My oldest son is just one of those kids. I knew it from the time he drew his first archaic rendition of Sonic the Hedgehog in Kindergarten, with balled up fists and huge sneakers and a massive mohawk blasting from his head like a buzz saw blade. He was going to be a comic book nerd.
Sure enough, as a 5th grader, his walls aren’t plastered with posters of Aaron Judge, Russell Wilson or LeBron James. Instead, the floors of every room in the house are littered with comics, graphic novels and animated coffee table tomes of every size. Waaaaaay too many to shelve, stacked in piles on every available surface. Everything from Wolverine to Wimpy Kid. Batman to Big Nate. Doctor Strange to Doctor Suess.
As soon as school ended this past summer, I brought Eli and his little brother to check out Zombie Planet, a local comics and fantasy gaming store, for the first time. It was hilarious. They were blown away, tripping around the place all pie-eyed in an almost solemn “At last we are here, in the promised land” daze, scooping up all the comics, posters and action figures they could physically carry to the register. At check out, they spotted some flyers promoting a local Comic Con and asked if they could go, but we had other commitments that weekend. Plus, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about these events. Hey, I love comics. Played some D & D as a kid. But I had basically let a single SNL sketch with William Shatner in 1986 form my whole opinion on comic book conventions, and sitting here over 30 years later (!!!) all I could promise was that I’d try to see if there were other comics-related things we could do. It’s been a real thrill watching the boys discover a vastly more populated superhero universe than I remembered, but let’s face facts; up until recently I thought Cosplay was a wholesale grocery warehouse.
One July morning after a horrible cup of coffee I happened to be on The Facebooger and saw the NYC Comic Con was coming to the Javits Center in October. “Javits?” I thought. “That place is huge. How many people actually go to this thing every year?” If my conscience’s omniscient alter ego was sitting on my shoulder that morning he would have said, “Oh dude you have absolutely NO freakin’ idea how many.” But he didn’t. And we hadn’t been to NYC as a family in a while, so I got us four passes, booked a hotel and that was that. Needless to say, the kids went nuts when they found out.
Now, we’re the type of family that is willing to pretty much wing it when it comes to trying new things. This is not because we are bold, adventurous or appreciate spontaneity as a family bonding exercise. It’s really just an acceptance piece, the family norm because we are completely overbooked and careening from the workweek, sports, scouts, rehearsals, board meetings, etc. to guerrilla-mode weekend commitments like some schizophrenic-but-acutely-calendar-oriented chief of staff to, say, Satan. So when it came to NYCC, I was pretty impressed that I could even navigate the complex process of obtaining Sunday passes.
I guess this is the first thing I’d tell a newcomer, especially if they’re a Gen X’er like me – part of that final generation of humans who remember standing in line to buy tickets or calling the “box office.” It’s not a big deal, but it’s also not like you hop on Ticketmaster, punch in the credit card and off you go with an e-ticket. Your contact information must be “fan verified,” a procedure that generates a unique link mailed to you for assigning each badge to a specific human (have their emails at the ready unless they’re kids). You don’t need to create a Fan Ver account for each email address, but if you don’t you miss access to lotteries, exclusives, and other perks. Not that we even had a chance to comprehend how any of that stuff works. Then you have to wait for the badges to come in the mail after a certain release date, so AARP-pending people like me actually have to (a) remember they ordered them in the first place and (b) not accidentally toss them in trash with the junk mail. Badges are coded and linked to each attendee, so I imagine losing them would be a huge pain for the sufferer. This whole process was lengthy and generated a shit-ton of spam, but at day’s end it was pretty seamless. The organizers and their vendors have this stuff down cold, and who cares, right? First world problems.
Friday and Saturday badges sold out quickly so we had to go with Sunday. This was a small downer since many of the celebrities I knew my kids wanted to meet – Sean Astin, Paul Rudd, Billy Dee Williams – appeared on those days. Not that we would have time to meet Paul Ruebens (Pee Wee Herman) or any of the Sunday stars either, so let me get back to the main point here for other newcomers, which is this:
This is not a “wing-it” event. Not even close. There’s just too much happening, not just on the show floor but at satellite venues like the Hammerstein Ballroom and the Hulu Theater at MSG, and there’s no way to make that stuff work without planning. Especially with kids who get hungry, thirsty, have to pee every half hour, lose their plastic weapons, suddenly want to go barefoot… you get the idea. Sure, we browsed the events schedule, ogled the celebrity attendees, gave a quick glance at the floor plan and all, but honestly we spent more time on Yelp deciding where to eat breakfast than figuring out what to do once we got inside the venue. This was a mistake, because in addition to the huge number of program options for attendees, every square inch of that 840,000 square feet of exhibit space was filled by either a human, a vendor or a special event. There were over 210,000 people registered for the four-day affair, and at any time there were at least 50,000 people in the place. Looking down on it from a higher level was like looking at a massive swarm of bees in some immense Longsreth-frame hive. For what seemed like at least an hour the humanity was literally overwhelming, like we were experiencing culture shock in our home state. We were so gobsmacked that we couldn’t even speak to each other (a rarity), and once you’re in that situation – especially with young kids who could disappear in the blink of an eye – good luck making sense of the little map you get by the metal detectors.
So by now you might be saying, “Geez dude, you’re kind of an idiot and as a result it sounds like you had a really crappy time.” Incorrect! At least about that last part. Once the sensory overload wore off, we settled in and worked the show floor, booth-by-booth. Highlights for the kids included getting to sample high-end digital drawing and animation software, checking out the new Stranger Things “Dead by Daylight” game for PS4, meeting Sergeant Slaughter (couldn’t bring myself to pay what they wanted for a pic) and, lest I forget, the Funko Pop booth. The Funko universe enchants most kids like a Fortnite-themed sleepover, and their vendor space was the size of a small third world country, so I really wish I made an effort to understand the NYCC Lottery better. Or even a little. Foolishly, I thought we were entering to win one of the figures from Funko’s NYCC Exclusives, so picture my half-witted surprise when I received the email announcing me as a winner of a special edition Tony Stark Endgame figure, when all I really won was a ticket for an opportunity to buy it for $22.00. Still, there were plenty of rare offerings and exclusives for sale from past Cons, and we were all geeking out on the sheer volume of it all. That’s really the theme for NYCC: complete and total overkill, sensory bombardment, Rimbaud’s systematized derangement of the senses. Ike could have killed the whole day at Booth #722 with just a bottled water and a Hershey bar, but onward we marched.
We also randomly met Brian O’Halloran, who played Dante in Clerks. He was just sitting at a booth talking to people as if he was working for one of the vendors. Sort… of… like… a… clerk. Ahem. The kids had no clue who he was and I’m not gonna let them watch the movie until they’re at least 37 so we moved on quickly from that neat little fringe perk for yours truly.
From there, we very slowly (like, watching-grass-grow slowly) made for the Artist Gallery, where Eli hoped to meet one of his Mad Magazine heroes, Tom Richmond. Wish granted. He’s usually pretty chatty with adults, but the boy folded like Toys R Us in the presence of his idol, or as he puts it, “The guy who drew Strangely Thin,” the Mad spoof of Stranger Things. Luckily, Tom was super friendly for it being the final day of the event (some of the artists get a little grouchy by Sunday I’m told), and he also has freakishly huge biceps. I don’t know why I care, but they are absurdly obvious, like two medicine balls in an apple tree. He graciously signed all of Eli’s magazines and offered him sound advice on cartooning: “Never, ever stop drawing. Draw in your sleep if you can,” he said. This call to meet the challenges of rigor was echoed by every artist he met, and there were dozens.
Last thing to mention is the cosplay. Unbelievable. Five square city blocks, right up through Times Square, were completely overrun with superheroes, cartoon legends and classic movie stars. Had we not been so awestruck I would have more pictures of the kids bunched into group shots. I missed a great one of Eli in the main entrance with 20 other Spidermen of all shapes, colors and sizes, but was able to make up for it with some great “action” shots of the boys with arch enemies. The vibe was so inclusive, everyone we met was incredibly cool, just happy to be there with their own kind. Everyone got a hero’s welcome from complete strangers. It was a great lesson in kindness, generosity and community for the kids, even in the midst of all that swirling chaos.
Overall, we had an amazing day and we’ll be back with lessons learned. We spent an absolutely disgusting amount of money, and that cost will probably triple if we do NYCC 2020 the right way, but well worth it. Not the type of joint you’d pursue to relax necessarily (our family DNA doesn’t seem to be coded for that) but not bad for truth, justice and the American way.
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