There I stood, five minutes to the first opening of the floor at New York Comic Con 2011. Hundreds of people surrounded me. Some were fans, others bloggers, still others big time media content creators or and writers. We were all being shoved from one line to the next, making sure the VIP guests with the gold badges entered before the press, pros, and 4-Day pass holders. In ten minutes, the four hours some people chose to spend in line did not matter: the doors were open and anyone could get in.
I arrived 4 hours before the convention doors were open intentionally. I wanted to absorb this fan culture as much as possible. I spent time talking to total strangers about what brought them to NYCC. I picked up fallen fliers for exhibitors and threw out questions to staff members who didn’t seem too overwhelmed.
The first thing I can tell you about NYCC fan culture is its focus on the fan. Fans were able to register for the passes at the most obvious place: right when they walked in. Everyone else–in decreasing order of importance–was sent further and further into the labyrinthine underbelly of the Jacob Javitz Center. Press like me were sent up the stairs, then down the escalator, then up the escalator, then down the steps, then down another escalator you wouldn’t see if you weren’t told where to go, then around the bend to the right and into a little hole in the wall marked “Press.”
I quickly knew where I was on the totem pole and set about making sure I didn’t cross any boundaries. I always let the fans have first crack at the table. I acquiesced the last piece of swag–free stuff of any kind–in a pile to the ones who didn’t have the green strip on their passes. This event was for them: the fans. They are the ones who buy the books and tickets, toys and clothing, games and accessories that keep the entertainment industry afloat. They are the ones who make it so that people like me can have an audience talking about the very media that draws them to an event like NYCC.
People had all sorts of reasons for coming. Some wanted all the free stuff they could get. Others wanted to meet their favorite celebrities in whatever medium was their favorite. And my favorite of the fans wanted to show off their killer costume design skills and be a star for a few days. I hope that girl dressed as the child in Ponyo comes back with her bucket of ham tomorrow. I never had a chance to photograph her in a non-disruptive place.
When the doors opened, I saw hundreds of faces light up like children receiving birthday gifts. They were ripping swag off of tables like the golden ticket holders in Will Wonka. T-shirts were flying into bags faster than the sellers could have expected. I heard one merchant cry out, “Did you ever imagine so many people on the three hour day?” I know I didn’t.
When you enter the show floor, you are being beckoned by lights, colors, and pitches. The most effective pitch people strike a balance between sly carnival barker and comforting best friend. They grab with a smile or a joke, a flier or a conversation starter. Superheroes are twisted in funhouse mirrors of artist imagination to try and make a sale. High school students sell their scratch books photocopied at the local Kinko’s while big time artists will sketch for $30+ anything you could imagine. You can play games to win free merchandise, drop business cards in fish bowls for free tickets, and dance your butt off like a fool for a hot pink sweat band and a smile from a pretty girl.
While the mainstream blogosphere will focus on tomorrow’s festivities: Adult Swim panels, exclusive first looks at big budget video games, and celebrity signing sessions, the fans at NYCC will be stars for the weekend. They will be treated like royalty and leave with overflowing tote-bags of free and purchased merchandise.
As for me, I will be there taking it all in. I only got through half the show floor before I felt like I would collapse. Artist’s Alley–my driving focus for writing in the next few weeks–is almost as large as the rest of the show sections combined. This will be split with interviews, press conferences, and open admission panels on all sorts of topics. Yes, I will be doing some of the big panels, but only if I have a genuine interest in the topic. The rest of the time will be spent mingling with the fans and artists, as well as copious note taking at smaller panels on steampunk and horror and fandom on a budget.
I am, coincidentally, grabbing a ton of swag and low-cost merchandise. I will be putting together giveaways for the nice stuff that I can’t keep myself. I have embarrassed myself in front of hundreds for you, my dear readers, so that you might get free stuff. It’s a celebration of fandom through the rules of conventions: show up and maybe get stuff.