Tag: comic-con

New York Comic Con 2015: Recap and Photo Highlights

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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?

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
This year’s New York Comic Con marked a new attendance record.

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.

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
The Main Stage wristband line.

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 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 Mania

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.

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
Jessica Jones marketing: sidewalk graffiti.
New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
Mock ads for Nelson and Murdock, Attorneys at Law.

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.

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Progressive insurance “Protector-corn.”

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.

Programming Sessions

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

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
The Librarians panel.

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.

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
Felicia Day.

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

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
Jake McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter on the Limitless panel.

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.

Carlton Cuse, Josh Holloway, and Ryan Condal.
Colony: Carlton Cuse, Josh Holloway, and Ryan Condal.

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.

Martin Wallström, Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, and Portia Doubleday.
Mr. Robot: Martin Wallström, Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, and Portia Doubleday.

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

On Saturday, Marvel Television presented a two-part panel on the Main Stage featuring the company’s Netflix series 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.

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
Daredevil‘s Deborah Ann Woll, Charlie Cox, and Elden Henson.

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.

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
From Jessica Jones: Jeph Loeb, Krysten Ritter, and Mike Colter.

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

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
Meagan Good and Stark Sands on the Minority Report panel.

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.

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow panel.

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

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
Comic book artists, writers, and editors.

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.

New York Comic Con 2015. Photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse
Cosplay at New York Comic Con 2015.

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.

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San Diego Comic-Con 2015: Recap and Photo Highlights

San Diego Comic-Con 2015.

This year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego was a mix of the new and the familiar, the wonderful and the weird, the carefully planned and the unexpectedly serendipitous. Here are highlights of Comic-Con 2015 from my perspective.

The Calm before the Con

The hours before badge pick-up on Wednesday afternoon provided the opportunity to stroll around downtown San Diego to get a glimpse at the official Comic-Con banners on the street lamps and peruse the advertising covering the buildings and transportation vehicles throughout the Gaslamp Quarter.

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Ads for TBS’ ‘Conan’ show were rampant around town.

As last year, the marketing onslaught started shortly after stepping off the plane. The staircases and baggage carousels at San Diego International Airport were covered with ads for Conan O’Brien’s TBS program Conan. The Conan ads continued in town with banner wraps covering trains, buses, and the upper floors of the Marriott hotel.

The trend of wrapping buildings in large ads seemed to have subsided slightly last year, with no wrap on the prime real estate of the Hilton Bayfront hotel that year. The building wraps were back in force this year, however, with multi-story ads on both the Hilton Bayfront and Marriott Marquis and — for the first time this year — with a pair of banners on the Hilton garage as well. In addition, the usual barrage of building-covering ads appeared throughout the Gaslamp Qaurter and around Petco Park.

As I outline in my Knowledge@Wharton article, the early appearance of these advertising installations triggers a flurry of social media activity that allows brands to tap into the pent-up excitement as fans await the start of Comic-Con. [See “Building Buzz: How Comic-Con Turns Froth into Frenzy” ]

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The Art of Comic-Con exhibition featured works from 45 years of San Diego Comic-Con.

This year, the pre-Preview Night afternoon also offered time to explore The Art of Comic-Con exhibit presented by Comic-Con International at the San Diego Central Library. The gallery included illustrations and documents covering 45 years of San Diego Comic-Con as well as Comic-Con International’s sister shows WonderCon and APE (the Alternative Press Expo).

After picking up my badge and connecting with a reporter from NPR to be interviewed for a piece on All Things Considered about immersive marketing [see “Want To Get Inside Your Favorite Show? Go To Comic-Con“], it was time to head the Convention Center to hit the show floor for Preview Night.

Preview Night

Preview Night has become one of my favorite parts of Comic-Con. The lack of competing programming that first evening means you can browse the exhibition hall floor without fretting about all the other activities you’re missing.

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Bernie Wrightson and Liz Wrightson on Preview Night

Once again this year, I followed my contrarian strategy for Preview Night. [See “Be a Con-trarian: Go Against the Flow at Comic-Con“] While most of the crowd rushes toward the booths of collectible vendors like Hasbro, Mattel, and Funko, I go against the flow and head over to Artists’ Alley. Comic book creators who would later have long lines of fans looking for autographs or commissioned illustrations were relatively accessible during Preview Night. Artist Bernie Wrightson and his wife, Chip Zdarsky, Stan Sakai and other writers and artists were readily approachable Wednesday evening. When artist Paul Guigan and writer Anina Bennett mentioned this would be the last major con at which would have a table, I took several farewell shots of their booth.

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San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog’s Enchantment Under the SDCC party.

While I typically skip the nighttime parties at Comic-Con, on Wednesday evening I had two post-Preview Night events in my calendar: The Enchantment Under the SDCC party from the SDCC Unofficial Blog and the Game of Bloggers Meet Up hosted by Crazy4ComicCon’s Tony B. Kim. Despite a long day, I made it to the former, but only for a brief visit and few quick photos. As much as I wanted to stay longer and to stop by Tony’s meet-up, I wearily headed back to the hotel to get ready for the con to officially begin the next morning.

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Panels: From Grant Morrison and Geek & Sundry to Jack Kirby and the Culture of Comic-Con

On Thursday the con begins in earnest. My personal Comic-Con schedule typically lists four or five simultaneous events for any given time slot. The plan is to make on-the-fly judgments about what to attend based on line lengths, expected wait time, and conflicts with other activities.

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Grant Morrison discusses ’18 Days’ and ‘Avatarex’.

Thanks to a fortuitous tweet alerting me to a short line for Thursday’s opening panels at the Hilton Bayfront’s Indigo Ballroom, the day began with Grant Morrison in conversation with Graphic India’s Sharad Devarajan. Morrison discussed 18 Days, his retelling of the central battle from The Mahabharata, and Avatarex, a super-hero series placed in contemporary India. It was interesting to hear Morrison, who once penned one of the darkest Batman tales — Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth — talk about the current need for more optimistic narratives in comic books.

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Director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Grindle showcase Disney/Pixar’s ‘Sanjay’s Super Team’.

Between Morrison and the later Geek & Sundry panel in the Indigo Ballroom were two additional programming sessions. Director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Grindle presented an early screening of Disney/Pixar’s Sanjay’s Super Team, a heartfelt, loosely autobiographical piece based on Patel’s relationship with his father and his Indian heritage. In addition to showing the short film, the presentation included a touching clip of Patel showing the film to his father. The panel was a surprise highlight of the day.

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Voice Over Celebration with Beloved Cartoon, Video Game, and Film VO Actors.

Following this, the panel on Voice Over Celebration with Beloved Cartoon, Video Game, and Film VO Actors included moderator Genese Davis speaking with actors Anthony Bowling, Susan Eisenberg, Rob Paulsen, Tara Platt, Caitlin Glass, and Yuri Lowenthal.

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Felicia Day is mortified by the antics of Ryon Day and Wil Wheaton.

Next up in the Indigo Ballroom was the Geek & Sundry panel with Felicia Day, her brother Ryon Day, Wil Wheaton, and Geek & Sundry performers Laura Bailey, Matthew Mercer, Jessica Marzipan, and Hector Navarro. It was a rollicking session with Ryon Day and Wil Wheaton going out of their way to repeatedly embarrass Felicia Day.

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The other days of Comic-Con included an eclectic mix of panels —

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Scott McCloud.

The Spotlight on Scott McCloud featured McCloud interviewed by Gene Luen Yang.

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Marvel: Secret Wars.

The Marvel: Secret Wars panel included Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort, writers Jonathan Hickman and Charles Soule, and others of the creative team.

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Geoff Johns in conversation with Dan DiDio.

DC Entertainment: One-on-One with Geoff Johns featured Johns in conversation with Dan DiDio.

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Trina Robbins, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, and Ramona Fradon discuss Women Artists in Comics During WWII.

Hermes Press: A Celebration of Women Artists in Comics During WWII, moderated by Daniel Herman, included a lively conversation among Trina Robbins, Maggie Thompson, Ramona Fradon, and Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson.

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Twisted Roots of the Comics Industry with Danny Fingeroth, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, Gerard Jones, Michael Uslan, and Brad Ricca.

Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson had to leave the Women Artists During WWII panel early to participate in Twisted Roots of the Comics Industry which overlapped the earlier panel by 30 minutes. The Twisted Roots of the Comics Industry panel also featured Michael Uslan, Danny Fingeroth, Gerard Jones, and Brad Ricca.

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The Seven Comic Shop Archetypes: Who Will Triumph, Thrive, and Survive.

The Seven Comic Shop Archetypes: Who Will Triumph, Thrive, and Survive moderated by Ed Catto, featured Christina Blanch, Glynnes Pruett, Joe Field, and Atom! Freeman outlining what it takes to be successful as a comics retailer.

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The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.

The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel was, as always, hosted by Mark Evanier, and this year included J. David Spurlock, Marv Wolfman, Rob Liefeld, and Paul S. Levine discussing the work of the late Jack Kirby.

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The Culture of Comic-Con: Field Studies of Fans and Marketing.

In the Comics Arts Conference session, The Culture of Comic-Con: Field Studies of Fans and Marketing, a panel of college students discussed their analyses of different aspects of popular culture as evidenced at Comic-Con.

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Pics or It Didn’t Happen

Photography is a major focus of mine at Comic-Con, not only for my work for Knowledge@Wharton but, as well, for my roles as Convention Photographer for Comic Book Creator and ACE (All Comics Created) magazines, and as contributing photographer for the annual Bleeding Cool Power 100 List.

Peter Bagge at San Diego Comic-Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse
Peter Bagge posing for ‘Comic Book Creator’.

On Thursday, I connected with editor Jon B. Cooke for a photo shoot with cartoonist Peter Bagge for an upcoming issue of Comic Book Creator. That evening I worked the red carpet at the Fandango Movieclips party to capture the arrival of celebrities including Heather Graham, Laura Vandervoort, Holland Roden, Naomi Grossman, and Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino.

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The ‘Agent Carter’ flash mob greets Hayley Atwell.

On Saturday, I helped photograph the Agent Carter flash mob that convened in the lobby of the Convention Center and, in a pre-arranged scheme, paraded to the Marvel booth to meet Agent Carter lead actress Haley Atwell.

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Comic book artists, writers, and producers.

Throughout Comic-Con, photographing the men and women who write, illustrate, and produce comic books was a major focus of my activity.

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Creative cosplay.

And, of course, grabbing shots of creative cosplay is always fun. Among my favorite costumes this year was a flawless implementation of Steve Ditko’s Mysterio from The Amazing Spider-Man #13. Also intriguing were the time- and gender-shifted Rococo X-Women.

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The Eisner Awards Ceremony

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The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Ceremony.
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The 2015 Eisner Award winners.

The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Ceremony is always a highlight of my Comic-Con experience, and this year was particularly noteworthy. Comic Book Creator, a publication for which I serve as Convention Photographer, was nominated for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. (The Eisner went to the well-deserving Comics Alliance.)

Philadelphia comic shop and publisher Locust Moon was nominated in two categories — Best Anthology and Best Publication Design — for Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, and was awarded the Eisner for both.

In addition to the celebrity introductions and the always entertaining antics of Jonathan Ross, the main focus of the evening is on recognizing the work of those who create comic books. Seeing Shannon Watters and Noelle Stevenson accepting multiple awards for Lumberjanes was one of several high points of the evening.

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Planned Activities and Random Encounters on the Show Floor

Signings in the vendor booths on the show floor provide ideal opportunities to capture portraits of key comic book creators. This year, I snapped portraits of Grant Morrison in the Legendary booth, and Joss Whedon and Chuck Palahniuk in the Dark Horse booth.

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Todd McFarlane poses with Spider-Kids.

There’s typically a point during Comic-Con at which I decide to ignore my carefully-planned schedule and just wander the exhibition hall floor. This frequently elicits unexpected, serendipitous encounters.

Where else but Comic-Con would you find Todd McFarlane greeting fans and striking web-shooting poses with young kids dressed as Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen?

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Jonathan Ross (right) with Carlos Ezquerra (left).

Comic book creators are also fans, and it’s wonderful to run across industry notables greeting each other, such as Scott Snyder chatting with Paul Azaceta, Todd McFarlane hanging out with Marc Silvestri, and Jonathan Ross excited to meet Carlos Ezquerra.

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Strolling across the show floor I also ran into Marvel’s head of television Jeph Loeb , which provided the opportunity to tell him how much I loved his 1998 series, Superman for All Seasons.

Talking Back and Heading Home

My last session at Comic-Con each year is the annual Talk Back session, during which Comic Con International President John Rogers sits alone at long table and listens to a long line of attendees with comments, complaints, and suggestions about Comic-Con.

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Fans leave the Convention Center as SDCC 2015 ends.

This year’s Talk Back was relatively subdued. The long lines to access Hall H, the event’s largest venue where many of the high-profile Hollywood presentations take place, are a recurring topic during each year’s Talk Back. There was little mention, however, of this year’s most significant logistical change — the introduction of the “next day line” for queuing for wristband distribution for Hall H on the subsequent day. By distributing several waves of color-coded Hall H wristbands early in the evening and allowing people to leave the line once they have a wristband (with the ability to rejoin a similarly-banded friend holding their place in line or joining the end of the banded line), the new scheme essentially supplants the previous requirement to camp out all night with extended wait time during the preceding day. Given the lack of attendee commentary on the “next day line” during the Talk Back, expect this practice to continue next year.

Following the final events of the day, fans streamed out of the Convention Center as San Diego Comic-Con 2015 came to an end.

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On the televisions in the airport showing CNN: One more ad for ‘Conan’.

At the airport the following morning, the trip ended much like it began, with an advertisement for TBS’s Conan show appearing on the television monitors showing CNN in the airport. “Hope to see you next year!” the ad declared and, indeed, I hope to be back again for another Comic-Con International: San Diego in 2016.

 

 

Be a Con-trarian: Go Against the Flow at Comic-Con

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San Diego Comic-Con, the largest popular culture festival in the U.S., is exciting, illuminating, and crowded. Very crowded. And it’s confusing. With so many overlapping events competing for an attendee’s time, planning your schedule and determining the optimal time to queue up for specific events requires the logic of a chess master. [See Knowledge@Wharton, San Diego Comic-Con: Best Laid Plans.]

While there is no corner Comic-Con that isn’t crammed with people, there are benefits to be gained from being a contrarian. Going against the flow can lead to wonderful moments and a less stressful con experience.

Preview Night: More than Exclusives

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George R. R. Martin hanging out on Preview Night in 2014.

For folks lucky enough to have a ticket for Preview Night, the evening is typically a mad dash for Comic-Con exclusives. Preview Night lets fans get first dibs on these only-at-Comic-Con action figures and souvenirs from companies like Hasbro, Funko, and Mattel. Yet the full show floor is open that first Wednesday evening. While crowds mob the vendor booths, the comic book creators in Artists’ Alley and the booths of many publishers are relatively quiet Wednesday night.

Last year I strolled past the Avatar Press booth to find George R. R. Martin quietly chatting with at fan. I walked right up, asked for a photo, and had a brief chat with famed Game of Thrones author. During the rest of Comic-Con, autograph sessions with Martin required waiting in a long line. Over in Artists’ Alley, creative couple Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner were goofing around and greeting fans who wandered over to the far end of the hall that houses Artists’ Alley. Many comic book creators were more relaxed and accessible during Preview Night than at any other time during the con.

Every Day is a Big Day in Hall H (and Elsewhere)

Friday and Saturday typically feature the most popular panels in Comic-Con’s infamous Hall H. Access to these events involves camping out for most of the night in order to secure a seat in the cavernous auditorium.

However, in recent years, after the morning crush for the best seats, Thursday has been a relatively easy “walk in” day in Hall H. You still needed to get in line and wind your way through the entry chutes under the tents, but by midday the line flows freely, providing access to the vaunted Hall H after only a short wait.

And while the Friday and Saturday panels feature the most popular panels, the Thursday and Sunday events are nevertheless always noteworthy.

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Even on a relatively “slow” day, Hall H has much to offer. Harrison Ford waves hello at SDCC 2013.

At the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, Thursday included Harrison Ford on the Ender’s Game panel along with stars Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld, writer/director Gavin Hood, and producer Roberto Orci. The day also included the Europa Report panel; “The Visionaries” session with Alfonso Cuarón, Marc Webb, and Edgar Wright; the Divergent panel with series novelist Veronica Roth, director Neil Burger, and many of the film’s actors including Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Maggie Q.

In 2014, Thursday saw the first Comic-Con appearance of director Christopher Nolan for the Insterstellar segment of the Paramount Studios presentation, which also featured actor Matthew McConaughey. Both were a surprise — neither was mentioned in the Comic-Con Program Guide — and access to the hall was relatively easy that day.

Panels like these would be highlights at any other fan fest. Only at San Diego Comic-Con do sessions of this magnitude pale by comparison to the even bigger studio events on Friday and Saturday.

Although Hall H typically hosts the most high-profile events of the con, don’t judge the quality of a panel by the size of its venue. Outside of Hall H and Ballroom 20 are many fascinating presentations. The smaller room may mean a long line (or even the need to attend the preceding panel in order to get a seat), but these sacrifices are minor in comparison to camping on the grass all night to gain entrance to Hall H. And these smaller panels often bring great guests and compelling conversations. [See Comic-Con Movies: From Tentpole to Shoestring.]

Beyond the Convention Center: Offsites

As the crowds flood into the San Diego Convention Center, other events around town provide often less-crowded alternatives as well as viable options for days for which you don’t have a ticket for Comic-Con.

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Felicia Day greets fans at the Geek & Sundry offsite event in 2014.

As a fan of the work of Felicia Day and the team at Geek & Sundry, I typically stop by the offsite event for the annual meet-and-greet and autograph signing with Day. NerdHQ provides a full range of programming with each event ticketed separately in an intimate venue. The Petco Park Interactive Zone is filled with fun activities, such as last year’s Sleepy Hollow virtual reality experience. This year the San Diego Public Library presents an exhibition on The Art of Comic-Con. Other engaging marketing activities for movies and television programs are sprinkled throughout San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. [For a comprehensive look at offsite events at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, see the calendar at on the SDCC Unofficial Blog: http://sdccblog.com/events/2015-07/

Finally, don’t be afraid to abandon your carefully planned schedule and just wander around. Peruse the show floor, check out the cosplay in the Sails Pavilion (where the bright but diffuse sunlight makes for great photos), or stroll the activities and exhibits on the lawns adjacent to the Convention Center.

By resisting the gravitational pull of the most popular events, by not following the crowd and going your own way to smaller, equally interesting events, you can have a fun and less stressful Comic-Con.

 

Special Edition NYC 2015

Special Edition: NYC 2015.

ReedPop’s Spring Counterpart to New York Comic Con

If the current mania for pop culture is poised to plateau, there was no sign of it at this past weekend’s Special Edition: NYC.

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The waiting to enter Special Edition: NYC 2015 on a rainy Saturday morning.

On the first drizzly morning of the two-day event, the line to enter the comic book convention stretched far beyond the entrance at New York’s Pier 94, extending from 52nd street up to 58th street, wrapping under the Joe DiMaggio Highway, and heading back downtown again. Event hawkers were handing out flyers for other comics conventions, including upcoming events in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Once inside the venue for Special Edition: NYC, many fans spent much the morning waiting in line once again, this time to purchase tickets for ReedPop’s fall event, New York Comic Con.

One week after the ReedPop division of Reed Elsevier brought the second annual BookCon to New York, the company hosted Special Edition: NYC, also in its second year. ReedPop, which hosts several large pop culture conventions including New York Comic Con and Chicago’s C2E2, launched Special Edition: NYC last year as a comics-focused festival in the spring to complement the company’s larger New York Comic Con in the fall.

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Comic book creators in Artist Alley at Special Edition: NYC 2015.

In its inaugural year, Special Edition: NYC was held in the Jacob Javits Center. This year the event moved further uptown to Pier 94. The location provided room for additional vendors of comic books and pop culture paraphernalia in addition to the extensive Artist Alley of comic book creators and two tracks of panel discussions. The expansion gave the event more of the vibe of a full-fledged Comic Con, while keeping the focus squarely on comic books rather than the larger universe of pop culture media.

The new venue presented a number of challenges. The two programming sessions were in curtained-off sections of the pier’s large, open venue. Sound leakage between the concurrent events was frequently distracting. The dim, diffuse lighting made photography more difficult than in the brightly illuminated north hall of the Javits Center that hosted the Artist Alley last year. Restrooms were in short supply, with long lines waiting for access.

As with last year, the centerpiece of Special Edition: NYC was Artist Alley where comic book creators met with fans, signed autographs, and sketched illustrations. A long, serpentine line waited to meet acclaimed writer Brian Bendis. Other noteworthy comics creators included Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont, longtime comics artist Ken Bald, Batman: Eternal and Intersect artist/author Ray Fawkes, cartoonist and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic writer Katie Cook, and many others.

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After the morning rain, the area outside Pier 94 served as a stage for cosplayers.

This year’s event also attracted a number of cosplayers. Once the morning’s rain receded, the open space in front of the pier provided a convenient stage for costumed fans to pose and photographers to capture the moment.

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For a photo overview of this year’s event, see the Flickr album, Special Edition: NYC 2015.

Special Edition: NYC 2015.
Photo album: Special Edition: NYC 2015. [Click to view]

BookCon: It’s Like Comic Con for Book Lovers

BookCon 2015

ReedPop’s BookCon 2015 Returns to the Javits Center

This past weekend the second annual BookCon, a conference and exhibition for book lovers, was held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York. The two-day event followed three days of Book Expo America, otherwise known as BEA, a long-running event for publishing industry insiders. Last year the ReedPop division of Reed Elsevier introduced BookCon as a consumer-focused addition to BEA.

ReedPop hosts several major comic book and pop culture conventions including New York Comic Con and the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (universally known as C2E2). Much of BookCon would seem familiar to anyone who has attended these Comic Cons. Like most Comic Cons, BookCon includes presentations and panel sessions, an exhibition floor filled with vendor booths, and autograph sessions giving fans the opportunity to meet their favorite writers.

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Comic books at BookCon.

In some instances, the parallels to Comic Con go even deeper. In addition to publishers of conventional books, the exhibition floor at BookCon featured a number of comic book publishers including Image Comics and IDW Publishing. With graphic novels providing a profitable niche for many bookstores, comics-related content was also conspicuous in the booths of some book publishers. Hachette, which distributes a number of Marvel Comics omnibus editions, gave away copies of Marvel’s Star Wars comic book — copies of which could also be picked up in the Disney booth.

Giveaways are a noteworthy feature of BookCon. Many publishers provided hardcover copies of new or forthcoming book titles, which can quickly accumulate to become a heavy load. Fortunately, many vendors also provided hefty cloth book bags for carrying weighty swag.

The BookCon exhibition hall was scaled down from the larger BEA exhibition, with workers dismantling booths from the previous day’s BEA exhibition visible through the partitions at the Javits Center.

While the show floor was generally bustling and the lines for presentations and autographs from popular writers were long, the event exhibited nothing of the sardine-like crowding of the New York or San Diego Comic Cons.

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Mindy Kaling in conversation with B.J. Novak.

As with Comic Con, Hollywood celebrities were also present, although in this case the TV and movies stars are also book authors. On Saturday, Mindy Kaling was interviewed by fellow cast member from The Office and writer B. J. Novak. While Kaling was in attendance to promote her upcoming book, “Why Not Me?”, the conversation and audience Q&A session covered her entire career as an actor, television writer, and author.

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Felicia Day discusses “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost).”

Comic Con fan favorite Felicia Day was also a featured guest at BookCon. In conversation with The Mary Sue editor-in-chief Jill Pantozzi, Day discussed her forthcoming book “You’re Never Weird On the Internet (Almost)” and answered questions from audience members.

Novelist and comic book writer Brad Meltzer signed free copies of his upcoming thriller “The President’s Shadow.” I used the opportunity to briefly discuss his 2004 DC comic book series Identity Crisis. I mentioned that, while I liked the book, I know Meltzer received criticism over the book’s dark tone and killing off of characters beloved by some. As Meltzer noted, however, narratives need to have consequences for the stories to matter.

As pop culture becomes increasingly mainstream and comic book characters appear in everything from movies and TV shows to graphic novels, events like BookCon offer much for those who love both books and comics.

For the full gallery of photos from this year’s BookCon, see the Flickr photo album: BookCon 2015.

Con-fusion: What’s in a Name — or a Hyphen?

San Diego Comic-Con Challenges Salt Lake Comic Con’s Right to “Comic Con”

It’s a common occurrence: I tell a friend I’m going to San Diego Comic-Con and receive the reply, “Oh, yeah. I went to the one in Philly.” Or New York, or Chicago, or Cleveland or any of dozens of other cities. It’s awkward explaining that yes, you went to a comic con, but not what is generally considered the comic con: Comic-Con International: San Diego, otherwise known as San Diego Comic-Con or simply SDCC.

The organization that runs the annual convention in San Diego for fans of comic books, movies, TV, and all things pop culture has taken legal action to clarify the confusion, at least in regard to one fan convention. A lawyer representing Comic-Con International: San Diego has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con over their use of “Comic Con” in the name of the Utah convention, according to an Associated Press report. The issue may ultimately hinge on the difference — if any — between “comic-con” and “comic con.” (More on that pesky hyphen shortly.)

The Utah event, reported to be the third-largest comic con in the U.S. with an attendance of 72,000 people last year, is one of dozens of similar — and similarly named — activities around the globe run by different organizations. The ReedPop division of multinational publisher Reed Elsevier hosts New York Comic Con, an event that last year boasted attendance numbers on par with San Diego Comic-Con. Wizard World Inc. puts on two dozen Wizard World Comic Cons in cities around the U.S.  Smaller, regionally-focused comic cons are available in many other cities and towns.

Given the broad adoption of the term “comic con,” why would the organizers of San Diego Comic-Con go after Salt Lake Comic Con rather than the larger and longer-running New York Comic Con or the rapidly expanding Wizard World cons?

The immediate trigger of the legal move was a marketing ploy by the Salt Lake event at San Diego Comic-Con which included driving a car through downtown San Diego advertising the name and dates of the Utah fan fest.

Comic Con International may also believe it will be easier to prevail against Salt Lake Comic Con as a first step in tightening control of its brand image. According to the event’s website, Salt Lake Comic Con is a Dan Farr Production, produced in partnership with MediaOne of Utah — perhaps a less daunting opponent than Reed Elsevier or Wizard World.

In the AP report Bryan Brandenburg, a co-founder of the Salt Lake City event, asserts that San Diego Comic-Con “tried and failed to trademark ‘Comic Con’ in 1995.”

San Diego Comic Convention does, however, hold trademark Registration Number 3219568 for “COMIC-CON” (spelled with a hyphen) covering “Education and entertainment services, namely, organizing and conducting conventions in the fields of animation, comic books and popular art.” San Diego Comic Convention holds other trademarks related to the event, including SDCC and PREVIEW NIGHT, along with a number of trademarks for events that don’t currently exist under the names listed, including ANAHEIM COMIC-CON, SAN FRANCISCO COMIC-CON, and LOS ANGELES COMIC-CON. Even though Comic-Con International also runs WonderCon, an event nearly identical to their San Diego Comic-Con in all aspects other than its size, they don’t use the ‘Comic-Con’ name for that event.

Most of the non-San Diego fan conventions eschew using the hyphen in their names, opting — perhaps for legal reasons — to use “comic con” (with a space between the two words) or variant spellings such as comiccon or comicon. Ironically, among the trademarks held by San Diego Comic Convention are “COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL” and “SAN DIEGO COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL,” both without the hyphen.

Does a trademark on “COMIC-CON” cover “COMIC CON” — and perhaps COMICCON and COMICON as well? If the issue is eventually settled by the courts, it will be interesting to see how the law views the presence or absence of the hyphen in identically-sounding terms.

Update: 2014 Aug 8:

The dispute has now moved to the courts. Comic-Con International has filed a lawsuit against the organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con in the U.S. District Court in Southern California over the use of the name “Comic Con,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

Update: 2017 June 27:

Settlement talks between the organizers of San Diego Comic-Con and Salt Lake Comic Con have broken down and both sides are asking a judge to settle the dispute over the naming rights of these events, reports the New York Times.

Update: 2017 June 30: 

Writing for Forbes.com, Rob Salkowitz provides a detailed review of the situation. Regarding the infamous hyphen in “Comic-Con,” Salkowitz writes, “Based on the filing, SDCC clearly believes their trademark covers both ‘Comic-Con’ and ‘Comic Con’ (as well as ComiCon and other variants).” Underscoring the brand confusion engendered by the widespread use of the term, he notes, “When the gang on The Big Bang Theory says they are going to ‘comic con,’ they are talking about San Diego, not Salt Lake City or anywhere else.”

 

Should Comic-Con “Go Long”?

San Diego Comic-Con 2013

In his article on how money is changing the nature Comic Cons big and small, Jim McLauchlin quotes Fables creator Bill Willingham as stating:

“I love the fact that this thing has gotten huge and all that, but San Diego — and you can fill in any of the other big mega-conventions — isn’t really one convention. It’s like 12 smaller conventions that just happen to be taking place at the same time in the same place.”

And, indeed, the major pop culture conventions, such as Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con and ReedPop’s New York Comic Con, are large in both scale and scope. These events feature presentations, panel sessions, vendors, and activities on a wide variety of topics covering comic books and graphic novels, manga, movies, television programs, anime, costumed “cosplay” and more.

With the planned expansion of the San Diego Convention Center still a distant hope, perhaps one option for the future of San Diego and other large Cons is to “go long” — that is, spread the event over more days.

SXSWThere’s precedent for this in another prominent convention: the South by Southwest festival (or SXSW as it is generally known). The annual media and popular culture event in Austin, Texas is arrayed as three back-to-back conferences : SXSW Music, SXSW Film, and SXSW Interactive.

SXSW is not currently at the scale of San Diego Comic-Con or New York Comic Con, both of which now draw around 130,000 attendees. In 2013, the Austin festival attracted roughly 25,000 participants for SXSW Music, 30,621 for SXSW Interactive, and 16,297 for SXSW Film.

Despite the smaller scale, the event extends over more days than the major Comic Cons, with the main activities for the music and the interactive festivals only overlapping on one day. For 2014, SXSW Interactive runs March 7–11 and SXSW Music is March 11–16. The SXSW Film festival — the most lightly attended of the three — spans the dates of both of the other SXSW festivals, running March 7–15 this year.

One can only imagine the challenge of booking a hotel room on the day all three festivals overlap. Nevertheless, there are advantages to separating the events by topic and allowing the audience to focus on the activities in which they are most interested.

WonderCon AnaheimPerhaps the big Comic Cons should try something similar. In addition to dispersing the crowd, it would mollify the comic book aficionados who bemoan the encroachment of the “Hollywood crowd” at the Cons, and allow the TV and movie fans unadulterated access to events around those interests.

Of course, many pop culture fans are “completists” who want to embrace everything related to their obsessions, so there would be those who feel compelled to stay for the entire event. But, one would hope, even their experience would be less stressful if the crowds were reduced by this niche-focused approach.

As I mentioned in a Knowledge@Wharton article a year ago [see “Comic-Con: The Sold-out Super Bowl of Pop Culture“] I believe a better approach — at least for Comic-Con International (which runs both San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon) — would be to expand from two cities to three. If WonderCon — traditionally held in San Francisco but relocated to Anaheim since 2012 — could secure dates for San Francisco in the fall and remain in Anaheim in the spring, West Coast fans would have abundant options to sate their pop culture cravings throughout the year. Rebranding these two WonderCons as Anaheim Comic-Con and San Francisco Comic-Con would help to market the events to a broader audience. (After all, Comic-Con International’s parent company currently holds trademarks for both Anaheim Comic-Con and San Francisco Comic-Con.)

Special Edition: NYCIn a similar vein, this year ReedPop is augmenting fall’s New York Comic Con with a smaller event in the spring focused specifically on comic books, dubbed Special Edition: NYC. “New York Comic Con has grown to include so much more than comic books,” stated ReedPOP Global Senior Vice President Lance Fensterman in a press release. “Special Edition: NYC will give comic book fans an intimate destination to meet with publishers and special guests.”

Whether through more cities, more dates, or a larger venue, one hopes the scale of the leading Comic Cons will eventually expand to match the demand.