So what exactly do you do at Comic Con New York?

by Martin Hafer

The first part of my coverage of Comic Con New York for Influx may have scared a few of you! After all, the sheer size of this annual convention is overwhelming and I talked about this in my last article (read part 1 here).  You are jostled about by crowds, getting in and out of the Javits convention center is slow and difficult and it’s certainly not for everyone.  But let’s say you do decide to go…what should you expect apart from bigger and bigger crowds as the convention keeps growing each year?!  Last year 151,000 attended and preliminary estimates are 160,000 plus for this last weekend!!

Many folks seem to come to Comic Con for one reason above all–to show off their imagination and skill when it comes to cosplaying their favorite characters (i.e., dressing up as a character from pop culture).  I would estimate that about a third of the attendees came in costumes.  Some are pretty simple and some are truly amazing and rival the stuff you’d see on TV or in the movies.  A few of these folks enter cosplaying contests but most simply want to celebrate what they love and pose for admirers eagerly snapping photos.  And, there are TONS of admirers doing this and this tends to create huge bottlenecks throughout the convention.  You really can’t blame people when you see folks dressed as dinosaurs or loooking as if they just walked off the set of The Walking Dead!  Taking photos is very infectious and a few times I just felt stunned at the difficulty, complexity and beauty of the costumes.  I think William Shatner was right when I recently heard him say that even without celebrities, the conventions would go on because it’s REALLY about the folks who love to dress up.
Now this brings me to the celebrities, you will certain see quite a few at the convention…but there are a few things you should know first.  While casts of TV shows and movies do attend Comic Com New York, the number and often the fame of the attendees isn’t what you’d see at the more famous Comic Con in San Diego.  Yes, there was a reunion of the cast of Firefly, a few movie premiers and quite a few other movie and TV stars attended New York.  However, often the panels and autograph sessions stressed writers and artists–folks who are not so recognizable to the general public.  If you want to see comic book writers or the creators of TV shows or film directors, you’ll see plenty of them at the New York venue.  But if you are expected wave after wave of top celebrities hawking the newest Hollywood blockbuster, you might be a bit disappointed–it happens but to a much lesser extent at the New York convention.  This is because in many ways, San Diego is more of a trade show to promote Hollywood whereas New York is more about the fans.  Getting tickets to the summer event in San Diego are nearly impossible because the demand is so great and so many of the tickets go to the media, stars and various industry insiders.  While New York features less big names, it’s still the larger of the two conventions and, most importantly, fans can get tickets much, much easier.  It isn’t exactly easy–but much easier than San Diego.  I’ve tried to get San Diego tickets several times–and tickets were sold out within seconds.  With New York, the window is larger…perhaps you’ll have a full day to get your four-day tickets (be patient with the online process!) and individual day tickets are a lot easier to obtain and are available much longer than that.

Now this does not mean you will see ANY celebrities at New York Comic Con, however–even if they attend.  There are some problems due to the size of the crowd and inadequacy of the Javits Center.  Often panels as well as autograph and photo sessions are capped off and folks leave disappointed.  A great example is the Disney hit show, Gravity Falls.  Inexplicably, the room devoted to Alex Hirsch (writer, creator and voice actor for many of the characters) was not especially large.  Normally folks are advised to arrive in line outside each panel about 45 before its scheduled start.  In this case, the line was capped an hour and fifteen minutes before the scheduled start.  To make it worse, they don’t clear the room between panels (a HUGE mistake that they need to address) and many in line STILL didn’t get in to see Mr. Hirsch even after the long wait.  I witnessed a lot of very disappointed folks that day and it was a bit heartbreaking since many of these people were very young.  Additionally, Hirsch did a book signing later that day but only 150 wristbands were distributed for this event and most of these rabid fans were turned away as a result.  So the key is that if you are a mega-fan of someone or some show, GET THERE EARLY and pay very close attention to the announcements and NYCC app (yes, they had a very nice app for iPhones and Androids).  And, if the fandom is huge…get there really, really early!!  Also, realize that many of the panels will be meeting at the same time and you cannot possibly see everything and everyone you want to see, so you need to prioritize.

I also should talk a bit more autographs and photos.  Some of the celebrities charge fans rather hefty sums for the privilege, so you should budget accordingly ($40-100 on average per signature or photo).  But this is NOT always the case.  In addition to Hirsch, there were quite a few others who gave out their autographs for free if you purchased a book–such as Rebecca Sugar’s book about her character Steven Universe.  Others will sign a print of their artwork or pose for free for photos.  How do you know the costs and locations?  Generally the app or website will provide this information, though a few just announced these events at various booths throughout the display floor.  Also, realize that some of the featured guests do cancel at the last minute–and the many fans of Billie Piper (‘Rose’ from Dr. WHO) were crushed because something came up and she did not attend.
So this brings me to the third floor of the Javits Center.  The third floor is simply overwhelming and amazing.  Some companies and corporations have displays that must have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) and are spectacular…such as Funco, Pepsi and their Back to the Future tribute, Marvel as well as Square Enix.  They are sights to behold and are, not surprisingly, very crowded as folks want to buy or receive free exclusive items offered only at this convention or see glimpses of products coming out in the near future.  Most of the other booths are a bit smaller but still pack a lot of great books, t-shirts, original comic book art and so much more into them.  If there is a fandom out there, you’ll probably see folks selling stuff for it on the third floor.  It’s a bit of a madhouse…but one you really have to see.

While much of the second floor also is taken up by various companies and corporations hawking their products or giving away food samples (I sure wanted more of these!), the biggest draw is Artists Alley.  Here, the famous and near-famous show off their work and sell it to their fans.  A few will do commissions, most sell prints and many sell original art.  Personally, I liked Artists Alley a bit more than the third floor because it had less of a corporate feel and because, while crowded, it wasn’t so insanely crowded as the upstairs displays.  I loved the art and spent much of the convention there.  A highlight for me was meeting Basil Gogos–a name few would recognize but who drew the covers of many of the old Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (don’t tell my youngest, but I got her an autographed book of his work).
So is there anything else to do at Comic Con New York?  Sure.  Much of it, however, is something you’ll have to learn about not only by using the app but by paying close attention to social media.  Using Twitter and Facebook, for example, many companies, shows and filmmakers announced off-site events such as parties, advanced screenings and even speed dating!  There are also a lot of events which aren’t put on by companies or stars but which are created by the fans themselves and they are off site as well.

The bottom line is that I was there for all four days of the convention and only at the very end did I find any sort of a lull…and that was only because I was about ready to pass out from exhaustion!  It’s fun, overwhelming and something that words and photos can only hint at–you need to see it for yourself!

Images: © Martin Hafer 2015