Bam! Pow! Comic Con!
The New York Comic Con drew thousands of fans of nerd/geek culture in all 31 flavors to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan last weekend. The largest such convention on the East Coast, the NYCC this year shared space with the New York Anime Festival, making the attendance even larger and more diverse. The guest of honor for this year’s NYCC was Marvel Comics titan Stan Lee, while Japanese voice actress and singer Minori Chihara was the guest of honor for the NYAF.
As with many large comic conventions, the New York Comic Con caters to a demographic beyond comic book devotees. Professionals and celebrities from virtually all forms of media were present to promote their work, sign autographs, or simply get in touch with their fans. Some of the best known names included Academy Award winner Adrien Brody at the Predators half of the Twentieth Century Fox booth (opposite, naturally, Aliens), film director M. Night Shyamalan with a panel on his superhero movie Unbreakable ten years after its release, and B-movie idol Bruce Campbell, dressed to kill at his autograph sessions all weekend. Creative individuals with more esoteric bodies of work were also in incredibly high demand, as cast, crew, and creators of perhaps every major science fiction franchise were on hand at one point or another, including Stargate SG-1, Babylon Five, and Battlestar Galactica. Illustrative of the rise of new media was also the presence of increasingly popular web series Riese, a steampunk series that draws talent from all over speculative fiction in spite of being currently web-only.
Major conventions are ideal for major announcements and demos of upcoming films and video games, which tend to dominate large portions of the show floor. A popular booth at this year’s NYCC was that for a rhythm dance game by Ubisoft for the Wii called Michael Jackson: The Experience. You can pretty much guess what the premise of that one is, although I will admit that even I, a self-described aficionado of Michael Jackson music videos, found Medium difficulty satisfyingly challenging.
Another promising-looking release is Activision’s GoldenEye: 007, which producer Dawn Pinkney described as a re-imagining/reboot of the original 1997 game that many of us remember fondly. Key features, locations, and characters from the original game will be present, while a major graphical upgrade, updated inclusion of Daniel Craig-Bond (which will undoubtedly result in many Internet arguments), and expanded game modes with online capability should make for an exciting release. In what I would consider a notably wise design decision, the new game includes four difficulty levels, three of which incorporate fully regenerative health, an increasingly popular trend with first-person shooter games. The fourth, 007 Classic Difficulty, remains the same from the original 1997 game, for anyone who is dead set on re-enacting middle school gaming marathons to the letter.
In the two-party system of modern comic books, publishing behemoths Marvel and DC Comics naturally had a major presence at NYCC. Both touched on their recent and upcoming comics in a variety of panels and promoted numerous upcoming television series. In an effort to play Clark Kent and legitimize my press pass, I made a point of trying to attend at least one panel from each company, although after I awkwardly realized 10 minutes into a Marvel panel that I was dressed as a DC character, those plans went just a little squidgy.
As it happens, due to a variety of transportation issues, booth mix-ups, and limited budget, I completely failed to get autographs from most of the biggest names on hand. My bus was four hours late, which prevented me from a) being in the middle of Manhattan at four in the morning, but also b) being near the front of the line for Minori Chihara autograph tickets, Reason Number One why I was willing to risk 4a.m. New York in the first place. At his signing session on Saturday, Adrien Brody was being classy and taking time to talk with fans one-on-one as they filed through, which meant fewer fans got to see him but also came away happier. Alas, my copy of The Darjeeling Limited remains unsigned. Perhaps the hardest-learned lesson of the convention was that the likelihood of gaining admission to a particular panel or celebrity signing is directly proportional to the amount of time one is willing to dedicate to standing in line. Arriving punctually and politely on time when an event is slated to start will only result in disappointment, and trying to distribute your time across all of your desired events means getting into virtually none of them. Beware, potential first-time con-goers, the same rules for buffets apply to conventions — pick up only the stuff you really want, don’t overcommit with your plate, and above all, get to the steak grill well before the 11 o’clock rush. On the positive side, arriving half an hour early got me the autograph of Bruce Timm, pioneer of the DC comics animated universe, for my friend’s Batman: The Animated Series box set, and the aisles upon aisles of comic book professionals meant that I still got plenty of autographs from people whose work I knew of and enjoyed.
Saturday evening, after being told that I would probably not be able to get Morena Baccarin’s autograph in spite of getting in line an hour before the scheduled signing, I begrudgingly sacrificed my place in line in exchange for being able to get a front row seat to the Minori Chihara concert that night. Although my familiarity with Chihara-san’s body of work is not what you might call “comprehensive,” seeing her perform music from literally the only anime I watch was as exciting as you might expect any major concert to be. Except, of course, that the audience is throwing up glow sticks instead of metal horns and shouting Japanese at the stage instead of, well, much of anything else. Minorin (as she is affectionately known to her fans) herself spoke to the audience directly with the polite cuteness that borders on a cultural characteristic in Japan, and the fanatical response to her careful and measured English testified to her popularity even in the United States.
Alas, the only full panel I managed to arrive in time to attend was with YouTube celebrity Michael Agrusso, better known as ItsJustSomeRandomGuy, the mind behind the “I’m a Marvel... and I’m a DC” series. Agrusso himself was down-to-earth and friendly, and premiered his first major video in several months at the panel, filling in with live voice-over when the audio failed. All things considered, the panel was well worth the time, although I will admit that some of the fans present weirded me out a bit. The academic question of whether a “Free Candy” sign was more or less sketchy than a “Free Hugs” sign was precipitated by the presence of a “Free Motorboats” sign in the audience, which I’m pretty sure is not acceptable unless the person holding it has an 18-wheeler packed full of 20-foot outboards in the parking lot. And even then, I’d probably still request a full safety inspection. The panel was immediately followed by RandomCon, the traditional post-Random-panel outing during which I completely failed at actually getting to talk to RandomGuy but succeeded in having several hours of stimulating conversation with several other convention attendees over a plate of late-night pancakes. Which, really, is the reason people have conventions to begin with — to bring together people with similar interests in one place for discussion, commerce, and celebrity stalking.