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New York Comic Con 2014 Recap
It’s that time of year again, where the fall leaves change color, everything edible in the world is apparently made with pumpkin spice, and where the nerds of the world gather in the great city of New York for the annual New York Comic Con.
NYCC is a personal journey for me in many ways, having lived there for 12 years as an adult, and born there and a resident of New Hyde Park on Long Island for my first 11 years on the planet. I’m very lucky to live or have lived in the two hubs of Comic Con-dom…New York and San Diego. So going to NYC is also like going home for me. The city itself is thrilling to be a part of again, if only for a few days. And in reality, once the Con starts on Thursday, it’s more like just being at the Javitz Center, not really New York very much. But still, the smells, the sights, the sounds…all take me back to living there, and it’s a world of sensations that I miss very much from time to time.
Things got started a little earlier and very different for me than usual this year at NYCC. I’m not all that much of a video game player, but I got a press email from Square Enix that they were doing video game demos of many of their new games, including the new “Lara Croft” game coming out later in the year. I take the red eye into NYC, so I have all day Wednesday to walk around the city and enjoy it, but I figured the place that Square Enix had set up shop in was near Penn Station and the Javitz Center, so why not stop by? Also, Irma Eriksson of the comic “Imy” and my good friend was going to be with me at that point, and she’s a big Lara Croft fan…so she could actually tell me if the game was any good.
It turned out to be a cool “New York” thing to do. Square Enix had rented out some studio space on the fifth floor of a building that housed an auto body shop on the ground floor. It was very arty, like something out of a magazine. Loft space, urban views out the windows, several areas with couches and huge monitors showing the games that were being publicized. It felt like the kind of place people THINK artists live when they live in New York.
The demo was a lot of fun for Irma…she and two other press invitees got to play for a good half hour as they were walked through by a lovely young woman who explained the game. I don’t know much about the recent reboot of the Lara Croft game, but this one, “The Temple of Osiris” certainly looked amazing. Great “orthographic” camera view of a ridiculously detailed temple that you and up to 3 other friends get to explore. The emphasis seemed to be on cooperative play; in 4-player mode, there are several situations where a lot of cooperation is needed to climb structures, get across gaps, and kill the inevitable mummies, scarabs and other baddies that are intent on killing you. There’s a great sense of scale to the game; the temple is huge, and in the first area, you end up running for your life from a gigantic crocodile god-demon, and the effect is quite thrilling. I got to play for a bit when someone had to go take a call, and enjoyed it a lot. Irma’s expert opinion was that it was a lot of fun, but that she’d be interested in seeing how it plays when you don’t have 3 other people around. It was fun to dip into the video game world, especially from the “come on by to our cool loft and eat some food and play a game or two” PR perspective.
The Con itself starts on Thursday, and it was a pretty full day. After getting my badge activated (a simple process I?ll go into when I do a post on ?SDCC vs. NYCC?), I helped Irma get set up at her Artist Alley table that she shares with the most excellent Marc LaPierre, the artist of ?The SuperFogeys? and one of the most talented cartoonists you?ll ever meet. I?m lucky they put up with my occasional crowding them at their table, as I used it as a pit stop frequently over the four days. I tried to repay the courtesy by bringing them water and food when I could, and pointing out various passing cosplayers and fans who might be interested in one or both of their works. It?s also a wonderful time for me to sit and observe life from the perspective of being behind one of those tables. I have learned a lot over the years, and the need to have one of my own tables one year is fierce and powerful within me. It?s moved way up the Bucket List, I can tell you that much. Might be the Post-Con euphoria, but one of these days?
Then, it was off to a press conference with a celebrity who has long been near the top of my Nerd Wish List?Adam West. The original 1960s ?Batman? TV series is coming out on glorious Blu-Ray, so of course Mr. West is out shilling for it. I?m very happy to report that Mr. West lived up to all expectations, and I can only hope I?m as mobile, sharp, charming, and with-it as he is at the age of 84. From the moment he insisted a pretty young PR girl walk him to the front of the room, to smiling from ear to ear as he answered all the questions he?s probably gotten a million times, it was a delight to be there. Like anyone around my age, I have fond memories of the ?Batman? TV show in years of re-runs. It was more than likely my first exposure to television super-heroes, and I loved it. The show was also something I shared with my brothers, so getting to be in that room with Adam West goes right up to the top areas of my ?Best Con moments.?
Also on Thursday was a panel with Howard Shore, composer of the music for ?Lord of the Rings? and ?The Hobbit.? It was moderated by Doug Adams, who I have interviewed twice now?you can listen here, and here. Doug is exceedingly nice, and if you are reading this post, you are probably well aware of my general LOTR addiction. Needless to say, it was an interesting panel to me. Mr. Shore talked about his influences, working with different directors over his career (notably how it was to work a lot with David Cronenberg, whose scores are mostly background music and counterpoint to the action, and Peter Jackson, who wanted a more classic adventure movie score that echoed the action), and about how the LOTR music had its foundation in the text of Tolkien. He talked about the many varied instruments he used from all over the world, and that he writes first simply in pencil on a pad, then fleshes things out on piano. With Doug leading the questions, it was musical-theory heavy, and a very interesting look into the world of film composing.
Started my day off heading over the Chronicle Publishing booth to see my NY Times Best Selling author buddy Francesco Marciuliano do a signing of his most excellent poetry books, including the recent ?I Knead My Mommy, and Other Poems By Kittens.? It?s always great to hang with my artist and writer friends as they meet their public. I took some pictures of Ces as he signed a book for Irma?s Mom, Julia, who came in to proudly see her daughter?s table and art. She is big fan of both ?Sally Forth? and the poetry books, so that was wonderful to see.
I wandered down to another panel…?A Master Class With Andrea Romano.? Andrea is pretty much THE voice actor director and casting agent in Hollywood, and if you?ve seen an animated show in the past, oh, 20 years, there?s a good chance she?s been involved. She was one of my first big Con interviews way back when, and her reputation as a sweet, classy, talented woman is incredibly well-deserved. Quite honestly, though, I almost skipped this panel, because I?ve been to many and most of the time they?re fun, but they don?t really teach me anything I don?t know. But, it?s Comic Con?and it?s Andrea Romano. If you have a chance to hear her talk, you should. Turned out to be quite inspirational to me this time. Often, these panels are filled with wonderful voice actors, and while it?s always hilarious and fun when they get up on stage together, this time, it was just Andrea talking about her career and the industry. As I said, having some experience in the voice world, I KNOW a lot of the salient details on how to get in and what to do, but somehow, when Andrea talks about it, you feel the passion behind it all, not just the nuts and bolts. It made me want to work harder and take more acting/improv classes to shore up those skills that I lack. I asked her one time if she gave lessons, but she said she unfortunately is lucky enough to be so busy as a voice director that she just can?t?but man, I tell you?I?d bet you?d learn more in an hour with her in a room and a microphone than you would in years of schooling.
Next up was a very interesting panel called ?Video Games in Education.? I?ve found myself more and more interested in teaching as my girls get more into school, and after doing animation work with The Washington Post?s Michael Cavna, who has written award-winning articles on the power of graphic novels in the classroom, I knew I had to attend this panel. Some panels are fun, some are informational; this one was inspirational. Several panel members who are using video game programming and coding to teach kids spoke very passionately about what they?re doing, mostly about how much they have to fight for legitimacy. One middle-aged woman, Sue Parler, said rather sagely that she?s trying to prepare kids for jobs in 10 years that don?t even exist today. All the panelists stressed how coding and designing games encompasses all subjects in school; math, history, literature, science; and can be used to get kids excited about learning and what they do. But it does seem that some administrations are resistant to this idea, no matter the results they are faced with. They spoke hopefully as well, feeling that with the rise of iPads and such devices being commonplace and how kids are playing games like Minecraft that encourage development, mods, and special thinking. It would seem to me to be an obvious thing that game programming and coding in general will be valuable skills in the future, and that those skills translate into many arenas in life. It was a great panel, and I hope there are more and more of these as the years pass.
Friday night brought my favorite part of the Cons that I attend, especially in recent years. I?ve been making the effort to arrange ?Drink and Doodles? with the various artists and friends I know who attend, and have had some great success. It?s easily become my favorite part of San Diego Comic Con, and we?ve done it now at NYCC for a couple of years. Good friend John McCarthy did a lot of the leg work there in NYC for us, and a gaggle of artists and friends gathered at a nice Irish Pub for dinner and drinks for a couple of hours. We had a nice second floor room to ourselves, and at points, I had to almost yell to be heard by the people next to me because we were all having a rather raucously loud time. When I started going to SDCC back in 2007, my thoughts were all about the Con and the sparkly objects of nerdity that fill it. Now, my thoughts about comic cons are almost exclusively about the friends I?ll see there and embracing our times to hang out, talk shop, and speak in our native tongues, unafraid to be ourselves. It?s a wonderful thing.
Saturday was a bit of a frustrating day in ways that only Cons can frustrate you. I planned on getting many audio interviews, but had one of those days where everyone I stopped to see was either busy or not where they were supposed to be. As anyone who has been to a con can attest, getting from one end to the other can be an arduous affair, and after multiple attempts at reaching people in Artist Alley and/or the main floor, much of the day had passed. Never a complete waste, of course. I walked around with the great Justin Thompson, artist and writer of Mythtickle and occasion co-host of my podcast?he was in town for other things as well as to attend the Con. We?ve both lived in NYC, and it was great to be in the city with him at the same time. Francesco Marciuliano joined us, and the three of us explored the floor, bought things for loved ones, marveled at the variety of t-shirts and objets d?nerd once can buy. As I remarked to Ces, one of the things that always strikes me at Cons as I walk around looking at various artist?s work is how half the time I?m in awe of what they create, and the other half thinking ?geez, I?m better than that guy.? It?s always confusing.
I did get a chance to chat with Ruben Bolling of ?Tom the Dancing Bug.? A fellow New Yorker and Mets fan, I have always been a huge admirer of Ruben?s work, and it is always good to see him. He was able to talk about his upcoming kids prose book, which you?ll hear about in an upcoming podcast.
I tend to fly out of NYC in the late afternoon, so I only have Sunday morning to get some things done at the Con. I managed to see Mark Tatulli briefly at his GoComics signing. Mark and I have become friendly over the years?it?s a New York thing. Unfortunately Mark had to dash right after his signing, so there wasn?t time to talk about his most excellent new ?Desmond Puckett? books, but I?m sure he?ll be on the show some time soon enough in the future.
By 1pm, I reluctantly said goodbye to the Javitz Center and the friends inside there and headed to Penn Station to start the journey home. It?s always an emotional rollercoaster at that point; I?m sort of ?over? the Con by then, but not over being around the people I know and love there. And I miss my girls back home, and will be happy to see them, but sad to leave New York, too. Usually I just sort of go into a bit of an emotional coma at that point and do my best to just flow with the range of emotions. Needless to say, I had a wonderful time, and can?t wait to go back, as always.
RANDOM NOTES AND MUSINGS
– I can?t express enough how cool the Artist Alley is at NYC. At San Diego, it?s almost an afterthought, and echo of days long past when the individual artist was celebrated. There are many who bemoan that passing age, but my take is that SDCC is what it is?it?s the Disneyland of Cons. It?s huge, amazing, movie and celebrity filled, with all sorts of geek-culture things to satisfy pretty much any fan. But it?s also a lot more impersonal, and as far as individual artists go, it?s a behemoth probably not worth spending all that money on. Obviously there are exceptions, and mid- to high-end artists who can afford things might do quite well. But in terms of an experience for an artist, I think NYCC far exceeds SDCC in that regard. The room for the artists is huge, well-travelled and well-attended by passionate fans who want original art and prints, even from artists they don?t know. The trick, of course, is GETTING a table there, which may be harder than ever now.
– There?s a lot of talk about NYCC having exceeded SDCC in terms of attendance. Frankly, I hope people don?t get caught up in this. They?re very different Cons in many ways, and making it some sort of contest isn?t good for either of them. Simply put, SDCC is more about the movies, NYCC more about publishing with a side of TV. They both have their place and their pros and cons. NYCC somehow seems a little more ?open? in terms of space, which is a bit of a paradox; Javitz is supposed to be smaller than the SD Convention Center, so if there were MORE attendees?that shouldn?t have been the case. Perhaps the Javitz is a really big T.A.R.D.I.S?
– Cosplay is great in both places, but maybe a little more imaginative at NYCC? Hard to say. It?s not a focus of mine, but I did see some great things.
– I really like the NYC itself is starting to embrace the Con. In the several years prior, it?s sort of a blip on the New York radar. If you?ve lived there or spent time in NYC, you know that not much flusters or impacts the city. It?s the sort of underlying ?fuggeddaboudit? attitude that is the foundation of life in the City. Javitz is all the way on the west side by the Hudson, which to many New Yorkers, might as well be on another planet, so a large grouping of people wearing Batman outfits really isn?t all that out of the ordinary to the citizens of Gotham. But this year, apparently there was something called ?Super Week? that led up to the Con, with all sorts of geek-related events sprinkled through the city. I don?t know how much excitement it generated in the city, but it?s obvious that they are starting to embrace it, if only to tap into the money that must be coming in that week.