Tagged: ReedPop

Michael Davis: The Great New York Con

I’m from New York.

I’m a New Yorker who has lived the last 20 years in Los Angeles or LA, as it’s commonly called. LA is where my life is now; driven here quite literally by an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Despite the often-racist policies of City Hall and its Choke-An-Unarmed-Black-Man-to-Death police force, NYC will always be my home. Every New Yorker will tell you that the city becomes part of you. There’s something about growing up in New York that taints your view of any other city. When New Yorkers leave New York, they may move, but they don’t relocate.

My body may live in LA, but my heart and soul still reside in New York.

When the towers fell, I spent the entire day on the phone with Denys Cowan. We were both in LA less than 10 minutes from each other, yet we were so shocked and heartbroken about our city that neither one of us could muster the brainpower to think to go to the other’s home.

The offer I couldn’t refuse was made by Motown, who left Detroit in 1970 and has operated from Los Angeles ever since. I made a case to keep my main offices on the east coast and Motown agreed. I so loved my city, I endured a weekly flight to LA, and I absolutely hate to fly. After a year I was told to move the business to Los Angeles.

I did, but kept my NYC residence and have that still. I was not happy leaving my cherished city and made no secret of my dislike of all things Los Angeles when I arrived.

My New York egotism is seldom, if ever, modified. Undoubtedly a wise thing to do in many situations, but I can’t seem to make that leap no matter what the setting. I once proudly wore a New York Knick hat during a game between the Knicks and the Lakers played in Los Angeles. Not a big deal – any die-hard New York fan would do that. However, I wore my Knick hat to a Laker game while in Magic’s Johnson’s suite.

But wait, there’s more: I did this during the time I ran a division of Magic Johnson Entertainment.

I worked for the most famous Los Angeles Laker of all time, yet there I sat wearing my Knick hat.

You can’t get much more New York or more stupid than that.

20 years after LA made me leave NY, my answer is the same now as it was then when I’m asked to compare New York and Los Angeles. New York is the greatest city in the world and LA stands for Lower Alabama.

New York is also home to the New York Comic Con (NYCC), billed as the largest pop culture event on the east coast. I’m sure that’s true. It’s a huge and impressive show to be sure. Held at New York’s Javits Center, the convention sold out this year doing “San Diego Comic Con numbers” according to Business Insider.

That’s extraordinary.

What’s even more extraordinary is that NYCC has been around just nine years, and SDCC more than forty. It’s no wonder-people are comparing NYCC to SDCC. When you throw up those kinds of numbers in that short amount of time, you’re a major playa, no doubt about it.

Before, during, and especially after this year’s show, the word coming out of the Big Apple was that SDCC is done.

The king is dead, long live the king!

My dear friend Lucy Valerio, who knows full well of my doings at SDCC, told me a good friend of hers said, “San Diego Comic Con has jumped the shark.”

I wondered two things: had this expert on all things pop culture ever been to Comic Con? Secondly, was Lucy high? I bet her friend was, or he was drinking the Jim Jones Kool-Aid hype social media is selling.

Most don’t know I also have history with NYCC, and believe it or not, I had a small hand in helping them established themselves when they started. Long story short, they reached out to me and I put them in business with two major companies they were unable get to.

After doing so, I was asked to bring The Black Panel to NYCC and I did. So imagine my surprise when the next year, I’m told The Black Panel did not fit the criteria, although I had an open invitation to bring it back anytime I wanted.

The Black Panel has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times, and Entertainment Weekly, to name but a few. The panel been invited to major universities, film festivals, and just recently Japan.

Damn, that must be some fucking criteria.

The woman from ReedPop, the NYCC promoter, who informed me could not have cared less about my open invitation to bring the panel back, nor did she care about what I had done for NYCC.

Fast-forward seven or eight years and the NYCC has put up some extraordinary numbers, but were not really SDCC numbers. They count ticket sales as people. In other words one person buys two tickets that counts as two people. Nevertheless, their numbers were damn impressive and they did sell out.

That sell out and those ticket sales are going to be the first thing ReedPop, the company behind the NYCC, will show future strategic partners, investors, advertisers, exhibitors, and attendees, and they should – those numbers are an incredible achievement, and as any CEO in corporate America will tell you, numbers don’t lie.

Those numbers are reason enough people are listening to the loud voices proclaiming NYCC as the new king of pop culture events.

Numbers don’t lie, but those voices are. Those voices are lying like any husband when asked, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

“No honey bunny.” That’s the lie hubby will tell his spouse.

“No Porky, you’d look fat in any dress.” That’s the truth he’s smart enough to keep from his wife.

The NYCC is a well attended comics and pop culture convention. SDCC is a world-famous pop culture event on a whole other level. Put another way, it’s akin to comparing Jay Z and your cousin Sal who likes to rap.

The numbers NYCC put up this year are undeniably great numbers for attendance to their show. However, the selling out SDCC is assured, not to take anything away from New York, but those are easy numbers to put up for San Diego. The show has sold out completely for over a decade and is still growing in ticket requests.

But, being the new king of pop culture is about a lot more than ticket sells.

More than attendance revenue, SDCC is a pop culture mecca, a place fans from all over the world must visit at least once in their life. Like any Super Bowl city hundreds of thousands of people come to San Diego without tickets. Some hope to somehow attain tickets once there, but for most, just being in the city where Comic Con International is being held is the goal.

The City Of San Diego is number 11 on the 20 most visited cities by international visitors and number 10 on the Forbes list of America’s most visited city. Clearly New York is on both those lists, but I’m damn sure the City of New York will not build new hotels and new convention centers (plural) to keep the NYCC show there.

Undoubtedly, because of Comic Con’s financial impact, San Diego would want to keep them happy by any means necessary. By comparison New York is much bigger and has much more to offer than just one event, True, but just as true, long before SDCC became the monster it is now, San Diego was already one of America’s top tourist destinations.

The economic significance of the SDCC on the city is not measured just in yearly revenue boost but in future investments and growth in the city. The worldwide importance of SDCC is not just a boon to San Diego, but to America as well. SDCC more than any other event in the 21st Century has cemented America’s place as the pop culture capital of the world.

That kind of clout is not what puts SDCC at another level. I was just pointing out the difference between Jay and cousin Sal.

NYCC is a for-profit business. Nothing at all wrong with that… except, in my opinion, in the world of geeks. To look at geeks simply as paying customers at a geek convention is no way to build a pop culture dynasty the likes of SDCC. A recurring issue to many fans and pros is the less than pleasant way convention personnel deal with fans.

To be fair, ReedPop is not running the Javits Center and has little or no control over how Javits security talks to and otherwise deals with fans. But Reed picked the venue, and year after year this seems to be a recurring topic.

SDCC is a not-for-profit educational organization run by a bunch of geeks, and in the world of comic book conventions, geeks rule. The people at SDCC are in the business of conventions, but they are not a convention business.

SDCC Mission Statement:

Comic-Con International: San Diego is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.

Regardless of my past dealings with the convention, I want NYCC to succeed. It’s in my city and they are good for the industry. They and every other pop culture event have a ways to go before they can claim to be on a par with SDCC. For my money, Stan Lee’s Comikaze is the convention with any hope of ever doing what SDCC has.

The SDCC show is a pop culture worldwide happening generating much more than revenue and at its core are the fans, geeks, nerds and growing the industry.

This above all else is why Comic Con International: San Diego is on a different level.

A level that the New York Comic Con is, as of yet, nowhere near.


Marc Alan Fishman: The Responsibilities of a Show Promoter

Having concluded an exhausting round of conventions (with one more to go in November, baby!), I find myself in awe of those brave soldiers who put on the shows themselves. From the giant conglomerate-hedge-fund-corporations with deep pockets, to the lonely islands that build their shows in small hotel ballrooms (like Days Inn… screw those who can afford the Embassy Suites!), VFW halls, and auditoria that double as bingo halls on off-nights. Simply put, a comic con is equal parts conference, summit, trade show, and flea market. Balancing these elements into a single entity is like throwing your kid’s birthday during your wedding with a Bar Mitzvah taking place in the adjacent ballroom. So, what makes a good show… from the eyes of an artist?

When I made the transition from fan to creator, my expectations for a show runner where slim to none. I honestly figured buying a table granted you… the table. Maybe a few chairs. But over time, those wants have shifted decidedly towards needs. Not that Unshaven Comics is in much (if any) position to have desired expectations, the glut of shows that exist now pull for our attention – and table fees – and word travels fast when it comes to which shows are must attend and which are must give a crap.

The Cost of the Table or Space

First and foremost, the cost of the table must be in proper ratio to the number of butts in the building. Wizard charges artists upwards of $350 – $450 for an Artist Alley table. In Chicago though, the stream of traffic typically matches the price – allowing most Bohemians behind their buffets to earn back the cost of said countertop in advance of the show coming to a close. I imagine much is the same for a vendor seeking exhibition booth space. And where applicable (see: ReedPop!) finding ways to nickel and dime us at every opportunity – want another chair for that booth? $85! – isn’t the best way to earn our love. We know we’re a captive audience… but that never means we have to like it. And for those vendors who aren’t being backed by marketing budgets, the added cost to power a booth for four days may not be worth it after a while.

The Fans in Attendance

Table price aside, I’d mentioned traffic. Here, the correlation between happy fans and happy artists are one in the same: if one group ain’t happy, the other won’t be far behind. I can’t count how many shows we saw fan after fan in a slump because of any number of reasons: perhaps waiting on line for hours at a time for a ticket for the voucher for the opportunity to look at the door outside of the hall where they are letting that one guy sign autographs for 20 minutes before his handlers whisk him off for a two-hour lunch. And when that fan is just three people in line after they set the cut off? Guess who he’s going to take it out on? Us. A lot. He’ll listen to the pitch for our book. In another world where he got that ticket, he may even give us a shot (he needs something to read during the hour long queue to sit down). But when the day started with a four hour wait for that McGuffin pass, followed by a half hour waiting to pee in a bathroom that Cthulu would be appalled by, followed by dropping over ten bucks for a hot dog, chips, and a soda… multiplied by the thousands who felt the same pains? Doesn’t make for a buy-happy experience. But I digress.

Traffic Needs Roads

The show floor (and corresponding venue) must be a planner’s nightmare. Organizing the fan areas (for photos and the like), gaming zones, autograph areas, the Artist Alley, vendor space, and panel rooms is a dance most choreographers would shy away from. The key to it all from the artists’ perspective? Flow. We want a stream of traffic to mill about the aisles in a steady queue that keeps our hands busy. When the only draw of a show during a given day takes place (“See Patrick Stewart high five Billy Shatner in Hall H!”), the monsoon of militant attendees makes for an awkward hour. Suddenly free-wheeling loiterers are collapsing in a heap to find a seat elsewhere, and you hawking your wares becomes plain insulting to them.

Fans Need Incentive to Become Fans

Simply put, a convention show runner is responsible to entice their attendees to explore every nook and cranny of their convention hall. I can’t count how many times we’ve heard how someone stumbled across us never expecting to purchase. While a decidedly pious few announce their love of shows specifically to seek out the new and odd… most are there to snag that deal on back issues or trades, get the autograph of that now-B-Lister from the Show-They-Love(d)-So-Much, and maybe waste some time at a panel or two. Artist Alley is always feels seemingly like an afterthought from show runner’s perspective. We pay the least to be on the floor, and our DIY table-scapes are rarely seen as a draw large enough to bolster attendance.

But consider my hypothesis: the Artist Alley is the lifeblood of a show. Yes, celebrities and razzle-dazzle gets people in the door. But those precious minutes spent on line, and then snapping that quick photo are only a small percentage of the opportunities that exist in a given con. If I’m to be bold, more often than not, fans discover in the alley. They have the chance to meet face to face with creators and pick their brain (while conducting business, mind you), as well as see the past, present, and future of the industry that spawned the cons in the first place.

I’d put the onus on the show runner’s to push the artists (and dealers to an extent) just as much an attraction for their conventions. Introduce attendees to the notion of making a sketchbook filled by artists in attendance. Consider “con bingo” where fans are rewarded for making purchases from every zone on a given floor (or even just for listening to the pitch). In essence: reward the fan who chooses to enjoy the entirety of their admission. At the end of it all… no one can complain (within reason) if they felt that they saw every fan have the opportunity to converse. That is to say (ahem, Mrs. Dorman), the biggest responsibility of the show runner is get butts in the hall, and get them mingling. The responsibility of we who man the tables… is to make it worth their while.


Mike Gold: The Force… In The Wind

George LucasSo, George Lucas is moving to my home town. Hmmmm.

Well, that’s not literally true. Yesterday, George decided the so-called Windy City will be home to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (LMNA), his so-called storytelling museum that will feature George’s massive collection of paintings, illustrations and digital art. Like everybody else, Lucas gets to visit it – although he probably won’t have to pay.

Chicago beat out Los Angeles and Lucas’ own San Francisco, so, on behalf of my fellow Chicagoans, those still in Cook County and those ex-pats who never really leave Chicago – not in our hearts – let me offer a hale and hearty “na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey!”

I’ll bet Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ari had something to do with this. Ari Emanuel is a top Hollywood dealmaker who was the model for Ari Gold (no relation) in Entourage. He’s been referred to as a living hurricane, but usually hurricanes are seen in a better light.

“We are honored to be partnering with the city of Chicago and the many cultural, educational and community groups that have come forward with ideas about how the LMNA will add to their vibrant work… Choosing Chicago is the right decision for the museum, but a difficult decision for me personally because of my strong personal and professional roots in San Francisco,” the director said. Then again, he does live in Chicago part-time and his wife Mellody (pictured above with her husband) is a Chicagoan. We Chicagoans can be stubborn.

This is great news for my fiends at ReedPop, as the museum will be a couple blocks from the massive McCormick Place convention center on Lake Michigan, home to their C2E2 pop culture convention each spring. It’s also near Soldier Field, the Field Natural History Museum, the planetarium and the aquarium. It’s within walking distance from Buddy Guy’s Legends and the sprawling Columbia College complexes, where young media freaks go to percolate. Ergo, it’s in the heartland of heartland culture.

From the reports I’ve seen, LMNA appears to be quite a sprawling place. The architectural plans will be submitted in early fall, so we’ll see. Moving George’s massive collection to his museum is going to be a monster job.

I respect Lucas for doing this museum thing. Not just because it’s in a place I tend to visit three or four times a year (but thank you for that!), not because if you’re flying somewhere you’re probably going to be inconvenienced by having to change planes at the dreaded O’Hare International so you might as well jump on the subway, but because he is, essentially, giving his astonishing collection to the public.

Good for you, George. And, again, thank you. I’m looking forward to visiting your home away from home.