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Over the weekend in New York City, the organizers of the New York Comic Con introduced a new convention called Special Edition NYC. This convention was a much smaller affair than the NYCC, which has quickly grown into the largest comic book convention in America after San Diego Comic Con. The inaugural Special Edition NYC felt like an experiment in many ways, testing to see if a stripped-down comic convention that still brought top comic book talents would be successful. While the ultimate marker of a convention’s success – how much money it made – is still unknown, the con offered a more intimate experience for both fans and creators, which seemed to go over well.
Many times fans only think the measure of a convention’s success relates to how much fun they have. However, there are many different groups who generally participate in comic conventions: show organizers, publishers, exhibitors, creators, media, and fans. A great convention for one group is not always a great convention for all groups. ReedPOP, the organizers of the NYCC, made a strategic decision with Special Edition NYC. This convention occupied a much smaller space (the entire show floor took up the space that was occupied by just the “Artist Alley” during the last NYCC) and limited the participants to those working in comic books rather than movies, television, video games and related industries. Although the pace was slower (and I heard from some exhibitors that the 2nd day was slow for business), the nice element was that fewer attendees offered much more space and ease of movement.
Not that long ago, major comic book news only came out a few times a year, at select conventions. However, the convention business is becoming much more competitive and crowded as popular culture has become more aligned with “geeky” interests. For instance, in addition to the Special Edition NYC show this weekend, there was also a major show out west, as the Denver Comic Con held its third show. Next weekend will see a Wizard World convention in Philadelphia. There will also be a number of other conventions in the month before San Diego Comic Con in late July. Not all conventions make money but there are many that do very well, so there are many new and relatively new conventions around the country trying to get into the fray.
One advantage is that more sections of the country that are not on the East or West Coast have access to conventions than ever. Previously, fans would either have to travel hundreds of miles or go without access. Some of these regional conventions have become very popular and successful. The heavier convention schedule can become difficult on publishers, though. No matter the convention, fans want to see booths or programming from Marvel and DC, and often Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, IDW, Valiant and others as well. That becomes tough when there are conventions every few weeks (or even multiple conventions in a weekend). Not only does the travel but a strain on the finances and personnel of the publishers, but there is also now an expectation that publishers will break some news at every convention.
It is interesting, then, that ReedPOP is not only experimenting with a new summertime convention with Special Edition NYC, they are also looking to grow the NYCC brand. It is no coincidence that in the lead up to Special Edition NYC, where tickets to October’s New York Comic Con were available for purchase, ReedPOP announced that they were created “New York Super Week,” a week of events and promotions leading up to NYCC. They are teaming with various bars, restaurants, event spaces, retailers and media companies to offer geek-centric events and promotions for a week. Some of these events include a live tapings of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s humorous astronomy podcast “StarTalk” and the NPR game show “Ask Me Another.” The purpose of the “New York Super Week” seems to be to make events surrounding New York Comic Con into discussion-worthy and buzz-worthy things themselves, thereby making NYCC more like festivals like Sundance or South By Southwest than comic conventions.
It will be interesting to see how successful the “New York Super Week” will be and whether it will feed or take away from the buzz of NYCC. By contrast, there is something nice about a convention like Special Edition NYC that doesn’t leave fans feel exhausted or standing in enormous lines for hours hoping to get into major panels. In this way, Special Edition NYC, with its focus on and access to creators, felt like something of a throwback to conventions of years ago. In spite of the fact that New York City has many other conventions focusing on both major comic publishing and independent comics, there may be room for something like Special Edition NYC if it is financially viable for the producers and exhibitors.
Overall, it is hard to say whether there are too many comic conventions now. Certainly, the audiences who buy tickets and have a great time would not say so. This is especially true in areas that did not previously have conventions. However, with increased competition on the convention market, inevitably some conventions will likely fail. Another interesting side effect is that as San Diego Comic Con becomes larger and larger every year, making it difficult for many fans to attend or less enjoyable for some who do, perhaps fans will look at smaller cons as an alternative: events where they can still celebrate their love for comics, meet other enthusiasts, meet favorite creators, show off cosplay skills, and buy comics without the hassles and expense of some of the bigger conventions.