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Committed: Artist’s Alley vs NYCC & How I Made NYCC Mine

Attendance at New York Comic-Con was up again this year, this time to around 116,000. Although Lance Fensterman said that with the increase in attendance there was also an increase in space, this space was circuitous and inconvenient, wrapping itself around the ongoing construction work. Next year the completed construction work promises an extra 90,000 square feet, clearly this can’t come fast enough. Apparently the terrible door policy was purposely done to control the level of crowding inside the Javits Center by slowing down the influx of people into the building simply. However, this meant that instead the surrounding neighborhood became unpleasantly crowded, which meant that people were spilling out on to New York streets full of traffic. Hardly a sensible way to deal with the problem and certainly not very civic minded for the surrounding neighborhood. I would like to politely suggest that if the organizers do not feel that there is enough room in the convention for the number of people they sold tickets to, then they need to consider selling less tickets.

Comic Book Resources (and Comics Should Be Good columnist) Tim Callahan asked “who is NYCC for? It’s kind of an oppressive disaster of a convention.” and I have to agree. People on the main floor repeatedly complained to me that there was no discernible logic to the layout and the building work led to a very interesting entrance and exit policy. This seemed to engender hiring a lot of extra staff to stand around yelling at people trying to exit and enter the building. Unfortunately these staff weren’t able to offer basic information, like when the convention would open, or where to find Artist’s Alley. Comic book journalist and comedian Timmy Wood suggested a shuttle bus to Artist’s Alley, and while that might be overstating the distance from the convention, I’m positive that a lot of people didn’t find it or manage the walk to it.

On the opening day of the convention, I was told to enter through the pro badge holder’s entrance on the far right of the Javits Center (after being told to climb along a wall and squeeze through a gap. I was incredulous at first but the convention staff assured me that this was the only way for me to get to my entrance.) After I had completed my mini-assault course, I asked another staff member at the entrance where I would find Artist’s Alley, to which he shook his head confusedly and told me he wasn’t sure. Upon entering at this end of the convention hall, I was funneled straight onto the convention show floor by staff and once on the show floor, saw not a single sign to indicate where Artist’s Alley was. After 2 hours on the floor, meeting nice people and looking at small-press books, I left for the day, still without having found it. The next day I looked at a map online for directions and it turned out to be on the opposite end of the convention center from the entrance I had to use.

Despite the difficulty for attendees looking for it, putting Artist’s Alley in the North Pavilion worked out pretty well for some artist’s, in that it allowed them some breathing space. Because it was so inaccessible from the human traffic jam of the main convention, Artist’s Alley became a more sparsely attended mini-convention of artist’s, with no games, movies, or otherwise non-comicbook-related distractions.

While some artists could probably have done better business, (teacher and creative director, Matthew Richmond lamented the separation of Artist’s Alley, since it prevented his students with tables there from being able to mingle with other professionals and industries), the more well-known artist’s were happy. Ben Templesmith repeatedly espoused the joys of NYCC, and described Artist’s Alley as “an entire hangar full of comic creators.” I have to agree that if you were at NYCC, Artist’s Alley was the better place to be. People in costumes with protuberances had enough space to be seen, people in costume comprising largely of nudity could walk around unmolested, and best of all there were relatively short lines to talk to some of the great comic creators in the business.

Brazilian artist Aluisio Santos lamented that “NYCC has the worst management”, probably because he spent too much time on the main convention floor. But visiting Portuguese artist João Lemos, who spent all of his time in Artist’s Alley, told me that it was his favorite comic book convention. This dichotomy seemed to be a recurrent theme between professionals divided between what became two conventions. Perhaps next year, when the building work is complete and the Javits is not only bigger, but has more entrances and less of a division between the halls, the problems of NYCC will be solved.

Looking outside of the crowding and divisiveness of two conventions, I personally had a pretty interesting convention. After my article last week, I decided to embrace the chaos and focus on making just a few connections instead of trying to pack too much in. This year I also worked the experience better by spending more time outside of the convention, making the most out of my trip East as well. On one afternoon I left the convention center and visited a great comic book store called Manhattan Comics. Owned by the friendly and relaxed Robert Conte, the store is bright and spacious, with a ton of back issues as well as a good selection of current books, collectibles and figures. Located in the Flatiron district, in the space where KISS used to rehearse, Conte wasn’t put off by the fact that I was curious about this, even though I knew nothing about KISS (what can I say, I like my history) and he told me that visitors are divided equally between comic book fans and KISS fans.

For me, the biggest news is that Muji is opening their first branch on the West Coast (in San Francisco) in January. While the opening of a Japanese designer store might not seem like comic book related news, if you’re self employed (as most comic book creators are) a store which sells this many amazing little design tools is a great thing. I’ve been using the unlabeled calendars for the last 18 years (there are no dates so you can write in your own, choosing how much space you want to give each week and using the space to note each project you’re working on and how long you spend on it – indispensable!) Then there are all the lovely pens, pencils and pads of paper. Believe me, it is worth a visit.

Like last year, Brian Cronin (i.e. the man who brings you Comics Should Be Good) kindly made a couple of hours to meet with me for lunch, where we talked at length about all sorts of comic book and related things. I discovered that there is a reason he is so good with the comic book legends; he not only has an encyclopedic knowledge of comic books, but a very impressive memory (which balanced out nicely in conversation, since my memory can be terrible.) We reminisced about the weirdest relationships in the ’70′s and ’80′s Avengers (which is still what I’d like to see a movie about), thought bubbles in comic books, inappropriate superhero public service announcements, why Kelly Thompson would make a great comic book writer but why I prefer her recent novel – The Girl Who Would Be King – as a novel (because the insight into the characters and their private moments was wonderfully written), and how to write about what we love on Comics Should Be Good without inciting anger in people who disagree with us (naturally, with his extra years of experience, Brian is a lot more zen about this than I am.) Overall Brian Cronin is a natural interviewer, there was never a lull or a dull moment in our conversation and he creates a very safe and relaxed atmosphere for discussion. I felt like I’d stepped into My Dinner with Andre, and walked away energized and excited about comic books, art, and life.

After the convention was over, it was getting dark and I traipsed over to W. 29th St to take a look at where Walt Simonson, Frank Miller, and Howard Chaykin shared a studio back in the day. Staring up at the darkened offices it was strange to imagine these men creating seminal works like Daredevil and Thor in the same space, and I had to wonder if their proximity influenced the quality of their work. Was there competition, did they give each other feedback? It was a nice, quiet little excursion into history to take home with me after all the chaos and it put the the convention to bed very nicely.

I’d like to talk to you about the nice things I saw and good people I met, but I’ve already written a longer article than I intended, so I’ll try and tell you about it in next weeks column. Meanwhile if you want to see more of the convention, the photos above are a selection of the 80 or so I took, the rest are on my flickr here.

14 Comments

HOLY SHIT. pic number 6.

seriously, i would be scared to be in the same hall with all these ‘people’.

Have you never been to a convention, mckracken? We even have the weirdos in the midwest.

I too am excited about the SF MUJI, Sonia! See you there (or the Isotope)!

I’m pretty sure #6 is King Hippo from Nintendo. He probably alternates between that character and Comic Book Guy. Seriously, if that’s your body shape, you may as well embrace it in the one crowd that is virtually guaranteed to appreciate the reference.

I was with you until you started talking about having lunch with Our Dread Lord and Master. Come on, we all know he’s not a real person, just a robot designed to blog. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid, Sonia!

A NYC friend wonders how a building with a maximum occupancy of 85,000 fit 116,000 con-goers in it.

I applaud the King Hippo cosplayer for his courage to pull that off in public.

Holy shit, a King Hippo cosplay. That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen

@ joschr; there are plenty of characters that guy could also cosplay. Bear Hugger, Mad Clown from Super Punch-Out, Chief Wiggum, the Blob, the Kingpin, Fatman from Metal Gear Solid 2, Volstagg the Voluminous, Fat Cobra from the Immortal Iron Fist, Allfather D’Aronique from Preacher, King Robert Baratheon, Rufus from Street Fighter 4; and of course, Fat Bastard!

Warning, total rant/tangent here:

As a local, I cannot understand or endorse the love for Manhattan Comics. They have the most incompetent staff I’ve ever experienced, no back issue selection (what they DO have is a disorganized mess), and have outright lied to customers (myself included). If you are ever going to NYC, do yourself a favor, go to Roger’s Time Machine or take the long trip out to Sunset Park in Brooklyn and visit Joe Koch’s warehouse (who did have a con table).

Tangent/Rant over.

I was in that mess, and Thursday was and always will be the better day to go. Less people, and more space. I have attended NYCC for the last 3-4 years and I make it a point to NEVER go on Saturday, due to the crowding. It’s just…scary. Friday is a little quieter, and Sunday is full of kids, which is great to see. Did anyone else who attended feel the lack of comic dealers and GN sellers, or was it just me?

Tom,

I loved Roger’s Time Machine and glad to hear it’s still around. Roger remembered me after years of not being in the store and gave me crap for not coming around (I moved away from the area). I was also a fan of Cosmic Comics on 23rd, but last time I went in, it seemed to have a new ownership and name (and witnessed a loud, vocal fight between manager and employee. It got uncomfortable and they didn’t even notice they lost my business when I slipped out of there). Never made it out to Koch’s, but always planned on hitting one of those weekend sales.

So many options for comics in NYC, seek them out comic fans.

–B

I’ve been going to NYCC since the beginning , and I will say that it is a 100x better than it was when it first began. The inaugural con was full of problems mainly because at the time there was very little space due to the fact that there were another events going on at the same time in the center. The only problem I had was locating Artist Alley, as it always seems to change locations every year. This year I thought it was in a great location as it was more spacious even on Saturday which was indeed the crazier of the 4 days. If they were to change anything I would say that they need to somehow reconfigure the show floor, and retail floors so that it’s one area, also I think they should have the autographing area all in one section because It was difficult to find certain people to get signature’s from. I feel within the next 2 to 5 years the Con, will outgrow the Javits center, hopefully another venue will be built to accommodate the ever growing amount of attendees.

As far as comic shops go, I go to Midtown comics on 40th and 7th. It’s very friendly, the staff is awesome

“A NYC friend wonders how a building with a maximum occupancy of 85,000 fit 116,000 con-goers in it.”

Presumably, the latter figure is the “over the whole day” figure.

“Manhattan Comics. no back issue selection (what they DO have is a disorganized mess)”

That’s not true; they’re arranged alphabetical by title after being divided up by company. I’d agree it’s not a great selection, but I’ve always had good luck grabbing one-off back-issues there. Better than Midtown (which has a lot of back issues, but then when you flip through, there’s a lot of repetition) or St. Marks (which probably has the most back issues, but the layout is difficult and embodies every comic book store cliche perfectly).

I used to really love wandering around Jim Hanley’s, but they’ve been on the decline for like a decade. Midtown may not be the best in any specific field, but I’d agree with Thomas that it’s the best overall.

And, yeah, Cosmic Comics *definitely* changed management at some point; the first time I went there was about a year before that (somehow, I’d never been there), and I loved it, and then when I went back, everything was different.

Is that one down around W.4th and 6th Ave still open? The one on a second floor? It might actually be 8th street; I always forget where it is until I’m walking around down there and can see the streets.

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