The first weekend in June found New York playing host to the second annual Special Edition NYC comic convention at Pier 34, right on the border between Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side. In comparison to its big brother convention, New York Comic Con (Special Edition is also a ReedPOP event), Special Edition bills itself as a “pure celebration of comic book culture created specifically for die-hard comic book fans, creators and publishers.” Having spent an entire weekend there, I have to say: they knocked it out of the park.
10:34 - My roommate (a reviewer for Bloody Disgusting) and I had grand plans to make it to the show the minute it opened, so that we could get some stuff signed by the bigger name guests and still have time to make it to some panels before he would have to abandon me and go to work. As often happens, our grand plans turned into both of us oversleeping and rushing out to make it as close to the opening of the floor as possible.
I’m struck by the fact that the weekend is kind of cloudy and not too hot, with a threat of rain, and it seems like perfect nerd weather.
When we got there, the line to get tickets was long, but not oppressively so. If I had to eyeball a measurement, I’d call it an hour’s wait to get in--the con was open until 7:00 that night, so getting in at 11:30, while not ideal, certainly wouldn’t have sliced into too much of your time on the floor. Worst case scenario, you might miss some panels.
Once we got our media passes and hit the floor, we started off the day by wandering around Artist’s Alley, scoping out who we wanted to make sure we got to sign stuff by the end of the day. In comparison to an event like NYCC where Artist’s Alley is as much of a mob as the rest of the show, this one was a breezeway. The aisles were fairly wide, and there were only lines for the obvious creators; Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez always had a line that stretched all the way back to the food court, and for as much as I’m sure they signed every copy of Spider-Gwen #1 and Edge of Spider-Verse #2 in the city that day, they were gracious and appreciative of everyone that went through the line.
Basically, if you were there to see Team Spider-Gwen or Brian Michael Bendis on Saturday, lines were a non-issue. The most you might have to wait is for three or four fans to get through; longer if there’s some asshole trying to verify his position on a commission list.
(A true story: on Sunday, a guy came up to a famous female artist in the last hour of the con, right after a panel, and asked if she had had time to do his commission yet. Flustered, she said she had accidentally missed him on the list, apologized, and asked if he could leave his sketchbook, and she would get to it before the end of the day. The man stood there for a full minute debating with himself, asking her if she was going to be back at NYCC, and then eventually said, “I can’t wait all day” and took his sketchbook back. This man was the worst person I saw all weekend).
The staff was helpful and present; the only way they could improve would be to try and make clearer announcements. While we were in line to get books signed, a staffer came up and quietly started going up the line telling people the artist was about to head to a panel and we should come back later. A loudish announcement would have done well, and given us time to think, “Oh, yeah, we should go to this panel, it sounds cool.”
Let me take a step back and create the space for you. Pier 94 is not a clever name--it’s a warehouse on the Pier on the west side of Manhattan in the mid-50s. It is less than three blocks from both Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club and the studio where they shoot The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. If you walk more than two or three blocks east, you’ll be surrounded by middle-aged-and-up fashionistas walking dogs that are either incredibly small or significantly too big for them. Directly across the street from the pier is a Maserati dealership.
So into this strange part of town, they plopped a comic convention. The building itself is a warehouse that’s somewhat in disrepair; it’s clean and bright, but there are holes in the ceiling that are covered up by tarps, and occasionally, insulation will drift down on you. Picture the building as a large, backwards capital “L”. You enter at the angle, which is where the “theaters” are placed for panels (more on those theaters later), as well as the signing area for featured guests like Brian Michael Bendis, and the booth to get tickets for New York Comic Con. That was by far the longest line I saw all weekend, and it was always asses to ankles. Let’s call that line a three-hour-wait, if you’re lucky. On the short side of the L, you have mostly vendors selling homemade lightsabers, 3D printed props, vintage sci fi novels and, of course, longboxes on longboxes of comic books. Other than those booths, this was also the area where Valiant and Zenescope set up their tables. The long side of the L, almost all the way to the top, was Artist’s Alley. There was a healthy mix of local, newer, relatively indie talent (several artists and writers with projects at Black Mask, a few just launching books at Image, that kind of thing), and elder statesmen (Chris Claremont had a decent line at the beginning of the day Saturday, and Klaus Janson was always busy; Danny Fingeroth was there, almost hidden behind all the books he was selling; Peter David didn’t even have a banner for his table because I guess fuck you, he’s Peter David). At the very top of the L, the food court. Being poor enough as it is and wanting to save money to grab some comics, I ate big breakfasts at home and didn’t venture up there.
My fellow reporter and I ducked over to Theater 1 in the base of the L to catch the tail end of the “Image Comics: Where Creators Own Stories” panel and get ready for the next one. The theaters were basically two curtained-off spaces with projector set ups and sound systems. Theater 1 was the smaller of the 2, and it seemed like the smaller panels in Theater 1 always got put up against giant panels in Theater 2 (by giant, I mean loud as hell; not a lot of soundproofing between them). The Image Comics panel was moderated by David Brothers and featured Brandon Graham (King City, Prophet, Island), Alex de Campi (Grindhouse: Drive In, Bleed Out; No Mercy), Becky Cloonan (Southern Cross, Gotham Academy, True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys), Valentine de Landro (Bitch Planet), as well as a man who I believe was Adam McGovern (he’s not on the list of speakers, so I’m doing my best with context clues, here).
The panel was wrapping up with questions by the time we got there, so there were fun tidbits I managed to gather, but not much of substance. Someone asked if there was going to be a Bitch Planet TV show, as though that wouldn’t be clearly under an NDA if it hadn’t been announced, and we found out that Becky Cloonan lives in Montreal with the rest of her team on Gotham Academy, and they do a lot of their work over beers, which is truly The Way To Work. Most of the creators talked about their process, and the writers discussed whether they work full-script or a looser style (most of them work on whatever specific style their co-creators prefer), and people trickled in and out. At the end, David Brothers called for applause for cosplayers, which was a classy move, and we waited for the next panel, “Let’s Talk About Checks: Everything You Wanted to Know About Being a Professional Comics Creator, But Were Afraid to Ask,” at 12:45.
My fellow reporter works for Bloody Disgusting, and as such, has a massive soft spot for Lobo, the biggest bastich in the universe. Now, this is old-school, imposter Lobo, not current, New 52, Handsome Lobo. Apparently, Marguerite Bennett wrote the first appearance of New 52 Lobo, and he has a bone to pick with her about it.
Marguerite Bennett is so nice that she has a continually replenished bowl of snack-sized candy bars at her table, and in the interest of journalistic integrity, I watch her be incredibly polite and not a little confused by my friend telling her he wants to start a blood feud with her, over Lobo of all things. In thanks to her for being such a good sport, I will remind everyone that A-Force has been one of the best tie-ins for Secret Wars, Butterfly was a lot of fun, and Bombshells is a DC title I am actually excited to read.
My fellow reporter leaves to go to his day job, and I try to figure out what to do for a half hour or so. I walk outside to try and clear the con crud from my nose and forget how hungry I am. I’m sticking around for one more panel at 3:30pm, and then I’m going to try and get a quick signature from Bendis before I leave. The Bendis experiment is doomed until the next morning (his line and Scott Snyder’s both got capped super early during signing times), but in the meantime, I got to meet some cool cosplayers. There was a woman who had made her own bunny ears to cosplay as Louise from Bob’s Burgers, for whom I’ve got mad respect. There’s another dressed as Mileena from Mortal Kombat, who is dead on.
During the hour before 3:30, I ended up getting in line to get my Spider-Gwen stuff signed. It was the longest creator-signature line on the floor (Snyder was Sunday only, or he would have taken the cake), but they were both incredibly pleasant and appreciative to the fans. Robbi Rodriguez eventually went to the back of the line to sign books so that he and Latour could theoretically meet in the middle. I’m not sure if it worked or not, but it was a great thought, and Robbi was super nice. At the front of the line, I talked to Latour briefly and found out some very exciting things about Southern Bastards (which, you’re all reading that already, right? Good.), and he took the time to draw a little Spider-Gwen on the cover of every Spider-Gwen #1 that came across his table. True class acts, both of them.
Eventually the hour is up and I head for Theater 1 again for “Writers Unite: Pitching Creator-Owned Comics,” and then I head home for the day.
Sunday, I met up with a friend of mine who is a local comics creator and we headed in for day 2 of Special Edition. Since I’d already gotten pretty much all of my stuff signed, I was really only in it for Bendis’ signature and to go to the “Creating Comics: The Real Stories” panel at 2:30.
We got to the Pier a little after 10, and made our way to Bendis’ line, which was open at 10:30 for an hour or so. We got a comfortable spot in the middle of the line and settled down to wait. In the hour or so that we were on line, someone from the con staff came down the line and gave out free mini candy bars (mini candy bars were life savers that weekend), and my buddy and I chatted about storytelling in comics like big fucking nerds. Luckily, the guy in front of us had a suitcase filled with comics, all bagged in magazine bags with sticky notes on them that said “BENDIS MACK MALEEV” or “BENDIS DAVID” or things of the like. It made me feel better about my stack of only 6 singles and a trade.
Bendis could not have been more personable and delightful. Even that early in the morning and with a huge line, he took time to talk to everyone, and pose for pictures. A girl who was probably four or five came up with her parents and she was in a dead-on Black Widow costume, and Bendis asked her if he could take pictures with her. When my buddy and I approached the table and told him we were writing comics, he asked us about our projects and asked if he could have a copy of my buddy’s comic. Just a real mensch, all around.
We got out of there around 11:30 and decided to step out and grab lunch. When we got back in, I went on a mission to catch Becky Cloonan when she wasn’t heading out for a panel or doing a podcast interview or in the middle of commissions to get her to sign some books. It turns out Becky Cloonan was the most popular woman at the con, because she was all over the place.
Sunday was the day for single issue shopping, as well. Lots of vendors showed up with good selections, but for Saturday, a lot of their books seemed steeply priced. I found a couple Spider-Woman vol. 1 #1s on Saturday that were upwards of $20, and it can’t possibly be worth that much. Conversely, on Sunday, I found a bunch of issues from that Spider-Woman run (my fiancee is on a mission to collect all 50) for $1 each, and a relatively good condition Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four (number 86, with a classic “giant Doom looms over very small FF” cover) for $5.
By this point, it was 2:15, so we headed to Theater 1 for the last panel.
We wandered the floor and talked to Matthew Rosenberg about his new Black Mask book We Can Never Go Home (which, again, you should all be reading), and tried to catch Scott Snyder’s line at a good length. No dice.
At this point, we were well within the throes of the con exhaustion that hits everyone after about 3 on the last day, and we decided to call it a day. I loved every minute of this convention, no lie. It was the perfect amount of busy and not crowded, and the kinds of creators I really wanted to see were there without distractions, like Lou Ferrigno and his bodyguards wandering all over the place.
The real star of NYC’s comic cons is going to be Special Edition in the next few years, I’d put money on that. I just hope it never loses its charm.