Since Reed Exhibitions launched the current incarnation of the New York Comic Con in 2006, the event has become somewhat of a San Diego East. While it’s still not the overwhelming media onslaught of the San Diego convention, with its distance from Hollywood and its smaller convention space, it is the only other convention in the country that even comes close to replicating the feel of the San Diego experience, at least in terms of the crush of attendees and the overwhelming amount of geek sensory stimulus.
And the New York Comic Con is this week, Thursday through Sunday, if you haven’t been paying attention.
If you do have a chance to attend, you’ll find that there’s a lot to take in. There’s too much to do, and too much to see, and when the crowds get big enough, and the aisles get congested enough, it’s even more difficult to check all the things off your checklist. You’ll be too busy trying to find a way to avoid the crushing mob.
So here are some insider tips, from the point of view of someone who has attended every one of these New York Comic Cons and a handful of San Diegos. Here’s the stuff that will help you make the most of your weekend experience, whether you’re at the show all four days, or just swinging by for an afternoon (if you can still get yourself a ticket).
1. Don’t Feel Bound to the Javits Convention Center
The Javits is a nice enough place for a convention (even when you have to go through an under-construction zone to get from one section of the show to another, as you had to last year, and this year again), but it’s just the place where the New York Comic Con happens to take place. You can, and should, leave and come back. There’s no reason to eat meals at the convention center ever.
If you really don’t want to pull yourself away for an hour or two in the middle of the day to grab a late lunch, then bring an energy bar and a bottle of water. But there’s really no reason to live that way. Go out for lunch, then come back. Go out for dinner, and come back for the late screenings and panels. There’s too much to completely take in, no matter how long you’re there anyway, and the best part about leaving the convention center and going out for lunch is .
2. The Biggest Crowds Tend to Start Blocking Hallways Around 1:00
If you time your late lunch correctly, and head out of the convention center just when everyone is coming in from their noonish lunch, then you’ll avoid the heaviest foot traffic on the convention floor. This is particularly true for Saturday, but it’s trueish the other days as well. From 1:00 3:00 you’re most likely to get stuck trying to walk around the convention floor and getting stuffed behind a wall of people, all of whom are just as stuck as you are. All it takes is one cosplayer in a Black Canary costume and a half-dozen amateur photographers and the whole flow of the aisle comes to a halt when it’s congested like that. Best to plan your lunch break for that time.
New York has literally ten million restaurants to choose from.
While there aren’t a ton of good selections in the vicinity of the Javits Center, there are enough, and everything else is just a subway ride away.
3. Most Panels are Not Worth Your Time
Now that I’ve told you how and when to get away from the convention, now it’s time to talk about what to avoid while you’re there.
The New York Comic Con is well-scheduled, with almost as many panels planned as there are restaurants in New York City. Some of them will be very good. Most of them will not be.
After having attended forty or fifty panels over the years, covered a handful for the press, and been behind the microphone a few memorable times, I know that panels can be fun, panels can be informative, but mostly they are attractive just because they are a chance to sit down for an hour after being on your feet all day.
Consider this: the majority of panels are specifically designed as promotional tools. Some publisher or studio or creative team or production company or toy manufacturer has you in a room for an hour, and they have somehow convinced you to sit there while they pitch their upcoming products to you or tell you how great their current products are. It’s like you’re paying for a chance to attend a series of infomercials. Even if there is some amazing announcement at the panel presentation like, say, Pendleton Ward and Vince Gilligan will head up a relaunch of Captain Marvel you’ll be able to read about that stuff online a few seconds after it’s announced anyway. A dozen websites will be doing live feeds from the convention hall, and everyone in the audience will be tweeting away about everything.
If you really want to see a celebrity or a writer or an artist in person, from fifty feet away, then, sure, attend these kinds of panels. Just be warned that the popular ones (which, in the convention world, means the major Marvel or DC panels, and, especially, anything involving a television show of some sort) have lines that you have to wait in, for longer than they’re worth. San Diego now has panels where five-hour waits are the norm. New York isn’t that bad, but even waiting an hour for a panel is an hour standing in a line doing nothing fun at all.
The absolute best panels, by the way, if you do want to rest your legs and get a worthwhile experience out of it, are the ones where you’re (a) likely to see a veteran creator in a late-phase of their career, or (b) likely to see someone who is a good storyteller, or (c) a combination of the two.
This year, in New York, you can see Captain America co-creator Joe Simon on Friday afternoon in a rare convention appearance, or watch Art and Franco from Tiny Titans in a drawing showdown on Sunday morning, or listen to Jeff Smith talk about his Bone experiences on Sunday afternoon. Those are panels worth attending, and they aren’t likely to be nearly as difficult to get into as the ones where Marvel will announce that She-Hulk may make a guest appearance in The Defenders sometime this winter.
4. Buy Stuff You Can’t Buy Online, at the Best Prices
I’m always baffled when I see people waiting in line to buy a stack of trade paperback collections at a convention from some retailer offering 20% off. Anyone who attends conventions regularly knows that no trade paperbacks or hardcover collections are worth buying unless they are at least 50% off. Those kinds of deals can be found all over the place, and one lap around the convention floor will give you a sense of where the best deals are.
Yeah, so never pay more than 50% off cover price for a book with a spine, and never buy a single issue for more than a dollar. Not at a convention anyway. Unless it’s some rarity that you absolutely can’t live without. In that case, spend away.
But please don’t pay $2.00 for that All-Star Squadron issue you’re missing. You can find it cheaper somewhere at the show. And don’t pay $10 for that Batman trade paperback that half the booths at the show have for five bucks.
And there’s really no need to load up on collected editions anyway, even if you get a good deal. You can buy that stuff online easily, and even if you have to pay a few bucks more overall, at least they will ship it directly to your home. Carrying around bags full of trades and hardcovers is not a great way to spend a day at the convention. (I have made that mistake a few times, and always regretted it.)
The best things to buy at the New York Comic Con are the comics and collections that are more difficult to find online. The small press books that aren’t widely distributed. The self-published issues that the guys and gals in Artist’s Alley are selling just to cover the costs of their booth (and never quite making any money, ever). That’s where you’ll find the most interesting stuff at the show. Talk to creators you don’t know much about. Many of them may not produce work you like, but you don’t have to buy that stuff. Buy what looks good. But don’t pass by the small press area or the no-name artists just because you’re on the hunt for a good deal on some Teen Titans trade paperback.
5. Socialize! It’s the Best Part of Any Convention
Meet new people at the New York Comic Con, from other fans to your favorite creators and publishers. It’s not just a shopping center and a four-day infomercial. It’s a convention, which means people with similar interests are convening at a single location to focus on what they love most. Sure, at the Javits this weekend, you’ll encounter a wide range of fans and creative types. Some of whom may not be interested in the same kind of comics and geek culture that you’re interested in. But I bet there’s a lot of overlap, and you’ll be in the vicinity of more like-minded people than usual.
And NYCC will give you plenty of chances to chat up your favorite writers and artists and editors from almost every comic book publisher imaginable. You don’t even have to wait in line to do it most of the time. For example, guys like Jason Aaron and Scott Snyder and Francisco Francavilla and Cliff Chiang (top-notch comic creators, all), well, they have their own booths set up at the show this year, or they’re sharing booths with others. They will have designated signing times at the big publisher’s booths, and they will have lines wrapping around the corner for fans to get autographs, but an hour later, they will be at their own booths with just a few people hanging around to talk to them. It’s a weird phenomenon, but a common one at big conventions. It’s like the average fan doesn’t even think of these guys outside the Marvel or DC context, and doesn’t leave that small part of the convention floor.
If they did, the fans would see the same creators they stood in line 30 minutes for, just standing around, having normal conversations. Or shopping for Dalek action figures.
A bit of advice, when talking to creators you like: don’t just say, “I love your work” and stop there. Ask a question. Because a question will lead to a conversation, and “I love your work” leads to a “thank you,” then an awkward silence. Every time.
And don’t forget about the parties and off-site events that will give you a chance to meet other fans or some creators that might be worth talking to. Heidi MacDonald and her crew at The Beat typically do the most comprehensive job of updating the public about off-site events at the various conventions as part of their coverage of the show. They don’t yet have much listed for NYCC 2011, but I’m sure we’ll see significantly more updates by the end of the week. And I know I’ll be attending at least one of the events already listed: the sneak preview of Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts on Friday night.
Maybe I’ll see you there!
I will be the guy not loaded down with bags full of collected editions, not waiting in line to get into a promotional panel. I hope.
Tim Callahan consistently ranks the New York Comic Con as one of his Top Five Favorite Weekend events of the year. If Christmas weren’t on a Sunday this year, it might even be in the Top Two.