Comic book conventions have gone through a few different iterations since I've been attending them since (gasp) the mid '90s. I've seen them morph from niche, comic-centric affairs in hotel basements to popular media-saturated extravaganzas held in some of the largest indoor and outdoor spaces in the world. Both can be great, and I find that I've enjoyed both in equal measure, because comic conventions give fans a chance to celebrate the things that they love and interact with others in what, at its best, is a welcoming environment.
I think that some conventions are still trying to find their way back from the pandemic, which affected, among other things, the ways in which we think about crowded spaces. The New York Comic Con is a good example of this, I think, as over the last decade it has been an incredibly well attended show both in terms of overall engagement as well as in the sense of let's see how many people we can possibly fit into this space at once time. I've said this before, but one of the big differences between NYCC and the San Diego Comic-Con is simply that there's a lot of room to spread out in San Diego, and in New York, you pretty much have the Javits Center to work with.
2023 was another big year for the show in New York, but there were some changes at the convention that I think were at least curious, and perhaps were a sign of different things to come in the future.
I attended the show on both Friday and Sunday, so I didn't see everything that happened over the four-day event. When I was there, it didn't seem like there were quite as many vendors as in some previous years (certainly pre-covid), but it was the placement of these vendors that really stood out to me, and in particular, how this affected the show's artist alley.
Artist alley at NYCC has always been a weird experience, at least for me. In years past, the show has experimented with the area's location. Before the convention center's recent renovation, you'd have to walk through the main hall and down a corridor before entering the artist alley location, and because of this, it always seemed to me that this was a separate part of the show. During and since the renovation, artist alley has been on the bottom floor of the main hall, which has produced good, bad and weird experiences.
One of the things that stood out to me about the main exhibit floor at NYCC was the lack of major comic publishers. Marvel had its regular spot, but I didn't find booths for publishers like Dark Horse, Image/Skybound or DC (which, to be fair, would sometimes show up in previous years and sometimes not). Smaller publishers like MadCave Studios and Z2 did have spots on the show floor, but not seeing many of the larger comic book publishers was a little strange. Was the cost of a premium booth that prohibitive for a big publisher? Did it finally get to the point of diminishing returns?
When I went downstairs to the artist alley section, I found IDW parked at the entrance of the floor, with a smaller and relatively pared-down version of what their booth has been in the past. ComiXology, if I remember correctly, was in this spot or a similar one in 2022.
I walked through the aisles and something else stood out to me. Calling pretty much any comic book creator famous is pretty relative, of course, but there were more than a few well-known current and former creators in spaces that used to be occupied by independent and up-and-coming creators. Chris Claremont, the popular X-Men writer, for example, had a booth in artist alley this year. Seemingly whole rows were bought up by studios or agents, so every artist in a given space had the same representation and the same backdrop.
I think that this was a result of fewer publishers on the main floor. Where in the past, A-list creators would spend their time on the show floor, signing books and doing interviews at publisher booths, their best opportunity to sell some of their books and art this year was to set up in artist alley. This, I think, had the unintended consequence of squeezing out some of the lesser-known and more independent creators. This might not seem like a big deal, but I know that a lot of lesser-known creators use shows like NYCC to become...better-known creators, and I can't help but feel that the whole industry benefits when someone with talent and drive but not a lot of hype is able to show off his or her stuff at a big industry show like the one in New York.
Another consequence, and one that I'll gloss over fairly quickly, is that prices in artist alley this year were pretty steep. I don't begrudge any creator for getting paid as much as he or she can. But I saw some folks selling headshot sketches for $400 (and more) at tables and man, there was some sticker shock on my part. Again, if an artist can get that, I certainly don't begrudge him or her for it. But "well, I guess I won't be getting anything here" was a common refrain for me over the weekend.
I hope that there's a better balance in the future, where artist alley can really be a place where professionals and hopefuls can meet and collaborate. I think it's best for the industry. There's a place for a company like IDW at any show, I think, but I don't think it's taking up space in artist alley. And if companies like Dark Horse and Image choose to skip a big show like NYCC, then I think it's fair to question whether or not the show is really representing the industry as best it can.
Hey, let's look at a few pictures I took at the show!
The signing was on the upper floor of the comic shop, so everyone had to move through the small space pretty quickly, but I still enjoyed getting to do this little event away from the convention center, and everyone in line got a new ashcan comic just for being there. It was a great experience.