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.