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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.