NYCC's Lance Fensterman Responds to Wizard

When news hit last weekend that Wizard owner Gareb Shamus' just relaunched Big Apple Comic Con would set up its 2010 run on the same weekend as the venerable New York Comic Con only a few miles down the shore of the Hudson River, fans and commentators were surprised to see the direct challenge to NYCC's supremacy. Although, one person who seemed less than taken aback was Lance Fensterman, the Reed Exhibitions VP who oversees NYCC.

"I'm not at all shocked. I would've been shocked if they did it a different weekend," Fensterman told CBR of the move. "This is a thing I've heard from them or from the rumblings out there. We run 40 events a year as a company, so we're pretty aware of where people are looking for dates and when."

While the dueling conventions will force many exhibitors and guests who typically frequent events from both companies to take sides in what some have referred to as a coming "con war," Fensterman explained that for NYCC "I don't think it will change very much of what we do. We have a pretty good model, which is to put the fans, the exhibitors and the guests first. If we make them happy and grow the industry, the rest takes care of itself. So I don't really see us changing our strategy.

"I think it's great. It'll be wonderful for the industry to look at these two events side by side and compare them without any spin, without any inflated numbers from Wizard - just look at them and honestly compare and ask the question, 'Which show is better serving to grow the industry? Which is better serving the exhibitors? Which is better serving the fans and guest?' We've kind of been sitting on the sidelines with having a change in dates and waiting 18 months since the last New York Comic Con, and it's been tough sitting around waiting to do stuff. We're ready to go, and I really welcome the direct comparison."

Overall, Reed and NYCC have been riding a streak of positive publicity for their show including a recent "one year off" bowling party heavily attended by representatives from Marvel Comics, although some NYCC staffers came across a less than warm reception when they were asked to leave last weekend's Big Apple show. When asked about how he learned of his staff's removal, Fensterman said, "They called me right afterwards. It was a fun story for them. But honestly? That's fine, and it's nothing personal. But just like I said on the blog, it illustrates a difference in style. A difference in how we approach things or attempt to run an event or service the industry."

Reached Monday by CBR, Wizard and Shamus declined to comment on the incident or the change in dates. Still, while the company has remained tight-lipped in public, several have speculated that the shared weekend with NYCC for the 2010 Big Apple show will seem less jarring as the Shamus conventions have been seen to shift further away from comics-centric affairs and more towards multi-media autograph shows. Asked whether that was a fair estimation of the differences between events, Fensterman said, "I've always said that comics is at the center of what we do. We, without apology, will branch out into all corners of pop culture, be it film, be it television, or video games, or anime, but comics are at the core. But to be honest, we've always shied away from 'pay-to-play' guests, meaning you have to pay to get a signature, because we've always tried to view ourselves as all-inclusive. When you buy a ticket, the many guests of honor that we've lined up are there for free. You buy a ticket, and you have a right to see those people and get a signature. We never felt it was our philosophy to say, 'No. Buy your ticket, and then everyone you want to see costs $100 to get a signature.' It wasn't our thing. I think that has more to do with a philosophy in terms of the fan experience than it does in terms of a philosophy of which part of the industry we're going to represent or service."

Moving forward, Reed plans to focus its staff in the coming months on their Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (commonly known as C2E2) which opens on April 16th. Much like the Big Apple/NYCC row (and to a lesser extent the dates for Shamus' upcoming Toronto convention and Reed's PAX East con), there is a competing Shamus show in Anaheim the weekend of C2E2, although Fensterman expressed only excitement in what his staff had planned. "We've got stuff lined up. We've got guests lined up. We've already announced several guests, and we're really psyched. I'll be out there Tuesday doing more planning. And a lot of our attention is on Chicago, but we're planning New York simultaneously as well."

The organizer expected more C2E2 developments to hit in November, particularly in the retail end of the Chicago con scene as Reed would be releasing promotions, like a countdown clock for shops and a new Alex Ross poster for the show, as well as starting up advanced ticket sales through stores to coincide with the holiday season. "We're going to go out and visit every retailer partner we have in Chicago and hang out with them, buy them beers, and make sure they have their countdown clocks and tickets. It's laying the ground work. What we've been doing since April 16th is just meeting people, building the network, letting people know who we are, gathering the opinions of creators in the area and making sure they're happy. Just trying to take care of [everybody], because ultimately, we want to help their business. I think one of the things I'm most proud of is that Midtown Comics' busiest three days of the year, counting Christmas, is the three days of New York Comic Con. That's helping the business. We're growing other people's business. That's what we should be doing. If all we're doing is taking, it really doesn't do anything."

As for the future of NYCC, Fensterman explained that he's fine letting the show's attendees decide its fate. "I'm happy that we know what the playing field is going to look like. We're excited to do this," he said. "People keep asking me, 'What do you think about Wizard putting their dates on top of yours?' and to be honest with you, it doesn't matter what I think. I run an event that serves an industry and a fanbase. The more compelling question is, what does the industry think about this? What do the fans think about this move? What does DC think about this? How does it help DC's business? How does this help Marvel's business? I think if you read the comments on CBR, it's pretty clear how everyone feels."

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