as a promotional platform for comic publishers from DC and Marvel down since its inception, the show has also found frequent headaches in trying to comfortably fit major trade and fan elements into the Javits - an expensive and logistically complex proposition. To talk about all those issues as well as what attendees can expect from both the comics and anime side of the show from guests to special events, CBR News spoke with Reed's VP of Books, Publishing and Pop Culture Lance Fensterman.

CBR News: As you're getting New York Comic Con back on its feet in its new, permanent time slot, what's changed for the show in general? Reed has grown its pop culture arm dramatically even in the past year. Have you been learning lessons at other events that will come to bear on NYCC?

Lance Fensterman: It's a pretty unique thing unto itself in that New York is what started ReedPop on this path that we're currently on, but I'd like to think that as we've got nine or ten shows on our schedule with this as show number eight that we've learned some things along the way and that we'll run the show better in terms of efficiency and making sure it's convenient and easy for the fans. You learn something every time you do a show and see something from fans of different genres, but New York is still the granddaddy of all of them. It's tough to compare it to anything else.

There are a few changes surrounding the show this year. First and foremost is the fact that New York Anime Fest and New York Comic Con are occupying the same weekend and space for the first time. Have you been splitting those two ideas up in terms of how they're planned amongst the staff?

We are an entire team of utility infielders, if I can use a sports metaphor. I'll play short one day, right field the next and then spend the next day managing. And everyone does everything, so the staff isn't divided in different areas. The other interesting thing is that for New York Anime Fest, at least 50% if not more than that also go to New York Comic Con, so there's already a lot of crossover within the fanbase which actually factored into us going, "All right, let's match these shows up." What we've done is that the show floor is the show floor. It's all of the third floor of the Javitz Center. Then what we did is we took the content - the panels and the screenings - and we split them out so they each had their own space. So downstairs there's a whole hall dedicated to New York Comic Con panels and screenings, and then there's a whole 'nother hall committed to all the Anime Fest-specific events and screenings as well as an Anime-specific Artist's Alley. That's where it's separated out.

And in branding, we kept the websites separate and unique, and we've got reversible tickets where you can buy and wear the badge that you want. But it's interesting because you've got to remember that New York Anime Fest came out of New York Comic Con three years ago, so we're just bringing them back together, if you will.

What is different in terms of how the show is fitting with the Javitz? I know a big part of the reason for moving to the October date was to have a dedicated time every year to hold the show, but are you getting more out of the space in the fall as well?

There were two reasons for the move. One, we needed consistent dates. We were always kind of going, "Oh, it's in February! Wait! There's an April date? Let's do that!" We needed to have a consistent home on the calendar, and we needed to be able to grow and have the entire building. Working with the Javitz, there were other dates that were available that didn't appeal to us for a number of reasons, and the October dates were the best we had. And I feel really good about them. It's important for the industry to have a massive, national event happening in the fourth quarter, and we're able to deliver that.

How this all changes the space is that we have the entire space now where before we had a couple of halls, and we were just jamming it in there. We have the entire building now, and we have tons of room to grow and tons of room for people to move around. It's a much less stressful situation than in the past when we were really nervous about safety and capacity. We feel that now we've definitely got room to breathe.

That was going to be my follow up: the idea that in the past there were issues with logjams at panels and even the infamous first year fire marshall incident. I'm assuming you're not expecting things like that this time out?

We hope not. But also, currently our ticket sales are up about 103%. That's important because I'm comparing it not just to New York Comic Con last year, but to the combined attendance of New York Comic Con and New York Anime Fest. We are 103% of those events combined. So it's huge. The ticket sales and attendance are pretty historic at this point, and we're going to need all that extra space. It's going to be a jamming show. It's going to be busy! Any time you have that sheer volume of humanity, you have to think about issues of crowding and safety and flow. It's on the forefront of our minds at all times.

We talked around C2E2 a lot about how that show was built for what you thought Chicago needed as a community. In what ways have you tried to focus NYCC to be a show for New York not just for the public but for NYC as the traditional home of comics but also as the home of the book publishing industry in general?

The joke we have is that it would be so much easier to do the show somewhere else and call it "New York-Style Comic Con" just like "New York-Style Pizza." [Laughs] If we could do it in Pittsburgh, it'd be so much cheaper, but you can't really do that. New York is the biggest character within the show. This year, we made that focus right off the bat by making the Guests of Honor John Romita Jr. and Sr., who are New York institutions. Another things is that Stan Lee always comes to the show because it's "his con," as he says after growing up in New York City. You commented on the "traditional" book publishers from Random House to HarperCollins having a presence, and they're there. It's in their backyard.

Also, it's a more subtle thing, but we've got Professional Exclusive Hours on Friday morning, and we'll have upwards of 10 to 11,000 professionals. Those are comic retailers, of course, but there are also a lot of publishing folks, from editorial to marketing to people in entry-level positions that are aspiring to careers in publishing coming to the show. It's almost like a traditional trade show. They're coming to understand the media and to understand comics and graphic novels and manga. They want to get it because they see an exciting story playing out that they want to understand and participate in. And that's where we fulfill one of our missions, which is to grow the industry. It's one thing to cater to existing fans, which I believe we do well, but it's another to find ways to grow the industry with new fans and also new business people that are going to take the business in new directions. That's a very unique New York thing. We had Professional hours in Chicago, but it was very retailer and librarian-focused and not a lot of publishers. In New York, we'll have a very large contingent of publishing and licensing professionals there to do business.

What are the things for you guys that are looking to be standouts for the year? Are there events and specials that have popped up over the past few months that you see as the peak events of the show?

It's sort of by taste. Everybody has their own interests. We've gotten a really nice turnout from the TV community from "Walking Dead" to "V" on down the line. That's something that's been growing over the years. We have a massive presence from Intel with their Extreme Masters gaming - it's like a 10,000 square foot booth. Half of that is for tournaments, which is fine if people are into that, but the other half is just free play where if you want to go play video games, it's cool. It's fun, and it's interactive, obviously.

Our Artist's Alley this year is up from about 275 to 300 tables to 450 tables. It's massive. I think it probably is the biggest Artist's Alley out there, which is a cool thing. The fans love that. We also launched an area on the show floor called "The Cultyard" which sounds really peculiar, but it's like urban art, fashion, design and toys. That's the best way I can describe it without actually having you go and look at it yourself, but there's a lot of vinyl toy makers. Tokidoki and Kid Robot are participating. There's also an element of streetwear and fashion as well and just graphic art. It's got a little bit more of a downtown/West Village vibe to it, and there are some designers who are guests as part of that. It's a good mix of some new elements adding to that hardcore comic creator central pillar that is always New York Comic Con.

We're talking on Tuesday. You're 48 hours out from the show. What's the #1 pressing concern you've got for what you have to get done before the show is open?

That's a good question. First is finding a place to watch my Twins beat the Yankees Wednesday night. [NOTE: So far, the Twins are down 2 - 0 in the series.] And immediately after that, it's preparing for the crowds. I said that statistic of where our ticket sales are at, and so we're venturing into territory here of a size and scope for this event that is really unprecedented. We need to make sure we're well prepared. I'll be at the building doing walkthroughs with our security team, laying out where we'll be queuing, laying out pinch points for traffic flow. That's first and foremost on my mind. It sounds very simplistic, but everybody that buys a ticket needs to be able to enjoy the show, and the simple logistics of moving that many people safely and efficiently is a big job and probably the most critical one. If the panels aren't perfect, no one can get hurt. I leave the creative implementation of the content to the team and look at the much bigger picture of the efficiency of the event.

I know that's a boring answer. I should have probably said something like "I'm going to be carrying Stan Lee around New York City on my shoulders doing a walking tour." [Laughs]

New York Comic Con opens today and runs through Sunday afternoon at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. More info can be found at NewYorkComicCon.com.

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