NYCC ’21 Wrap-Up: The joy of community returns

My report on Day 1 of New York Comic Con was one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever tried to write. I was so mentally exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed by the actual experience that I hardly knew how to put it into words.

Maybe I still don’t. But I wasn’t alone. People kept telling me that returning to New York Comic Con after two years was a very emotional experience. A few folks told me they teared up when they walked in to the Javits Center. There is so much about comics that is about community, about seeing our tribes unite and interact. Seeing cosplayers in all their glory. Riffling through back issue bins. Discovering a new comic to read. Connecting with a favorite creator. Laughing at a panel. Eating a hot dog.

There was so much we missed, so much that had been an important part of our lives in the Before Times. To return to it at last, while still an experience fraught with risk, was so joyful. Photo after photo, people are smiling. Real smiles. Joyful smiles. My Twitter and Instagram feeds are filled with just photos of people together, smiling, happy.

We needed it.

But let’s back up a bit to some facts. Attendance at NYCC was 150,000, down from 250,000 in 2019, according to showrunner Kristina Rogers. ReedPOP counts one ticket per day as one attendee (sort of), so this is spread out over all four days. There weren’t exactly 37,000 people there each day – Saturday was the only day that sold out, and kids badges sold out on Sunday. but it was clearly a LOT less people than previous cons.

How much less? Well, here’s a shot from the 2018 con:

And a shot from the same vantage point in 2021:

 

Although folks were calling it “NYCC Lite”, this was still the biggest public event in New York since the pandemic started, according to Rogers. And, yes masking was enforced,  A large area for checking vaccinations was set up outside in a vacant lot that had been full of trash a few days earlier, but lines were short to non-existant. A lot of things worked.

In the past, the most popular NYCC-related activity was probably complaining about the crowding. This time, with much wider aisles in the exhibit hall and Artist Alley, the human density was about what you’d see at a typical mid-sized con. In non-pandemic times, it would have felt pretty breezy. I’m not that eager to return to the full-on madhouse of a regular NYCC, but for some vendors, crowds are still what make money.

I’m not sure what to make of all the wildly disparate reports on sales that I heard. For Artist Alley, anyway, the typical pattern is tons of sales on Thursday and “Shopping Sunday” with lower sales on Friday and Saturday as people are there to see big panels and stand in line for exclusives.

Some artists told me they’d already had their best NYCC EVER by Friday. Others said sales were slow. A few publishers seemed to have high expectations which the sparser crowds negated. Others thought that they were having a great show.

My guess is that by “Shopping Sunday” sales were good for most folks. The crowd that was there wanted to get things signed, and interact and everyone seemed to be pretty busy.

Of course it was also a chance for comics folks to get together and talk about all the changes in the industry. PRH and its flimsy roll-out was much discussed, as was the ongoing supply chain disruption. But there was a palpable sense that seeing each other face to face and talking about things made challenges a lot less unsolvable. 18 months of communicating via angry social media posts has taken its own toll, and the damage is not easily fixed.

There were a few parties, but they were relatively small and party crashing was minimal – people seemed to respect that venues were limited.  But they were lively and fun, by all reports.

With Marvel and DC absent (a cocktail bar was set up where DC’s display used to be), smaller publishers got a chance to be the stars: Aftershock, Z2, Mad Cave, Zenescope, Scout Comics, Rocketship. Source Point tried to level up with a large booth promoting their comics and games. Eyeballing sales, most booths I visited had some sell outs or at least much smaller piles of books by Sunday.

Although a lot of manga publishers also sat out the show. the ones that were there – Viz and Yen Press – seemed to have an oversized presence. Adding in the giant Dragonball statues and anime related booths and and manga influence seemed to have taken over a lot of the show floor – includes cosplay. Much as I’d had 18 months to plan my wardrobe for the next con, cosplayers also seemed to have spent a lot of time on their costumes – some were spectacular!

Maybe everything was summed up by a conversation I had with the tech guy at one of the panels I moderated – since the panels were recorded or live streamed for the Metaverse, the A/V was quite sophisticated, with the crew seamlessly shifting between projecting the panelists and the occasional slide that I called up. Complimenting the tech after the panel, he told me “We’ve had 18 months to practice.”

From the stage, things looked eerie thanks to the lighting.

Even the Javits crews were glad to be back.

Speaking to Rogers on Sunday, she said that the ReedPOP crew had overcome a lot of issues –  “nearly everything that could go wrong did at one point” – but their overall feeling was joy at having put on a good show. At the talk back panel – usually a hotbed of small, specific complaints – about half ot the people there came with praise. “I just wanted to say thank you for doing this,” was a common theme. In my experience, people going out of their way to say good things is nearly unheard of at these kinds of panels…like I said, it was a time to be thankful.

Of course there were problems – you can see a lot in our Winners and Losers piece – the panel registration system being a big one. There were mess ups with signings and panels, and sound systems, but no one was grading too harshly.

The new wing of the Javits is awesome, even if the roof wasn’t open and there were no food options there. Also, there was no continuous passage from the old Javits to the new one – a huge blast door separated them. This was a fire marshal thing, Rogers told me. The new wing wasn’t quite finished and so the door couldn’t be opened, but next time people will be able to flow smoothly from one section to the next.

As for me, I spent a lot of time in the press area, back in its usual spot. With only a handful of press rooms for media – something I did hear complaints about – I was even able to sneak back to the celebrity bathroom in the back.

And yes, the bathroom situation wasn’t bad. With fewer people and more bathrooms in the new wing – and a row of porta-potties outside – you could generally enjoy the go. But there were lines for the bathrooms near crowded areas like Artist Alley – running out of time before a panel, I just used the gender neutral bathroom.

Probably the high point of the show for me was the Scottober Party on Friday night. It was held at a rooftop bar and attendance was very limited – but because the bar was split into two section, one section would get super crowded, and then people would drift to the other side. There was so much talking and laughing…and hugging and probably some germ spreading as well. But who cared. It was impossible to take a bad photo with the city lights behind you, and there are so many photos of people together, happy and smiling.

Look at those smiles. I’ve never seen to many comics industry folks so happy. “We needed this,” everyone kept saying.

Sorry, this is turning into another crappy con report because there was so much emotion involved. Let’s go to some other reports:

Calvin Reid for Publishers Weekly noted the publishers in attendance:

Indie publisher Scout Comics, also set up in a premium location on the main floor, had a large crowd of fans on Saturday watching as artist Rob Prior live-painted a character portrait on a canvas set up right next to the booth space. Scout chief media officer Don Handfield, noting the wide aisles and open space around the Scout Comics booth-space, said, “We’ve got a great crowd watching Rob paint, and we couldn’t have done this normally.”

AMNY

Above all the glitz and glamor of the celebrities and cosplayers, for many the biggest takeaway from the event was simply their emotional return. Marvel and DC characters could be seen charging into each other’s arms as they reunited under a shared bond.

Rob Salkowitz for Forbes:

Exhibitors who decided to skip this year’s show missed the opportunity to get in front of a large number of fans more than ready to mingle, party and spend money on their fan enthusiasms. According to my informal survey of vendors in the main hall and artists alley, sales were brisk despite diminished crowds, although a few exhibitors were concerned that lighter traffic would make it difficult for them to recoup the costs of expensive booths and staff.`

Milton Griepp for ICv2:

The combination of reduced crowds and more space definitely produced a lot less crowding in the aisles and common areas, which combined with the event’s vaccination and masking requirements (see “Covid Vax Required to Attend NYCC“), made for a safer environment than most other conventions this year, despite its size.

Based on our observation, masking was not followed as strictly at New York Comic Con as it was at Gen Con in Indianapolis, which we also attended recently (see “Gen Con Attendance Down 50%“), perhaps because the vaccination rule made people less concerned about possible infection.  But that didn’t come without consequences.  Designer toy retailer Invasion Toys, which was exhibiting at the show, was asked to leave because of a failure to observe mask rules, we were told.

Ruth Johnson for The Beat has a frank account of the anxiety that we all felt at some point about being at the show.

But as I walked through the crowds at Javits, on both the show floor and Artists Alley, and I shared space with other people in panel rooms, I got really, deeply anxious. I already have some generalized anxiety, but it’s mostly managed. It came flooding back this weekend: the shortness of breath, the stomach flipflopping, the hyperawareness, the feeling that my safety was constantly compromised, thoughts racing, losing track of said thoughts, and stumbling over words and sentences. I was freaked out, dear reader. Covid anxiety had consumed me body and soul.

It got better as the con went along, though. Still, the thoughts flitted in and out, and when the shortness of breath, which can also be contributed to my worsening asthma as well as the anxiety, came up, I constantly wondered: Am I sick? Did I somehow get It? Don’t get me started on whenever I heard somebody cough or saw someone wearing their mask improperly.

Over on Facebook, the “NYCC Badge Holders” group had complaints about stuff but was mostly just happy to be back. And in the ultimate sign of a kinder, gentler show, a fellow lost his wallet…and it was returned.

So yeah, we did that.

Huge thanks to my “Four Women in a Hotel Room” friends, Brigid Alverson, Deb Aoki and Johanna Draper Carlson. You can hear our thoughts on the show here. I couldn’t ask for better con friends…or friends, really. We had fancy meals, did podcasts, hung out on a hotel room, walked the streets, reunited with “fifth woman” Erica Friedman.  It was glorious.

I held an outside breakfast reception on Thursday that brought together a bunch of industry folks over donuts and coffee and some breakfast burritos courtesy of Ramon Gil. Ivanka Hahnenberger brought bagels and Greg Silber helped me set it all up. Good people, good times and I think this will become a tradition, if I can swing it.

Steve Orlando and I had a long talk about wrestling; it was great to see Fletcher Chu-Fong back at a show; Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham were rockstars on the panel I moderated; Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were also rockstars and the Scottober books from Comixology I read were so good. I had dinner with Patrick Meaney and Yael Tygiel and then a burst of light attacked us, probably drawn by Yael’s awesomeness.

Yael Tygiel, Patrick Meany and Heidi MacDonald

Of course, the Beat crew is exceptional, so exceptional that I just left them to do their own thing. You can read all our coverage here, and it is comprehensive.

Returning home, I had to sleep for two days, and in all honesty, I think I got con crud just from being around people again. But it was worth it.

I keep thinking about a conversation I had on the street on Friday or Saturday or whenever it was. A guy was talking on the phone and realized I overheard him. After he hung up (or whatever it is you do on mobile phones) he started saying how happy he was. “I love Comic Con because you can come here and there are no judgements. Everyone just accepts you the way you are. I love being here,” he gushed.

Without glossing over any of the issues and problems at the show, New York Comic Con is much more than just a bunch of people selling things. It is a community, a place to feel accepted, and a place to share the love of comics and fandom.

I’m very glad it’s back.

The post NYCC ’21 Wrap-Up: The joy of community returns appeared first on The Beat.

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