Back into the Fray: New York Comic Con’s Expansion
The eighth annual New York Comic Con was held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center from Oct. 11-14, and this year the event was bigger than ever. This is my third time attending NYCC, and the convention almost seemed like a different place this time around. Cartoon Network was noticeably absent. The network neither hosted a single panel nor set up the ever-popular Cartoon Network Lounge, which in previous years has been a favorite place for weary Con-goers to rest. It was a presence that, at least on the part of this attendee, was sorely missed and judging by the number of Adventure Time cosplayers, I wasn’t the only one.
NYCC seems to also have increased the number of tickets sold to the convention, judging by the crushing masses of fans that flooded the center all four days. Gone are the days when Thursday and Sunday were only sparsely attended, and while this bodes well for the increasing prominence of NYCC (aiming eventually for the type of influence on the East Coast that San Diego Comic Con has on the West), it doesn’t seem to be great for the fans. On Friday and Saturday, the Show Floor was so crowded that it was nearly impossible to see any of the displays or vendors. Besides being generally unpleasant, increased attendance requires fans to be more wary as they peruse the Show Floor—a friend of mine caught an attempted theft in progress; when confronted, the thief said, “I wanted to see how many people I could pick-pocket today.”
That’s not to say that this year’s Con didn’t also provide a fun experience for fans. It was a particularly good year for literary guests. In addition to the plethora of authors hosted directly by publishing house booths themselves (my favorite being Peter V. Brett, author of “The Warded Man”), the con also drew big names like Anne Rice and Terry Pratchett. Both authors hosted signings in the Autographing Hall with lines that seemed to stretch to infinity.
For those of you who don’t know, Anne Rice is the original “Vampire Writer” (except for maybe Bram Stoker?), whose rabid fan base has grown exponentially since the publication of “Interview With A Vampire” in 1976. She was at NYCC promoting her most recent novel (not about vampires), “The Wolf Gift,” but she was happy to sign older favorites for fans. Personally, I was beyond thrilled to get my battered copy of “The Vampire Lestat” signed. Terry Pratchett is the amazingly prolific author of the Discworld Series, which boasts 51 installments, and he was promoting his latest novel (non-Discworld), “Dodger.” NYCC was one of only three U.S. tour stops Pratchett made, and it is to his credit that during his Meet and Greet, in which he passed out signed book plates and took pictures with fans, he stayed past his scheduled time to make sure that fans who had been waiting in line for hours got the chance to meet him. Again, a highlight of my life was stepping up to his table and shaking his hand.
The Con also hosted a number of big-name entertainment guests, and I was lucky enough to be in the front row for Q&A panels by Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown in “Back to the Future”), Sean Astin (Sam from “Lord of the Rings” and Mikey from “The Goonies”), and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from “Harry Potter”). Each of these three actors completely filled up the panel rooms in which they were presenting, and many disappointed fans were turned away at the door. Lloyd bantered light-heartedly about his fifty-plus year acting career and gave fans hope when he said that if “Back to the Future” were re-made, he would want to play Doc Brown again.
I waited through four panels to make it to the front row for the Sean Astin Q&A, and it was completely worth it. I’ve been a “Lord of the Rings” fan for over 10 years and was as utterly charmed in person by Sean Astin as I had been by Sam in the film series. It’s clear I wasn’t the only one—a fan-signed petition started at his autographing panel which earned the actor a second, previously unscheduled, panel on Sunday. Perhaps the best part of his panel was when, halfway through, Terry Pratchett walked in. The two are good friends, Astin having worked on a 2008 film adaptation of Pratchett’s novel “The Color of Magic.” Nothing creates a memorable fan experience quite like seeing two of your favorite stars up on one stage together.
Still, it’s obvious that the most fervent fans were those that showed up for Tom Felton’s panel first thing Sunday morning. Before the Panel Hall was even open, over a hundred people, mostly eager teenage fangirls, were waiting outside. When we were finally let into the Panel Hall, pandemonium ensued as fans literally ran to get good seats. I managed to make it to the front row, only to witness the dissolution of a friendship right before my very eyes—one girl disowned her friend for failing to save her a front row seat, because she would now have to sit “in the back” (actually, it was just, like, the 10th row).
And these were only the fans that showed up over an hour before the panel even began. As it grew closer to time for the Q&A panel to begin, the room completely filled up to the point at which there were at least 30 people just standing in the back of the room, and the NYCC volunteer who ushered everyone in started giving away the seats of those who took more than a minute to return from the bathroom.
When Felton finally came out, he was greeted by deafening cheers, and he good-naturedly entertained questions from his fans. His favorite spell: Expelliarmus. His dream role: James Bond. He even indulged us and sneered “Potter” into the microphone. My favorite part of the panel was when one fan asked, “How down are you with fan-fiction?” Felton’s instant reply, laughing: “Not that down.” He backtracked to clarify that while he was very supportive of the creativity of the “Harry Potter” books and films, he was sometimes miffed at the forms this creativity sometimes takes. Understandable, considering that, through fan-fiction, he has been implicated in just about every kind of slash there is.
Besides authors and actors, many organizations held “sneak-preview”-type panels. The one I was most excited to attend was TheOneRing.net’s “Hobbit” panel, in which it deconstructed the information that has been released about the film so far to try and piece together what it will actually be like. I never knew that the boxes of action figures could be so revealing. In addition to its panel, the website also manned a booth with trivia and giveaways, in addition to hosting a special party Thursday night. Clearly, for all involved, the Dec. 14 release of the film can’t come soon enough.
Other preview panels weren’t so heartening, and there is one in particular I’d like to mention, though not by name. During this panel, a female fan asked the creators of a certain comic why none of the men in the comic were buff and scantily clad when essentially every female was a buxom lass who seemed to have misplaced most of her clothes. The men on the panel were rather taken aback, answering that, “We’ve never really thought about that before,” and seemed shocked when an impromptu poll of the audience revealed that more people wanted to see buff men than buxom women. The reason I don’t want to name this particular panel is that I don’t want to give them a bad rep for sexism when it is a problem that plagues the entire industry—with one exception in a single area. Every industry panel I attended had only one woman sitting on it, yet at least half the fans at the convention, if not more, were female. However, while fandom has certainly become less male-dominated in recent years, it still has a long way to go in terms of equality.
Overall, NYCC was a tremendously fun and exciting experience, as always. Though it may seem that the convention is drifting away from its small, fan-oriented roots, I have no doubt that future Cons will continue to provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences to fans of comics and cosplay.