Big Apple Comic Con: Not Quite Big Enough

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The most exciting thing about this year’s Big Apple Comic Con was what they are going to do next year. But they need to make some major changes if they hope to compete with the New York Comic Con.

The biggest buzz on the floor of the Big Apple Comic Con was the announcement that next year’s Big Apple will be held on the same weekend as the more established New York Comic Con. And the talk of the dealers and comic professionals wasn’t “What a brilliant marketing plan!” or “What a great idea!” but rather “Is Gareb Shamus crazy?” and “Is there any way this could actually work for Wizard?”

The Big Apple Con was a New York City tradition. I first became familiar with it when it was being held in a church basement. It soon moved to the Penn Plaza Pavilion. It had a small town con feel to it. Yes, you’d get big media guests such as Carrie Fisher, Hayden Paniettiere, Steven Segal or Jim Lee, but the guest list was mostly whichever D-list movie star or old school comic creator lived in the greater New York City area. But there were plenty of comic dealers and it went up several times a year.

Shamus bought out the Big Apple and turned it into what resembles a Wizard World convention today. At one time, the Wizard convention was one to rival San Diego. But, in recent years with a series of show cancellations, failed starts, and poor vendor support, the Wizard cons were seen as being in decline. This might be why they are no longer using the Wizard name in their cons and are buying already established cons in new towns.

To put it in a comic book context, the pre-Shamus Big Apple was like Bruce Banner. The post-Shamus Big Apple was like the Hulk—a lot bigger, perhaps a lot stronger, but essentially the same at heart, but in a far more chaotic shell.

The biggest comic companies in attendance were Avatar and Archaia—no Marvel, no DC, no Dark Horse. Media guests outnumbered comic guests. There were plenty of empty booths scattered throughout the con, and there were many cancellations from some of their highly advertised guests. And attendance on all three days was nothing spectacular, despite what you might have read.

Attendance on Friday and Sunday was sparse, as is to be expected. But Rich Johnston of BleedingCool.com reported on 12:47 p.m. on Saturday that the NYC Fire Department had essentially closed the convention down, instilling a “one in, one out” policy because the convention had become, as Johnston put it, “a crawling circuit.”

A similar thing happened the first year of the NYCC. I was inside when that con went under lockdown, and the need for it was obvious. Aisles were jam-packed and it was impossible to move. The same couldn’t be said for the Big Apple on Saturday. About the same time Johnston made the above post, I was able to go from the grill/dining area in the Northeast corner of the building to the Wizard booth which was in the Southwest of the main floor without any impediment whatsoever. And this included walking past some of the largest booths and the main entrance.

In a later post made the same day, Johnston uploaded a video he claims was taken at about 3:40 p.m. which shows quite a sizable line waiting to get into the convention (supposedly, it was the backlog created from the FDNY closing of the doors). I happened to leave the convention about 10 minutes later and I do not recall seeing any line. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t one because I looked down in the direction where the line would have been to see if any cabs were pulling in.  People seemed to be coming and going as they pleased.

Could the FDNY be quicker to pull the trigger than the NY State Troopers on overcrowding? Sure they could (An attempt was made to get confirmation from the FDNY about what Johnston said, but they did not reply by the time this article was published). Could the line the size shown in Johnston’s video disperse in about 10 minutes or could I be mistaken in what I saw? That’s a possibility. But I have been going to conventions like this for over six years and I know that the Big Apple Saturday was a light Saturday comparative to other cons I’ve been to.

By all rights, 2010 should be a year where Wizard builds the Big Apple into a bigger convention. It should be a year to work on fixing its mistakes and increasing its brand identity. Instead it is going to be taking on the larger and more established NYCC. And it will be doing it without much involvement from comic professionals (who will be at their respective companies booths at the Javits) or comic dealers (who will be going where the fans are, namely the NYCC). Odds are, that next year’s Big Apple Comic Con will be a comic con in name only. And this will put it behind NYCC before next October even hits.

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  • Steven Surman

    Steven Surman Oct 29, 2009 at 10:20pm

    I actually agree with most of what you said. There was a point on Saturday (I believe around 2 p.m.) when there was a line a few blocks long, but I guess it cleared up somewhat fast according to your observations.

    I've been telling people that professionally as an organization, the convention was kind of a wash: the panels were a joke, booths were empty, the staff was obnoxious, the location sucked, etc.

    But personally, I got a lot out of it. Because attendance was somewhat low, and because people were more interested in celebrities than comic creators, I got to talk to a lot of dudes that would have typically been modded at NYCC.

    So, it was cool for me personally, but Big Apple is doomed in 2010. It's doomed. All of the small business vendors will *not* choose Big Apple over NYCC, nor will they fork out the cash to set up shop in two places -- most are small operations that can't split efforts like that, anyway.

    It will be interesting, especially with the NYAF the same weekend.

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