More on the New York Comic-Con Fiasco

More people are posting coverage of the problems with the New York show. Here’s a piece discussing the “frightening mismanagement” of a show that wouldn’t let in prepaid visitors and refused to offer on-site refunds, instead demanding requests be mailed in while saying “Refunds are not guaranteed.” That’s just asking for legal action, and the conspiracy theories are already beginning (from the same piece):

I find it quite suspect that despite a supposed impromptu visit from the fire marshall and the building being over capacity being blamed for the fiasco, that an otherwise completely inept event staff just happened to have rejection/refund forms all printed and ready on official New York Comic Con stationary. Factor in that many poor souls were directed to the website (which as of the time of this writing has no relevant information whatsoever) and the few that did get the letters were not informed to get a required signature from a staff member, it almost seems a deliberate money grab on the part of Reed Exhibitions (the event staff).

It would be very easy to suspect that they intentionally oversold the prepaid tickets (their worthlessness was blamed on a website error), packed the venue with fans coming in off the street very early on, then will most likely pocket the fees collected from both vendors and fans who were given incorrect or incomplete refund information. They could potentially even fleece those of us who did get the letter signed and mail in all of the required paperwork. The letter clearly states that refunds would not even begin to be processed until April and that two billing period wiggle room would place the transaction out of the 90 day limit for better business bureau complaints.

There’s also a thread at the Engine (links no longer available) with the following interesting bits.

Chris Arrant refers to Newsarama coverage I couldn’t easily locate that claims refunds were given out

Ray Cornwall also had a terrible experience with a non-existent promised shuttle

Neil Kleid reports on professional guests afraid to leave for meetings for fear of being unable to get back (and I want to know why Peter Scolari, a long-time favorite, was there)

Ralf Haring never got in and says “the comic con only had half the bottom floor. Hindsight is 20/20, but I must seriously question how the convention organizers could have so severely underestimated the amount of people who would show.”

Marc Bernadin thinks it was all part of a plan that went awry

It’s amazing to me that writers and artist weren’t let in for scheduled signing times and people who went to appear on panels were then denied entry back to their booths. That has little to do with overcrowding and more to do with poor staffing and organization. It’s even more surprising to me that people are saying “well, it will be better next year” and already planning to come back. Like Tom Spurgeon, I will be curious to see how the official sources spin this.

Update: Comic news sites are responding as follows:

Newsarama has an article on the crowding, with figures of 4-6000 people turned away and a number of fan and retailer reactions. (They also have angry fans posting comments about how ripped-off they feel.)

Comic Book Resources reprints the blurb from the show site saying that tickets will not be sold on Sunday.

The Pulse has no article on the issue that I can find at this posting time.

The Beat (links no longer available), a paid consultant to the show, has a few show pictures, none showing Saturday’s crowding, and this blurb (the following is the complete post):

We’re live blogging from the show floor and the word is: CROWDS! If you’re thinking of coming down to the show later, you will probably have to sneak your way in because the show is SOLD OUT. It’s crazy! New Yorkers love comics…who knew?

Since I posted, the Beat has put up more analysis, starting off “Saturday of the New York Comic-Con was probably the most disastrous day in recent convention history” but emphasizing how “cheerful” people were and how “things had calmed” Saturday afternoon and ending by calling it a “raging success”.

Update 2: I don’t envy Heidi. She’s in a tough spot balancing her work for the show and expectations of her readers, and I think she’s right to concentrate on what she does well: pictures framed in unexpected ways and lightly cynical comments.


38 Responses to “More on the New York Comic-Con Fiasco”

  1. Stuart Moore Says:

    Well, I fled by two o’clock and it was indeed scary-crowded. I don’t know about the refund situation, but yes, professionals were having a hard time getting back to their booths, and it was very hard to walk down the narrow aisles.

    But I think the reason people are talking about coming back is that, despite the problems, the mood at this show was really good. It was probably the best con I’ve ever seen in terms of balancing DC/Marvel, small presses, and manga — everyone was represented in exhibition space and panels. You really got a sense of a vibrant, diverse industry without some of the usual sniping among the different camps. (That’s something I’ve noticed in the NY cartooning community, too — a lot of the indy guys actually like superheroes & do occasional DC & Marvel work, for instance.)

    And there’s really nothing wrong with this show that twice the space and wider aisles wouldn’t solve. Which doesn’t excuse the problems, but might explain why people are thinking about coming back next year.

    Best,
    Stuart

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for a more positive take on events, Stuart. That’s a perspective that hasn’t yet been seen much in responding to the show. (Probably because people who had a terrible time or couldn’t even get in are more likely to rush back to their computers and share their experience, while people who are enjoying the show are there now. :) )

  3. Spike Says:

    I left at 3pm only cause I made the mistake of leaving the exhibition floor to listen to a panel and came back and found out they weren’t letting people in. Luckily I had arrived by 10:30 that morning and was on the floor for about 3 hours. I do have to say when I did get there in the morning, it was harder to find a staff member then it is to find WMD’s in IRAQ. AND…when you did find a staff member, they were not very helpful to point you in the direction of the right line you needed to be in.

  4. Pro View on the NY Con » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Greenberger has posted his take on the New York Comic-Con problems. Good analysis, including this surprising figure. we had a blast despite all the technical [...]

  5. Ralf Haring Says:

    As noted, I didn’t actually get into the show, but I would still consider going next year. They just need more floor space as well as better line management. The newsarama article with the con manager had him basically supplicating himself and saying everything I wanted to hear.

  6. Stuart Moore Says:

    Good point — the first people you hear from are going to be the ones who couldn’t get in.

    And hey — I had a good time, but I’m not going near there again today. :)

    Best,
    Stuart

  7. Jeff Says:

    I definitely agree re the danger of legal action, and I’m surprised that no one foresaw this.

    Overselling is pretty standard given the vagaries of attendance flow; in fact, not to oversell a certain amount would be poor planning. However, when you do so you also account for the Fire Code & plan for worst (or best) case scenarios. This is particularly important in a state like New York, where a lawyer recently won a lawsuit after getting bumped from an oversold flight.

    Let’s hope that in the case of the NYCC cooler heads prevail, so the focus can be on planning for the future instead of settling scores. At the very least as a goodwill gesture to offset the inconvenience, organizers might want to think about giving discount coupons for next year to people who bought advance tickets.

    –Jeff

  8. Rich Johnston Says:

    Heidi doesn’t seem to be doing any balancing at all. Looks like business as usual for her, reporting NY as she would any con. And better than most. Any extra keenness seems more to do with home turf than any consultancy.

  9. Tim Callahan Says:

    My wife and I enjoyed ourselves for the few hours we were there, but it seems like we timed everything correctly (by accident), so we didn’t face what most visitors faced. I posted a report on my new GeniusboyFiremelon blog: geniusboyfiremelon.blogspot.com

  10. Robert Morales Says:

    It’s hardly a secret that Heidi’s a paid consultant for the Con – she’d mentioned it in The Beat long before the event. She’s one of the few true journalists to cover comics and, considering the bullshit that’s allowed to run unchecked in the industry, instead of “not envying” her, you should be grateful for how fair she keeps her exhaustive coverage. As anyone who’s worked with her knows: Heidi can be paid, but she can’t be bought.

  11. Johanna Says:

    We must have interpreted the post I linked to differently, or you’re reading something into my comments that isn’t there. I picked up on her comment that no matter what she said, someone would see bias even if none was there. That was the part I don’t envy.

    I hope to see a lot more coverage of this convention from her, because I’ve enjoyed reading her take on similar events.

  12. dave roman Says:

    I was at my table all day on Saturday and it was located in the back of the convention center. So I missed a lot of the chaos. But heard lots of people sharing stories. It was weird. People were mad…but also pretty excited by it all.
    And yet everyone admitted “Still tiny compared to Comic-Con”

  13. Heidi M. Says:

    Bob — thank you for your exceptionally kind comments. And Johanna, thanks as well. After I’ve gotten some sleep (first time in weeks) I’ll be sorting things out. I would like to point out one thing — everyone who couldn’t get in went home and posted a rightfully angry post on the internet. The people who got inside were mostly having a good time and enjoying the insanity of it all.

  14. Barry Says:

    I’m not much into cons, but I thought this could be fun, since it’s in my own backyard. But man, I’m so glad I didn’t bother going. I think I’ll stick to MOCCA as my one and only comics con….

  15. Johanna Says:

    Dave, interesting perspective. I hope all the hoopla meant a good show for you.

    Heidi, yeah, it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy — the bad news gets out first.

    Barry, I’ve GOT to get to MOCCA this year!

  16. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    Still processing the whole weekend, but I have to say, despite its problems, only the most cynical could declare the Con anything but a huge success. We had a pretty good spot on the floor (middle aisle, approx. 1/3 of the way in, next to Midtown Comics and across from ADV) and saw good-to-overwhelming crowds passing by all three days. My indie roundtable panel was reasonably well-attended (approx 40-50 people) and almost every creator I talked throughout the weekend had positive things to say, especially from a business perspective. One of the things that was pointed out most consistently was an industry presence, especially on Thursday — ie: librarians, bookstore reps, mainstream publishers — that most Cons lack. I’d say the missteps Reed made were in underestimating the fanbase that would attend, hedging their bets by playing it safe with a smaller space. Once all the initial furor dies down, I think rational minds will see this as being a huge step forward for the industry.

  17. hcduvall Says:

    The con I attended comparable to this NY one was about 13 years ago, and I had a mostly good time when I was on the floor, and the attendance means a great big show can be had in NY. But that said, the point is that a lot of the mistakes in how this show was run were completely foresseable and just shouldn’t have happened. Sponsors, exhibitors, and pre-registered fans were in the same line in the morning as walk-in ticket buyers- this before the problems caused by the sell-out and crowds. There weren’t enough of the typo-ridden programs to go around (and I couldn’t get into the hall, and decided “oh, I’ll go to another panel.” I couldn’t find them, ’cause the program updates were on posters in the no-go sections of the floor).

    I don’t want this to be a back and forth good time/bad time, and nitpicking (like my typo comment), but its indicative of some major bad planning to me. This isn’t just dealing with the crowds, this is basic stuff to running any sort of con, even trade ones.

  18. Kathy P. Says:

    My husband and I went and by several strokes of luck, managed to see Joe Quesada’s session and got onto the floor before the state troopers came. We didn’t see everybody we wanted to – couldn’t manage staying long enough to try and figure out where they were. I managed to run into Maggie Thompson of CBG and she was amazed at the size of the crowds – and she’s been to San Diego, too. The crowds rivaled San Diego because they were put in a much smaller space. If the Con hadn’t shared the Javitz Center with Jeopardy tryouts and a travel show, it might have been a lot easier to manuever. I’m hoping they consult with other groups – Wizard and Wonder Con, as well as with the “International Comicon” or whatever they call San Diego now….

  19. Rachel Kadushin Says:

    Despite the convention floor being about one half to one third the size of the San Deigo Comic Con International, there were enough booths with publishers and creators there that the fans attending in the dealer’s room suffered from information overload.

    The crowds meant that many of the people behind the tables stayed there, and I never had to wait more than 2 minutes in the bathroom before getting in a stall (they had bathrooms in the front and the back of the hall).

    We did get calls that even exhibtors were having trouble getting back in the room, but the really persistant ones did — although one guy had to wait for a half hour with his parents (who came to visit him and got exhibtor badges).

    I was in the back with the CAG group which included Phil Clark, Rich B of Sentinels among others. Honestly, the indies didn’t sell a lot of their books… and again that might have been because it was the first time a lot of the attendess ever saw indies.. but everyone felt they got lots of exposure.

    The indie party that Phil and CAG organized at a near by upstairs loft of a bar had the feeling of those great Heroes Con parties where everyone is there mingling, talking and chatting. There was a book display table in the loft, and lots of artists hanging out in the downstairs area drawing in each others books until 11pm or later. I got there around 9pm when many of the press had already left for the next party, but there were still a few indie reporters there, and had a great time.

    Not so much of either the movies people or the toy licensing people on Friday, but lots of librarians — and getting your books in libraries is a good way to build a following and get to the next step.

    I’d be interested in finding out if anyone has direct sucess stories. For me it was being able to promote my stuff and hoping that some of the people I gave comics and DVDs to will report about them or add to the word of mouth. Library orders would be cool, too.

    On Sunday I had a great time talking to April Doster at Desperado Comics, a company with great talent and good production that needs to get more press attention and sales.

    Anything that helps grow the industry is probably a good thing, but I do agree that the convention should probably had more of a sevice approach to the people who couldn’t get in — like adding a last minute Sat night party for them– there’s plenty of places in Manhattan for that!

  20. Clive Young Says:

    I went Friday during the professional hours and the floor was fairly busy. Once they opened the doors to the public at 4, floor traffic got downright heavy, making it obvious that the next day would be a madhouse. While I had a great time both Friday and Saturday (likely because I spent most of my time over at the panels where there was room to breathe), the organizers only had to look at Friday’s turnout, extrapolate a bit and know that they were in for a disaster the next day. Despite the madness on Saturday, I think it was a well-thought out show. The panels were on the money–intelligent offerings that weren’t merely hype sessions (well, too much). The “There’s Nothing Funny About Getting Sued” panel–which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere–was especially smart programming.

  21. FORT90.com Says:

    [...] Perhaps I shouldn’t even bother, since anyone who is in comics has probably already had their fill of show talk, bitching, and spinning from the mountain of blog reports and all the other forms of coverage that the show has produced. But since 90% of the folks reading this particular blog is into video games, I may as well give my two cents. And like everyone else, I too feel that the show was both a tremendous success and a cluster-fuck of epic proportions. [...]

  22. Johanna Says:

    Guy, San Diego, among others, has a lot of librarian presence. And to steal a point from Tom Spurgeon and FORT90, it’s not all-or-nothing, either-or… the show could be successful at serving those who got in while still being terribly mismanaged for those who were locked out. (If you’ll forgive the personal note, I think it’s beneath you to try and preempt discussion by using loaded words like “cynical” and “rational” to try and discredit those pointing out the show’s problems.) It’s not surprising that panels were so well-attended — a large number of attendees had nothing else to do.

    Clive, was Keiron Dwyer on that panel? Wasn’t he the one who tried to do that Starbucks parody comic?

  23. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    I’m not saying it’s an all-or-nothing thing, and I’m trying to pre-empt any discussion. I think we both know there’s a ton of irrational responses to the event being put out there right now, on both sides of the coin. I was simply boiling down the pros and cons and offering my opinion that, taken as a whole, the pros won out in the end.

    I was there all three days, so I know firsthand the problems people had. Getting in on Friday morning had its own hiccups, and I had trouble getting in on Saturday morning because I was running late and didn’t get there until almost Noon. That was with both a professional and a press badge, so I know regular attendees got a raw deal. A couple of creators appearing at our booth had trouble getting onto the exhibition floor, too. As it was, I never left the floor once I got there for fear of not getting back in and didn’t catch a single panel on Saturday, and I’ve seen several reports that attendance was low on Saturday for several of the high-profile panels because it was taking so long to get people into the show. (Sunday flowed a lot more smoothly, which is when my two panels were.)

    At the same time, I saw thousands of people file past our booth, and mingled with thousands more as I walked the floor each day, and the mood inside was generally positive and upbeat. Of course the people who didn’t get in are in an uproar. I would be, too. But rational people look at both sides of a story and make their judgements on the big picture, and that was my point.

    As I said here and more specifically on my blog, the problems with the event were purely logistical and easy to fix, and I’m confident Reed will get it right next year. Even with their problems this year, though, I’ll take them over a Wizard produced event any day.

    As for San Diego, having never been I can only speak anecdotally, but I’m willing to bet that most creators would say being the main attraction here in NY was much better than being lost in the sideshow comics have become out there. Several indie creators have said the Friday trade-only period was actually the best part of the show for them, because they’d made industry contacts they hadn’t imagined making beforehand.

  24. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    LOL! Of course, that should say: “…I’m not trying to pre-empt any discussion.”

  25. Johanna Says:

    I’m not sure “I won’t go back because I got nothing for my money and they wouldn’t give me a refund” is irrational, myself, but I suppose that depends on how promptly Reed makes things right with the people who paid for tickets and didn’t get in.

    I also disagree that the problems are “easy to fix” based on what some people have said about the inherent limitations of the Javits center and how hard it is to book the space needed in the right timeframe.

    You might have a different opinion if you had been to San Diego. I’ve only gone twice in ten years, but it handles many more people in a much more professional fashion.

  26. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    You obviously didn’t read through the NEWSarama thread. ;-)

    As for San Diego, that’s a bit of an unfair comparison, no? How long has that Con been around? And was it originated in anywhere near as bright a spotlight as NYCC?

    I’m not trying to defend the Con here. They dropped the ball, badly; they’ve admitted as much and are taking steps to rectify the situation. But I am calling for a bit of perspective on the whole thing. The reality is, for as many horror stories there are from people who got screwed over, there’s at least twice as many for whom the event was a huge success, exhibitors and attendees alike. That’s not an either-or thing, that’s a let’s not lose of the good because the bad’s a juicier topic thing.

  27. Johanna Says:

    I’m not comparing New York to San Diego — I’m saying that you might have a different perspective on how big conventions should be run if you’d experienced the biggest one around.

    I’d like to hear more stories of “huge success”, but I haven’t seen them out there. The closest I’ve seen are cases like Bob Greenberger’s, which I linked to yesterday, and he was just happy about making some connections. Or there’s the fans who are glad that they managed to see some of the show even in the chaos. Good experiences? Sure. Huge success? Not so much.

  28. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    I say “huge sucess”, you say “fiasco”. It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.

    Having just finished reading through the Engine thread, I was glad to see a few people in there with an actual understanding of the bigger picture and how things work in NYC, and offering a more balanced and informed take on things. Your audience would perhaps be better served, and your post much less slanted towards the negative, had you pulled a few of them out of the thread, too.

  29. Clive Says:

    Unfortunately, there were only two people on the “sued” panel, both lawyers from the same firm, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, but they had the credentials to be up there, having credits between them like the Gone With the Wind/The Wind Done Gone case, the Mutant X vs. XMen case and a host of claims against Harry Potter (which they successfully defended). But you do inadvertently make a good point–there were no writers, creators, etc. on the panels. On the other hand, they went deep into what does and doesn’t constitute parody, the risks of putting trademarks like a Nike symbol in your art and so on. Good, good stuff for the 20 people who actually went.

  30. Johanna Says:

    Guy, again, you’re using biased terminology to implicitly insult those who disagree with you as not “balanced” or “informed”. I suggest you read Neilalien’s excellent response to your comments, as John pointed out. The difference between “fiasco” and “success” is not a matter of “perspective”. You’re cheerleading more for this show than some of those that got paid by it!

  31. Johanna Says:

    Clive, thanks for the brief summary. Sounds really good, and the kind of education it’s difficult to get anywhere but a comic show.

  32. Chris Galdieri Says:

    Y’know, one way for reporters to avoid being in a tough spot like the one described above is by not having financial relationships with the people and events they’re covering. Appearances of impropriety and all that…

  33. Heidi M. Says:

    Chris: This is comics, everyone is improper.

  34. Rose Says:

    (Sorry, Johanna, if this too is improper, but it’s been bothering me.)

    Easy question. Heidi, why didn’t you disclose your paid participation as a consultant in your Publishers Weekly coverage of the upcoming con?

  35. David Welsh Says:

    Well, if you can’t be proper, at least you can get paid.

  36. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Heidi, Best laugh of my day.

  37. Johanna Says:

    Chris, I don’t think it’s possible for someone to make a living as comics press without taking money from a publisher in some form. It would be nice if there was more independent journalism in the field, but I’m not sure how we get from here to there without our own Citizen Kane.

    Rose, I can’t speak to the PW articles, but I recall Heidi mentioning her work with them in her blog quite frequently. Perhaps PW has a different policy?

  38. Heidi M. Says:

    Rose: it’s a good question. You’ll note that all of the articles in PW that I wrote about NYCC were co-written with others (except for one in PWCW last week…I think.) Semantics? Maybe. Also, the articles made it clear that both NYCC and PW are owned by Reed, so I think that compromised position (I’m also paid by PW/PWCW) overwhelmed the other compromised position.

    For context, Reed also owns BEA, and PW covers that with proctological detail. So it’s not a new situation.

    I’ll be posting my final take on the show and addressing this entire issue in The Beat later today. I am well aware that there are many compromising positions here, but I have tried to be as upfront about them as possible. For instance, the SDCC is a sponsor of The Beat, and I’ll probably make more money from that relationship this year than from my NYCC consultancy. Milton Griepp is also covering the show on ICv2 and he was one of the principle organizers of the show. So hats are being juggled left and right. I leave it to the intelligent reader, as always, to make their own informed choices about where the bias lies.

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