Off-site Kryptonite: New York Comic Con’s ‘spaced-out’ West Side subplot

Meetups are organized ahead of the Con, so cosplayers plan their daily outfits. | Photo by Carlos A Smith

BY CHARLES BATTERSBY | It was just a few hours into the first day at New York Comic Con (NYCC; Oct. 4-7). A cheerful PR woman at a booth told me that Thursday at this year’s con was a little more crowded than usual. “But it’s not like Saturday,” she added, with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, “Nothing is like Saturday.” Two days later, NYCC was bursting with so many fans that the Javits Center couldn’t hold them all. As the domain of the Con expands culturally beyond print comic books and their traditional fans, this annual event has also expanded physically, sending waves of nerds all over Manhattan’s West Side.

For the last few years, NYCC has staged some panels and screenings at Madison Square Garden, and the nearby Hammerstein Ballroom. This year, there were two new satellite venues — most notably, Pier 94, where a dedicated Anime Fest was held in conjunction with Anime Expo, a long-running, Los Angeles-based event.

This Anime Fest comes less than a year after rival convention “Anime NYC” was held at the Javits. Alas, the attempt to corner the New York anime con market got off to a rocky start for NYCC and Anime Fest. Pier 94 is 16 blocks north of the Javits, and it required a separate ticket from NYCC (discounted tickets were available for people who went to both). Although a shuttle bus was making trips between the two locations, many attendees were unaware of this, and even those who knew there was a bus were uncertain where to find it.

We hoofed it up 12th Ave. between the two venues on Saturday, and met many anime fans walking down from Pier 94. We stopped to speak to a cosplayer who goes by the handle Firefrost Cosplay. She complained that the walk was “a bit of a drag, especially in cosplay,” and pointed out that other satellite venues like Madison Square Garden are conveniently next to the subways.

Aside from Pier 94, there were panels and signings at “The Studios,” a warehouse located a couple of blocks away from the Javits Center, on W. 39th St. Smaller and less glamorous than the other satellite venues, it also had some rough moments: We arrived at a panel that was already underway, and were told that the elevator attendant was unavailable and that we would have to walk up three flights of stairs. A spokesperson from ReedPOP later assured us that, if we had needed the elevator for medical reasons, we would have had access to it. (This was small comfort to able-bodied latecomers, who hiked up the stairs throughout the weekend.)

The desolate venue for the off-site Anime Fest. | Photo by Charles Battersby

With all this walking and stair-climbing, NYCC attendees will need to be in better shape in the years to come. Luckily, there were several panels dedicated to fitness and wellness. Some were specifically to help cosplayers get a heroic physique — but the creators of Yoga Quest were targeting a broader audience, and trying to make yoga less intimidating for newcomers. They held classes at both the Javits Center and Pier 94 throughout the weekend, and incorporated narrative references to nerdy franchises like “Doctor Who” and Pokemon.

As NYCC works to refute the “nonathletic nerd” stereotype, it’s also getting away from the “straight white man” stereotype. A more ethnically diverse generation is reading comics now, as are more women. This year’s “Black Panther” movie, a female in the lead role for the recently launched new season of “Doctor Who,” and the upcoming female “Captain Marvel” movie (March 2019) are all signs that creators have been preparing content for this new audience.

LGBTQ content is also quite common in panels at the Con, but new to NYCC this year is a “Queer Lounge.” During the first two days, it was run by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and Saturday it was run by The Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher St., Greenwich Village). Alas, it was closed on Sunday, which happens to be Kids’ Day. We spoke with Stacy Lentz, co-owner of The Stonewall Inn, about this new feature at the Con. “This is the first time we’ve done anything at Comic Con — ever,” she explained. “It’s really growing. It’s one of the most diverse groups of people that you can gather in New York City, so we wanted to be a part of it.”

Conservative protesters mocked attendees, unaware of the inflatable penis behind them. | Photo by Charles Battersby

In fact, the comics industry has become so known for its progressive values that this year it was protested by conservative Christians from the Key of David Christian Center,who opposed the LGBT content, feminist views, and non-Christian religions. Ironically, they set up their protest near a booth for the irreverent cartoon “Rick and Morty” and a giant inflatable penis monster from the booth was flapping around behind the oblivious protesters throughout their rally.

The Fantasy Food Truck, by, has been present at NYCC for five years. Their food is based on fictional products in geek media. Because they give out free food on the convention floor, it’s a hot spot for Con attendees and a good insight into how the Con is going. We spoke to Nikki Flynn, head of PR at Fandom. “Every single year, I’ve witnessed more and more people coming to Comic Con,” she told us.

Even though the truck brought more food this year than last, they still ran out of tickets within 20 minutes each day. Other hot ticket booths like a “South Park” escape room and a playable demo of the upcoming “Resident Evil” game also filled up early each day.

This informally corroborates the convention organizer’s official number of attendees, which continues to grow each year. This year it was 250,000 tickets sold (although some were to individuals who bought multiple tickets to different days and venues), as well as $100 million brought to the local economy. However, it also raises a question: How long can this growth continue before NYCC hits “peak geek” — and fans aren’t willing to pay $20 to walk up 12th Ave. on a rainy Thursday afternoon for a Sailor Moon meetup?

Legion of Super-Heroes cosplayers show off their Legion Flight Rings. | Photo by Carlos A Smith

Cons let online friends meet “IRL,” like the author and RPG designer Banana Chan. | Photo by a Con attendee

Cosplayers recreate Superman’s epic battle with Doomsday. | Photo by Carlos A Smith

Kryptonian cosplayers gather with like-minded heroes (and a villainess). | Photo by Carlos A Smith

The Javits Center was packed, even on the “slow” days. | Photo by Charles Battersby

The Fantasy Food Truck returned with free goodies inspired by Venom, She-Ra, and others. | Photo by Charles Battersby

The Anime Fest had a mock “Schoolyard” for games and exercise classes. | Photo courtesy of NYCC

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