NEW YORK COMIC CON
By Brian Friedman, Guest Conrtibutor
These days it seems like every major city in the United States has its own variation of a comic and pop culture convention. And it's not hard to see why: interest in pop culture is at an all-time high. Between the unprecedented success of Marvel Studios, the return of the Star Wars franchise to the big screen, increased interest of American fans in formerly more obscure franchises like Doctor Who; not to mention a proliferation of genre driven content across streaming services as well as traditional cable and broadcast networks; pop culture has reached a point of cultural saturation previously undreamt of.
But long before this current level of saturation, where comic/pop culture conventions have become ubiquitous, there were conventions paving the way for what would follow. No other convention in the US (or possibly the world) has the prestige and history of San Diego Comic Con, which will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary next year. Los Angeles based Doctor Who Convention, Gallifrey One, is celebrating its 30thyear in 2019. Star Wars Celebration has been around since 1999. And of course Star Trek conventions have been happening in various incarnations since the 1970s.
Of the many conventions that have sprung up in recent years in response to the rising popularity of pop culture, none in the US has reached the size or level of popularity of New York Comic Con. In fact its rise to become (arguably) the second-most important pop culture convention in the US is nothing short of meteoric, with attendance in the first year (December 2006) capping out around 33,000 with estimates for 2018s attendance being in the neighborhood of 250,000. Starting in 2010 (which, coincidentally was my first year attending), the convention has always taken place in October, solidifying it as the most major US convention of the fall.
So what is it like to attend NYCC? Well, as I said before, the Con has expanded a lot. My first year there in 2010, NYCC didn’t even take up the entire Javits Center. Now, not only does it take up the entirety of Javits, but larger panels are held in both the nearby Hammerstein Ballroom and the Theater at Madison Square Garden in addition to a number of other smaller nearby venues. One thing to note is that unlike San Diego, where all of the Gaslamp district transforms into Comic Con land and most people are keenly aware that the convention is happening, generally speaking in NYC most people have no clue that the convention even exists let alone that it is happening. This can be good and bad. If you’re used to a more immersive experience in the area then that can be a bit of a letdown. On the other hand, it does allow you to leave the Con behind for the day and go out to enjoy NYC’s nightlife
This year was actually the first time I attended any panels at the Theater at MSG and I have to say for the most part I liked it. At both MSG and the Javits center bags are x-rayed and attendees must pass through metal detectors. At MSG they also make you check any large items you may with you. The theater has a capacity of 5,600 making it by far the largest panel room at NYCC. For context, Hall H in San Diego has a capacity of 6,500. I attended panels there on Sunday only, but saw the panels for “Riverdale”, “Gotham”, “How to Train Your Dragon 3”, and “Doctor Who”. The Doctor Who panel was especially great as it took place after the simulcast premier of the new season of the show, something that was one of my highest priorities to attend at the convention.
There are several advantages to the way the Con is setup. First, the artist’s alley has a much larger space than many of the other large conventions. If you have attended NYCC and not visited artist’s alley, or are thinking of attending in the future, I urge you to check it out. Some of the biggest names in pop culture art have tables there, and with so much diversity of style you could very easily find your new favorite artist there. Over the years, some of my favorite works of art have been pieces I picked up there. Artist alley aside, there are also booths from both Bottleneck Gallery and Grey Matter Art. Though neither enjoys the same level of acclaim as Mondo (who attends SDCC but not NYCC), these two companies have gained massively in popularity over the last few years and bring some of the best and most sought after exclusives at the convention.
Another thing I appreciate is that the Javits center has an actual food court in addition to other places to get snacks, coffee, or even alcoholic drinks. For the past coupIe of years they’ve also added a number of food trucks on site. I would be lying if I said I found many of the food offerings appealing, but it’s still a far cry better than many other conventions where the only food served is generic junk from convention center food kiosks. But given that NYC is a culinary destination it makes sense.
Another thing I appreciate is that one part of the convention center, nicknamed the crystal palace, is designed in such a way that it gives cosplayers space to display their costumes and allows attendees to take pictures of and with them. This is especially nice given that early October in NYC can be in the 70s and sunny every day, like it was this year, or in the 40s and snowing as it has been in some years past.
This year marked a new first time experience for me in regards to NYCC, that of attending it as a tourist. I lived in NYC from 2006 until June of this year. I can appreciate in retrospect that the year I moved there is the same year NYCC happened for the first time even if I was unaware of its existence until maybe 2009. Visiting as a tourist has its advantages and disadvantages. First, my commute to the convention center was vastly shorter. Where the Javits Center is on the west side of town on 11th Ave is fairly isolated. In fact, prior to 2015 there wasn’t a subway line that actually went to the convention center making the closest subway stop over on 8th Ave. And especially those years when it’s been cold, that is a long walk. But this year I didn’t have to deal with the subway to get there at all and that was a pretty nice change compared to the 45-60 minute commute by subway from where I had lived in Brooklyn.
Another nice change was that I got to actually hang out and spend time with friends this time, which I typically didn’t in the past. That of course is the downside to a major convention being in the city you live in; you still have your normal day to day tasks to deal with. That in turn makes the convention always feel different to me than the ones I actually traveled to.
Now that I no longer live in NYC I’m not certain I’ll make the journey every year to go to NYCC. But even if I don’t, it remains one of the nation’s top conventions and one I would highly recommend to both casual and hardcore fans.