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Friday, November 4, 2011

New York Comic Con 2011

In the middle of October, I came back to the city to partake in the massive gathering that is the New York Comic Con. This was the fifth installment of the convention and it has grown considerably to the attendance of over 100,000 people. Once again, ReedPop reserved the entirety of the Javits Convention Center for the convention but this time, they had access the areas that were under construction in the previous year. Similarly, the New York Anime Festival had its own place on the convention center with a larger space but utilized completely different. What was new this year was that New York Comic Con expanded to a 4 day convention allowing people who purchased VIP, or 4-Day passes access to the showroom on Thursday. Overall, the convention was still a lot of fun, but still suffers from many problems.

The presence of the crane reminds everyone that JCC is still under construction.

I came in on Friday expecting smaller crowds due to Friday being a school and work day. However, I was quick to realize that those circumstances didn't stop the hordes of people that filled the convention center. Already I was in game-mode where I scheme in any way possible to avoid crowds or lines. With few exceptions, the layout of the convention was almost completely different than last year. Even the way the showroom was organized was changed drastically. The maps provided by the various guides were fairly inadequate as they didn't show how the con was connected nor did it show where the panel rooms were located. So therefore it was a good idea to walk through the whole convention center multiple times to see where everything was so that one doesn't get lost and I did just that.

Friday's showroom. Fairly crowded.

The giant showroom is one of the few things this convention got right. The new layout seemed fairly random, but there was a good reason for that. Last year, the layout of the booths was neatly organized, placing comic shops together, anime shops together, etc. There was a big problem with this layout. There was massive crowding in the more popular sections and the sections few people cared for were nearly empty. Thus, the more random layout spread the crowding out. I was actually able to walk through most of the showroom on Saturday without any issues. As usual, the showroom provided with a ton of variety. There were booths where you can shop. There were booths that let you play games before they were released. They were booths that were showcasing various crafts. Also, in the corner section there was the usual artist alley. That said, the industry presence was fantastic. The New York Anime Ghetto was moved from the basement to the attic occupying a larger space. This space was used largely for the artist alley and a stage with cafeteria like seating. This I thought was very good for taking a break from all the hustle and bustle. NYCC also had a new floor where an enlarged table top gaming room was present. Also, on the same floor they put in a kids area and an area for autographs. With such a big convention, many distributors and publishers used this as an opportunity to announce new products or ventures. But was lining up for all these industry panels really worth it? With most panels and announcements also posted simultaneously online, I honestly think that seeing this announcements in person is of very added value.

Makoto Shinkai's Q&A panel with Roland Kelts

So it would be an understatement to say that the convention center was crowded on Saturday. Most places inside were packed wall-to-wall with people. Although I am fairly experienced in avoiding crowds, on Saturday, this was an impossible task. On top of that, there was quite a bit of confusion as to how people are supposed to line up for panels and events. Line up places were poorly marked and the staff were too overwhelmed to properly control the crowds. At times the lines simply turned into mobs who rushed the entrances of rooms. Even though the presence of the industry allowed for some great sneak peaks and announcements, it completely stifled any fan presence. Fan presence was almost non existent at this convention even on the anime side where fan presence dominates most anime conventions. On Sunday, the con funk was out of control. You can smell it everywhere. During most conventions, con funk is either isolated to a certain big room or neutralized by the staff. However, at NYCC, the con funk was completely out of control and the staff took no steps in making sure the con is funk free. Of course, the last issue is the remoteness of the Javits Convention Center. Hopefully in the future, the subway extension will make this a non-issue, but as things stand, you have to walk for quite a bit in either reach the convention center or leave to get decent food at a decent price. However, what will still attract me to attend New York Comic Con in the future years is the great guests that ReedPop can afford to bring to the show. If Makoto Shinkai and the screenings of his movies were missing this year, I don't think I would have attended.

The NYAF stage with chairs and tables.

As things stand, NYCC is growing faster than ReedPop can manage. The crowds are reaching San Diego Comic Con levels but at the same time, and with that the industry presence is at such a high level such that it is slowly pushing all of fandom out of the convention. New York Anime Fest continues to simply becoming an anime track at NYCC which is unfortunate because it basically means that NYAF practically dead. But not all is gloom and doom. Although I still see this convention becoming a massive trade show for geeks, there is still a lot of room for improvement. There is still a lot of space on the convention center that is either not properly utilized or not utilized at all. This space can be used to further expand the convention to include perhaps rooms for fan panels and such.

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