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In the city that doesn't sleep (or mask): A travelog of New York Comic Con

An account of a week at New York Comic Con 2022

New York Comic Con 2022
Image credit: Steve Prue (Popverse)

This was initially going to be an entirely different piece: one that, as of the last Sunday of New York Comic Con 2022, was going to recap my own, and others’, upset surrounding the severe lack of masks at the convention, and how their absence impacted the show. In fact, I attended the NYCC Team Q&A late Sunday afternoon expecting a proverbial bloodbath, displaying the same anger and distrust that I had seen both all across Twitter and in journalist circles – a sense of, 'this was meant to be a masked show. I do not feel safe.'

Instead, the panel began with ReedPop VP of Events Kristina Rogers addressing the matter directly, saying that they did not do things the way they’d hoped; that, with President Biden having declared the pandemic over weeks earlier, things had been made more difficult in upholding the mask mandate of the show — a fact that didn’t seem to have been a problem throughout the other conventions hosted this convention season before Biden's announcement, I might add. Somehow, much to my surprise, not a single complaint, praise, or utterance from a single person in attendance at the hour-long panel from there-on-out had to do with the lack of masking or the concern for public safety. The panel, much like the convention itself, just seemed to move on.

Being back

Image of interior of Javits Center with banner welcoming people to NYCC
Image credit: Popverse - Chloe Maveal

It’s undeniable that this NYCC was an odd one, even by the standards of this back-to-almost-normal 2022 con season. There was a feeling in the air throughout the Javits Center all four days that everyone almost felt impatient to be back, almost feral as they quickly filed into queuing areas and in front of doors at the beginning of every morning and outside of almost every hall.

Within that crowd-wide hunger to dig into the things we love, however, there was no seemingly unified experience, no 'must see' panel that was on everyone’s lips, or a single rumored guest appearance that had people lining up the night before. (Sorry, Oscar Isaac, and the assembled casts of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Back to the Future. You wowed the crowds, but didn’t get the show floor buzzing ahead of time.) What actually happened, though was that there was a variety of things that seemed to be entirely fine for everyone, not the least of which was the massive recreation of the One Piece Pirate ship in the middle of the show floor, which remained both a photo hotspot/traffic jam for a good portion of the weekend, as well as a good way to navigate the floor when things seemed a little bit too confusing.

What happened to the comics publishers?

There was one thing that seemed to have disappeared this year, however, and that was comics publishing. Or rather, omic publishers seemed to be an afterthought when it came to their presence in the exhibit hall. With DC once again choosing to have no presence on the floor beyond an HBO Max tie-in for the Titans series, Marvel’s exhibit space seeming primarily a merchandise hotspot with comics relegated to the side, and IDW showing up with their strange and often inaccessible monolith of an enclosed booth, it seemed almost certain that this year was almost certainly mid-tier comics’ time to shine! After all, with major publishers stepping aside intentionally or otherwise, surely it was the little guys’ chance to go big and finally flaunt everything that they have to offer… or at least that’s what I had hoped would happen.

The reality was more disappointing, and not a little surprising. After some searching, I found Vault Comics — which I consider one of the top five publishers in the industry right now, and home to some truly spectacular genre material — holed up in a single booth hidden against the back wall that one would normally reserve for individual indie artists, with just enough room to fit only a small fraction of their offerings on display. Similarly, British comics publisher 2000 AD — whose presence is often limited when it comes to state-side convention circuits, with appearances traditionally only at San Diego Comic-Con and NYCC — were given a booth at the opposite end of the convention hall, tucked away in a corner near the bathrooms and computer gaming floor.

I suppose this could have been understandable under other circumstances, but in conversation with these and other publishers and creators, it felt as if the care just had not been given to make sure that comics had been clustered together or, for that matter, given the proper space that had previously been offered at earlier New York shows. (That said, complaints about booth placement from creators and publishers is as much a tradition at comic conventions as anything else, I suppose.) A similar instance happened while talking with Geeks OUT, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and empowering queer nerd culture, who had found themselves relegated to the Pride Lounge tucked in among the lower panel rooms after being told that their only available choice of booth was not the normal spot that has been their place for years. In fact, the floor space they rejected seemed to be the spot that had been taken up by 2000 AD, who had also at the last minute been informed that their traditional space was no longer available.

More than any of the politicking that likely happened behind the scenes, what struck me as a comics enthusiast who does still primarily focus on publishers and the friends who come with them, was how much of a pain it was to make the trek across the 150,000+ square foot exhibition floor just to find another friendly name in comics. More than once, I heard speculation on what the dispersed layout of comics booths may have cost in sales from those attendees who felt the same.

In the meantime, I can say that, wonderfully, comic retailers were out in droves once again and offering up a wide array of wares with the standard cardboard signs reading 'Silver Age Marvel (KEY ISSUES!)' to under-table treasure troves with oddball gems like French editions of Robert Crumb’s Weirdo magazine and some delightful Frazetta-packaged back-issues of Eerie – the perfect spooky pickup for those who came to mingle with famed horror hosts like Svengoolie and Elvira Mistress of the Dark just in time for Halloween. I myself tracked down more than a few back issues that had long escaped me, even if I have yet to find the complete set of failed '90s British weekly Toxic! that I’ve been looking for for years.

You had to be there...?

Nonetheless, this is New York Comic Con and it’s just hard to have a bad time even if you try – or, in this case, even if you’re me and don’t feel entirely safe being there because of the number of unmasked faces in the crowd. “I have stuff from years back,” said one attendee, waiting in line for a crane game alongside the Funko end of the show floor. “It’s one of those ‘had to be there’ things, I guess. I get to have it because I got to be here. It’s just nice to have something to remember it.” That alone represents the attitude of a good portion of the con-goers present at the show: you just got to be there.

It’s a sentiment I understand, honestly. There are few other times throughout an entirely drab year that I get to spend time with with dear friends sharing my favorite comics from overseas, or to talk with one of the founding fathers of the underground comix movement Denis Kitchen, or hang out with an artistic icon like Simon Bisley — who seemed to have been put on the docket for Artist Alley at the last minute and was, according to him, advertised late on behalf of the show. The point is, whether you’re there for the experience of meeting someone for five minutes, getting a signing, or simply just playing a crane game, we’re all just there for something that only we get to experience in that exact, particular moment.

That being said, sometimes in order to get to the point of enjoying those things, you have to deal with some hiccups with regards to line management, crowds, and reservations. To be fair, lines are going to happen. It’s a comic con and it simply cannot be avoided. What can be avoided, however, was the line management – a topic that came up frequently among attendee feedback at the Talkback Panel with suggestions for increased security and taped-off areas thrown out as suggestions for how to better manage the flow of people. “It took a couple of days to get it right over at the Empire [Stage],” said one of the attendees. “Over at the main stage it wasn’t very clear though. People just didn’t seem to know what they were supposed to be doing.”

One of the biggest disappointments for many seemed to be the way paneling was chosen this year, with several of them shockingly lackluster and even phoned in at times. For example, tasked with reporting on any possible news from the English-language cast of My Hero Academia Panel, it was disheartening to see the moderator spend 45 minutes playing a complicated dice-based trivia game with the panelists before opening the floor to questions. 'What the fuck is this?' was an overwhelming sentiment shared among the rows I was surrounded by, along with 'Why aren’t they just talking?'

Unfortunately, this was not just a one-off instance, with many other panels including Marvel Fanfare with CB Cebulski, and the sluggish one-note affair that was the Outlander panel on Sunday morning, all eliciting the same reaction from audiences that should, in theory, have been the ideal demographic: 'What’s the point of being here?' Despite a palpable lack of excitement in many cases, things couldn’t have been that bad: panel rooms, for the most part, stayed entirely full.

The individual experience

A similar problem seemed to happen in regards to treatment of VIPs – a special badge that can be purchased for an additional fee that provides early access and guaranteed premier seating at all of the hottest panels, access to the VIP lounge where seating and refreshments are located, and other perks – where non-VIPs were given the opportunity to take advantage of these perks without a special badge due to lack of security. “It was just okay this year,” said one of the VIP’s in attendance at the aforementioned Sunday afternoon Q&A session. “Having a VIP pass and then not getting the stuff you want because of someone else’s situation just makes me wonder what the point is of the experience. What is the point of the VIP experience if you’re not getting the VIP experience?”

Ultimately this ties back to what I mentioned above: people come to these shows for what they can’t find anywhere else, a thrill that connects them to their interests and creates a conversation. It’s nice to see ReedPop doing the Talkback Panel; when it comes to sharing experiences, there’s few better forums to make it happen than putting it out on the table. That being said, it’s also the perfect example of realizing how other peoples’ reality can differ from your expectations… particularly when you are expecting one thing – complaints about the lack of mask enforcement, for example – and are met, instead, with people eager to complain about VIP privileges and express their excitement about a Back To The Future panel. After all, when everything else seems fine, why would we complain about the thing that no one else seems to care about?

Unexpectedly, this year’s New York Comic Con left me feeling disconnected from everyone else’s experiences. In a lot of ways, this is a positive – so many con-goers had such great things to say, and the disconnect was an opportunity to highlight just how different we all are in our singular environment, and how valid things are even when there’s no throughline. But perhaps that is the throughline here, in the end: perhaps NYCC is the 'individual’s show' where the singular person is going to be comfortable or uncomfortable, thrilled or bored, and frustrated or delighted in a way that SDCC’s purposeful line-up of must-see-event after must-see-event could never offer.

NYCC 2022, along with ReedPop’s many other shows worldwide this year, proved to be a showcase in how people find their own space within the community and are able to enjoy it, how people are able to feel empowered to do whatever it is that they feel comfortable doing within the space of their larger community. I guess, with a sniffle, a headache, and a cough teetering on the periphery every day since – not to mention the constant worry that this is the day that my test shows up as positive after all – the question I still have is whether now is the time for that empowerment or not.

Before New York Comic-Con, Chloe Maveal wrote about their experience at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con.