New York Comic Con is one of the largest pop/geek culture events in the country. Hundreds of thousands of people spend numerous hours (stretched across anywhere from one to four days) in the Javits Center on the far west side of Manhattan. These hours are spent walking, sitting, standing in lines (amusement park level lines), listening to panelists, posing for pictures (with celebrities, with cosplayers, and as cosplayers) and mingling with other attendees. These people are from all over the country (and other countries), all walks of life, every sex and gender, and ages ranging from babies in strollers to gray-haired geeks*.
Everyone has their reason for coming, but it seems most all of the people wandering the halls are here to connect with a world that is such an important part of their lives. Comic-Con is primarily about comic books but goes beyond to include tv, movies, manga, graphic novels, video games and many more aspects of the ever evolving world of geek culture. For some this is a place to feel the freedom to geek out with no judgment, while others just want to show off their amazing Deadpool/Harley Quinn/Neo-Viking Futuristic Captain America costume. No matter what the reason, most everyone is here to immerse themselves in this universe of fun, art and imagination.
Comic Con is made up of many different aspects including exhibitors, vendors, advertisers, celebrities (who sign autographs and take pictures with fans), artists displaying and selling their work, screenings and finally, panels. Panels are the main attraction, if you will, for most fans. They are a place for people to connect to and get updates on the things they are interested in. They range in size from smaller, more intimate settings to large rooms packed full of people. Every panel will have a line, the popularity of the panel (or even the panel that is in the room after) will determine the craziness of the line. You heard that right, to ensure access to a very popular panel, people will stand in line for the panel that is happening in that room before theirs essentially waiting in a queue for thirty-to-sixty minutes to get in the room and sit through a panel the may not care about at all for sixty-to-ninety minutes so they are sure to get a seat in the panel they really wanted. There is definitely a pro level of strategery that goes into seeing every panel you really want to.
The majority of these four pieces covering my four days submerged in geekdom will focus on snippets and summaries of the information and insights I absorbed from the panels I attended. Unfortunately some panels are not quite as interesting as advertised, or at least not very interesting to someone who isn’t a devout fan. Regardless, there is always something to connect with and take away from a panel.
The first panel I attended was entitled DC Comics: A Master Art Class. It was intended to be a discussion with a handful of artists who draw for DC Comics and a demonstration of their skills. What it ended up being (due to technical difficulties and other issues) was a long Q&A session with two of the five artists slotted. Despite the decrease in size and the lack of demonstration, it was a great panel for those who are fan of the DC universe, or just fans of art and comic art in general. The two artists that spoke were Gustavo Duarte (Bizarro) and Babs Tarr (Batgirl). Both artists shared how they had been drawing from the time they were young children and over the years honed their skills and became cartoonists and eventually artists for one of the largest comic book manufacturer in the world.
Since it turned into a big Q&A session the audience got a more in-depth view into the artists’ lives and more importantly, their preferences in superheroes. Gustavo is an avid Joker fan and Babs’ was all about Batgirl (and “really any bad-ass chick”). They also listed their influences and their dream characters to draw. One of the best questions asked was advice for people working with youth getting into drawing. Both artists said that the best thing you can do is encourage kids to keep drawing and to show their work often and not just keep waiting until it is “perfect”. Babs summed up their answer by encouraging young artists to put in “pencil miles”.
It was a great panel filled with people of all ages, most of which seemed to be well versed in the DC universe. Though there was no physical drawing demonstration (essentially eliminating the “art class” that it was intended to be), there were plenty of inspiring and interesting themes and topics discussed.
The next panel I attended was a Nerdist Writers Panel. This consisted of eight professional writers who work for many tv shows and films among many other media sources. Represented on the panel were writers for DC Comics, ESPN, and the tv shows Dracula, Digg and Arrow. In addition the rest of the panel consisted of the creators of shows like Smallville, Billions and Z Nation. Most of the discussion was focused on their challenges and passions in writing a superhero. The theme of their answers revolved around having to fight against the nostalgia and history that is ingrained in a character to create a fresh superhero that holds true to the comics but also is more adapted to fit in today’s societal norms and expectations.
The Q&A session at the end was brief but the hardest hitting and most inspiring question came from a young woman who asked about what it takes for young women to break into the male-dominated world of writers (especially those who write superhero material). She pointed out the stark lack of a woman’s voice on the very large eight person panel. Thought the response seemed mostly a canned one from the panel, the best advice that came out of the jokes and agreements was that people need to write good stuff in general and young women need to write better than the aged men that currently dominate the industry.
Hands down the best panel I attended today was An Evening with Masashi Kishimoto, the creator of Naruto. This was held in the large, main-stage room where over 2,000 fans filed in to see the creator of one of the biggest mangas ever released and one of the first to gain mass popularity in North America. First we were riddled with stats about the series, including the fact that Naruto has sold over 220 Million copies worldwide and has ended with an impressive 72 volumes released in over 40 countries around the world.
When Kishimoto Sensei took the stage, the crowd erupted. There were hundreds of people dressed as the characters from the manga and a constant cheering and excited shouts rang out throughout the hour-long panel. What made this panel even more special and exciting was the fact that this was Kishimoto’s first visit to America ever. His translator did her best to capture his sense of humor and true appreciation to the vast multitude of people that have supported his art. He was asked many questions from a moderator about the early years and the final chapters of the manga. All in all, it has always been Kishimoto creating what he had always envisioned even if that meant fighting the producers to keep that vision pure. He said when he started, he was afraid that he would get canceled after the first 10 chapters and never imagined it would reach 72 volumes. He didn’t realize the manga was gaining international popularity until he started receiving fan letters in foreign languages that he couldn’t read and from there it has continued to grow as new generations have been turned on to his work.
We were treated to a live drawing of some of his characters by the master himself (though one of the characters had slipped his mind and with no luck connecting to the WiFi to get inspiration, he was rescued by a cosplayer dressed as that character for a frame of reference) and a trailer for his upcoming movie (and the final piece of the Naruto universe) written by Kishimoto about Naruto’s son Boruto. I thought the noise level of the introduction of Kishimoto was insane, but the movie trailer caused an equal, if not greater, roar and a standing ovation as fans saw their favorite characters on a the big screen.
Unfortunately, I was not able to get into the last panel I was hoping to attend, Rooster Teeth’s RWBY: Volume 3 Panel. I discovered RWBY at my very first Comic Con last year. They were about to release their second season at that point and I attended because I was a fan of Rooster Teeth’s first production Red vs. Blue. I was blown away and became a fan right away. I am not sure what season 3 has in store but I would definitely check out seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, it is a great show.
I did pop into the Sword Art Online II panel, but that turned out to be a screening for a few episodes of season two. Although I was a big fan of the first season and am excited for season two, I prefer to watch my anime in binge sessions so I ducked out.
Overall I felt confident going into another Comic Con thinking I had learned from my rookie mistakes last year. Unfortunately there seems to be some things you can never really prepare for. Mostly the lines and popularity of panels. For example’ last year the RWBY panel was pretty sizable but there were still a good number of rows of empty chairs left in the room. This year it was filled to capacity and the doors were closed almost twenty minutes before the panel’s start time. I guess the best advice I can give is that if there is a panel you really want to see, get in line for it at least an hour early or go to the panel in the room before it.
Stay tuned for coverage my coverage of day two coming tomorrow!
*There are a lot of words used to describe those who partake in the active practice and general interest of the fandom of sci-fi, comic books, superheroes, video games, fantasy, technology and all of the aspects that relate to those interconnected things. Some use/prefer “nerd”and some use/prefer “geek”. I think they can be used interchangeably but for the purpose of this piece, I am ticking with geek because I think it most accurately describes the people I am bumping shoulders with here, and personally how I identify myself.
This article is the first part in a four part series covering the 2015 New York Comic Con.