Three Days at NY Comic-Con 2011
Comic writing royalty--Stan Lee at Comic-Con
Walter Simonson at the Con
The Great Stan Lee (Center) at Comic-Con
My weekend as a reporter at NY Comic Con
Working as a freelance writer has its drawbacks, most notably the lack of a steady paycheck. However, there are some perks to it. Sometimes I get hired to cover big events. This past weekend, I was hired by two websites to cover New York Comic-Con, the annual comic book and animation convention. Comic-Con happens twice a year; once in San Diego and once in New York. Being a New Yorker, I’m conveniently located for the latter. The event was held once again at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center.
Although the convention is called a comic book/animation event, it’s grown over the years into a huge multi-media bonanza which attracts big stars who give panel discussion and promote their latest film or TV projects. (The cast of the upcoming Avengers film was present this year.)
Before I proceed, let me dispel a few misconceptions about this event and the people who attend. Most people have probably seen unflattering versions of events like this on many TV shows. The Simpsons, Bones, Psych and other shows have done episodes which take place in sci-fi or comic conventions. If you’ve seen those shows, you probably think that events like the Comic-Con are populated entirely by geeky, socially-awkward, virginal teens and twenty-something males who have never touched a women and who spend their days obsessing over their massive collection of Star Wars memorabilia. I can tell you that this is a false stereotype.
People of all ages come to these types of events. I will say that younger people are probably more well-represented than older ones but there is no shortage of people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. (Occasionally older.) Far from being losers who will live with their parents their whole lives, I’ve met doctors, lawyers and any other type of profession you can think of. And far from socially awkward virgins, many couples (married and dating) attend together. It’s not unusual for whole families to attend together. And it’s not true that only males come to these shows. There are plenty of women (I’d say it’s 55% male and 45% female) who are fans of Twilight, Harry Potter and Vampire Diaries. (Females seem to lean more toward supernatural stuff, while the guys tend to favor Star Wars and other straight-out sci-fi franchises.)The fact that many of the attendees like to wear costumes seems to be the main evidence people give for calling the attendees “crazies”, but that’s just part of the fun. It’s like a big Halloween masquerade party.(Not everyone wears costumes, by the way. I didn’t.)These are just average, normal people who enjoy meeting celebrities, shopping for specialty merchandise, viewing animation, playing video games and spending the weekend with other comic, sci-fi and anime fans.
Day One: Friday
I arrived Friday just after twelve noon. I was a few minutes late. Although the doors opened at 10am, I was eager to attend the noon event starring comic book legend Stan Lee (Creator of Spider-Man, Iron-Man, Thor, Daredevil, the Hulk, the X-men and many others). Having grown up a comic book fanatic, Stan Lee was one of my childhood heroes. He was at the Convention unveiling the first issue of a book he’d previewed at last year’s Convention. I knew that I shouldn’t get my hopes up about meeting or interviewing him. I learned that lesson last year. (Check out my hub from last year “Stan Lee & Me” to see what I’m talking about. My efforts to meet the master were thwarted.) So I was content to watch from a distance. I got his autograph last year so I didn’t wait on the long autograph line again. I caught part of his panel discussion later on. Although his 89th birthday is coming soon, he still has a sharp mind, a quick wit and walks rather briskly for his age. I hope he lives to be 100.
I walked around the massive Dealer’s Room of the Javitz Center, looking at all the various dealer’s tables. There was movie memorabilia; DVDs/Blu-Rays; T-shirts & hats; toys and collectables; books; buttons and key-chains; and, of course, lots of comic books.
Along a big stretch of the room was an area with tables occupied by the comic book creators themselves, who were there to schmooze with the guest and sign autographs. Some of the newer, unknown, independent comic creators were there to promote their unknown books. (I got a few sample issues to check out.) There was a section of the building designated “Artists Alley” where struggling young (or even not-so-young) artists would display samples of their work for sale and offer to draw pictures of an attendee for a price.
One of the most interesting booths I came across was The Comic Book Defense Fund, which offers to pay the legal expenses for comic creators in other countries who have been arrested for printing comics which were designated unsuitable or scandalous by the respective authorities.
There were constant video-game contests going on, and an announcer with a microphone would shout of the action as if he were promoting a live sporting event. There were lots of food vendors (If you didn’t want to go to the Javitz Food Court). There was a nice cafeteria area on the top level with a view of the Hudson River. Local garage bands took turns playing their music for the lunch and dinner crowd.
The media (TV as well as print) was moving around the room, filming the festivities and interviewing people. MTV and other cable networks had booths overlooking the whole massive scene, where they did interviews with celebrities. (I was one of the minor press people so I didn’t get access to celebrities.)
There were lots of costumes. People love to dress up for these events. Some were very elaborate (Transformers or Iron Man) and some were more simple (Dr. Who). The Black Canary from DC Comics is a perennial favorite for the ladies. This year, Sailor Moon was also well-represented by the girls. For the men, Captain America was very popular. Jedi Knights are always trendy, too.
The thing that amazes me most about the Convention is the uninhibited nature of the visitors, especially the women. Despite the geeky reputation, there were lots of women there dressed in scantily clad costumes (Like Princess Leia’s harem outfit from Return of the Jedi, or Wonder Woman’s revealing red-white-blue garb, among others) who would happily pose for pictures if anyone asked to take their photograph. (I don’t just mean the media, I mean anyone. Several women posed for me and my camera.) Events like this seem to bring out an uninhibited side of regular women.
There is a section of the Javitz Center where the celebrities were clustered to sign autographs for fans. This year, aside from the Avengers cast, there was Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Kevin Sorbo (Hercules), Maggie Q (Nikita), and the cast of Haven.
That first day, I sat in on a panel discussion about upcoming DC Comics animated projects. Elisha Dushku (Of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tru Calling fame) was there to introduce an animated Catwoman film, for which she supplied the voice of the feline protagonist. After that, I sat in on a panel about an upcoming 3-part PBS documentary about the history of comics. (I did a hub about that myself a few months ago.)
The first day wrapped up with a viewing of some Japanese anime. At 6pm, I decided to call it a day (The show went on until 7pm) and come back tomorrow for more.
Day Two: Saturday
I have to say that day two did not go well for me and really left me in a bad mood. The first panel I wanted to attend was a discussion by a NASA physicist on the future of Space Travel. However, the room where the lecture was being held was filled too quickly (they should have picked a bigger room for that) and so I couldn’t get in. After that, I was scheduled to attend a panel with director John Landis (Director of An American Werewolf in London, the Blues Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places, etc., etc.) but he cancelled the gig at the last minute.
I did get into the panel for A Liar’s Autobiography, which is an upcoming animated film about the life of Monty Python’s late, great Graham Chapman. The surviving Python members do their own voices and snippets of Chapman’s personal audio-diary will be used to supply his voice. I was looking forward to seeing this, but sadly, the event was mis-advertised. The film was not yet completed and they only had about 10 minutes worth of footage to show us. Very disappointing.
But the worst was yet to come! The big event for the day was the Avengers panel, featuring cast members from the film and the unveiling of the extended trailer. Everyone was excited about this. People started lining up hours in advance in order to get a seat in the 2,500 seat viewing hall. (I had hoped my press pass could get me in, but sadly, I was not important enough to jump the line.) So I waited and waited with everyone else. The line was formed in a humungous room (I think it may have been a storage room at one time) and zigzagged around roped-off partitions. There had to be at least 2,000 people on that endless line. I was somewhere in the middle and I hoped I would be able to get in.
Unfortunately, the ineptitude of the people running the event ruined the opportunity for most of us. As it turns out, other discussion panels were done in that same hall earlier in the day, and when they ended, no one asked the people in attendance to leave the hall. So people who had gotten a seat for a different, earlier panel just camped out in their seats for the rest of the day and awaited the Avenger panel. Between them and the reserved VIP seating, the whole 2,500 seats were taken up long before the Avenger panel was set to start.
None of this was told to the people (like me) who were waiting for three and a half hours on line to get in. It would have been nice if someone told us there were no sets available instead of letting us stand there (or sit on the floor, as many did) for hours. The only hint we people on the outside got was when some fellow in a volunteer shirt came by to say “You guys may not get in”. People were not happy to hear that, but no one left because “maybe you won’t” can also mean “maybe you will”.
The clocked ticked down. 6:30 came (the time when the panel was set to start) and the doors to the hall did not open. No one came out to tell us that there was no room at the inn. We waited. 6:35. 6:40. 6:45. 6:50. 6:55. Still, no one came out to tell us that we weren’t getting in. People started yelling “Tell us something!” and “Are we getting in or not?” The lack of communication was infuriating.
Finally, at 7:00 (when the panel was half over) someone came along and told us to follow her. Some people cheered. Were we getting in at last? She led us down the hall but then took a turn away from the door to the hall. Why was she leading us away? Where were we going? She finally led us to the Lobby. Why were we in the lobby? We all mingled there confused for a few minutes until someone with a microphone came out and said “There are no seats!” and then walked away.
People were livid. “You should have told us that two hours ago!” many yelled. A chant of “This is Bull$#/+!” rang out from the angry mob. It was an unpleasant scene.
A whole team of guys with microphones and megaphones came out to yell at us to “Clear the area!” (I felt like I was back at the Occupy Wall Street protest.) This was the part that made me the maddest. If they had all these guys with loudspeakers to yell at us now, why not send them out an hour or two earlier to tell us that there were no seats to be had? Instead, over 1,000 people wasted half the day on line for something they had no chance of getting into. Very frustrating and infuriating! I went home disgusted.
Day Three: Sunday
I arrived for day three still having a bad taste in my mouth due to the treatment I’d gotten the day before. I was determined not to wait in any more long lines for the day. I’d only go into panels that had no lines. As a result, I missed quite of few of the discussions I’d wanted to hear. The one I regret missing most was a tribute to the life and work of Muppet creator Jim Henson and the unveiling of a new graphic novel based on his work. I would have liked to have attended that but the line started forming 90 minutes before the event and I just wasn’t prepared to do that! Not after the Avengers fiasco!
The one panel I did get in to hear on Sunday was a discussion by famous comic book writer Chris Claremont. For those who don’t know, Claremont’s biggest claim-to-fame began in the late 1970s when he took a poorly selling, B-list title called the X-Men (which had been created 15 years earlier by Stan Lee but hadn’t been one of his more successful creations up until that point) and revamped it completely. The little book that had almost been cancelled (and had in fact been put on hiatus due to poor sales) suddenly erupted in popularity. Needless to say, the X-Men eventually became one of the most successful comic books ever, spinning-off a plethora of mutant-related titles, two cartoon series and five feature films (so far). Claremont has written other books as well, but he is still best known by fans as the man who turned the X-Men into pop-culture gold.
I ran into Mr. Claremont later in the dealers room where he was plugging a new novel he was writing (he doesn’t have a publisher yet). I started to talk to him, but then I was rudely interrupted by two young, female presenters from a different booth who came to gush over him. They were both pretty and they brought gifts. I knew I couldn’t compete with that and I can’t say I blame him for forgetting I was there after they showed up. I knew I was beaten so I retreated so see the rest of the exhibit.
I walked through the video game section of the Javitz center. Companies who produce computer games like to tease fans by unveiling their upcoming, newest games to the zealous gamers of comic-con. It’s great sales promotion. Give ‘em a taste and they’ll come back for more!
The costume contest is usually one of the last events, and sort of the unofficial end to the Convention. It’s not really the end, since some of the booths are still open and the video games are still being played (the contest is from 4-5pm and the convention ends at 6:00) but it’s the last really big event and it symbolically closes the Convention. The booths start closing up after that and people start filing out. I caught the beginning of the contest but I didn’t stay to find out who won. I took one last stroll around the Javitz Center and then I headed off for home by 5:00.
So that was my weekend at Comic-con. It had its moments but it wasn’t a totally successful weekend for me. There was a lot I missed and that Avengers debacle really soured me on the whole event. Still, a job is a job and I did get a lot of pictures of women in sexy costumes. So it could have been worse. And I did get a hub out of it!