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Guest Report: Chris Mautner's Impressions from Friday at NYCC 2006
posted February 26, 2006
 

I was walking through Penn Station, heading home after spending most of Friday at the Javits Center when I overheard one of those, only-in-New-York conversations:
First man: You dress like a Chinese restaurant
Second man: Oh I do, do I?
First man: Yes, you do. You dress like a Chinese restaurant.

My head swirling at the time with various pop culture detritus, it occurred to me that in many ways, the NYCC was dressed like a Chinese restaurant. A little from superhero column A; A little from manga column B. Over here are some alt-comics appetizers and some trading card games for dessert. Throw everything together buffet-style and let the customers pick and choose what they'd like to consume.

It's a menu that, judging by the early crowds, most folks seem happy to delve into.

OK, that metaphor was more than a bit mangled, but hopefully it conveys the huge gulf of varied material that was crammed onto the convention's floor. Film companies rubbed shoulders with mainstream book publishers. You could start an isle staring at someone playing the new Rainbow Six game and arrive at the end with Jim Steranko glaring at you. Purveyors in Japanese animated pornography sold their wares less than 100 feet from Archie Comics while somewhere else the guy from Bosom Buddies signed autographs.

Of course, this sort of thing is typical of most big conventions these days. While I'm not someone who attends a lot of conventions apart from my yearly pilgrimage to SPX, it seems as though comics have almost become an afterthought at most conventions, with an interest in the genre material overriding any interest in the medium it's packaged in. This isn't a show about the art of comics. This show is all about indulging your inner geek, and, as NYCC proves, there are endless ways to do so.

This isn't meant as a criticism, at least, not a major one. Goodness knows the chance to take part in a weekend festivity that not only included comics of all stripes but also video games, anime and toys was a big influence on my decision to attend, even if it was only for a day.

My plan was to take the train down from central Pa to the Big Apple, meet a friend from lunch and then check out the convention. As tempting as it would have been to stay the whole weekend, I didn't feel I could justify abandoning my family for the entire weekend just to hear about Marvel's Civil War. Or Art School Confidential for that matter.

I arrived at the Javits Center around 1:30. The place is larger than Willy Wonka's factory, and it took me a bit of wandering around and standing in the wrong line before I was able to get my bearings. After getting my press badge (membership has its privileges), I started wandering around the show floor.

The show was about 1/3 publishers, 1/3 dealers or retailers and 1/3 toys. Seriously, there were action figures and collectible figurines everywhere, more than a few of them not safe for work. Even the smurfs made a showing.

Booth space tended to be cramped and small. The Artist's Alley felt exactly like that, an alley; folks like Keith Giffen and Joe Staton seemed scrunched up against the wall. Aisles were narrow and made getting from one end to the other difficult at the end of the day, when the crowds started showing up.

Viz and Tokyopop had the nicest booths, I thought, underscoring the importance of manga and anime in today's market. Marvel and DC's set-ups were pleasant, but seemed like afterthoughts, as though they really didn't want to fully commit to the show. That being said, they obviously attracted a good deal of attention from visitors. Which isn't to say any one exhibitor looked lonely. Just about every booth I walked by seemed to be attracting some sort of traffic,

Most of the folks I talked to were cautiously optimistic about the show, and, while unwilling to give way to any serious enthusiasm, had nothing but good things to say about the convention thus far.

It seemed like a lot of that initial concern was unnecessary. Even in the early afternoon, while many exhibitors were still setting up, and the center hadn't opened yet to the general public yet, the show floor seemed to have a pretty good sized audience of librarians, book buyers, retailers and other "professionals." Looking at the early crowd, I felt pretty confident this show would pack 'em in. Hell with New York, the whole Northeast Coast has been starving for a show like this.

That initial suspicion was well confirmed as I headed back to the press room (and to search for a cup of coffee) and saw a line that snaked all the way back. Within an hour I serious trouble navigating my way around and was glad I spotted that guy who was selling trades at half price when I did.

I avoided the panels for the most part. I wanted to spend most of my time on the show floor and plus, I found it difficult to locate exactly where the panels were being held. Note to the organizers: Keep the different areas as close together as possible. The video game/Magic the Gathering section on the top floor seemed to especially suffer from a lack of proximity. Barring that, put up more signs and make them more easily understandable to dolts like myself.

I did manage to check out the Vertigo panel just before I left. Apparently in addition to the new American Splendor, Dean Haspiel will be working with author Jonathan Ames on a graphic novel entitled The Alcoholic. Good for Dean.

The most interesting find at the show is Netcomics, which is publishing a series of Korean comics or manwha. These books look very lovely, particularly the upcoming supernatural title"Dokebi Bride. I look forward to seeing what the company has planned for the rest of the year.

Despite any misgivings I may have had about commerce winning out over art, the show was fun and I certainly don't regret the long train ride. To an extent my impressions were hampered by my limited time schedule. I would have liked to have tracked down a few more people, spent more time at certain booths and yes, caught that Art School Confidential screening. As a result, others may have a more in-depth analysis of NYCC, but from my vantage point the show was a pretty obvious success. If they can open up the aisles a bit more and entice more publishers like Image and Fantagraphics to stop by, the convention will easily become the pop culture event it so obviously wants to be. Here's hoping.

Chris Mautner has been writing about comics for I'd guess a decade now, perhaps most prominently as a featured writer at The Comics Journal. He lives in central Pennsylvania and writes/edits for the Patriot-News out of Harrisburg. You can follow his general exploits and comics writing in his blog, Panels and Pixels.

Photo Gallery

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Marvel's booth -- publishers tended to have modest booths more in line with a BEA-type show than a big ol' comics convention.

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Some odd robot thing.

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Portent of a long weekend ahead -- the long line right before they let the general public in.

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The Udon booth, which Mautner describes as "very busy."

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Lego Batman guards the show.

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The con entrance.

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Unattended gaming tables.

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Weirdo from MTV in a monkey suit.

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More unattended gaming tables.