Written by Russ Dobler
When Marvel’s The Avengers assembled a $1.5 billion box office in 2012 to become the third highest-grossing movie of all time—trailing only the James Cameron epics Titanic and Avatar—it became undeniable that comic book culture had gone mainstream. The superheroic feat was the culmination of a trend that had been hulking up for years. A staggering 130,000 people attended Comic-Con International in 2010, far removed from the event’s humble beginnings as San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Minicon in 1970, when the original convention drew only 100 fans. The success of San Diego’s annual event has inspired similar gatherings elsewhere, including the New York Comic Con (NYCC) that covers every inch of the 1.8 million square foot Javits Center in Manhattan each October, with a “Super Week” of city-wide functions planned to precede the main event this year.
But, as the geeks creep in, rather than slink into the shadows, the dominant media takes advantage. Comic-Con International has become a regular stop for movie and television studios to peddle their wares, including the less-than-fantastic ones. The 2010 edition featured a panel devoted to action star mash-up film, The Expendables 2. In 2012, NYCC offered advice on how to break into the video game industry. As these events grow to encompass more wide-ranging material, the comics that initially inspired them seem to become increasingly marginalized.
Enter Special Edition: NYC, swooping in to the rescue. ReedPOP, the organizers of NYCC, brought the inaugural convention devoted solely to comic books to the Javits Center on June 14 and 15 and, while you could still see the floor between people’s footsteps, there was no lack of enthusiasm or available activities. Around 300 different creators filled the rows of artist alley, allowing attendees to meet and greet their favorites, including superstar artist Frank Cho and legendary X-Men scribe, Chris Claremont. Some panels proved to be almost too popular, as “Marvel’s Next Big Thing” had to turn dozens away.
Still, those in attendance—“the purest form of fans,” a ReedPOP staffer said—were appreciative of the opportunity to indulge their hobby in a more comfortable atmosphere and spend one-on-one time with the artists.
— Frank Frimpong-Manso (@FFMXero) June 15, 2014
— Jamie S. Rich (@jamieESrich) June 16, 2014
Funnily enough, despite comic content holding court over pop culture, sales of the periodicals themselves have dropped dramatically over the decades. According to Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest wholesaler in North America, the highest-selling comic book in May of 2014 couldn’t even reach 150,000 copies, a drop of about 30% from the same month 10 years ago. Looking at the top 10 collectively doesn’t make the picture any rosier, as that group included more than 1.3 million units in May of 2004, but only about 970,000 last month.
The market’s been worse, though, as overall sales of single issues and graphic novels have begun to inch back in recent years, making up for losses suffered since 2009. It’s also important to note that Diamond figures do not include the sales of digital comics, a growing segment of the industry that promises to draw increasingly more attention with stories geared specifically for the medium, such as Marvel’s Infinite Comics that employ panel transitions that couldn’t be achieved in print form.
ReedPOP and NYCC are banking that those gains will continue and we’ll see a four-color renaissance in the coming years. Perhaps the existence of Special Edition: NYC will itself invigorate lapsed fans and maybe even bring some new ones into the fold. While official attendance numbers have not yet been released, they’ve definitely got a leg up on the 100 fans from that first mini-con in San Diego. To be continued in next year’s exciting installment, True Believers!
CC photo credits: Special Edition NYC and No Robots Photography