Fear and Loathing at New York Comic Con
My formative years were spent in arcades, Guitar Center, and comic book shops. I was fortunate to come of age during a golden era – the '80s – of science fiction and the nascent technology accompanying the home computer explosion that later became the Internet. I spent my summers with family in San Francisco's Mission District where I learned BASIC, launched model rockets, went to the movies, and, when all else failed, hung out at Gary Arlington's Comic Book Store and Scott's Comics and Cards on 23rd Street. Both were basically caves packed with banker's boxes full of cellophane-wrapped comics with older, rarer issues hanging on the walls with price points far beyond my teenage budget: no toys, no games (this was long before the X-Box or even DVDs), just stacks of boxes perfuming the air with the lignin smell of old paper and ink.
I thought about those places as I walked from Penn Station to the Javits Center for New York Comic Con (NYCC) on a drizzly Thursday morning, a press badge dangling from my neck. Although I covered the con in 2016 as press and Outer Places has hosted panels at previous cons, I nevertheless felt a certain anxiety about attending; a residual nostalgia for a past that no longer exists and whose memory risked damage in the sea of thousands of people.
Historically, Thursday is the slowest day at NYCC. I arrived at 11:00 a.m. anticipating no lines and an easy beeline to my only appointment. I hoped, at the very least, to be able to adequately capture some of the sights, perhaps a panel or two. Instead, I was greeted by a massive security line beset with metal detectors, bag checks, and TSA-like bans on all bottled liquids. Grumbles about badges not working, incorrect waitlist emails being sent out, the relative disorganization of this year, and the lack of any truly stunning guests abounded, but I remained optimistic as the security personnel were as quick and efficient as they could be. Once they were satisfied that I wasn't armed with either weapons or contraband Perrier, I entered the Javits Center.
The lower level housed a few experiences that seemed strangely dated: I had no idea that Crank Yankers still existed and was a bit surprised that they had model rotary dial phones in a display that, as far as I could tell, went largely ignored. Still others – the forthcoming Snowpiercer series – tried to generate hype despite the poor strategic positioning of their real estate. This incongruity was a theme I encountered throughout the day. Throughout the lower levels were signs admonishing people that "cosplay is not consent:" an appropriately sharp – and unfortunately necessary – reminder to not be an asshole.
On the main floor upstairs, I was surprised to see a number of female cosplayers portraying what appeared to be Disney princesses amidst the usual spandex-clad Spider-People (the Into the Spider-Verse influence was huge this year). All cosplayers, as usual, were the center of attention throughout the day, with some not managing to move more than a few feet without being stopped and asked for photos/selfies.
The pinnacle of the incongruity was the massive SpongeBob SquarePants Krusty Krab booth which occupied a major portion of the main floor promoting the show's 20th anniversary and heralding – for better or worse – the live-action film promised for 2020. Nevertheless, the booth maintained a line for the entirety of the time I was there and the show inspired one of the most hilarious cosplays of NYCC.
Halloween 2019 ? pic.twitter.com/wyj97WYyV5— spooky balez ? (@hellzbalez) October 7, 2019
As 12:00 p.m. rolled around, I headed to see the Amazon Prime Video Expanse Experience, which we had been invited to. Beyond the swag – not sure if the tumbler was intended for coffee or bourbon, but it will work for both – the booth aimed to capture key aspects of the Rocinante spacecraft, while outside of the booth were props from the show. The attention to detail was extraordinary and undoubtedly got fans even more hyped for the 4th season of the beloved show, which was the subject of a later panel.
The rest of the main floor consisted of a Star Trek booth – CBS All-Access, you're on notice for not extending us an invitation – more princesses, and, unfortunately, poorly-situated food booths which created huge friction points of crowd overflow that became nearly impassable as people, deprived of their water bottles, resignedly overpaid for designer fast food.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the brilliance of the NYCC Star Trek: Picard trailer. It's wonderful in every sense of the word: like seeing an old friend again.
Having had my fill of squeezing past lunch-goers and strollers, I made my way to the inside caverns. Little had changed since I last attended. The sheer depth and volume of both crowds and content were overwhelming. My error, of course, was in entering NYCC like a writer and not a member of the intended audience: the fans. As I spoke to fans about their experiences, all of them had one thing in common: they planned their days. They knew who and what they wanted to see and plotted their courses and schedules accordingly. In my uncharacteristic naïveté, I walked in like I would a comic shop when I was 14, albeit with an adult's tired, inarticulate hope that it would somehow rekindle even the smallest part of that time. Instead, as I browsed the aisles, beset on all sides by gaming booths, cosplayers, and rare comics still beyond the reach of my budget, the event felt no different to me than the crush of tourists in Times Square.
Memories, whether they are of lost loved ones or of long-closed comic book stores, anchor us to idealized vignettes of the past. While wandering the costume stalls and glass cases, I realized that I had unconsciously come to NYCC in the hopes of finding such a vignette, some glimpse of the ephemeral, only to be confronted by the reality of the vulgar present.
As I left, lost in thought and slowly shaking loose the hollow detachment and indifference, a white folding table caught my eye.
It was full of banker's boxes and the crisp, familiar smell of aging paper.