Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Conventional wisdom

A lot has been written online about the issue of overcrowding at the New York Comic-Con. While I'm being a linkhappy fool, here's the most evenhanded eyewitness account I've seen. Much of the coverage has been handwringing and denunciation of the organizers for failing to anticipate the pent-up demand for a proper comics convention and the overwhelming drop-in traffic on the weekend following the major push the con got from all the major newspapers in NYC. I've seen people call the organizers "incompetent" for failing to anticipate the crush. The fire marshal closed the convention floor on Saturday (this didn't mean people were thrown out or that business stopped; merely that people were only allowed in to replace an equal number leaving so the floor didn't become even more crowded) and state troopers (!!!) were called in to enforce order. People who showed up to buy tickets at the door were turned away. Lines of ticket-holders waiting to get in were up to two hours long. So yeah, it was a thing.

Now that a full week has gone by, I hope people are breathing a little more easily and we can look back without hyperventilating. It seems to me, this was nobody's "fault" and incompetence was not to blame. The organizers spent months promoting this event -- and tickets were available online up to the show's opening -- but there's no way they could have counted on all the newspapers giving the con such heavy play. Of course publicists try their best to get these events promoted, but they don't control editorial and couldn't have seen this getting a half page in the New York Times and full page or double-page articles elsewhere. Those articles, more than any amount of advertising, brought the public in.

And too, novices at the comics convention scene could not have known how pent-up the demand for a proper convention here had grown. This is the first real convention in NYC in...what, nearly twenty years? All we've really had over the intervening years has been some lackluster marketplaces, while places like San Diego and Orlando and Atlanta have become the real convention centers. I've followed this scene solely as a fan for all this time, and I was astonished by the turnout; I can't fault a newcomer for getting bowled over.

The convention easily filled one hangarlike subsection of the airport-terminal-like Javits Center...but even with two other conventions taking place in the building at the same time (an art expo and an American Express travel show, not to mention a Jeopardy contestants' tryout also happening somewhere) there was still plenty of empty space everywhere apart from the convention floor. If this convention goes on to become the San Diego East it seems poised to be, I think they'll have no trouble claiming additional floor space and scaling up the ticket-processing mechanism so that this year's crush is not repeated.

Look. Folks who didn't get in have a right to feel miffed. Exhibitors and even guests who found themselves stuck outside the main area for an hour or two have a legitimate gripe. But in the larger scheme of things, these reflected minor glitches that can be corrected and almost certainly will be in time for next year. They don't reflect systemic failure or gross incompetence. So can we have a little less of the righteous indignation, please?

On a personal note...

Clearly, some divine force watches over fools like me. The con was due to open to the public at 4 PM on Friday, so I turned up around 3 PM and figured a one hour wait on line. I know the Javits Center all too well from attending the annual Macworld Expo there every year it was held in New York -- I swear I could find every men's room and water fountain in the building in a blackout -- so no worries there. To my surprise, there were only perhaps a dozen people on line ahead of me. Elapsed time on line, fifteen minutes. Then I turned around as I reached the head of the line: suddenly there was a queue of hundreds behind me.

Getting a pass involved filling out a printed form and presenting it to the desk, where the data was typed in to produce a barcoded badge. In spite of this, my badge still came out with my name misspelled. My last name always gets spelled wrong. I just looked at it and thought, who didn't see this coming? On the plus side, I'd been given a "Professional" badge rather than your common variety regular punter sort of badge. I'd have credited this to my erstwhile career at Marvel had it not been for the misspelling. Unless there's a comics pro named "Richard Benson" whose badge I mistakenly picked up. Sorry, guy!

Having a "Professional" badge did get me into the show floor a whole 45 minutes before it was opened to the general public, and I caught a number of people surreptitiously sneaking a glance at my badge and trying to figure out if I was someone they were supposed to have heard of. To the core of my being I am a populist and anti-elitist...but screw whatever Thomas Jefferson said, if there are elitist perks and privileges being handed out, it's better to be in the elite.

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