New York Comic Con 2014: Bigger and Better

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NYCC Features Big Numbers and Big-Name Celebrities

In the nine years of ReedPop’s New York Comic Con, the convention has become a major event in the popular culture landscape, challenging Comic Con International’s San Diego Comic Con as the preeminent pop culture event in the U.S.

Numbers and Numbers: Apples and Oranges

This year New York Comic reached a new attendance record with reported ticket sales of 151,000.
This spurred some to speculate that New York Comic Con had exceeded the scale of San Diego Comic Con, which is traditionally recognized as the largest pop culture event in the U.S.

Whatever the actual numbers, New York Comic Con saw large crowds.

Without independent auditing, however, it’s difficult to know what the numbers measure and whether the two totals compare apples to apples. As the noted by the San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog, the New York Times stated New York Comic Con sold 151,000 “tickets,” while Comic Book Resources cited the number as indicating 151,000 “unique individuals.”

A follow-up piece the San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog quotes ReedPOP Senior Global Vice President Lance Fensterman as stating “If someone bought a single day Friday and single day Sunday that would be 2 tickets sold,” implying that the New York Comic Con figure is counting tickets, not individuals. Because of its member ID system, the San Diego event can calculate the number of individuals attending, regardless of the number of tickets sold, making any comparison between the two comic conventions dubious.

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Despite its size, New York’s Javits Center is significantly smaller than San Diego’s Convention Center.

Indeed, the sizes of the two venues make it doubtful that New York Comic Con has reached the scale of the San Diego event. As the SDCC Unofficial Blog notes, the San Diego Convention Center occupies 2,600,000 square feet while New York’s Javits Center has only 1,800,000 square feet. In addition, the official activities of the San Diego event spread far beyond the Convention Center, occupying large ballrooms and other areas in the adjacent Hilton and Marriott hotels.

Even if it’s spurious to directly compare the New York number with that of San Diego, presumably ReedPOP is consistent in how it tallies New York sales each year. The growth from last year’s 130,000 tickets to this year’s 151,000 is significant, and is further evidence of the continued growth of pop culture fandom.

Beyond the Numbers

Beyond the raw attendance numbers of a comic con, however, is the quality of the programming content. Most comic conventions that cover film and television include media celebrities. There is, however, a wide range in celebrity participation, not just in the magnitude of the stars, but also in the reasons they attend: Are they at the event to hawk autographs for money or are they brought by studios to promote major media properties? While the latter has always been a hallmark of San Diego Comic Con, this year New York Comic Con featured several high-profile media events.

The Walt Disney Studios’ panel promoted both Big Hero 6 and Tomorrowland. The latter included announced guests director Brad Bird and  screenwriter Damon Lindelof along with a surprise appearance by George Clooney — who visited the event straight from his honeymoon.

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The lead actors in Marvel’s Daredevil: Charlie Cox, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Deborah Ann Woll.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton were on hand to promote Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film Birdman, about a fading superhero movie actor. Marvel’s Daredevil, the forthcoming Netflix series, announced new cast members, showed the first clips from the series, and brought lots of star power. The FX Networks series The Americans also brought several noteworthy cast members. And the powerhouse AMC TV series The Walking Dead made a return visit to NYCC with a raft of that program’s stars.

This is A-level talent and far removed from minor celebrities hawking autographs for $20 to $80 a pop. The fact that production companies now see New York Comic Con as a platform for major announcements and cast appearances may ultimately be more significant than the attendance numbers. These are the hallmarks of an influential pop culture event.

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On the show floor are a few vendors with a tenuous connection to popular culture themes.

Of course, New York Comic Con still has many paid autograph events with lines of fans waiting for a signature or a photo op with a celebrity. And, as in past years, there was a smattering of vendors unrelated to the general themes of pop culture. Chevrolet returned to New York Comic Con as a partner-level sponsor with multiple presences at the show. And GEICO, fresh from their appearance at Baltimore Comic Con, occupied a large booth in the exhibition hall. While the GEICO Gecko added a touch of cosplay, any other relationship with pop culture was illusive.

Recent years have seen an increased presence of vendors looking to leverage pop culture fandom to promote unrelated products and services at a number of major comic cons, including New York Comic Con and the Wizard World cons. (See “Philadelphia Comic Con: Batman, Buffy and … Bath Fitter?” and “Consumer Brands Go Geek at Comic Con.”) San Diego Comic-Con, run by the non-profit Comic Con International, remains relatively free of such tangential marketing, at least in the space held by the con proper. (Although the rest of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is awash in advertising all sorts.)

 Wristbands and Room Clearing

As the major comic cons struggle to accommodate their expanding audience, they are forced to explore new methods to manage the crowds.

This past year, in an attempt to curb line-cutting, San Diego Comic-Con distributed wristbands to those waiting to enter the Convention Center’s large Hall H. New York Comic Con followed suit this year with a wristband strategy, but went one step further. Unlike San Diego’s Hall H, which allows audience members to stay in the auditorium as long as they would like, the Javits Center’s Main Stage was cleared between each panel.

In general, fans seemed pleased with this approach. The SDCC Unofficial Blog has a summary of selected opinions pro and con. (See: “New York Comic Con: New Main Stage Wristband Policy Draws Both Fans & Critics.”)

The wristband line for Marvel’s Daredevil.

On Saturday, I targeted the Marvel’s Daredevil panel, and arrived in the wristband line roughly 15 minutes before the scheduled distribution time of 10:00 AM. The bands were given out sequentially for each of day’s lines, with the Daredevil line near the end, resulting for an hour wait to receive the band. I then arrived in the queue to enter the Main Stage about an hour before the session was scheduled to begin. I gained entry without a problem, although on entering the auditorium, the only seats available were in the rear of the room.

I thus experienced roughly a two-hour wait to see a single panel, but was unable to view any of the other sessions in on the Main Stage that day. Whether or not this is a good bargain depends largely on the breadth of your interest in the content across the day (and, of course, your willingness to tolerate long times waiting in line).

A key question is whether San Diego Comic-Con will follow suit and clear Hall H between panels. The issue is often raised in the Comic Con Talkback session that concludes each San Diego event.

Clearing the room solves the problem of people camping out in the auditorium waiting for a particular panel they want to see and, in doing so, occupying seats for earlier panels they are less interested in, taking seats away from fans who weren’t able to get in.

San Diego Comic Con’s John Rogers explains the downside of room clearing: fewer panels.

When the issue has been raised in the San Diego Talkback sessions, Comic Con International president John Rogers has pointed out that the disadvantage of this approach is it would reduce the number of sessions that could be held each day.

Indeed, New York Comic Con allowed an hour to clear to the auditorium in between most of the sessions on the Main Stage. By contrast, the Empire Stage, which was not cleared between sessions, scheduled sessions with only a 15-minute interview in between. On Saturday the Main Stage featured four panels and a concluding cosplay contest and Cirque du Soleil performance, while the Empire Stage offered eight hour-long panels.

Given the relative size of the two auditoria – San Diego’s Hall H is more than double the size of New York’s Main Stage — it would be difficult to imagine clearing and refilling the San Diego auditorium in less 90 minutes. This would, as Comic Con International’s Rogers predicts, nearly halve the amount of available content in the room.

Panels and People

At last year’s New York Comic Con, I skipped the panel sessions to focus on Artist Alley and the exhibition hall. This year, I was back in the panel rooms for presentations covering both entertainment and comic books.

On the entertainment side were the following sessions (click on the thumbnail images to view photo galleries of each):

The cast of Marvel’s Daredevil.

Head of Television Jeph Loeb unveiled new details of Marvel’s Daredevil, the first of five series from the company to be available exclusively on Netflix. In addition to cast members Charlie Cox as the lead character, Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. Kingpin), and Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, the panel introduced new cast members Ayelet Zurer as Vanessa Marianna, Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Urich, Bob Gunton as Leland “The Owl” Owlsley, and Toby Leonard Moore as Wesley. Series showrunner Steven S. DeKnight completed the panel line up. The session also included the first clips from the show, which is placed in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, a location only blocks from the convention center that hosted the panel.

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The cast and producers of The Americans pose in their “Commie Con” T-shirts.

The panel for FX Network’s The Americans featured Producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields along with cast members Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, and Annet Mahendru, moderated by Andy Greenwald. The entire team was sporting their “Commie Con” T-shirts for the event.

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Head of Television Jeph Loeb presents previews of upcoming Marvel Animation features.

In the “Marvel Animation Presents” session Head of Television Jeph Loeb showed previews of Marvel’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and other Marvel Animation titles.

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Yoshiki and the members of X Japan give a shout out to their fans.

In the Yoshiki panel the leader of X Japan and the rest of the band answered questions from their fan base a day prior to their concert performance in Madison Square Garden.

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The comic book panels included the following:

The “Marvel: House of Ideas Digital Panel.”

The “Marvel: House of Ideas Digital Panel” moderated by Marvel Digital Media Executive Editorial Director Ryan Penagos (a.k.a. Agent M) featured Axel Alonso, Ben Morse, Daniele Campbell, Sam Humphries, Tatiana Nahai, and C.B. Cebulski.

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The “Vertigo: Defy Conventions” panel.

In the “Vertigo: Defy Conventions” panel moderator John Cunningham spoke with Shelly Bond, Rafael Albuquerque, Scott Snyder, Meghan Hetrick, Caitlin Kittredge, Marley Zarcone, Gail Simone, and Greg Lockard.

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The “Image Comics: I is for Impact” panel.

The “Image Comics: I is for Impact” panel included Chip Zdarsky, Matt Fraction, Brian K. Vaughan, Roc Upchurch, Wes Craig, Steve Orlando, and James Robinson.

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The “Garth Ennis – Crossed DOA & the Future of Crossed” panel.

The Avatar Press panel “Garth Ennis – Crossed DOA & the Future of Crossed” featured writers Justin Jordan, Kieron Gillen, Si Spurrier, and Garth Ennis, and Avatar Press Editor-in-Chief William Christensen.

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The “Survivors of the First Comic Con” panel.

My favorite comics-related panel at the con, the “Survivors of the First Comic Con” panel, was moderated by Ethan Roberts and included several participants from the first comic con held in New York in 1964: Bernie Bubnis, Rick Bierman, Art Tripp, Flo Steinberg, Howard Rogofsky, and Len Wein. I showed Steinberg, who was Marvel Editor Stan Lee’s secretary during much of the 1960s, a card I received in response to a letter I sent to Marvel’s offices roughly 50 years earlier on which she had hand-written a response on behalf of “Stan & the Gang.” She seemed pleased to hear how much the note meant to me as a young lad..

Comic book creators at New York Comic Con 2014. [Click to View]

One of the highlights of New York Comic Con is the extensive Artist Alley, which ReedPOP claims is the largest of any comic con. Much of my time when not attending a panel session was spent speaking with the comic book writers and artists in Artist Alley and in publishers’ booths in the exhibition hall. Only at Comic Con will you see the president of Dark Horse Comics handing out free comic books to attendees.

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Cosplay at New York Comic Con 2014. [Click to View]

Finally, of course, are the cosplayers that give the con much of its flair. While I don’t focus on costumed characters as much some photographers, it’s always exciting to see someone dressed as a favorite character (particularly an obscure one) or acting the part while in costume. This year my favorite costumes included the Steve Ditko inspired Creeper costume and a well done Beetlejuice outfit.

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For the full gallery of photos from this year’s New York Comic Con, see the Flickr photo album: New York Comic Con 2014.

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Baltimore Comic-Con 2014: Recap and Photo Highlights

Baltimore Comic-Con 2014

Baltimore’s Comics-Focused Con Expands to Three Days

Baltimore Comic-Con occupies a middle ground between large pop culture events like Comic Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con or ReedPop’s New York Comic Con and smaller regional conventions like Asbury Park Comic Con and New York Comic Fest. Unlike many of the large comic cons, the Baltimore event is focused squarely on comic books.

Although the big two comic book publishers, Marvel Comics and DC Comics, didn’t have the booths on the show floor, representatives from both were present for panel sessions.  A number of smaller comics publishers, including Valiant Entertainment, Avatar Press, Top Shelf Productions, and Archie Comics, all had booth presences.

Comic book creators at Baltimore Comic-Con 2014.

Comic book creators at Baltimore Comic-Con. [Click to View]

In addition to the usual assortment of vendor booths featuring comic books, graphic novels, and related tchotchkes, the exhibition hall floor was filled with comic book creators. Tables where fans could have works signed by writers and artists extended well beyond the Artist Alley section to throughout the show floor, making Baltimore Comic-Con an ideal setting for interacting with comics creators.

The exhibition floor and panel sessions were largely devoid of content about movies, television shows, or video games. The only evidence of non-related businesses looking to ride the wave of pop culture fandom — an increasingly common site at some comic cons — was the Geico booth in one corner of the exhibition hall. While the Geico Gecko added a cosplay element to the company’s presence, no other relationship to comic books or popular culture was apparent.

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The line waiting to enter the exhibition hall Saturday morning.

This year the show expanded from two days to three, running from Friday afternoon through Sunday evening. Friday’s attendance appeared to be relatively modest. Saturday and Sunday drew larger crowds, with a long line waiting to enter the show on Saturday morning.

Vendors and artists I spoke with reported mixed results. A few vendors reported sluggish to moderate sales throughout the three days. Artists Brendon and Brian Fraim, on the other hand, said this was their most successful show in terms of sales and future commissions. One creator in Artist Alley reported that, sales notwithstanding, he valued the Baltimore event for the opportunity to network with other industry professionals.

The 27 Annual Harvey Awards

The Harvey Awards.

The 27th Annual Harvey Awards. [Click to View]

Since 2006, Baltimore Comic-Con has hosted the Harvey Awards, the industry’s longest-running awards ceremony recognizing excellence in comic books and graphic novels. While the dim mood lighting made the Harveys less camera-friendly than the somewhat more glamorous Eisner Awards held at San Diego Comic-Con, it was nonetheless an enjoyable evening. Michael Uslan served as host for the event, which featured a thoughtful keynote address by Gail Simone on gender roles in comics.

Many of the comics creators recognized at last month’s Eisners were repeat winners at the Harveys.

Image Comics’ Saga by writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Fiona Staples was named Best Continuing or Limited Series, with Vaughn also receiving the award for Best Writer and Staples for both Best Artist and Best Cover Artist.

Dark Horse Comics’ The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by writer Vivek Tiwary, artist Andrew Robinson, and cartoonist Kyle Baker received two awards: Best Original Graphic Album and Best Biographical, Historical, or Journalistic Presentation.

Image Comics’ Sex Criminals by writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky received the award for Best New Series. Zdarsky was also named Most Promising New Talent.

Veteran artist Herb Trimpe received the Hero Initiative Lifetime Achievement Award. For a complete rundown of Harvey Award winners and presentations, see the coverage by Bleeding Cool.

Panel Sessions

Baltimore Comic-Con’s programming schedule included four or five simultaneous panel sessions throughout the three days of the event. This year’s presentations included:

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Sexy or Sexualized?

The “Sexy or Sexualized?” panel with Gail Simone, Dave Gibbons, Marguerite Bennet, Paul Levitz, Adam Hughes, Christina Blanch, and Thom Zahler.

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Walter & Louise Simonson Spotlight.

The “Walter & Louise Simonson Spotlight” session.

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Baltimore Comic-Con 2014: CBLDF: Tales from The Code – True Stories of Censorship

CBLDF: Tales from The Code – True Stories of Censorship.

“CBLDF: Tales from The Code – True Stories of Censorship” with Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein in conversation with writer/artist Jim Starlin.

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The Marvel Universe.

The “Marvel Universe” panel with Tom Brevoort, Charles Soule, Jim Starlin, Mark Morales, and Mark Waid.

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Dave Gibbons Spotlight.

Dave Gibbons Spotlight.

The “Dave Gibbons Spotlight” session with Gibbons interviewed by artist Barry Kitson.

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The Making of The Fifth Beatle: The Beatles in Comics.

Writer and producer Vivek J. Tiwary speaking on “The Making of The Fifth Beatle: The Beatles in Comics.”

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Valiant Comics: Armor Hunters, The Valiant, and Beyond!

The “Valiant Comics: Armor Hunters, The Valiant, and Beyond!” panel with Hunter Gorinson, Dinesh Shamdasani, Laura Martin, Vivek J. Tiwary, Brian Reber, James Asmus, and Ray Fawkes.

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Creating Your Own Characters.

The panel session “Creating Your Own Characters” with Amy Chu, Jamal Igle, Christina Blanch, Dean Haspiel, and Sarah Vaughn.

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Matt Wagner Spotlight.

The “Matt Wagner Spotlight” session with Brennan Wagner and Matt Wagner.

 
Dynamite 10th Anniversary Celebration.

Dynamite 10th Anniversary Celebration.

The “Dynamite 10th Anniversary Celebration” panel with Duane Swierczynski, Gail Simone, Mark Waid, Christina Blanch, Molly Mahan, Frank Tieri, Garth Ennis, John Cassaday, and Bill Willingham.

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Pros: Spawns of Fanzines & Fandom.

The “Pros: Spawns of Fanzines & Fandom” panel with Aaron Caplan,  Mark Wheatley, Marc Hempel, Paul Levitz, Walt Simonson, and Rickey Shanklin.

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Paul Pope Spotlight.

The “Paul Pope Spotlight” with writer/artist Paul Pope in conversation with Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein.

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We Are BOOM!

The “We Are BOOM!” panel with Ross Richie, Filip Sablik, Matt Gagnon, James Tynion IV, Marguerite Bennett, and Mark Waid.

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Cosplay at Baltimore Comic-Con. [Click to View]

And, of course, cosplayers were evident throughout the event, strolling around the show floor and posing for photos. Sunday afternoon the con was capped by a large cosplay contest.

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For the full gallery of photos from Baltimore Comic-Con, see the Flickr photo album: Baltimore Comic-Con 2014.

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San Diego Comic-Con 2014: Recap and Photo Highlights

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Despite the explosive growth of pop culture conventions around the U.S., Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con remains the nation’s preeminent event for fans of comic books, sci-fi and fantasy movies and television shows, and video games. Although ReedPOP’s New York Comic Con last year reported attendance numbers approaching those of the San Diego event, San Diego Comic-Con still offers the largest and most eclectic array of activities for fans of all things pop culture.

With two-dozen simultaneous panel sessions, a large exhibition hall, movie screenings, and acres of media advertising — plus the myriad of independently-run offsite events — any attendee can only experience a small slice of array the pop culture festivities that take place over the extended weekend.

Here’s how Comic-Con International: San Diego 2014 looked from my perspective.

The Calm Before the Con

Rather than arriving midday Wednesday as I’ve done in past years, this year I flew into San Diego Tuesday night. Having Wednesday free to stroll around the Gaslamp Quarter provided the opportunity to see the offsite marketing installations and banners already in place or, in some cases, still being set up — like watching the unloading the iron throne for the Game of Thrones Experience. [For more on the marketing madness at Comic-Con, see below]

The Con then begins in earnest with badge pick-up and Preview Night.

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The crowd on Preview Night.

Reportedly there was a time when Preview Night was a modest affair that allowed relatively unencumbered access to vendor booths on the show floor. No longer. The exhibition hall on Preview Night is now jammed with attendees.

For most fans, Preview Night is the opportunity to get a first shot at the exclusive collectible items from companies like Hasbro, Mattel, and Funko. The collectible mania is one of the few aspects of Comic-Con that has yet to infect me. Contrarian that I am, I find Preview Night a better opportunity to visit Artist Alley to meet authors and comic book creators. Authors like George R. R. Martin and Robert Kirkman — who would be mobbed later during the Con — were relatively accessible during Preview Night.

At the close of the show floor on Preview Night, it was off to the second annual SDCC Unofficial Blog’s Enchantment Under the SDCC party at Henry’s Pub.

Panels and Offsite Events

Thursday morning began, as in past years, with a visit to the Geek & Sundry Lounge.

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Felicia Day at the Geek & Sundry Lounge. [Click to view]

With so many competing activities at Comic-Con proper, I typically forgo most offsite events. Yet, I’m intrigued by what Felicia Day and company are doing to develop a branded collection of online content, and I always look forward to hearing updates on their plans. (For more, see my 2013 interview with Day in Knowledge@Wharton:Felicia Day on Creativity and Building a Business on the Web.”)  In addition, the Geek & Sundry offsite event afforded a good Felicia Day photo op outside of the chaos of Con.

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Spotlight on Bill Finger, the Co-Creator of Batman.

Back at the Convention Center, the “Spotlight on Bill Finger, the Co-Creator of Batman” panel marked the first appearance at San Diego Comic-Con of the only living descendants of writer Bill Finger: his granddaughter, Althea Finger, and great-grandson, Ben. The panel session, moderated by Dr. Travis Langley, also included Lee Meriwether, Michael Uslan, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Mark Evanier, Jens Robinson, and Tom Andrae. Denny O’Neil, who was in the audience, eventually joined the other panelists to discuss the work of the prolific, but historically unheralded, co-creator of Batman.

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ComiXology: Ask Me Anything.

Later on Thursday, ComiXology co-founders David Steinberger and John D. Roberts hosted their traditional “ComiXology: Ask Me Anything” panel. The session opened with CEO Steinberger announcing the company will provide a DRM-free (without digital rights management controls) download option for content from participating publishers. Top Shelf, Image Comics, Dynamite, Monkeybrain, Zenescope and Thrillbent initially signed on to support the feature.

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Image Comics: I Is for…Inception.

My panel line-up on Friday began with “Image Comics: I Is for…Inception” with David Brothers moderating the panel with Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, John Layman, Fiona Staples, Steve Seagle, Claire Gibson, and Marian Churchland.

 

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For Love or Money: Creating Personal and Professional Art.

The panel session “For Love or Money: Creating Personal and Professional Art” featured Mark Waid moderating a discussion with Mimi Pond, Ray Billingsley, Michael T. Gilbert, Jim Rugg, and David Lasky.

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The Future of Geek.

At the “The Future of Geek” panel Rob Salkowitz, Heidi MacDonald, and Tim Beyers, looked that the future of pop culture fandom, moderated by John Siuntres.

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Who Created Batman?

Following up on Thursday’s “Spotlight on Bill Finger, the Co-Creator of Batman” panel, Friday offered the “Who Created Batman?” panel with a number of the same panelists and several new additions: Dr. Travis Langley moderated the conversation with Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, Marc Tyler Nobleman. Tom Andrae, Arlen Schumer, Jens Robinson, Athena Finger, Denny O’Neil, and Brad Ricca.

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Brands Gone Geek: How Media and Marketers Are Harnessing the Might of the Superfan.

Expanding on “The Future of Geek” panel earlier that day, the Friday afternoon panel “Brands Gone Geek: How Media and Marketers Are Harnessing the Might of the Superfan” featured Steve Rotterdam moderating a discussion with Carr D’Angelo, Mel Wilson, Filip Sablik, Ed Catto, Rob Salkowitz, Kris Longo, and Heidi MacDonald, on how brands are tapping into current pop culture trends.

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Spiritual Themes in Comics.

On Sunday morning I caught the end of the panel on “Spiritual Themes in Comics” with Eric Jansen (moderator), John Schafer, M. Scott Verne, and B. Dave Walters.

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The Bleeding Cool Magazine Top 100 Power List.

Following that panel, Bleeding Cool journalists Hannah Means-Shannon and Rich Johnston discussed the “Bleeding Cool Top 100 Power List” (for which I typically provide photography).

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Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.

The annual “Jack Kirby Tribute Panel” included, as always, Mark Evanier regaling the audience with his personal recollections of the great artist. This year Evanier was joined by Len Wein, Scott Shaw!, Paul S. Levine, and Charles Kochman. In the audience for the talk was the Kirby Museum’s Rand Hoppe and TwoMorrows Publishings’ John Morrow. Also in attendance was Barry Ira Geller, who worked with Kirby to design Science Fiction Land, a proposed theme park and research center, along with the planned movie Lord of Light, based on Roger Zelazny’s sci-fi novel. Neither project came to fruition, although the screenplay and Kirby-drawn designs for the film served as the basis of the CIA’s cover story to rescue six U.S. diplomatic personnel from the Canadian embassy in Iran in December 1979, events characterized in Ben Affleck’s 2012 film Argo.

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The Secret Origin of Good Readers.

The annual “Secret Origin of Good Readers” panel moderated by Mimi Cruz this year included a discussion with Frank Beddor, Anina Bennett, Dave Elliot, Karen Green, and Marjorie Liu.

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End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in Our Culture.

Finally, I caught the beginning of the “End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in Our Culture” panel hosted by Carrie Goldman and Chase Masterson before having to head out for the Comic-Con Talk Back (see below).

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Evening Events from A to Z: Awards and Zombies

Each year, Friday evening brings the Eisner Awards Ceremony, which provides an opportunity to connect with old friends and to celebrate the work of comic book artists, writers, and editors.

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The 2014 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. [Click to view]

This year, Image Comics’ Saga garnered awards for Brian K. Vaughan for Best Writer, Fiona Staples for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, and for both Vaughan and Staples for Best Continuing Series.

Another Image Comic’s title, Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, received the award for Best New Series. Writer Fraction along with artist David Aja also received Eisner Awards for Best Single Issue (or One-Shot) for Marvel’s Hawkeye #11: “Pizza Is My Business.” Aja was also awarded Best Cover Artist for Marvel’s Hawkeye.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, and Kyle Baker from M Press/Dark Horse, received the Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.

Presenters during the evening included Anina Bennett, Kelly Hu, Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier, Orlando Jones, Tom Lennon, and the always wildly entertaining Jonathan Ross.

A complete list of the 2014 Eisner Award winners can be found on the Comic Con International website.

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People camped out on Friday evening waiting for the doors to open on Saturday.

Heading back to the hotel following the Eisner Awards after-party, the line with fans camped out to enter the Convention Center Saturday morning stretched far down the walk, signaling the crush that would hit the convention on Saturday.

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Zombie Walk. [Click to view]

Each year, Saturday evening is occupied by the annual Zombie Walk. This year’s event was unfortunately marred by an incident during which a pedestrian was struck by a car. I was several blocks away from the accident and was unaware of it until I heard the news later that evening. From my perspective, the walk seemed to go as smoothly as in past years. Click the image for a gallery of photos from the event.

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Marketing Mania: Virtual and Real

Beyond the panels and the cosplay, San Diego Comic-Con is where major media companies pull out all the stops to attract the attention the hardcore fans in hopes of building buzz for upcoming movies, television shows, video games, and comic books.

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Advertising for TNT’s “Legends” covers the baggage carousel.

This year the marketing blitz that surrounds Comic-Con was evident before I picked up my luggage from the airport’s baggage carousel. TNT Network’s new drama Legends blanketed the airport with ads on the building columns, stairway railings, and the baggage carousel (providing anxious travelers something to gaze at as they desperately waited for their bags to appear.) The TNT advertising onslaught continued in town, with Legends banners covering one side of Marriott Marquis and a painted mural on the exterior walls of another downtown building. If there were such an award, Legends would take the prize for “most ubiquitous advertising campaign” at this year’s Comic-Con.

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The Kwik-E-Race at Simpsons World.

FXX dominated the space between the Convention Center the adjacent Hilton Hotel with “Simpsons World,” promoting the upcoming “Every Simpsons Ever” marathon on the network. The Homer Dome let vistors enter a large constructed head of Homor Simpson to view a giant video screen that displayed what’s on Homer’s mind. Other activities on the lawn included Marge’s Sweet Station, which offered free blue cotton candy, and the Kwik-E-Race game that let fans compete for prizes.

The most noteworthy marketing trend this year was the use of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to place participants inside fully immersive 3-D environments. While the marketing highlights of last year’s Comic-Con were the large-scale walk-through environments environments constructed for promotions like the Godzilla Encounter and the Ender’s Game Experience (see Knowledge@Wharton, “Comic-Con Marketing: Experience the ‘Experiences’.”), the Oculus Rift allowed several immersive experiences to go entirely virtual this year.

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The X-Men Cerebro Experience.

On the show floor, Fox Home Entertainment’s X-Men Cerebro Experience let participants sit in the chair of Professor Charles Xavier and don the Oculus Rift VR headset to enter the Cerebro to search for shape-shifting mutant Mystique. Over in the Legandary Pictures booth, the Oculus Rift allowed fans to pilot the giant Jaeger mobile weapons from the film Pacific Rim.

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The “Sleepy Hollow” Oculus Rift Experience.

Outside the convention center, Fox Television used the Oculus Rift to place fans in the eerie hamlet of Sleepy Hollow. Once in the three-dimensional world, Ichabod Crane warns of the impending arrival of the headless horseman. After a few spooky bits of misdirection, the horseman in question arrives and lops off your head. It’s unnerving to experience your head plopping to the ground and then being lifted, sans body, by the horseman. After the 3D experience, each participant received a digital photo of his or her decapitated head lying on the ground.

In a nearby Omni Hotel, HBO’s “Survive the RealmGame of Thrones Oculus rift allowed people to virutally ascend to the top of the program’s 700-foot tall ice wall.

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Sailing down the Gotham zip line.

Not all the major marketing efforts were virtual, however. Several were quite real, offering fans thrill-ride type experiences. To advertise the upcoming Fox television show Gotham, participants could fly down a zip line in front of a large representation of Gotham City. To promote the Assassin’s Creed Unity video game, Ubisoft featured an obstacle course requiring participants to run, swing, duck and jump to avoid various impediments. Brave participants could also take a “Leap of Faith” by jumping from a 25-foot tower into an inflatable bag.

Whether real or virtual, Comic-Con is proving ground for the latest in entertainment marketing. For more on the marketing efforts at this year’s Comic-Con, see my article in Knowledge@Wharton, “Marketing at Comic-Con: Virtual Reality Gets Real.”

Talking Back and Wrapping Up

As in years past, my final official Comic-Con event is the Con’s Talk Back session, in which Comic Con International president John Rogers listens to a barrage of complaints, observations, suggestions about this year’s Comic-Con.

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Comic Con International president John Rogers faces the crowd in the Talk Back session.

While it’s logical that the Talk Back session occurs at the end of the four days, listening to the parade of gripes is a dour way to end the Con. Despite the gloom, I find the event revealing, not only of fans’ concerns, but of how Comic-Con International views its mission.

This year, among the parade of other complaints, one commentator requested, “Try to get the badges to fit into the badge holders next year.”

Comic Con International’s Rogers responded:

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John Rogers, president of Comic-Con International.

Ah, you’ve decided that something that is a feature is a bug. You’ll notice, if you look at your badge, there’s a hologram on it. That hologram is strategically placed over your barcode. Why? There are unscrupulous exhibitors that will take your barcode and your personal information without your permission. Putting the hologram over it prevents that from happening…. Now [suppose you say], Hey, I actually do want to give an exhibitor my barcode….” How do you get the badge out? If it’s flush with the plastic, I have to dig my fingers in and try to lever the darn thing out, and I tear it. So we said, “Hey, if we make it a little taller, you’ve got something to grip and lift.” So — you see it as a bug, we saw it as a feature.

It was a minor point, but Rogers’ reply was illustrative of much that occurs at Comic-Con. We often assume that things that go wrong or seem less than ideal are the result of poor planning or lack of insight. Yet, in many cases, they are conscious choices. Given the constraints of Comic-Con — the enormous scale, the number of people who want to attend, the scarcity of Conventional Center space and hotel rooms, and so on — the tradeoffs may be difficult, but they are seldom arbitrary.

To conclude this year’s Comic-Con on a more upbeat note, after the Talk Back, I dropped by the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fan party. Thus San Diego Comic-Con 2014 ended as it began after Preview Night, at Henry’s Pub and Restaurant.

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Comic book creators at San Diego Comic-Con 2014. [Click to view]

From Preview Night through closing, San Diego Comic-Con celebrates the men and women who create comic books, movies, television programs, and video games. Click the image to view a photo gallery of pop culture authors, illustrators, and industry executives.

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Cosplay at San Diego Comic-Con 2014. [Click to view]

And, of course, costumed cosplayers were prevalent throughout the four and a half days of the convention. Click image for a photo gallery.

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For a photo gallery of more than 700 images from San Diego Comic-Con 2014, see the Flickr photo album: San Diego Comic-Con 2014.

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Con-fusion: What’s in a Name — or a Hyphen?

San Diego Comic-Con Challenges Salt Lake Comic Con’s Right to “Comic Con”

It’s a common occurrence: I tell a friend I’m going to San Diego Comic-Con and receive the reply, “Oh, yeah. I went to the one in Philly.” Or New York, or Chicago, or Cleveland or any of dozens of other cities. It’s awkward explaining that yes, you went to a comic con, but not what is generally considered the comic con: Comic-Con International: San Diego, otherwise known as San Diego Comic-Con or simply SDCC.

The organization that runs the annual convention in San Diego for fans of comic books, movies, TV, and all things pop culture has taken legal action to clarify the confusion, at least in regard to one fan convention. A lawyer representing Comic-Con International: San Diego has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con over their use of “Comic Con” in the name of the Utah convention, according to an Associated Press report. The issue may ultimately hinge on the difference — if any — between “comic-con” and “comic con.” (More on that pesky hyphen shortly.)

The Utah event, reported to be the third-largest comic con in the U.S. with an attendance of 72,000 people last year, is one of dozens of similar — and similarly named — activities around the globe run by different organizations. The ReedPop division of multinational publisher Reed Elsevier hosts New York Comic Con, an event that last year boasted attendance numbers on par with San Diego Comic-Con. Wizard World Inc. puts on two dozen Wizard World Comic Cons in cities around the U.S.  Smaller, regionally-focused comic cons are available in many other cities and towns.

Given the broad adoption of the term “comic con,” why would the organizers of San Diego Comic-Con go after Salt Lake Comic Con rather than the larger and longer-running New York Comic Con or the rapidly expanding Wizard World cons?

The immediate trigger of the legal move was a marketing ploy by the Salt Lake event at San Diego Comic-Con which included driving a car through downtown San Diego advertising the name and dates of the Utah fan fest.

Comic Con International may also believe it will be easier to prevail against Salt Lake Comic Con as a first step in tightening control of its brand image. According to the event’s website, Salt Lake Comic Con is a Dan Farr Production, produced in partnership with MediaOne of Utah — perhaps a less daunting opponent than Reed Elsevier or Wizard World.

In the AP report Bryan Brandenburg, a co-founder of the Salt Lake City event, asserts that San Diego Comic-Con “tried and failed to trademark ‘Comic Con’ in 1995.”

San Diego Comic Convention does, however, hold trademark Registration Number 3219568 for “COMIC-CON” (spelled with a hyphen) covering “Education and entertainment services, namely, organizing and conducting conventions in the fields of animation, comic books and popular art.” San Diego Comic Convention holds other trademarks related to the event, including SDCC and PREVIEW NIGHT, along with a number of trademarks for events that don’t currently exist under the names listed, including ANAHEIM COMIC-CON, SAN FRANCISCO COMIC-CON, and LOS ANGELES COMIC-CON. Even though Comic-Con International also runs WonderCon, an event nearly identical to their San Diego Comic-Con in all aspects other than its size, they don’t use the ‘Comic-Con’ name for that event.

Most of the non-San Diego fan conventions eschew using the hyphen in their names, opting — perhaps for legal reasons — to use “comic con” (with a space between the two words) or variant spellings such as comiccon or comicon. Ironically, among the trademarks held by San Diego Comic Convention are “COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL” and “SAN DIEGO COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL,” both without the hyphen.

Does a trademark on “COMIC-CON” cover “COMIC CON” — and perhaps COMICCON and COMICON as well? If the issue is eventually settled by the courts, it will be interesting to see how the law views the presence or absence of the hyphen in identically-sounding terms.

Update: 2014 Aug 8:

The dispute has now moved to the courts. Comic-Con International has filed a lawsuit against the organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con in the U.S. District Court in Southern California over the use of the name “Comic Con,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

 

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Wizard World Philadelphia: Bigger Than Ever

Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014

Recap and Photo Highlights from Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014

While the previous weekend was filled with two pop culture festivals focused squarely on comic books — New York Comic Fest and Special Edition: NYC — this past weekend Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con brought a broader spectrum of popular culture activities to the mid-Atlantic region. With an approach modeled after the large U.S. comic cons such as Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con and ReedPop’s New York Comic Con, the Wizard World event offered something for fans of everything from comic books to television shows, movies, video games, and more.

It also provided evidence that the current mania over all things pop culture shows no signs of slowing.

The general attendance line waiting to enter Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con

Fans lined up waiting for the show to open Friday morning.

The 14th annual Philadelphia Wizard World occupied twice the floor space of last year’s event, according to Wizard World Public Relations Manager Jerry Milani. Stepping into the main exhibit hall, the increase in scale was apparent, with vendor booths, artists’ tables, and autograph signing stations extending far across the Convention Center’s Halls A through D. In addition to the “VIP” lines for those who paid extra for early access to the show, the general audience line filled a large swath of the Convention Center’s cavernous Hall F.

Wizard Wold CEO John Macaluso

Wizard World CEO John Macaluso.

Of the 16 comic cons run by Wizard World, Philadelphia is now second only to the company’s Chicago show. This year’s Philly event was bigger than last year’s Wizard World Chicago, although Milani expects the upcoming 2014 Chicago event to leapfrog over Philadelphia.

Not only was the exhibition hall larger than last year, it was also more focused on matters of popular culture. There was little evidence of the type of vendors unrelated to fan culture that were scattered across the floor last year. (See: “Philadelphia Comic Con: Batman, Buffy and … Bath Fitter?“). Symantec made a return visit, again with a popular media tie-in (this year the X-Men in contrast to last year’s affiliation with Superman). And there were booths promoting conventional media, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, The City Paper, and the local Channel 6 ABC TV affiliate. In general, however, the vendor exhibits were largely aligned with the interests of pop culture fandom.

The show’s programming was also expanded from last year with 120 panels, presentations, film screenings, and fan events over the comic con’s four days. Saturday’s most popular panel sessions were held in the Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom, with a capacity of 3,000. The more popular panels, such as “Inside Firefly” with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk — drew a strong crowd, yet seats were still available throughout the day — no camping out required (as with San Diego Comic Con’s infamous Hall H). While many of the panels featured television celebrities, a series of talks moderated by Danny Fingeroth and others provided coverage of comic book topics as well.

Photo Galleries from Panels and Presentations

Panels at Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014 included the following. [Click the thumbnail images to view photo galleries]

'Inside Firefly' with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk

Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk.

Inside Firefly” with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk answering fan questions and performing their usual high jinks, along with the intrusion of a strange visitor on the stage.

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Eliza Dushku

Eliza Dushku.

A conversation with Eliza Dushku, who arrived on stage with her pet dog Max Factor.

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Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg.

A conversation with Whoopi Goldberg.

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Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan.

Marvel’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, and Karen Gillan.

Three of the stars of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, and Karen Gillan.

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Cast members from 'The Walking Dead'

Scott Wilson, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Jon Bernthal.

Former cast members from The Walking Dead: Scott Wilson, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Jon Bernthal.

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David Boreanaz

David Boreanaz.

A conversation with David Boreanaz.

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Curtis Armstrong and Brian Tochi

Curtis Armstrong and Brian Tochi.

A reunion with Revenge of the Nerds actors Curtis Armstrong and Brian Tochi.

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Troma Entertainment and AMC TV's Comic Book Men

Lloyd Kaufman, Men Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson, and Mike Zapcic.

Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman with AMC TV’s Comic Book Men Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson, and Mike Zapcic.

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Eddie McClintock

Eddie McClintock.

A conversation with Eddie McClintock.

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Peter Sanderson and  Danny Fingeroth

Peter Sanderson and Danny Fingeroth.

Comic book historians Peter Sanderson and Danny Fingeroth on the history of Marvel in “Marvel Comics at 75.”

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The Science Channel's 'Oddities'

The Science Channel’s ‘Oddities’.

Science Channel’s Oddities.

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Bryan Tillman

Bryan Tillman.

Bryan Tillman discussing “Creative Character Design.”

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Elsewhere at the Con: Comics Creators and Cosplayers

Outside the panel rooms, the show floor offered more than vendors selling comics, posters, and pop culture trinkets.

Comic Book Creators

Comic book creators and industry professionals.

Despite the general emphasis on television and movie properties, Artist Alley hosted a number of comic book creators, including artist Greg Capullo, writer Marv Wolfman, and artist J. G. Jones.

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Cosplay

Costumed fans.

And, throughout all four days of the con, costumed cosplayers roamed the halls and posed for photos.

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At some point, the current pop culture craze will hit saturation and the growth of fan conventions will slow or begin to decline. The current trend, however, is still markedly upward. Wizard World alone increased their footprint in the U.S. by expanding from eight shows last year to 16 this year with more to be announced, according to Wizard World’s Milani. At least in the short run, it seems the sky is the limit for pop culture fandom.

For a gallery of over 350 photos from three days of the comic con, see the Flickr photo album: Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014.

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Special Edition NYC Focuses on Comics

Special Edition: NYC in Javits North

ReedPop Provides a Summer Prologue to Fall’s New York Comic Con

Competing for the attention of comic book fans in the New York area this past weekend were three pop culture events. In addition to New York Comic Fest in White Plains and Eternal Con in Garden City, ReedPop, a unit of Reed Elsevier’s Reed Exhibitions, expanded their portfolio of popular culture shows with the inaugural Special Edition: NYC.

In contrast to the New York Comic Con ReedPop hosts each fall — which includes the full range of pop culture topics including movies and television programs — Special Edition: NYC is focused on comic books. ”New York Comic Con has grown to include so much more than comic books,” Lance Fensterman, ReedPOP’s Global Senior Vice President stated in a press release. “Special Edition: NYC will give comic book fans an intimate destination to meet with publishers and special guests.”

And, compared to the New York Comic Con, it was intimate, indeed.

A study in contrasts: The corridors of the Javits Center during Special Edition: NYC (left) and New York Comic Con (right).

While New York Comic Con takes over the entire Javits Convention Center and attracts a reported 130,000 attendees, Special Edition: NYC was chiefly housed in Javits North, the space that holds Artist Alley in the larger fall event. Special Edition: NYC also offered two tracks of panels which, for some reason, were held at the farthest southern section of the convention center. Some panels were forced to begin late to allow presenters time to make the long trek from the show floor to the panel room.

Heading out of the bustling Javits North to pass through the vacant corridors of the Javits Center toward the panel rooms was an eerie experience, particularly in contrast to crammed chaos of New York Comic Con.

Because I went to New York Comic Fest on Saturday, I was only able to attend the second of the two days of Special Edition: NYC. That day’s panel sessions included:

The Valiant Comics panel.

The Valiant Comics panel with Dinesh Shamdasani, Warren Simons, Josh Johns, Joe Harris, Robert Gill, and Alejandro Arbona, moderated by Hunter Gorinson.

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The “DC Comics: Batman 75th Anniversary” panel.

“DC Comics: Batman 75th Anniversary” with Gail Simone, James Tynion IV, Greg Pak, and Francis Manapul, and moderated by John Cunningham.

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The stars of the show: comic book writers and artists.

A moderate amount of cosplay was in evidence, although nothing approaching the costumed mania of the larger shows or the well-established regional comic cons. The centerpiece of the event was the array of comic book writers and artists on the show floor, including Howard Chaykin, Francesco Francavilla, Chris Claremont, Gail SimoneKurt Busiek, Greg Pak, Sara Pichelli, and many others.

By all accounts, Sunday was the slower of the two days of the event. Vendors I spoke with gave varying accounts of how they fared at the show. Sales were “fair to middling” as reported by one merchant and “good” according to another. One vendor characterized the crowd as “slow but steady” throughout the two days. Another described the show as “a one-day event stretched into two days.”

While one could view some of these comments as signs we are reaching the saturation point of pop culture mania, these events show no signs of slowing down. Indeed, ReedPop recently announced plans to expand this fall’s New York Comic Con into a weeklong pop culture celebration dubbed New York Super Week. In collaboration with bars, restaurants and retailers throughout the city, the celebration will include concerts, comedy shows, gaming events, lectures, and food tastings during the week of October 3-12, 2014 — and, presumably, around 130,000 people flooding into the Javits Center for the four days of New York Comic Con.

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New York Comic Fest 2014: Recap and Photo Highlights

New York Comic Fest 2014

The Team Behind Asbury Park Comic Con Expands Northward

It was an overabundance of options for pop culture aficionados in the greater New York City region this past weekend, with three shows competing for attention: New York Comics Fest in White Plains, Special Edition: NYC in New York City, and Eternal Con in Garden City.

Two of the three — New York Comics Fest and Special Edition: NYC — were geared specifically toward comic books, eschewing the wider fringes of pop culture fandom. It was also the inaugural year for both of these events. New York Comic Fest was mounted by Cliff Galbraith and Robert Bruce, the team that produces Asbury Park Comic Con (or, as typically published, “Comicon”).

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Comic book artists, writers, editors.

Despite the competition, New York Comic Fest assembled an impressive line-up of comic book creators. Featured guests included Scott Snyder, Jim Steranko, Mark WaidPaul Levitz, Denny O’Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz.

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Panel Sessions

New York Comic Fest offered two simultaneous sets of panels throughout the single day of con. Sessions included:

The “Gender in Comics” panel.

The “Gender in Comics” panel with Ann Nocenti, Forrest Helvie, and Shawn Martinbrough, moderated by Christy Blanch.

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The “Archie Comics: Riverdale Lives” panel.

The “Archie Comics: Riverdale Lives” panel.

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The “Batman at 75: Then and Now” panel.

The “Batman at 75: Then and Now” panel with Paul Levitz, Scott Snyder, and Dennis O’Neil, moderated by Dan Greenfield.

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The “Marvel Days” panel.

The “Marvel Days” panel with Ann Nocenti, Peter B. Gillis, Rick Parker, and Jim Salicrup.

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The “Writing Comics” panel.

The “Writing Comics” panel with Dan Goldman, Dean Haspiel, Justin Gray, and Fred Van Lente, moderated by Hannah Means-Shannon.

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The “Animation All-Stars” panel.

The “Animation All-Stars” panel with J. J. Sedelmaier and Bob Camp, moderated by Craig Yoe.

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Jim Steranko and Paul Levitz on the work of Wally Wood.

The “Tribute to Wally Wood” panel with Jim Steranko and Paul Levitz, moderated by J. David Spurlock.

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Although seats were readily available for the panels in the morning or those focused on niche topics, other sessions, such as “Batman at 75,” played to a full house.

Many of the comic book creators were available throughout the day to sign their works. The line to get Scott Snyder’s signature extended far across the hall. Jim Sternanko also had a long line of fans seeking an autograph from the innovative artist. And Denny O’Neil had a crowd waiting for an autograph from the famed Silver Age writer and editor.

Cosplay contest.

The event’s closing activity was a costumed cosplay contest. In contrast to the crowded event at the recent Asbury Park Comic Con, the White Plains version was relatively subdued, perhaps due to the newness of the event in the area or the competition from the other pop culture cons in the area.

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Show producers Gilbreath and Bruce plan to expand their comic book related events for the coming year. They announced plans to expand Asbury Park Comic into East Coast Comic Con (or Comicon), to be held at New Jersey’s Meadowlands Expo Center in April, 2015. The move was driven by the desire to expand past 10,000 attendees, according to Bruce. Rather than subsuming the other comic cons produced by the team, Galbraith and Bruce stated they plan to return for a second New York Comic Fest and offer new Asbury Park cons in the future.

For a tour of New York Comic Fest 2014 in 170 photos, see the Flickr photo album: New York Comic Fest 2014.

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Comic-Con Incognito

Comic-Con Crowds

That Costumed Character Next to You May Be Your Favorite Celebrity

In addition to panel sessions, pop culture tchotchkes, and attendees parading around in costumes, Comic Cons also provide the opportunity to see celebrities. Movie and television studios bring major stars to events like Comic-Con International San Diego for appearances at stage presentations and panel sessions.

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Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter head to the IDW booth for a fan signing at San Diego Comic-Con 2013.

Given the free-wheeling nature of San Diego Comic-Con, celebrities also often mingle less formally with fans. There’s a good chance you’ll run into a movie or TV star in the corridors of the convention center, on the show floor, or in a hotel lobby.

You might get a wave from comic book impresario Stan Lee as he heads to his next appointment; or run into comedian, actor, and über-nerd Chris Hardwick on the show floor; or catch a glimpse of actor Gillian Anderson and X-Files creator Chris Carter as they head to their next autograph signing.

When celebrities want to surprise fans or peruse the show floor unimpeded, however, they sometimes follow the lead of many of the show’s attendees and don costumes.

When Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki in Marvel’s Thor and Avengers films, wanted to make a surprise appearance at Comic-Con International San Diego 2013, he knew word would quickly spread if he were spotted traveling to San Diego. “The hardest thing in our world now is to keep something so secret that it’s actually a surprise,” Hiddleston told the Los Angeles Times.

His solution: travel in costume. “I flew in to San Diego from London as Jango Fett from the ‘Star Wars’ films because I knew that if I was seen in San Diego there would be a picture on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, ‘I’ve just seen Thomas in the San Diego airport, I’ve just seen him in the hotel. He’s obviously here for “Thor 2.”‘”

Other celebrities use disguises to roam around the convention like regular attendees.

At the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con actor Jack Black was spotted walking around sporting a lucha libre wrestling mask.

Underneath a large Bart Simpson mask was Dr .Who star Matt Smith.

Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston strolled around San Diego Comic-Con that year disguised as… himself. Cranston wore a realistic mask of Walter White, the character he plays on Breaking Bad and revealed his true identify on the panel stage.

Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage turns his costumed adventures into a scavenger hunt for fans. Once disguised, he tweets hints about his costume and his whereabouts using the #AdamIncognito hashtag, awarding a prize to the first fan to discover his identity. His costumes in recent years have included a Ringwraith from The Lord of the Rings, the Rocketeer, No-Face from Spirited Away, and Star Wars characters Admiral Ackbar and Chewbacca.

In 2013 he also joined dozens of other fans who were disguised as Adam Savage himself.

So, as you’re jostling through the crowd on the show floor at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, be gracious to the next costumed character you run into. It just might be your favorite celebrity. Better yet — treat everyone as if they were a celebrity. At Comic-Con, they’re the real stars of the show.

 

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The Maltese Falcon: The Scene of the Crime

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Bush St. and Stockton St.

Bush St. and Stockton St.

Archer rolls down the dirt hill.

Archer rolls down the dirt hill.

The Maltese Falcon begins with the murder of Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer, a crime that takes place in a fog-shrouded San Francisco alley. As portrayed in John Houston’s 1941 film, however, the location of the murder seems rather puzzling.

After an establishing shot of a street sign — the intersection of Bush St. and Stockton St. — we see Archer’s feet walking along a dirt path. He turns to face the person he is meeting. A pistol enters the frame and fires at close range. Archer falls backward, breaks the wooden fence behind him and falls to the bottom of an earthen embankment.

Were it not for the street sign, the dirt path and bare hillside would suggest a lonely country road. When Archer’s partner Sam Spade arrives, however, we see the location from the reverse angle, with people peering out of apartment windows opposite the railing through which Archer fell. On the far side of the ditch is an urban cityscape. Where is this place?

The reverse shot shows the urban setting of the location.

The reverse shot shows the urban setting of the location.

Behind Spade and Polhaus, the ditch and the city skyline.

Behind Spade and Polhaus, the ditch and the city skyline.

The Dashiell Hammett novel on which the film is based is quite specific about the location. And, although the film was shot on a soundstage, the movie seeks to accurately recreate the locale.

Where Bush roofs Stockton.

Where Bush roofs Stockton.

“Where Bush Street roofed Stockton before slipping downhill to Chinatown, Spade paid his fare and left the taxicab,” Hammett wrote in the 1930 novel.

Spade exits his cab on Bush Street above the Stockton tunnel.

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The iron-railed stairs that lead down to Stockton St.

The iron-railed stairs that lead down to Stockton St.

“Spade crossed the sidewalk between iron-railed hatchways that opened above ugly stairs…”

The ugly stairs leading from Bush Street down to Stockton still remain.

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The McAlpin apartments on the west side of Stockton St.

The McAlpin apartments on the west side of Stockton St.

“Spade … went to the parapet, and, resting his hands on the damp coping…”

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A car exits the Stockton tunnel.

A car exits the Stockton tunnel.

“… looked down into Stockton Street. An automobile popped out of the tunnel beneath him with a roaring swish, as if it had been blown out, and ran away.”

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Burritt Street.

Burritt Street.

“Spade turned from the parapet and walked up Bush Street to the alley where men were grouped. A uniformed policeman chewing gum under an enameled sign that said Burritt St. … put out an arm and asked:

‘What do you want here?’

‘I’m Sam Spade. Tom Polhaus phoned me.’

‘Sure you are.’ The policeman’s arm went down. ‘I didn’t know you at first. Well, they’re back there.’ He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. ‘Bad business.’

‘Bad enough,’ Spade agreed, and went up the alley.”

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Looking south down Burritt St.

Looking south down Burritt St.

“Half-way up it, not far from the entrance a dark ambulance stood.”

This is the alley where Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, was shot down. The expanding urban environment has altered the location since 1928 when The Maltese Falcon takes place. The McAlpin apartments on the west side of Stockton Street and the east side of the alley didn’t then extend as far north as they do today. In their place was an embankment that led down from Burritt Street to billboards that lined the entrance to the Stockton tunnel.

This was the dirt hillside where Archer’s body fell that fateful night. Although the northern extension of the McAlpin apartments has replaced the rustic hillside, little else has changed in over eight decades. You can still follow in the footsteps of Samuel Spade to the scene of the crime that enmeshed him in the search for the killer and began the quest for the jewel-encrusted statue of a falcon.

The 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon plays at the County Theater in Doylestown, PA, on June 11; the Ambler Theater in Ambler, PA on June 12; and the Hiway Theater in Jenkintown, PA, on June 19: http://www.renewtheaters.org/blog/films/maltese-falcon/

Images from The Maltese Falcon are from a copyrighted film, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the film’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

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Seeing the World Differently

'Optical Investigations' by Madeline Rile Smith

Art Exhibitions by Madeline Rile Smith and Morgan Gilbreath

If one of the aims of art is to allow us to see our world differently, two recent exhibitions at Impact Hub Philadelphia — Madeline Rile Smith’s Chromesthesia and Morgan Gilbreath’s Consecration – achieve that goal. Both artists are completing their Bachelor of Fine Arts at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and their exhibitions, in different ways, let us view our environment from new perspectives.

Chromesthesia

In Impact Hub’s first floor gallery, glass artist Madeline Rile Smith displayed her works “Optical Investigations” and “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra.”

Optical Investigations” consists of a series of bulbous, fruit-like glass shapes that function as lenses to refract and distort the viewer’s perspective. In her exhibition statement, Rile Smith describes her fascination with “the optical potential of hollow glass” and her desire “to test the optical limits of borosilicate glass by creating ‘altered’ lenses made by shaping the surface of the glass.”

'Romanze for Viola and Orchestra' by Madeline Rile Smith

Detail from “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra” by Madeline Rile Smith.

While “Optical Investigations” alters the visible world, “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra” makes manifest an unseen world. A person with sound-color synesthesia, or chromesthesia, sees music as swirls of color. Rile Smith’s “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra” freezes in glass her aural experience of hearing Max Bruch’s concert piece of the same name. The series of spindly glass shapes hanging from the ceiling captures the physical form of her auditory experience. “‘Romanze for Viola and Orchestra’ is my attempt to illustrate the experience of remembering a piece of music,” Rile Smith writes. “The first few notes of the viola solo are depicted here in glass forms, floating through space.”

To complement the glass construction, the exhibit included a banner with the musical score of the work, enhanced by splashes of color. To complete the scene, musician Caeli Smith performed on the violin, playing unaccompanied Bach along with a brief rendition of the solo from the Bruch Romanze transcribed for the violin. As her notes filled the air on one side of gallery, across the room Rile Smith’s sculpture solidified the melody in glass.

Consecration

'Amass' by Morgan Gilbreath

“Amass” by Morgan Gilbreath.

In the second floor gallery, Morgan Gilbreath’s Consecration provided a perspective on a different aspect of our environment — the life of the street. Gilbreath’s pieces are constructed from the detritus of the urban environment: old sales receipts, fragments of shattered glass, and paper dust from a Bible factory. Her works reshape these discarded items into objects with devotional overtones.

Amass” is a tower of stacked cash register receipts standing roughly seven feet tall. The height of the work communicates the volume of discarded paper from these found and collected receipts. The work’s shape — with the receipts arrayed in order from longest at the base to shortest at the top — graphs the distribution of the length of modern register receipts (which seem to be getting ridiculously long lately). “I didn’t want to plan or control the form of the sculpture too much,” Gilbreath explained in an email,  ”so I decided to let the receipts I received dictate the form that was created.” Assembled together, the discarded pieces form an impressive totemic tower. The work’s title, “Amass,” cleverly echoes both the scale of the work and its spiritual thrust.

Auras (No. 1-15)” are comprised of cleaned and fused collections of glass shards found on the street. Each of the fifteen pieces documents their location on the Philadelphia streets — Tenth and Norris, Tenth and Diamond, etc. Here, the works made from these fragments of refuse appear as jeweled amulets or crystalline geodes.

Corner by Morgan Gilbreath

“Corner” by Morgan Gilbreath.

Corner” consists of a pile of paper dust collected from the ventilation system of a Bible factory. It’s industrial trash, the side effect of manufacturing sacred texts. Yet, the pile of pure white paper fibers asks us to consider whether the spirituality of the Bible lies in its words or in its physical presence.

Prayer Crate” similarly presents the sacred in the form of the mundane. The work casts liturgical candles into the utilitarian shape of a milk crate, an object frequently seen discarded in trash piles around Philadelphia — or repurposed as book shelves by students and others.

'Auras' by Morgan Gilbreath

Detail from “Auras (No. 1-15)” by Morgan Gilbreath.

Gilbreath’s works do more than merely convert trash into aesthetic objects. She finds something spiritual in these assemblages of discarded materials. “There are great similarities between the moment that an everyday object becomes sacred or holy and the moment something becomes art,” she writes. “A priest’s actions turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. An artist’s gestures and intentions can transfigure anything into a work of art.”

In The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, philosopher and historian of religions Mircea Eliade describes “the abyss that divides the two modalities of experience — the sacred and the profane.” Through her art, Gilbreath seeks to construct a bridge across that abyss.

For photo albums of both exhibitions, see:

 

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