New York Comic-Con Gets Bigger and More Techy

By Rich Schiven­er | Sep 27, 2013 | Pub­lish­ers Week­ly

It’s big­ger, its bet­ter and its com­ing Octo­ber 10–13 at the Jav­its Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

New York Com­ic-Con can be dis­tilled to four words this year: “Big­ger and more hec­tic,” says Lance Fen­ster­man, glob­al v-p of Reed­Pop, the convention’s orga­niz­er. And he’s right. With more than 116,000 atten­dees expect­ed, and some pol­i­cy changes relat­ed to a new tick­et-track­ing sys­tem, 2013 is indeed a water­shed year for the largest comics and pop cul­ture con­ven­tion on the East Coast.

Now in its sev­enth year, NYCC occurs every Octo­ber with more than 400 events spread over the course of four days, from Thurs­day to Sun­day. This year it will be held from Octo­ber 10–13 at the Jav­its Cen­ter. The facil­i­ty was not real­ly designed for con­sumer shows, which makes it dif­fi­cult to herd the mobs of eager pop cul­ture fans through it. Luck­i­ly, this year ren­o­va­tions and expan­sions to the Jav­its Cen­ter that have been in the works for sev­er­al years are near­ly com­plete, much to the joy of ReedPop’s Kim Mueller, direc­tor of con­tent and tal­ent.

Mueller says the floor plan has been recon­fig­ured to include two main the­aters that can hold 2,000–3,000 peo­ple, spaces NYCC will use most­ly for TV, games, movie pan­els, and screen­ings. “I’m very hap­py about it because turn­ing peo­ple away from pan­els is always the most heart­break­ing thing about the show,” Mueller says.

NYCC tick­ets went on sale in March, and all three-day, four-day, and VIP pass­es are gone, as are sin­gle-day tick­ets, except for a few for Thurs­day, Fen­ster­man notes. ReedPop’s brand mar­ket­ing direc­tor, Bri­an Stephen­son, adds that the show has been sell­ing out of tick­ets more quick­ly each year. “Last year it sold out a month before the show, and now we’re sell­ing out [of four day pass­es] sev­er­al months before the show.”

Peo­ple are aware of [the show], they are expect­ing it, and they’re ready when tick­ets go on sale, so I don’t have to spend sig­nif­i­cant amount of mon­ey on a local TV adver­tis­ing buy,” Stephen­son says, not­ing, “I can take some of that mon­ey and fun­nel it back to the fan expe­ri­ence on site.”

Crowd safe­ty is a major con­cern this year, and Fen­ster­man says Reed­Pop made a sig­nif­i­cant invest­ment in radio-fre­quen­cy iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (RFID) tech­nol­o­gy, which has become increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar among large-scale fes­ti­val orga­niz­ers (it’s used at Tennessee’s Bon­na­roo music fes­ti­val, among oth­ers). All tick­ets, now called NYCC-IDs, will be equipped with microchips that allow the event orga­niz­ers to trim long lines for badge pick­ups; mon­i­tor, in real time, traf­fic at the con­ven­tion; and iden­ti­fy coun­ter­feit badges. Per­haps most impor­tant­ly, it pre­vents overcrowding—a prob­lem that many vis­i­tors com­plain about each year.

How much did Reed­Pop invest in RFID? Fen­ster­man won’t name a price, offer­ing, “Let’s just say it’s more than Kim, Bri­an, and I make, times two.”

NYCC start­ed mail­ing out badges in mid-Sep­tem­ber, ask­ing hold­ers to acti­vate them online. There are incen­tives for those who do: 50 free comics offered by Comixol­o­gy and a chance to win a new Chevy.

Fen­ster­man expects the over­all atten­dance of the fes­ti­val to exceed 116,000 this year, but tick­ets are being sold in a dif­fer­ent way, thanks to the RFID sys­tem. “We are sell­ing few­er mul­ti­day pass­es and more sin­gle days to accom­mo­date more fans. So each day will have the same num­ber of peo­ple in the build­ing, but [com­pared to pre­vi­ous years] few­er of them will be repeat cus­tomers from day to day, so our total num­ber of tick­ets sold and fans in atten­dance will go up.”

Still, with the big crowd, pub­lish­ers view NYCC as the most impor­tant con­ven­tion on the East Coast, and they make it a pop cul­ture explo­sion sim­i­lar to Com­ic-Con Inter­na­tion­al: San Diego (SDCC), which is a West Coast insti­tu­tion. And the con­ven­tion doesn’t focus only on comics and graph­ic nov­els. At this year’s NYCC, Pen­guin, which also has a strong year­ly pres­ence at SDCC, will give away hun­dreds of advanced reader’s copies. Its most exclusive—and per­haps most desired—giveaway is a four-col­or, 34-page excerpt book­let of Ceme­tery Girl, a graph­ic nov­el by Sook­ie Stack­house series author Char­laine Har­ris and Christo­pher Gold­en, with orig­i­nal art­work by Don Kramer.

Pen­guin print­ed 5,000 copies of the pre­view, know­ing that con­ven­tion atten­dees love free stuff. Colleen Lind­say, asso­ciate direc­tor of mar­ket­ing at Pen­guin, notes that the com­pa­ny will have a bull­horn at NYCC (yes, a bull­horn). “It’s for keep­ing peo­ple in a line,” she says. “We gen­er­al­ly have to run a line down the cen­ter aisle so that the peo­ple who are com­ing up to our booth to talk to our edi­tors, pub­li­cists, or authors have a chance to have gen­uine con­ver­sa­tions about the books, instead of there being just a horde of peo­ple descend­ing on the booth and grab­bing things.”

Oth­er com­pa­nies are adapt­ing in oth­er ways. DC Entertainment—one of the main draws at the show along with fel­low super­hero pow­er­house Mar­vel Comics—will have a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent pres­ence this year. Instead of its tra­di­tion­al sin­gle giant booth on the show floor, it will have a more spread-out pres­ence, includ­ing a dis­play of Super­man cos­tumes in a rel­a­tive­ly under­traf­ficked part of the hall. Fifty DC artists will be giv­ing auto­graphs in Artist Alley, instead of at the booth. Accord­ing to DC’s v-p of mar­ket­ing, John Cun­ning­ham, the changes will help keep traf­fic mov­ing around Jav­its instead of dri­ving it toward the DC booth. “Besides the cos­tumes, we’ll have an inter­ac­tive dis­play, kiosks, and give­aways,” he says. “We’ve had ongo­ing dis­cus­sions with Reed­Pop about how to relieve con­ges­tion, and the big brands have to dri­ve that process.”

With the atten­tion to over­crowd­ing, there has been some grum­bling with­in the comics com­mu­ni­ty about the num­ber of pro badges giv­en out as well. These are usu­al­ly avail­able to any comics pro­fes­sion­al who asks, but this year pro reg­is­tra­tion shut down ear­ly when the max­i­mum num­ber of pro badges was hit. The Artist Alley selec­tion process and cost also irked some cre­ators. Although it gen­er­al­ly fea­tures 500 artists, many were shut out this year. In a let­ter to PW, James Mas­cia, a comics cre­ator and author of the High School Heroes nov­el series, expressed his frus­tra­tions for not get­ting accept­ed this year; the let­ter also men­tions sev­er­al oth­er promi­nent artists, such as Eis­ner Award–nominated Lau­ra Lee Gulledge, who were denied tables.

Some artists who were giv­en free tables in the past were asked to pay $500 for the space this year. Fen­ster­man says there are no free Artist Alley tables this year. “In years past, we have extend­ed cer­tain cour­te­sies, but the demand has got­ten so intense, and our costs to stage the event so steep, that Artist Alley is a ful­ly paid and curat­ed part of our show.”

Mueller chimes in, not­ing that when review­ing appli­ca­tions, the Reed­Pop team looks for a wide vari­ety of artists. There are not spe­cif­ic cri­te­ria; it’s about “mak­ing sure we are includ­ing new peo­ple, indie peo­ple, and, of course, the stan­dard ‘you see them every Wednes­day’ peo­ple.”

And to those who want to try next year? “We ask for one image and a descrip­tion of the artist’s work. Don’t assume that we know who you are. Let your work rep­re­sent itself. A lot of times we have to research peo­ple and go through their Web sites,” says Mueller.

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Author: Rhonda 2.0

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