New Jersey Pop Culture Event Expands to Two Days
This past weekend, Asbury Park Comic Con (or, as it is often published, “Comicon”), returned to the New Jersey shore in a new venue with expanded offerings.
The event, hosted by comic book creator Cliff Galbraith and comics collector, dealer, and appraiser Robert Bruce, was first held in 2012 in a former bowling alley with 32 vendor tables. The second show expanded to 48 tables. Last year’s event, held in Asbury Park’s Convention Hall, featured 170 exhibitors and eight panel sessions. This year, the event expanded to two days, featured 11 panel sessions, and moved across the street to occupy two floors of the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel.
The ticket sales and badge pickup booth was briefly swamped on the show’s first day, Saturday, April 12. An hour after the show opened, the line wrapped around the corner and extended far down the block. As the line grew, event co-founder Galbraith jumped in to pick up the pace of ticket sales.
Once inside the Berkeley Oceanfront, fans could browse vendor tables, hear speakers at panel sessions, and view — or participate in — a cosplay contest.
A number of this year’s panelists were returning speakers from last year’s event. Animation artist Bob Camp again spoke about this work on Ren and Stimpy with author and artist Craig Yoe. Also returning were members of the “Red Bank Mafia” including actor/producer Brian O’Halloran, who portrayed Dante Hicks in Kevin Smith’s Clerks films, and the stars of AMC TV’s Comic Book Men: Brian O’Halloran, Bryan Johnson, Mike Zapcic, and Ming Chen.
The most crowded panel session was the talk by comic book writer Chris Claremont, best known for his work on Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men. Claremont spoke to a standing-room crowd and saw a continuous line of fans looking to have works signed at his booth.
The “Comic Book Men and the Red Bank Mafia” panel also filled the room, despite the unenviable session time of 10:30 Sunday morning. The 90-minute panel was filled with the type of jokes and banter that have made AMC TV’s Comic Book Men a fan favorite.
Artist Jim Steranko also drew a large crowd for his conversation with J. David Spurlock. Steranko recounted his days as an artist at Marvel Comics, including how he was first hired by the company and why he eventually quit. Some members of the preceding “Marvel in 80s” panel stayed to hear Steranko’s stories of his time with the publisher.
Additional panels included:
Artist J.H. Williams III, currently working on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture, discussing his work and career with Bleeding Cool editor-in-chief Hannah Means-Shannon.
“The Art of Lettering” with typographers Todd Klein and John Workman.
Denis Kitchen, underground comix creator and founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, in conversation with Jon B. Cooke.
“Graphic Novels and the Indie Perspective” with Andrew Aydin, Miss Lasko-Gross, Box Brown, and Charles Forsman speaking with Bleeding Cool editor-in-chief Hannah Means-Shannon.
Comics creator Peter Bagge interviewed by Jon B. Cooke.
A “Carousel Slide Show” hosted by R. Sikoryak with comics creators narrating visual presentations of their works.
“Marvel in the 80s” with Ann Nocenti, John Workman, Peter Sanderson, and Jim Salicrup.
In addition to two and a half days of panel sessions, the con included vendors selling comic books, toys, and other memorabilia.
Most of the vendors I spoke with were pleased with the event, reporting brisk sales and enthusiastic attendees. One vendor stated he did better at last year’s Asbury Park Comic Con, speculating that the dip in sales this year may be due to the layout of the venue and the location of his booth. And, indeed, while the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel was a more polished setting than the aging Asbury Park Convention Hall that hosted the event last year, the layout of the vendor tables in seven rooms spread over two floors was more convoluted.
The event offered activities for the full range of pop culture fandom. A number of vendors mentioned they were pleased to see many children and young people at the convention, bringing new fans into the pop culture fold. And a number of grown-up attendees noted that the hotel included a bar, which provided space for conversation and relaxation for the adult participants.
The activity that attracted the largest audience was the cosplay contest that closed the event on Sunday. The hotel’s Steinbach ballroom was jammed to capacity as costumed characters of all ages paraded across the stage in front of the crowd and the panel of three judges: Brian O’Halloran and two of AMC TV’s Comic Book Men, Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen. Costumes from the serious to the weird were on display.
The producers of the Asbury Park con hold their next event, the New York Comic Fest, in White Plains, New York, in June. And, based on the turnout for this year’s Asbury Park event, they will likely return to the Jersey Shore again next spring.
For a photographic overview of both days of the 2014 Asbury Park Comic Con, see the Flickr photo album: Asbury Park Comic Con 2014.