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Big Apple/Con Wars wrap-up

So, for everyone who asked us, this weekend’s Big Apple Comic-Con at Pier 94 in Manhattan drew a big crowd, and was a well-run show. Wizard’s conventions have always been well run, professional events, and this was no different, with lots of signage to guide people around the somewhat rambling and stark venue.

From what we could see, crowds were light on Friday and Sunday, but very busy on Saturday. Paid Wizard blogger Rich Johnston reported that the Fire Marshal came to slow the line and a video of the queue to get in shows a line that — by New York City standards — was nothing out of the ordinary but still bustling.

In fact, if it weren’t for all the controversy over Big Apple choosing the same dates as New York Comic-Con in 2010, the headline for this year’s Big Apple would probably be what a huge improvement Pier 94 is over the Penn Plaza Hotel as a venue. While the last few small Big Apple shows moved to a high floor ballroom, (which we didn’t attend) for years they were held in a low ceilinged, leaking cavern draped with blue tarpaulins that kept light out and smells in. It was a dismal, demoralizing place, that Evan Dorkin only last year described as “the worst convention I’ve ever had the displeasure to sit through.”

By comparison, Pier 94, where the show was held (registration and panels were located a short walk away in Pier 92) was wide open, high-ceilinged and airy. This year’s Big Apple had the misfortune to be held on an early winter day, gray, raw, and damp. A giant hangar on the river wasn’t exactly the coziest place on earth, and the cement-floored venue couldn’t help but mirror some of the dismal day outside, but it wasn’t soul-crushing, either.

Where the show seemed to have the most organizational problems was panels. Even the Jim Lee panel was sparsely attended. Some people touted in the program book — JG Jones — weren’t even at the show, and announced panels for Pete Rose and William Shatner never materialized.

Problems aside, however, it was a place where people came and had fun. The nerdlebrity turnout was huge and there were lots of bargain-priced comics to buy. The loud thumping music at the front of the room and rows and rows of longboxes aren’t everybody’s idea of a good time, but the dealer/autograph show has a long history in New York. (That said, aging sitcom stars and Playboy models wearing enough pancake make-up to spackle a bungalow inhabit their own little townhouse in discomfort-ville. If you thought the pleading look in some indie cartoonists eyes was bad, it’s nothing compared to the black hole stare of a one-time TV star that no one wants to talk to — Seconal for all!)

It wasn’t hard to find positive reports on the show on the internet. A fan named Freddy wrote

through Sunday this weekend in New York City and Jen and I made the trek out there yesterday, mostly to see the Trick ‘r Treat screening/Mike Dougherty Q&A at night. Although i’m not so much into comics, which is pretty much what 98% of this convention consists of, it was still an awesome time and in the end it was well worth the $35 charge to get in. Ya can’t put a price on tons of free swag (most of which will go to you guys) and some awesome experiences!

Lest we forget, Phil Seuling held a monthly dealers show for years in the ’70s and ’80s. Michael Carbonaro, originator of the Big Apple con, was definitely emulating these shows with his ideas of the Big Apple. Getting autographs from sports figures and celebs also has a long history as an activity. It may not be your cup of tea, but for some people, it provides a very satisfactory experience. The Chiller Theatre, a similar show focusing on horror, is held twice a year in New Jersey, and always gets a strong turnout.

All of which is still begs the question: Why? Why pick the same date as another show being held a mile away on the same street as “the best weekend to have it,” as owner Gareb Shamus told a convention goer. It seems, on the face of it, stupendously stupid.

Artists and dealers we questioned about the conflict were completely unanimous in total bafflement about the announcement. Terms ranged from “idiotic” to “silly” to “What are they thinking?” Not one dealer we spoke with plans to attend the Big Apple instead of the New York Comic-Con. “I know where Ill be next year,” Shelton Drum of Heroes aren’t Hard to Find told us. “The Javits.” (Drum also runs Heroes Con, a show which has had ongoing scheduling conflicts with Wizard World Philadelphia in recent years.)

Artist/letterer Dan Nakrosis said, “Next year, I’ll be here on Thursday, and the Javits on Friday to Sunday.” Basement Comics’ Al Stoltz said next year “I’ll be down the street.”

We asked Shamus directly if he would answer some questions about the show and he offered to set up an interview via Wizard’s PR person. As we write this, he has yet to respond to our questions. However, Rich Johnston did present Wizard’s case for the date:

Wizard World wanted an October date because they believe it’s the best month for such a show – which is why this year’s show is happening now. They initially went for the weekend before NYCC but were bumped due to a bicycle race. Wizard know the comic publishers and comic creators will go to NYCC over Big Apple, although hope some may do both. They know that people have already committed to the NYCC. But they regard “Comic Con” as no longer defined as being principally, or indeed at all, to do with comics, something that coverage of the shows seems to back up these days. They’ll be running a pop media show, so we’ll get wrestlers, sci-fi show actors, musicians, traders and a batch of star guests – and what they lose in comics, they’ll make up in prosthetic aliens. With the NYCC combining with the Anime show taking over the whole of the Javitz, you may get two very different shows on the same street with less crossover that you’d initially expect.

Again, as mentioned above, the kind of media guest autograph show that Wizard is talking about here is actually a reasonable, sustainable idea. If it were planned for the spring — when there’s a big gap in major East Coast shows — no one would say a word and there would even be support for a show that fills a niche.

However, picking the same dates is leaving everyone with the feeling they have to take sides–not a fun place to be– for no real reason. And most comics pros and dealers are simply going to choose New York Comic-Con. (Sean T. Collins has a big roundup of reactions and comments via Twitter and so on over at Robot 6.) Also, intentionally cutting down dealer support in a still dicey economy seems like a questionable move at best. As for fans, a poll at Brad Guigar’s Evil Inc. site shows that people think this is a bad idea by a 96 percent plurality.

For his part, NYCC show runner Lance Fensterman is making his stand for a show that he feels is much more than a media autograph show.

There is a fundamental difference in philosophies between our organizations. We approach our shows by thinking about the fans, the industry and the exhibitors first and ourselves second. We believe that if we serve the fans, the industry, the guests and the exhibitors first we will be rewarded with a good show thus a good business proposition. How does putting an event on the exact same dates as NYCC (or even C2E2 for that matter) do anything to help the fans, exhibitors or guests?

I am not claiming that we are altruistic and do everything s right all the time. Far from it. If you read this blog, I think you know, that I know, we screw a lot up, but we don’t run from our mistakes or criticism, we listen and we learn. And yes, we operate these events as businesses. But we believe our success comes directly from treating people well and helping them grow there business (Midtown Comics busiest 3 days of the year are during NYCC – that is success to us). Good business is not doing what you want for you and taking a short term gain.

The war between Reed and Wizard — which seems to have been touched off when Reed announced a Chicago show running four month’s prior to what was then known as Wizard World Chicago — has heated up in other ways. While Shamus’s new GeekChicDaily newsletter — started with producer Peter Guber — has gotten a lot of attention, it’s also become the centerpiece of a new entertainment conference prior to the Anaheim Comic-Con, an idea similar to the conferences Milton Greipp runs prior to NYCC and SDCC:

DailyCandy eventually grew beyond a newsletter, publishing two books. The GeekChic founders are already moving to expand their brand. The first such venture will be a conference called GeekChic University, designed for marketers and executives looking to reach the geek audience.

The event is taking place at the Anaheim Comic-Con, one of six run by Shamus’ Wizard Entertainment. Wizard is providing resources to GeekChic, including promotion and some shared editorial staff.

Even more troublingly for Reed, the term Comic-Con is creating a lot of confusion among the mainstream media and doubtless potential attendees, as this story from local New York news station NY1 shows:

Some comic book fans aren’t waiting for Halloween to put on their best costumes.

They are taking part in the annual Comic Con festival at Manhattan’s Pier 94 this weekend.

Fans took part in a costume competition and met stars of their favorite classic television shows, like Adam West from “Batman” and Lou Ferrigno from “The Incredible Hulk.”

“We want to see William Shatner and other stars. These are famous people on our planet as well, and we must hobnob with the fancy famous people,” said one fan in an alien costume.

“I came out for Comic Con all weekend and I’m looking forward to hanging out with all the artists, the celebrities and all the people dressed up in costumes,” said another fan.

Sloppy reporting like this is the norm, and will definitely create confusion among consumers — especially if, as Johnston writes, Shamus/Wizard “regard “Comic Con” as no longer defined as being principally, or indeed at all, to do with comics, something that coverage of the shows seems to back up these days.”

If that’s true…why even call it Comic-Con?

By taking this aggressive stance, Shamus is throwing away a lot of good will that he still has in the industry, again at a time when his former core business — magazine publishing — is changing drastically. As one dealer we spoke with told us, “It’s a tough time for everybody — we don’t need all this competition.” The bottom line is that no matter who ultimately triumphs, there are no winners in Con Wars.

[Photo via Steve Bunche]

The post Big Apple/Con Wars wrap-up appeared first on The Beat.

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