The growing enthusiasm for all things pop culture was on display once again this past weekend at New York Comic Con. The sold-out event, run by the ReedPop unit of Reed Exhibitions, a division of RELX Group (formerly Reed Elsevier), drew its largest crowd ever. The event reported an all-time high attendance of 167,000, up from last year’s high of 151,000.
Bigger than Big?
Comparisons with other comic cons is difficult, however, due to the lack of a standard method of reporting attendance figures. New York Comic Con apparently tallies the number of people who attend each day to generate their total attendance figure. Comic Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con, on the other hand, reportedly counts each attendee only once, regardless of how many days the person attends. In other words, someone with a four-day badge, who attends all four days, would be counted four times in New York’s tally, but only once in San Diego’s. Thus, although San Diego Comic-Con reports a smaller attendance number of roughly 130,000, the West Coast event likely remains the largest popular culture convention in the U.S.
New York Comic Con is clearly growing, however, this year expanding to an additional venue beyond the Javits Center, adding the 2,200 seat Hammerstein Ballroom for panel sessions.
The size of the convention was also apparent from the length of the lines at the event. On Saturday morning before the Javits Center opened, the line to enter the building started at 11th Avenue and 38th Street, stretched two blocks up to 40th Street, turned the corner to follow 40th Street down the long crosstown block to 12th Avenue, and then turned down 12th Ave to extend six more blocks down to 34th Street — a total distance of roughly 0.6 miles. Unlike San Diego Comic-Con, which provides different lines for the Hall H and everything else, at New York Comic Con there is initially one line outside the building for everything. When the convention center opened, the line moved briskly, despite the requirement to check bags and scan the RFID chip in each badge. Once inside, the line splits into one for the exhibition hall (or anywhere other than the Main Stage) and multiple separate lines to get a wristband for one of the day’s panels on the Main Stage.
As first implemented last year, the Main Stage auditorium at New York Comic Con is cleared between each panel. This differs from the halls at San Diego Comic-Con (or any of the other rooms at New York Comic Con) which allow audience members to stay for multiple panels. As discussed last year when this policy was first introduced [see “New York Comic Con 2014: Bigger and Better“], this approach is a mixed blessing. While it makes it easier to gain access to the one major panel of your choice, it’s nearly impossible to see any of the other Main Stage panels that day. By contrast, at San Diego Comic-Con gaining entry to Hall H often requires camping out in line for many hours but, once in the room, fans can stay throughout the entire day’s programming. The process at New York Comic Con also means less programming in total, since the scheme requires 45 minutes between panels to clear the room, in contrast to only 15 minutes between most of San Diego’s panel sessions.
Beyond the scale of the event, however, the range and the quality of programming at ReedPop’s New York Comic Con continue to secure the event’s position as the premiere East Coast pop culture event.
Marketing is a major thrust of all comic cons — from the presentations by television studios to the vendor booths throughout the exhibition hall, and comic cons often feature creative approaches to advertising to the pop culture crowd.
Marvel Television had a significant presence at New York Comic Con this year, with major presentations on their Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones. (More on these below.) These Marvel properties also presented clever viral marketing campaigns outside the walls of the Javits Center. Spray-painted in the style of street art graffiti on the sidewalks around the convention center were messages using the #JessicaJones hashtag along with statements such as “I know your secrets.” (As clever as this is, one wonders about the legality of this defacement of public property.) Elsewhere around the arena were mock ads for the legal services of Nelson and Murdock, the attorneys in Marvel’s Daredevil.
A few years ago it was noteworthy to see companies outside the realm of pop culture exhibiting at a comic con. [See, from 2012: ‘Consumer Brands Go Geek at Comic Con” and, from 2013: “Philadelphia Comic Con: Batman, Buffy and … Bath Fitter?“] No longer. It is now common practice at many of the large, for-profit conventions, such as those run my ReedPop and WizardWorld, to include vendors unrelated to pop culture hawking their products to the comic con crowd. As in past years, Chevrolet was a partner sponsor of this year’s New York Comic Con. Other partner sponsors this year included such wide ranging brands as Honey Nut Cheerios, Courtyard Marriott, and Jelly Belly Candy Company.
One vendor embracing the spirit of con culture was Progressive. The insurance company provided lockers where fans could temporarily store their loot and a charging hub for mobile devices in need of power. More bizarre were the “Protector-corns” — workers dressed as a mashup of company spokesperson Flo and a unicorn — who provided “line insurance” by holding attendees’ places in line while they grabbed food or took a restroom break.
While New York Comic Con offers a full array of programming sessions on comic books, games, movies, and cosplay, the event is particularly strong in the depth of its presentations on television programming.
The Librarians and Felicia Day
On Friday, the cast and crew of the TNT series The Librarians discussed what to expect in the new season. The panel included actors John Larroquette, Christian Kane, John Kim, Lindy Booth, and Rebecca Romijn, along with Executive Producer Dean Devlin. Following this panel, actor Jeff Hephner showed an extended clip of his upcoming TNT series, Agent X, co-starring Sharon Stone.
Following the TNT panels, actor, producer, and writer Felicia Day arrived on the Empire Stage. Fresh off the book tour for her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), Day participated in an hour-long audience question and answer session.
Limitless, Colony, and Mr. Robot
Later on Friday afternoon, as part of the CBS TV Studios session, the Hammerstein Ballroom hosted a Limitless panel with actors Jake McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter, and Executive Producer Craig Sweeny.
Following the CBS presentations, the Hammerstein Ballroom featured panels for two USA TV series: Colony, scheduled to debut on January 14, 2016, and Mr. Robot, which recently ended its initial 10-episode season.
The Colony panel featured series co-creators Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal, along with lead actor Josh Holloway discussing the forthcoming series about a near future in which the citizens of Los Angeles live under the domination of an occupying force. While audience speculation ran rampant about the nature of the mysterious occupiers, Cuse and Condal remained mum on the details. In addition to a Q and A with the creative team, the pilot episode of Colony was screened in full.
Much of the audience in the Hammerstein Ballroom that afternoon appeared to be there to see the Mr. Robot panel, which included actors Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, and Martin Wallström, and showrunner Sam Esmail, in conversation with Andy Greenwald. While details about season 2 were scant, Esmail indicated the upcoming episodes would turn very dark. Masks of fsociety, the series’ subversive hacker group, were distributed to the audience at the outset of the panel. Near the end of the session, the cast hopped down from the stage to pose in front of the auditorium full of masked fans and take a few quick selfies with audience members.
Daredevil and Jessica Jones
As Marvel Television head Jeph Loeb walked to the podium to introduce the first of the two panels he stopped and said he wanted to do something unscripted. He then dashed off stage and returned briefly with cast members from both shows — Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Charlie Cox (Daredevil) and Mike Colter (Jessica Jones and Luke Cage) — playfully stating this is the most the audience would presently see of The Defenders, an upcoming Netflix Marvel team-up series featuring those characters.
Loeb returned to the stage to introduce the Daredevil panel, with a full list of cast members from season 2: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal, and Elodie Yung, along with season 2 showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez (replacing season 1 showrunner Steven DeKnight), and Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada. The panel included a sizzle reel with footage from seasons 1 and 2, including a quick shot of Elodie Yung donning her mask as Elektra that brought cheers from the crowd.
Following Daredevil, Loeb brought to the stage the cast of Netflix’s next Marvel series, Jessica Jones: actors Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Carrie-Anne Moss, Wil Traval, Eka Darville, and Erin Moriarty, and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg.
Missing from the panel was actor David Tennant, who was working in a play in London. Tennant appeared in a brief video segment apologizing for his absence and mentioning that clips from the series would follow. To the initial dismay of the crowd, Loeb explained that Tennant misspoke — they didn’t have clips from Jessica Jones to show. He quickly explained that they didn’t have any clips because they would show, for the first time anywhere, the complete first episode of the series, which elicited an enthusiastic roar from the audience.
Minority Report and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
On Sunday, back at the Empire Stage, the Minority Report panel included actors Meagan Good, Wilmer Valderrama, Nick Zano, Stark Sands, Laura Regan, Daniel London, and Li Jun Li.
As the Minority Report panel ended, it was standing room only as people jammed the room waiting for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow panel with cast members Arthur Darvill, Brandon Routh, and Ciara Renee, and showrunner Phil Klemmer. Given the size of the crowd, the powerhouse programming lineup in this Warner Bros. Television Takeover that began with of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and included Gotham, Supergirl, Blindspot and Person of Interest would have been better suited for the larger Main Stage.
Creators and Cosplayers
The Artist Alley at New York Comic Con is one of the best of any pop culture convention. Strolling around the tables of comic book writers, artists, and editors often leads to serendipitous encounters with the men and women who create comic books. Former Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter was in attendance for his first comic con in many years. And it was wonderful to see Lumberjanes creators Brooke Allen and Shannon Watters interacting with fans of the critically acclaimed all-ages series. I had conversations with a number of my favorite comic book creators including Empty Zone writer and artist Jason Shawn Alexander, Daredevil artist Lee Weeks, horror illustrator Basil Gogos, Intersect writer and artist Ray Fawkes, The Fifth Beatle author Vivek Tiwary, and many others.
Finally, as always, the corridors of he Javits Center were filled with fans in creative costumes of pop culture characters.
For a complete photographic overview of this year’s event, see the Flickr album: New York Comic Con 2015.