New York Comic Con proves superheroes are big business for Gotham City.
This week, an anticipated 115,000 fans, many in costume as their favorite movie and comic book characters, will converge on the Javits Center for New York Comic Con from Oct. 11 to 14. Billed as the biggest “popular culture convention” on the East Coast by event producers ReedPOP, attendance has grown by more than 500 percent since 2006, its first year.
“The growth staggers me,” says Lance Fensterman, Global VP for ReedPOP.
In just six years, New York Comic Con has grown to almost 90 percent of the size of its decades-older, West Coast equivalent, San Diego Comic-Con. Fensterman and others agree that the growth stems in part from New York’s pride of place in the history and business of comic books.
“New York City has a rich history of comic conventions,” says Fensterman, “and it absolutely helped that Marvel and DC are both based here and supported the idea from day one.”
Marvel and DC, comic book publishing’s rival titans, were both founded in New York City at the industry’s inception in the 1930s. Many comic legends, like Spiderman creator Stan Lee and Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, were born in New York City. It perhaps explains why New York has been destroyed by more supervillains and saved by more superheroes than any other place on earth.
“Comics are absolutely part of New York City’s cultural DNA,” says Matt Desiderio, a manager at Union Square comics retailer Forbidden Planet, which has been in business since 1969.
Gerry Gladston, co-founder of Midtown Comics and one of the stars of National Geographic’s reality TV series Comic Store Heroes, agrees: “New York is to comics as LA is to film and television … New York has always been a mecca for comic books—since the 1930s—and New York Comic Con has done a great job of mining that potential.”
Since it’s founding in 1997, Midtown Comics has expanded to three locations across New York City and has grown to become the world’s largest comic book store, which reflects the strength of the nation’s comics retail industry, thriving at a time when the loss of brick and mortar stores and the move to digital is eroding other parts of the publishing business.
“Business is booming,” says Gladston, “The print comic business is up approximately 20 percent across the board … we’ve all been enjoying a nice surge in the sales of print comics and related books and collectibles.”
The uptick in interest around the world is due in large part to Hollywood’s mainstreaming of comic book heroes like The Avengers, Spiderman, and the X-Men, but the increased sales in New York can be linked directly to the growth of New York Comic Con itself.
Since the convention began in 2006, the number of vendors on the floor has gone from 600 to 2,000, an increase of about 330 percent. ReedPOP’s Fensterman says the increase in video game and toy companies has been “huge,” but that hasn’t taken away from the comics business.
“Midtown Comics says that the days leading up to, during and immediately after New York Comic Con are the busiest they have all year,” says Fensterman. “It’s like a second Christmas for them.”
Retail profits are a big draw for exhibitors from the Tri-State area and the nation. Midtown Comics, which has been an official retail sponsor of the event since 2006, not only devotes a hefty amount of floor space to retail in their booth, but even buys stock specifically for the event.
“We sell a ton of stuff every year,” says Gladston, “We have expert buyers who plan this months in advance. We have it down to a science.”
In addition to retail sales, the marketing benefits of displaying their brand before legions of devoted fans is not lost on major players like Marvel and DC, both of whom will have highly visible floor presences, housing events like signings, give-aways, photo ops, and product roll-outs.
The convention has also become known as a comics industry pow wow and marketplace. ReedPOP has reserved a half-day out of the weekend for industry professionals only, and tied in this year’s Con to ICv2, a state-of-the industry gathering for comics pros that assesses the impact of digital publishing on their business.
Even publishing enterprises that don’t specialize in comics, like Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, and Sci Fi and Fantasy specialist Tor Books are investing in a floor presence this year.
New York Comic Con’s focus on printed comics, rather than the movies and TV derived from them, is a boon to comic book stores, but also part of what makes New York Comic Con unique. San Diego Comic Con’s proximity to Hollywood has allowed movies and TV to outshine the comic books that started it all, but in New York, it is still primarily about ink and paper.
Evan Leatherwood (www.evanleatherwood.com) writes about books, the arts and productivity. He directs communications for Fordham University’s Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Media, Public Policy & Education.