Robot 6

Why I didn’t go to the New York Comic Con

New York Comic Con

For all intents and purposes, NYCC is now my big hometown show. I still didn’t go, despite the fact that between getting a press pass and having a monthly Long Island Rail Road ticket, it would have cost me basically nothing to do so, and despite the fact that nearly all of my friends were there. There are a few reasons for this, including a major one involving the health of a family member (the good health, fortunately) that has nothing to do with the show itself. But it’s also for the reason I talk about in this comment thread discussion with The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald: There wasn’t a thriving alternative/art/literary/underground comics presence.

Heidi points out that Pantheon and First Second and Top Shelf all had booths at the show, which is true, and which is good. I like tons of Pantheon and Top Shelf books and usually one book per First Second slate. But when I say “thriving presence” I don’t mean “are the individual altcomix-y publishers that are there awesome or not,” I mean “Does the altcomix-y section of the show do well, attract attention, get press, draw attendees and creators, put up a formidable programming slate.” In that light, I don’t think that segment of this show is thriving vs. the rest of the show, no. For example, did Pantheon have X’ed Out, its eagerly anticipated, apparently awesome new book from titanic talent Charles Burns, available at the show? If so, awesome, but did you read word one about it in any show coverage? I sure didn’t. That little group of publishers Heidi speaks of–which by the way is mostly the alt-ish wings of gigantic NY publishing houses, not the alternative comics press per se–doesn’t reach the critical mass that it does at San Diego, even San Diego circa 2010, let alone TCAF/MoCCA/SPX/APE/BCGF/etc. I know there are any number of reasons why NYCC lacks the altcomix component that even San Diego has been able to preserve. I know that not all of it rests at the feet of NYCC’s organizers at Reed. I still think it’s a dealbreaker.

The reason I popped into the comments at Heidi’s place to talk about this was because she characterized the show as “a complete success from where we stand,” aside from crowd-related problems. On a meta level I just don’t feel comfortable using “complete success” as a rubric–I don’t think complete success is possible, for one thing, unless of course we’re talking about Acme Novelty Library #20. It was Heidi’s use of those words themselves that struck me at least as much as what it connoted in terms of what she thinks of NYCC and the mission of big shows like it. But beyond that I will say that I, personally, don’t have much interest in going to a big giant show with out much altcomix presence on the floor or in the programming schedule, and I think the proliferation of such shows is…get ready…Bad For Comics. I really do think that the best altcomix are more vital to the industry than the best superhero or media-tie-in comics, and I obviously say that as someone with a great deal more affection and admiration for contemporary superhero comics than most people. Thus Heidi’s counterexamples, which challenge me on whether I’d characterize a show like TCAF as something other than a complete success because Jose-Luis Garcia Lopez or Grant Morrison weren’t there, don’t really cut much ice with me. Like I said, I don’t count anything as a complete success, but semantics aside I think a show with a major altcomix presence but not much in the way of front-of-Previews stuff is more successful in all the ways that matter to me than the other way around.

Moreover I think NYCC benefits from a really low bar to clear in terms of press assessments of its success, complete or otherwise, for several reasons. For one thing, its nearest competitor is Wizard’s late-model shows, and NYCC looks like something curated by Dan Nadel by comparison. I know we can quibble as to whether Reed’s creation of a new Chicago con was the first shot fired. But it seems to me that the Wizard-initiated full-scale stage of the Con War, which started when Wizard scheduled its Anaheim show directly against Reed’s C2E2 and really exploded when the Shamus Brothers announced they were putting their New York City-based Big Apple show on the same weekend as Reed’s NYC show, was more than just a disaster for Wizard–in terms of how lightly attended and all but ignored Wizard’s shows have turned out to be, in terms of how they’ve been forced to back down from their most direct challenges to Reed’s dominance, and in terms of giving prominent industry figures the cover they needed to totally walk away from Wizard after all these years. No, it was also a huge and direct boon to Reed. In the public eye it provided Reed a convenient heel for their babyface, but it also made the multimedia component of Reed’s shows look comparatively classy and the comics portion look comparatively prominent.

Meanwhile, Reed’s staff and spokespeople are about a billion times more accessible, attentive, receptive, and honest about their shows. Whatever the organization’s faults, I think it’s pretty clear they care about comics and care about people having a great time at the show and getting something out of it, rather than prioritizing making a buck, trying to punish one’s perceived rivals, and papering over problems with inflated attendance numbers and incredible disappearing guest lists. There’s not really anything to complain about there–that’s admirable and awesome on Reed’s part–other than maybe that crowd control and staffing seems to be a problem year after year regardless, and that Comic Con International’s people are also pretty great shakes.

Finally, NYCC also gets a lot of free goodwill because half the comics press and at least 75% of the staff of its big-name publishers can booze it up and have a great time at karaoke and then take the MTA home. If the social scene is the main reason why you go to comic conventions, or even if it’s just a close second to actually engaging with comics, NYCC is your show of shows. Its location itself–hometown for many and The Greatest City in the World for everyone else–flatters that party-based conception of a show for, I’d go so far as to say, most of the industry’s power players and opinion makers. This isn’t true of San Diego, with its expensive cross-country flights for the NY-based publishing and press scene and its touristy environs in which the Con as a presence is inescapable in a way that isn’t true of Manhattan and the boroughs. I really do think this accounts for a lot of the inevitable post-SDCC kvetching every year. How else to explain the relative volume of complaints about how little publishing news there was at SDCC, when there was so much more of it there than at NYCC? Yes, I know San Diego has more multimedia stuff going on than NYCC (perhaps not through lack of trying on NYCC’s part, mind you), but it’s San Diego–it has more of everything. Including the comics that matter the most.

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Comments

21 Comments

“Including the comics that matter the most TO ME.”

Fixed.

You weren’t at NYCC, so you can’t answer this. But why are you assuming what you want wasn’t there? Just because you read the online program guide? You really know EVERY name that was on NYCC guest list? Because if you walked through the OVER 400 artist alley tables, you better believe some of those artists definitely fit the alt-comix label. They just don’t fit your version because you don’t know them. So in essence, you’re committing the very crime you’re taking NYCC to task for – namely, you want the established alt-comix creators, not the up and comers.

I wish you could take the MTA out to APE. You’d probably dig it. Wall to wall back of PREVIEWS comics.

Sean T. Collins

October 13, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Mikael, there are many potential criticisms of my comics coverage I’ll totally cop to, but “does not know a lot about what’s going on in alternative comics and has no time for or interest in the up and comers” isn’t one of them. Also I’m totally fine with just agreeing to disagree with you if you don’t think the comics I’m talking about are the comics that matter most to comics, not just to me, although you’re right, they matter the most “to me” too.

Sean T. Collins

October 13, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Matt: I’m sure I’d dig APE, but that’d better be an express LIRR train.

Why would you need a strong altcomix presence in a city that has MoCCA Festival, KingCon, and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, as well as regular literary and altcomix signings and events at bookstores and museums?

If anything, maybe it was everything else that needed a respectable, non-Wizard venue to be showcased at, and NYCC did exactly that.

I will say that my friends and colleagues who set up shop in Artist Alley/Small Press a) felt like they were physically separated from all the action and b) didn’t sell very well at NYCC.

But to be fair, I feel like SDCC is the same way. And that’s fine, that’s the nature of these MEGASHOWS. While it’s kinda sad that the titans & the social scene distract from the “little guys,” it’s also why shows like APE, SPX and Stumptown are growing. Also the reason why I see little value in the megashows as an indie producer.

But as someone pointed out on Twitter (don’t make me recall who), it would also be nice to have CLOSED shows that are for trade only, where all us industry folk, of all levels, can just get together and shoot the breeze and do that socializing/networking without the pressure to put on a show for the unwashed masses.

Something for further discussion, I’m sure.

Sean T. Collins

October 13, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Kris, I guess I have two responses to that. One is that I’m never gonna see the big superhero and media tie-in properties as the underdog in this biz, ‘cuz they ain’t! Although you’re right, quite apart from the altcomix issue, it’s a good thing for there to be a big, well-run, compelling show for “mainstream” comics in New York and Reed deserves credit for that. Response #2 I sort of covered in the post, which is that I think alt/art/lit comics are a necessary component for ANY show in terms of making it worth doing.

Lord only knows why I never thought of a trade show, PJ. Very interesting.

I had fun at SDCC this year, but mostly, I stuck to the stuff I was interested in when it came to panels/presentations/etc., which was the smaller, indie stuff.

I decided at nearly the last minute (well, Wednesday) to not go to NYCC. There were personal reasons (I had family visiting not too far away, for one thing) but mostly, it just didn’t sound like fun to me. My non-refundable bus tickets will be used for either King Con or Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. (I haven’t decided yet.)

There’s nothing wrong with shows like NYCC and I don’t fault people for wanting to go them. They’re fun — I mean, after all, I do go to them, generally. But I also think they present a different — or at least not as inclusive — view of comics sometimes. And I’m not one to say that indie comics are somehow “better” than superhero comics — I like them both — but I do tend to be more interested, in terms of personal taste, what is going on in indie comics.

Yeah, I know indie comics have plenty of their own shows (one day, I will go to APE or Stumptown — I’m well acquainted with the East Coast shows) bu I guess I’d like there to be more room for all at some of these bigger cons.

In summary: I don’t blame you for not going because I get it.

Brigid Alverson

October 13, 2010 at 8:31 pm

I have been going to NYCC since 2007. Every year, the show floor is laid out differently. This year, the Artists Alley was completely separate from the main floor, but there were quite a few smaller publishers on that main floor, as well as a good-sized webcomics pavilion.

I understand your concerns, but I think they reflect something I noticed myself: There were a lot of smaller publishers there, but they weren’t getting written about. That is partly their fault. I always get a deluge of press releases before a show, as I’m sure you do, too; this time, I got a lot from movie and game producers, not so many from comics publishers. The big news at these shows is always the new-title announcements, and the smaller publishers either didn’t have any or didn’t promote them. And as my boss says (and your essay reflects), if it wasn’t in the papers, it didn’t happen.

I think the press can share some of the blame as well, because we tend to get distracted by stuff like the Big Two moving the furniture and not notice the great comics that are right under our noses. I took a quick dash through the Artists Alley during the last hour I was in New York, and I skidded to a halt in front of Larry Marder’s table. Larry Marder! Sitting at a table full of Beanworld comics, handing out Beanworld action figures (actual beans with eyes drawn on them). I could have talked to him for an hour, but I had a train to catch.

For the record, there were a lot of indy creators there, not just at Artists Alley but at their publishers’ booths or just roaming the floor. I always find unexpected riches at these shows, which is why I go. (But after experiencing last Saturday at NYCC, my desire to go to San Diego has been forever quelled.)

Pantheon did have X’ed out at their booth; I saw it in passing, but I didn’t stop. I had a panel to cover.

maybe it’s just me, but I can see how an indie publisher (especially one based on the west coast) might not want to spend the time/$ to exhibit at NYCC the week before APE and barely a month after SPX. trade shows are an expensive undertaking — shipping books ain’t cheap, neither are booth fees, airfare, meals and $$$ NYC hotels (double ouch).

NYCC has the potential to be the east coast version of San Diego comic-con: the all-purpose, comics/media/movie/tv/games pop culture mega-event that fans and pros alike want to flock to and network/party/grab free schwag at, and there are many who would love to see it be just that. But honestly, it can’t be everything to everyone.

You know who might have gone to comic con, if not for people like you, Sean?

about 100,000 Iraqis.

Sean T. Collins

October 14, 2010 at 3:44 am

A post about NYCC seems like a weird reason to bring that up, but you’re obviously right, to my daily and undying regret and shame, Dan.

This was quite a word count to simply say “it’s not my cup of tea”. It was just fine…until that last line. That’s where you turned into the entity just as bad as the fanboy – the comic snob. That one sentence kinda made me wish I hadn’t read everything leading up to it. The show didn’t have the books that matter most to YOU. Otherwise, “matter” is quite a relative concept. Then again, I don’t pay much attention when someone mentions “comix” (see how damning a final sentence can be?)

I really don’t mind being/being seen as a snob–I’m a critic and I’m not going to concede the idea that some art is more valuable than other art–or losing people who tune out over how comics is spelled. Oh well!

A lot of good points, some derailed by snarky remarks or shots at the reviewer, some not.

I do agree with Will that your last line somewhat renders most of your article moot or negligible, but it doesn’t do this completely. What I think a lot of those commenting have overlooked is that this is an editorial, and within an editorial you generally don’t want to put qualifiers such as “to me.” Of COURSE you’re referring to the comics that matter “to you,” it’s your editorial.

I briefly talked about this post with a friend, and it made me wonder what comics you read regularly Mr. Collins. I’m curious if your love of independent books is indicative of a hatred or disdain for mainstream titles, if you simply don’t find them entertaining, or something else entirely.

It seems like narrowing a medium down to one specific area is limiting the possibilities, and not allowing yourself the opportunity to find great stories no matter who publishes them. Maybe you do read lots of mainstream books, I’m not sure. Like Will mentioned though, that last sentence does give me a pretty good guess at what your opinion of them are, but in the end I don’t know for sure.

Oh, you haven’t lost me so easily. I actually enjoy your writing. I just find it funny that you would rally for inclusion, while backhanding what’s already there. That’s like showing up late to a party, and then wanting them to change the music that everyone else was enjoying.

Sean T. Collins

October 14, 2010 at 7:12 am

Austin: Of COURSE you’re referring to the comics that matter “to you,” it’s your editorial. Yep! And obviously all judgments are subjective, though again, I do feel that one of the roles of a critic is to assess the relative value of the art with which she engages.

As for what comics I read, I guess the best way to get a sense of that is to check the review section on the sidebar of my personal blog. I’m spending the month reading my way through Love and Rockets, but before that my last two reviews were of Batman: Knightfall and Dark Reign: Zodiac, both of which I liked. Meanwhile, in terms of recent and ongoing front-of-Previews books (I don’t like the term “mainstream,” it just seems like a misnomer when you consider everything from the funnies to the likes of Dan Clowes having comics in the New York Times to how well Scott Pilgrim did) I read and enjoy Batman and Robin/The Return of Bruce Wayne/Morrison issues of Batman, Green Lantern, Brightest Day, The Flash, Action Comics, Ex Machina, Astro City, Joe the Barbarian, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics Enemy/Mystery, Powers, Criminal, Incognito, Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hercules/Prince of Power/Chaos War, Atlas/Gorilla Man, Captain America, Secret Avengers, Steve Rogers Super Soldier, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thunderbolts, Invincible, The Walking Dead, Hellboy, and B.P.R.D.–in addition to tons and tons of alternative comics.

Sean T. Collins

October 14, 2010 at 7:12 am

Stay with me Will! YOU STAY WITH ME BUDDY! :)

Well, if you can’t make APE this weekend, how about PIX?
Pittsburgh’s not that far away from New York (I can drive there in less than 10 hours) and this being it’s first year and it not having the benefit of ANY of the big named Alt press, you might see something you like.

As for a trade show, NYCC started out as just that (in fact, I’ve heard that the first year, dealers were added as an afterthought). Remember, Reed is a company that came to doing a Comic Show from doing BookExpo. Anyway, originally Friday was Professionals only, and Saturday and Sunday were open to the public. I remember it being a very different environment that first day that was met with a lot of positivity from the pros I know (including many getting offered work from other industries who came to the Con looking for artists). Of course, the rest of the weekend was a nightmare, and it’s overall success caused NYCC to start going smaller and smaller with professional only period (which is now just the first three hours on Friday, a time where most artists have yet to show up and most exhibitors still haven’t finished setting up).

Steve: Friday at the first NYCC (2006) was professionals only until 4pm. Then it opened to the public. The following years they’ve opened it up to the public earlier (1pm). I talked to a few retailers and other people at the show, and everyone seems to agree that Friday needs to be open to the public all day, and turn Thursday into a Preview Night for professionals/press only. I fully support this idea.

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