Additional reporting by Max Robinson
This weekend marked the very first Special Edition: NYC, a new comic book convention that promises to deliver just that: a comic book convention. It’s put together by ReedPOP, the same company responsible for the New York Comic Con that occurs in the very same building, the Javits Convention Center, every October. New York Comic Con is an enormous, flashy, noisy affair that takes up the entire massive structure, with entire halls dedicated to exhibitors, panels, artists, and even screenings of TV shows or films. Like its larger, more famous counterpart in San Diego (not a ReedPOP venture), New York Comic Con is a celebration of all mass media, which sometimes means comic books take a backseat.
With Special Edition: NYC, ReedPOP seeks to supplement NYCC with a separate annual event dedicated exclusively to comic books. Instead of sprawling across the several-square-block convention center, Special Edition is mostly contained to one corner of the building, and consists only of an Artists Alley, a collection of comic book retailer booths, and two halls for panels. It is, essentially, a big-city version of a small comic book convention, where comic book fans can get easy access to the talent and goods they enjoy without getting lost in the mass of humanity or the frantic race to make the next hot panel before all the seats are taken.
“We really wanted to do something that was a little bit closer to the source material,” says Mike Armstrong, event director for ReedPOP, “and get people who were in it just for the comics to come in an environment that was a little more conducive to interacting with the creators and publishers. NYCC is huge, and it’s such a great show, and the fans love that show because there’s so much to do, but there’s a segment of our fans who really wanted something that was a little more creator-focused … something that was a little more like comic cons used to be.”
Access is the key word that explains the appeal of Special Edition. Despite the variety of top-tier talent in attendance, not a single table in Artists Alley was completely unapproachable. The aisles were never too crowded to walk, and no line was too intimidating or too time-consuming to attempt. Even honored guests Mike and Laura Allred were able to take time to talk to each and every person in their queue and sign piles of comics. This was a breath of fresh air when compared to New York Comic Con, where it’s not uncommon to have to enter a lottery for the chance to buy a sketch from a popular artist.
The more relaxed atmosphere was appreciated by every strata of participant, from artists to retailers to fans.
“I like it a lot,” says artist David Marquez (Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man). “It doesn’t have that manic vibe that New York Comic Con normally has, but you still have the same love and appreciation of comics and comic art, which I think is what it it’s all about anyway. I think it’s really the best of both worlds.” Marquez and his work were featured heavily at Special Edition, as he was one of Marvel’s spotlighted “Young Guns,” along with Sara Pichelli, Nick Bradshaw, Mahmud Asrar, Valero Schiti and Ryan Stegman.
While the exhibitor space at NYCC offers a wide variety of boutiques, almost every sales plot at Special Edition was occupied by a comic book store. Anyone looking for geek-themed attire, statuettes, or replica props were mostly out of luck, but those who came to rummage through boxes of bagged and boarded back issues or discounted trade paperbacks were likely to enter nirvana. Most retailers had a fair share of rare collectible issues on display, as well as a wide selection of back issues at dollar-bin prices. These shops are also present at NYCC, of course, but at Special Edition they were the primary retail presence. (There was also a fair selection of art dealers selling original pencils from the likes of Jack Kirby and John Cassaday, for those with deeper pockets.)
One retailer, Richard from Welcome Back Comics in Atco, New Jersey, expressed his satisfaction with ReedPOP’s efforts to make Special Edition a comics-focused event. “The crowd is more knowledgeable than in October … They know exactly what they want. It’s refreshing.”
“I like the breathing room of this con,” says Cory, a fan who’s attended every New York Comic Con since it began in 2006. She says Special Edition reminds her of the first NYCC, when there were fewer exhibitors and panelists. “You actually get to talk to the creators and the artists without bumping into everyone every two seconds.” The highlight for her: getting to meet writers Gail Simone and Greg Pak, both major figures in comics who would have been much harder to get face time with at an event like NYCC.
This feeling was pervasive among con-goers, most of whom seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere and access.
“The only drawback I’ve seen so far today is [the line for] tickets to New York Comic Con,” says Phil from uptown NYC. “It’s very long, and I think I’ll take my chances online.” Tickets for NYCC were available for sale at a special low price on the convention floor, and this was by far the longest queue at the event.
No comic book convention would be complete without cosplayers, and there was indeed a costumed contingent at Special Edition. At New York Comic Con, there are typically large numbers of fans who pull out all the stops to create perfect screen- or page-accurate representations of their favorite characters, and there were a decent number of intense cosplayers present, but a larger percentage of cosplayers were of the more casual variety. The cosplay atmosphere at Special Edition seemed to be one more of self-expression than of competition. This also meant that there were fewer fans stopping elaborate cosplayers in the aisles for photographs, which lessened the frustrating traffic caused by Comic Con’s many impromptu photo ops.
While most of the action was on the floor of North Javits with the artists and retailers, there were also two halls for panels set up on the other side of the building. Only two halls meant that only two panels could be running simultaneously, compared to nearly a dozen concurrent events at NYCC, which made planning out the day much easier for fans, but had the obvious drawback of having a much smaller variety of panels.
This is where Special Edition: NYC’s reduced scale began to hurt the value of the event. While the convention offered its own curated panels, such as the excellent Reinventing the Female Hero panel with Marguerite Bennett, Jenny Frison, Emanuela Lupacchino, Amy Reeder and Gail Simone, the panels put together by the publishers themselves lacked the punch of their Comic Con counterparts. Fans used to NYCC publisher panels packed with rock star writers and editors teasing future storylines and making major press announcements were bound to be a little let down by the more low key events offered by DC and Marvel at Special Edition.
In addition, several major publishers, including Boom! Studios, Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, and, most damningly of all, Image Comics, had no official presence. It’s likely that these West Coast-based companies couldn’t justify sending their key editorial staff or rock star writers to New York twice in the space of four months, or that they simply didn’t want to dilute the excitement of NYCC. Only Marvel, Archie and Valiant had dedicated exhibitor booths, while DC had two panels but no on-site HQ. One wonders how DC’s pending exodus from New York to Burbank, CA will affect their presence at future Special Editions.
More disappointing than the smaller presence from major publishers compared to NYCC was the relatively poor turnout by webcomics creators. While some independent online artists had tables at Artists Alley, like JL8‘s Yale Stewart or Sufficiently Remarkable‘s Maki Naro, there were more tables representing pin-up artists and total unknowns than for established webcomics creators. A convention focused solely on comic books is admirable but shouldn’t ignore the wide variety of comics talent found online, or that there is more to the world of sequential art than just superheroes and science fiction. ReedPOP would do well to seek out local webcomics talent for any future Special Editions, or at least ensure that they aren’t priced out of the event.
Perhaps Special Edition: NYC’s greatest strength from the audience’s perspective is that there was really no need to go for more than one day. Because the floor of the convention was so compact, the creators so accessible, and the panels so limited, it was very easy to see and do everything in just one afternoon. (Whether or not ReedPOP would consider this an advantage depends on whether their model depends more on sales of single-day or two-day passes.)
Special Edition: NYC was an overwhelmingly crowd-pleasing event for a significantly smaller crowd. By all accounts, ReedPOP succeeded in its goal to create a more laid-back, comics-focused convention that would would feel like a supplement to Comic Con rather than a replacement. If the strong fan response to this convention and the line for NYCC tickets are any indication, comics fans are excited and hungry for more.