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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’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.
Perhaps 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.)
In 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.
Comic-Con International (CCI) yesterday announced its new plan to “level the playing field” in the mad dash to obtain tickets to San Diego Comic-Con.
Rather than a “first come, first served” distribution scheme, this year’s online system for Comic-Con tickets will be randomized. As explained in CCI’s official blog:
During 2014 badge preregistration, prospective attendees will be given a time frame in which they can log in to the EPIC waiting room prior to the badge sale. Once the badge sale begins, everyone who is inside the waiting room will be randomly assigned to a registration session. Your assigned registration session is not tied to the time you entered the waiting room. There is no advantage in arriving early.
CCI hopes this scheme will reduce the panic and confusion caused by thousands of prospective attendees feverishly clicking in hopes of landing at the front of the line to purchase tickets.
The announcement was met with the expected range of responses, from relief to outrage.
“I feel like stress is gone now. It seems like fairest possible solution to me,” @Anjosie tweeted. “Seems pointless to me. Everyone is still going to log in at the bell assuming the randomizer will run its course quickly,” predicted @athletics68. “I’m not a fan,” tweeted @N3rdlink “If u were prepared u most likely got badges. Now it’s random. I don’t think I’m going to like this.”
One person in favor of this approach, however, is John Rogers, president of Comic-Con International board of directors. At the conclusion of each Con, Rogers holds a “Talkback” session to solicit feedback, suggestions, and complaints about what worked, and what didn’t, at that year’s Con.
Access to tickets was a commonly voiced concern at last year’s Talkback session. One person with what she characterized as a “fast” computer system said she was placed at slot 24,000 in the online waiting room while her friends who logged in “at the same time” got 4-day passes. “I don’t understand why some people were able to get in and others didn’t,” she stated.
Rogers admitted that he and his team were also baffled by the mysterious way in which slots in the queue were allocated. “There are so many people hitting the system at the same time that, in fact, it is random,” Rogers stated. Given this, Rogers’ belief is that the queue system should be explicitly randomized.
And so it will be this year. Time will tell how well this approach works, but one can easily predict the response at next year’s Talkback session: those who receive tickets will love the new scheme while those who don’t will be outraged.
The past weekend the Jacob Javits Center hosted New York Comic Con, the East Coast’s largest popular culture event run by the ReedPop division of Reed Elsevier. Early reports estimated this year’s attendance at more than 130,000, putting the event on par with North America’s premiere pop culture event, San Diego Comic-Con run by Comic-Con International.
Like most major Cons, New York Comic Con included a wide array of pop culture activities: a show floor filled with exhibitors and vendors, panel sessions on comic books, movies, and television shows; and abundant costumed characters (both attendees and marketers).
It is interesting to note the unexpected outliers, however. This year’s New York Con evidenced two trends — one disheartening, one encouraging — at the opposite poles of Con culture.
Marketing to Nerds
As with last year’s New York Comic Con, among the stalls of vendors selling comic books, video games, and sci-fi action figures were a smattering of general consumer products having little (or nothing) to do with the traditional pop culture focus of Comic Con (see Knowledge@Wharton, “Consumer Brands Go Geek at Comic Con” for a report on last year’s consumer marketing trend).
While most of Chevy’s presence seemed tangential to the usual themes of Comic Con, there was at least one pop culture moment for the company: The Marvel booth featured S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson’s 1962 Chevrolet Corvette, “Lola.”
Craftsman, which last year had a large booth on the show floor touting their Bolt-On tool system through a comic book tie-in with DC Comics, didn’t repeat their appearance this year.
But Playboy was there, promoting their Super Playboy Fragrances. The company sponsored a sci-fi speed dating event and provided the opportunity for Comic Con attendees to participate in a photo session with a Playboy bunny. When asked how Playboy’s presence relates to Comic Con’s usual focus on comic books and popular culture, and spokesperson mentioned that Super Playboy “transforms you into a sexy superhero.” While this may seem like a stretch, even Stan Lee had a fragrance being marketed at the Con, indicating how far geek culture has spread from its historic roots.
Perhaps the most unfortunate ad campaign at this year’s New York Comic Con was from Arizona Beverages. The company was publicizing new soda flavors available in large, 23.5 once cans. To promote the latter, a fulsome model wearing an “I ❤ big cans” T-shirt was striking poses for the crowd. When asked what this has to do with comic books or pop culture, a representative in the booth initially seemed puzzled and then stated, in perhaps an unwittingly apt expression, “It’s about exposure.”
While Arizona Beverages’ presence at the Con provided visibility for their products, it may be the type of marketing more likely to misfire than to build brand loyalty. Successfully promoting a pop culture brand involves more than just exposure; it’s about connecting with your audience in a way that builds a loyal fan base.
For Fans of All Ages
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Playboy bunnies and models with T-shirts about big cans, this year’s New York Comic Con featured a number of events targeted at young people.
With a large percentage of modern comic books targeted at (and only appropriate for) an adult audience, a number of industry watchers are concerned about fostering a new generation of fans. BOOM! Studios co-founder Ross Richie raised the issue in a panel session on the company’s upcoming products. “We need to start building the next generation of comics readers,” Richie stated. John Rogers, president of Comic Con International which hosts the other major North American Comic Con in San Diego, has expressed similar concerns about the need to cultivate a new generation of fans so the audience for comic book conventions doesn’t “go extinct.”
To be sustainable, popular culture needs new cohorts of fans, and this means supporting material for young readers to enjoy.
For the first time this year, New York Comic Con provided a “family room” featuring three days of presentations and events for fans of all ages.
This year I forwent most of the panel sessions to spend time on the show floor and Artist Alley photographing comic book creators and industry professionals for a project in conjunction with a major pop culture publication.
Random celebrity encounters — always a fun aspect of the major Con — included bumping into Whoopi Goldberg walking the show floor, spotting 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit conversing with illustrators in Artist Alley, and running into famed book designer Chip Kiddchatting with Jim Sternako (with whom he once worked as an assistant).
And, as always, there was a lot of great cosplay throughout the Con.
For comic book fans who bemoan the encroaching influence of Hollywood on the major comic cons, there are a number of small, local events that carry on the spirit of the original comic book conventions.
This past Saturday, Locust Moon Comics, a Philadelphia-based comic book retailer, hosted the second annual Locust Moon Comics Fest. The event’s focus was squarely on comic books and related art. No costumed characters were in evidence, much less representatives from movie or television studios. The vendor tables typically displayed the exhibitors’ own works rather than boxes of back issues of popular comics or superhero action figures.
Like last-year’s inaugural event, the convention was held in the Rotunda, a century-old former house of worship now owned by the University of Pennsylvania. Last year’s show was contained in the small theater at the rear of the building. This year, exhibitors’ tables filled both the theater and the larger sanctuary, roughly tripling the area of the show floor.
Comic book creators at this year’s Fest included writer, artist, and comics historian Jim Steranko; artist Chrissie Zullo; letterer and calligrapher Todd Klein; artist J.G. Jones; and many others. Steranko, noted for his innovative work on Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the late 1960s, sat at a long table in front of a gallery of his original paintings as a line of fans waited to get his autograph or hear stories of his life and work.
While this year’s larger venue featured more exhibitors than in last year’s cramped quarters, some vendors remarked that the expansion in floor space didn’t appear to be matched by a proportional increase in attendance. Festival organizer Andrew Carl estimated that the event attracted roughly 500 attendees last year and around 1000 this year. Of course, the first few San Diego Comic Cons only attracted a few hundred attendees, and that event is now the largest popular culture event in the U.S. with an attendance of more than 130,000. It will be interesting to see how the Locust Moon Comics Festival evolves in the next few years.