If you follow me on Twitter, two things will have been very apparent to you recently:
1. I spent the weekend at New York Comic-Con.
2. I was very, very excited about it.
For me, like most of the geeky/nerdy persuasion, San Diego has ceased to be merely the name of a city in Southern California – it now means Comic-Con, a distant wonderland where the cream of the comics world rub shoulders with the biggest names in movies, TV and literature. It’s progressed to the point where Comic-Con is a barely adequate name – Pop-Culture-Con would be fairer. For the last few years, it has been the place where the movie studios and TV networks unveiled their biggest genre properties, put on star-studded panels and screenings, and show footage that normally doesn’t appear anywhere else, for several months at least.
It’s been a long-held dream of mine to go. One I’m planning to fulfil next year. In the meantime, when Penguin, my US publishers, asked me if I was interested in them pitching me for some events at New York Comic-Con, the second-biggest North American Comic-Con, you can imagine I didn’t take a lot of persuading :)
NYCC is slightly smaller in scale than San Diego, although it now has almost as many attendees (116,000 this year!) and has a real emphasis on books – unsurprising, given that the major houses all have their offices in the Big Apple. I got the news about two months ago that Penguin had got me the Saturday night horror literature panel, a signing in the autographing area, and had arranged to give away a bunch of Department 19 paperbacks at the Penguin booth on the Sunday morning. Hotels and flights were sorted, and I started counting down the days…
As is always the way when something you’re really looking forward is about to happen, nature conspired to make it just a tiny bit harder. In this case, inflicting upon me a lovely hacking cough and dizzy head about eighteen hours before my flight. Had it been almost anything else I would have cancelled – the thought of thirteen hours flying and a big room full of tens of thousands of other people’s germs would have been too much. But this was Comic-Con. This was no time for weakness.
I flew in on Friday afternoon, drifting in and out of consciousness in a highly uncomfortable aeroplane seat, then spent two hours getting through immigration at JFK, an hour in the taxi queue and another hour crawling through the traffic in Queens. I got to the hotel, checked in, hit the nearest Duane Reade and stocked up on anti-cold drugs, took them, got a quick sandwich, and went to bed, hoping against hope that I would feel better the next morning.
And miracle of miracles, I actually did.
I wandered out to have a look at where I was staying (having paid no attention whatsoever the previous night) and was confronted with two lovely, quintessentially New York views that lifted my spirits a great deal. Firstly, the hotel itself.
The New Yorker is neither flashy or expensive (by New York standards, at least) – it’s clean, and the rooms are big and the beds are comfy, which is all you really need when you’re only planning to sleep there. But from the outside, it’s absolutely spectacular – a towering Art Deco monolith, with nine hundred rooms and over a million square feet of floor space. It’s where Muhammad Ali recovered from his fight with Joe Frazier in 1971, where Nicola Tesla spent the last ten years of his life, feeding pigeons, and its lobby looks like that of the Empire State Building. Speaking of which…
This was the view along 34th Street. Not bad. Not bad at all.
So. Feeling somewhat invigorated (although still a bit like I’d been run over by a steamroller) I got the biggest coffee I could find, packed my bag with extra drugs and water, and set off for the Javits Center, the notoriously crowded and outdated home of New York Comic-Con.
I walked west down 38th Street, and quickly found myself heading in the same direction as a rapidly increasing crowd of obvious Comic-Con goers. Many were wearing their plastic lanyards (the Con had opened on Thursday, or Wednesday if you were super-keen to attend the preview night) and many others could clearly be going nowhere else – I saw my first few dozen costumes of the weekend, most of them intricate depictions of manga and anime characters that I didn’t recognise. But when we got a block away from the Con itself, I saw this…
Yes, that is Boba Fett playing an accordion. It was every bit as awesome as it looks. Especially due to the fact that as I walked past him he was playing the theme tune to the Lord Of The Rings movies. It was all-inclusive cross-property geekery at its very best :)
NOTE: I don’t go to that many Cons in the UK – FantasyCon is the only one I’ve been too more than once, and it’s far more of a pro convention i.e. no cosplay. I went to the (last) SFX Weekender in February, and that had a number of people wearing costumes, although most of them were Doctor Who or characters from Star Wars. So I wasn’t really prepared for the scale of the cosplay I was about to witness. Of which more later…
Further down 38th I came across this:
It was printed on the outside of what appeared to be either an abandoned building, or the kind of hipster New York dive bar that wants you to think it’s an abandoned building. I walked past at about 10.45am, and there was already a queue. I was bemused, not knowing then how much of a theme of the weekend queueing would turn out to be…
I eventually got to the Con itself, after a small snafu in which I didn’t really know where I was supposed to go to register, and the security didn’t know either, but were pretty sure they couldn’t let me through without a registration number that I didn’t have, and which they weren’t absolutely sure I needed. In the end I showed them the schedule Penguin had sent me, and they let me through. Once inside, the Con staff knew exactly where I needed to go, and a kind lady at speaker registration gave me my badge and a quick intro to surviving the Con. Her golden rules were:
1. Leave at least half an hour to get anywhere
2. Spend as much time as you can in Artists Alley
She was right on all counts, as I would discover. Equipped with my badge, I headed back towards the lobby. Which already looked like this, even though the doors had been open for barely an hour:
Comic-Con is laid out as follows – there is a single huge convention floor, which is up the escalators on the left of the lobby. That’s where you’ll find the exhibitor booths, from the enormous ones belonging to Marvel, DC, Legendary, Image, Capcom, Nintendo etc. to the medium-sized spaces occupied by the major publishers and the indie comic companies, down to the the outer booths full of Golden and Silver Age comics, collectibles of every kind, and hundreds of bootleg DVDs of obscure cartoons.
Down the escalators is the autographing area, a huge hall with a long row of tables at one end, where everyone from Tom Felton and Adam West down to the likes of me perches on a chair and waits to see if anyone wants them to scrawl their name on anything.
At the far end from where this photo was taken, a wide corridor leads to a truly vast room that contains Artist’s Alley, hundreds of tables where comic artists sign and sketch and sell original art.
So – with my bearings at least partially gathered, I set off towards the enormous crowd of people waiting to go up the escalator to the main floor, to try and find the Penguin booth and get my first proper look at New York Comic-Con.
More to follow…
In Part 2: I enjoy the exquisite hell of a signing nobody comes to, attempt to acquire a Comic-Con exclusive or two, meet two of my favourite comic creators, watch some baseball while eating a truly fantastic pizza, then take part in the most fun panel I’ve ever been on. And throughout it all, the cosplay gets bigger and better…