New York Comic Con: Putting the ‘Eh’ in ‘Epic’ since 2013

NOTE: Sorry for the late post, guys. I was going to get it up last week but then Pokemon X happened. I’m sure you understand.

Oy. New York Comic Con. I hate to be a Negative Nancy, I really do, but I have to be completely honest: after my experience this year I don’t think I’ll be returning again. At least not for three days.

This was my first time at NYCC, and I incessantly pestered my veteran friends for tips. I received pretty much the same information each time: wear comfortable shoes, and that it is not  worth waiting for panels. I knew there would be at least a kernel of truth there, but I was not expecting the complete lack of organization that I experienced.

The lines are utter mayhem, and that is putting it mildly. Very few lines were marked clearly, and it really seemed like a 50/50 shot to get any accurate information from the volunteers. The people actually standing in the line were more helpful. I try to keep in mind that the only other convention that I’ve attended has been PAX East (2012 and 2013), so maybe NYCC is a better example of cons in general… But I sincerely doubt it. In contrast to this mayhem, PAX has an official Twitter account dedicated to keeping followers posted on the progress of panel lines– whether they have been capped, if any late comers should hustle to make it before they are, if you can mosey along over because there is plenty of space. The volunteers at least put up a show of knowing what’s up, and they regularly count people in line to be sure they have a reasonable chance of fitting into the room. Rooms are cleared out between panels, and only a handful of people seem to sit through earlier panels before their Target Panel. In my two years at PAX East, I have never gotten to a room/line only to be turned away unexpectedly. It’s happened three times or so when I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t make the cut, thanks to the Twitter account. I’m rather surprised that a convention on the scale of NYCC has not yet found a way to make something as simple as a Twitter feed help aid in the organization of their lines and crowds.

For example:

I waited for two and half hours to get into the Welcome to Night Vale panel, and was one of the first 30 or so people in line. They made one confusing announcement about 20 minutes after I got into line that not everyone would get in. Then the line continued growing, and I did not hear any further announcements about the line cap (though there was a lot of barely understandable yelling about moving the waiting crowd around to prevent walkways from being blocked). My friend and I were some of the last people that were able to fit into the tiny room; there were many more behind us who weren’t so lucky. A Twitter account certainly would have spared them and everyone behind them a lot of grief.

On Saturday, I was trying to coordinate getting into the Archer panel with my roommate who arrived separately and about an hour before me. He made it into the interior queue room, and we figured he would beat me to the Archer line since I arrived around 10:05 and was stuck in the outside mob. Yet that mob of late-comers was allowed inside first, and en masse; a horde of madness swarming through the halls while my poor roommate and his girlfriend were stuck in the inside queue room… which was very slowly being allowed to trickle inside the main halls. I beat them to the panel line by about 45-60 minutes (or roughly one and half of those snake-rows they use to shepherd the crowds in).

Now we come to what was the sorest part of the weekend for me. On Sunday my boyfriend and I got into line for Patrick Stewart’s autograph. We waited about two hours, being sold plastic sleeves to protect our photos with and getting hyped up by volunteers coming around double checking everyone was in the line they thought they were in for and updating us on P-Stew’s schedule. Everything seemed hunky-dory and we couldn’t be more excited… Then we reached the table to purchase our photos and ticket for his signature. We were the first people they turned away. Now, I was very paranoid this would happen. I’d been keeping a really careful eye on that table, eavesdropping on all the talking the volunteers did and not once was there any mention of the line reaching capacity. Not even a comment to the people ahead of us that they would be the last lucky bastards to get in. No one seemed to bother counting how many people were waiting, and there were absolutely no announcements of the line being capped or that those people already waiting not being able to get through to the end.

We were turned away in utter shock and devastation (I’m embarrassed to admit that I was sobbing uncontrollably for about an hour). We stood to the side trying to decide what to do, and watching the next poor soul be turned away with little compassion and absolutely no heads up given to those waiting behind them. After awhile we found a nearby volunteer and confirmed that there would be no second batch of autographing. He had absolutely no idea that people were being turned away. He vanished to presumably do something about it, but for the next few minutes my boyfriend and I stood around in the autographing room absolutely no announcement was made to the other people still waiting in line. In all honesty, the cap wouldn’t have been so absolutely crushing if we had been told before reaching the damn table to purchase our tickets. If a single volunteer had been counting heads and announced when we were nearing the cap, or definitively telling us before that table we wouldn’t make it in, it would not have been nearly so upsetting. There was absolutely no indication to anyone before reaching the table to pay that they would not make it to see Patrick Stewart. Instead we received the worst surprise one possibly can while awaiting your chance to meet an icon, and it left a sour taste in my mouth, worsen by the previous two days of disorganization and chaos.

The insane crowds on Saturday and Sunday did not help. It was clearly overcrowded and I can’t help but wonder if the insane population was in some violation of fire/safety codes. If there had been some kind evacuation required I have zero doubts that many people would have been crushed in the process and that it would have been poorly handled. In fact, I bet that if a fire had broken out more than half of the attendees, including volunteers, would have had no idea until the smoke reached them… But I admit, you cannot hold an event responsible for something that did not happen. I just find it disconcerting that the planners of the con did not show more concern about the possibility of emergencies.

The disastrous organization aside, there were some really great parts of the weekend.

The Welcome to Night Vale Panel on Friday was phenomenal. I was seated on the floor immediately in front of the podium due to overcrowding, so sadly I couldn’t really see anything except for Cecil Baldwin’s right eyebrow and part of his forehead. Fortunately I was able to recognize everyone’s voice, obviously by virtue of the panel being for a podcast, and had a great time. It was amazing to hear to how everyone became involved in the project, and how genuinely surprised they were by how it’s grown. We learned that Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (the writers) essentially write exclusively for the characters they created, and that when the other must write for one of them they’ll refer to their partner for help, advice, or to just write the part themselves. The example of this was that Cranor developed Dana, the only living intern, and that sometimes Fink must ask him for help in writing her lines. We also learned that there is relatively little oversight over the recording process. The voice actors are given minimal direction, if any, over how to say their parts, and therefore I feel the podcast is just as much their own original creation as it is Common Place Books’.

I am also very pleased to inform you that the team of Night Vale is incredibly kind. We were kicked out of the room almost immediately to make way for the next panel, but most of the participants stuck around outside to sign merch and chat with fans. They were all incredibly gracious and super chill, and I want to go get pizza with them one day.

On Saturday I made it into the Archer panel and the Mary Sue panel. Both were absolutely amazing.

The Archer panel was epic simply because it was freakin’ Archer! We got some sweet swag, and saw the entire premier episode of season 5 (spoilers: it kicks ass). It was wonderful to see a majority of the cast interact with each other, and I love how they pretty much treat each other as if they are actually their characters in the show (though with way less physical violence). Jessica Walters had never been to a convention panel before, so they had all the Mallory cosplayers stand up. They did the same for Krieger’s holograph brides, but for those the cameras were able to swivel around and throw some up on the projector screens—I wish they’d been able to do the same with Mallory, since the glimpses I had of those costumes looked wonderful, and it would have been great to see them better. The season five premier was mostly completed, with a small portion of a montage in the middle just images from the storyboards. We were told that was the first time they’ve shown the story boards, so that was cool! We were also informed that they’ve been in talks with Christian Slater about using his voice this season, and that there were “others” but “no one confirmed.”

The Mary Sue panel was epic in an entirely different, and far more poignant, way. It was a panel focused on diversity in comics, and I think they had the best, most diverse panelists that have ever existed. Each speaker was wonderfully engaging, and it was touching to hear how comics, sci-fi, and fantasy have enriched each of their lives in such different ways. Some, like the Mary Sue’s Susana Polo, were touched by finding characters similar to them; her example was how B’Elanna Torres from Star Trek: Voyager gave her hope that a biracial character could matter in a series, let alone even exist. The most touching story to me was author N.K. Jemisin recounting her story of discovering black elves in Elf Quest. Her exposure to them came from a friend who didn’t know how to address the issue with her, explaining she may be interested in the series since there are some elves that are “darker… sort of.” Jemisin stated that she had never even thought that that was a thing that could exist, that by nature all elves were Tolkienian. It opened up a whole new world and interest in global mythology for her, and something about that really struck a chord with me.

Plus, Kate Leth was there! I only discovered her webcomic about three months ago, but her comics and her Twitter posts just fill me with smiles. I loved to hear her discuss the issues of parenting affecting what comics kids will read; since she works at Strange Adventures, Leth is probably in the perfect position to report on any comic buying practices. She cited that parents will sometime discourage their sons from reading comics they perceive to be too feminine, like Adventure Time or My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic. She explained how gendering stories and toys is not something children are born doing, implying that it’s entirely ingrained in them by their caregivers. Having worked in a summer camp for two years with children varying between the ages of six and thirteen, I can confirm this. She was a complete sweetheart and signed my pass after the panel, even letting me ramble on for a few minutes about how much I love her. I gave her a card for this site (and felt like a doofus about it) and a shout-out of thanks on Twitter, which she responded to with grace and the sweetness that I admire her for. If you haven’t read her comics yet, go check them out! And be sure to follow her Twitter account, because she posts some great stuff.

On Sunday, I skipped all panels I wanted to go because my soul was still too crushed from the Patrick Stewart fiasco. Seriously, that just sucked all the spirit and interest out of me. Instead I hung out in Artist Alley and spent too much money, and played a lot of Pokemon X in a corner with some friends. Honestly, that was one of the best days I had there only because I spent most of it securely in a corner where I didn’t have to worry about being trampled by the masses.

Overall, I would rate NYCC 2013 as solidly “OK.” The disorganization, overcrowding, and lack of useful charging areas (the charging stations they had set up were a freaking joke, and there were no standard outlets in the rest of the center) definitely overshadowed the enjoyment of the convention as a whole. The only redeeming moments I experienced were those that were not necessarily because of the Convention itself; the individual panels were wonderful, and there were amazing cosplayers. I attended Friday and Saturday as Flame Princess, and by far the best parts of the convention were when little kids came up to me and asked Flame Princess if she would take a picture with them. I hope that the organizers of the convention next year get their jam together and find a better way to organize the event, supply charging power to the attendees, and do something about the overcrowding.

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