By G. Michael Dobbs
NEW YORK CITY – For the past five or six years the annual San Diego, Calif., Comic Con has become more and more of a mainstream event with movie studios and television networks using the gathering of fans to market new productions.
Media outlets that a decade ago would have dismissed the event as just a bunch of fanboys have discovered that it just isn’t adolescent boys going to the show – instead, the audience there is making up an increasingly important demographic.
Speaking as a life-long pop culture fan, I had given up on ever experiencing the monster San Diego conclave. Airfare, hotel costs and other travel expenses aside, the tickets are expensive and one has to buy them a year in advance.
Now, if you’re in the Northeast and want an overwhelming convention that blasts you into sensory overload, The New York Comic Con is for you and it’s just three hours away from the Springfield area.
At this year’s convention, conducted from Oct. 10 to 13 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, visitors could stand in line for autographs from the likes of actors Patrick Stewart, William Shatner, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, to voice over wizards such as Billy West, to comic book legends including Stan Lee, Neal Adams and Jim Steranko, to meeting almost 500 comic book artists in “Artist’s Alley.”
There were panel discussions, question and answer periods as well as thousands of vendors selling an amazing variety of items.
Granted the New York show does not have the depth of movie and television presence as San Diego, which is a relatively short distance from Los Angeles, the center of those industries, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future it gains greater respect.
For those of you who think such as show is just about caped heroes, guess again. Here are a few of the interests I saw represented: people who read science fiction and horror novels; who make their own costumes to wear to such shows; those who love animation; people who follow anime – Japanese animation; those who play video games; people who collect art; those who are wrestling fans; and people who follow shows such as “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones.”
There were people of all ages and plenty of families with several generations of fans.
Here are some handy things to remember if you decide to go:
• Bring cash as not everyone takes plastic and the ATMs at the Jacob Javits Convention Center run out of money.
• Don’t expect great or inexpensive food at the food court there. Keep your expectations low and go get a hot dog from one of the many food carts outside.
• If you think you can get Shatner’s autograph and tour through the vendors in one day, forget about it. Those autograph lines are long and people essentially camp in them. Better plan to be there two days.
• Tickets ranged in price from $30 to $85, depending upon how many days someone wanted to attend.
• You should wear comfortable shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking on concrete floors. I have no idea on how the thousands of young women who wore heels as part of their costumes managed to be still standing at the end of the day.
• According to Brian LeTendre of Springfield, half of “Secret Identity” podcast team with Matt Herring, Thursday night – the opening of the convention – was the most manageable with Saturday as “insane.” He added, “I went on Sunday and the place was shoulder to shoulder.” If you don’t like crowds, this event is one to avoid.
LeTendre and Herring used the convention as the venue to gather about 30 interviews to be broadcast on their weekly podcast, www.secretidentitypodcast.com
My notebook overflowed with observations on what I saw, which started with Teras Cassidy who runs Geeknation Tours, www.geeknationtours.com
. He showed me photos of one of his “Star Trek” tours and it was clear the tours were for older fans. In that travel package, people come to Los Angeles and are shown locations where the original episodes were filmed, such as the distinctive rocks where Capt. Kirk fought the Gorn. The stunt actor who was in the Gorn suit speaks with the participants and the tour winds up at a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, Nev.
Interested in gaining a marketable skill and indulging your quest for an authentic translation of anime? One company offered an audio course in Japanese so fans could translate the cartoon’s soundtracks themselves.
Cosplay is a hugely popular interest. It is the hobby of dressing yourself as a hero, villain, a combination of several characters or your own creation. Since medieval and faux medieval cosplay is popular, there were plenty of vendors selling swords, various leather clothing items – I passed one woman who was trying on a leather corset over her Star Trek shirt. Into steam punk? There were all sorts of accessories for that look.
The venerable crafting company Tandy Leather had a booth doing brisk business selling the materials needed for people to make their own costumes – leather corsets.
Randolph Hoppe, the curator of the Jack Kirby Museum, hopes to honor one of the founding fathers of the comic book medium. Kirby created much of the Marvel Comics universe and Hoppe explained he’s trying to raise money for a “pop up” gallery of Kirby’s original artworks in his old neighborhood of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
He believes that if the money could be raised, the Kirby collection could travel to other pop up locations across the country. Since museums have to schedule traveling exhibitions as far in advance as two years, Hoppe believes the pop up approach would give him greater flexibility to bring the collection of Kirby’s art around the country.
If interested in learning more or donating to honor Kirby, go to www.kirbymuseum.org
Although the comic book industry is dominated by two huge companies – DC and Marvel – there are dozens of smaller start-ups in the mix trying to build and audience. Some, like Big Dog Ink, www.bigdogink.com
, print on paper. Its publisher, Tom Hutchinson, displayed a wide variety of books with original concepts at the New York Conventions.
Lion Forge Comics, www.lionforge.com
, goes in another direction. It is a digital company that is presenting licensed books – such as “Air Wolf” and “Knight Rider,” – as well as original concepts.
Ike Reed, Lion Forge’s director of visual media, explained to me the company is releasing its work on various digital platforms including through Amazon and iTunes.
The lure of traditional publishing is still there though as Reed said his company intends to publish trade paperbacks collecting the runs of their titles.
If there was one creator who typified the spirit of independence it was Academy Award-nominated animator and artist Bill Plympton. Plympton has made acclaimed shorts and groundbreaking feature films that he has produced outside of traditional animation studios and distribution avenues.
He was at the New York Comic Con with his new collection of short films, “Dogs and Cows,” and to show a preview of his new feature, “Cheatin’,” which he said would be released next year.
To learn more about his work, go to www.plymptoons.com
If someone needed additional proof of the mainstreaming of what was once almost underground popular culture at the show, General Motors gave it to them. Chevrolet had two display areas one which featured in an elaborate “Bumble Bee” from “The Transformers,” while another featured a new model with a “Hellboy” theme.
And Hallmark had, for its third year, a busy booth at which it displayed the company’s new comic book and cartoon Christmas ornaments.
The next New York Comic Con is slated for Oct. 9 through 12, 2014.
For more information on the next show, go to New York Comic Con’s website, which is located at www.newyorkcomiccon.com