[27 March 2007]
It would not be unfair to call last year’s New York Comic Con a debacle. Oversold tickets, excessive crowds, angry customers and the arrival of state troopers marred the first year of the convention. The promoters promised this year would be better.
Was it? Well, it would be hard for the show to be any worse. And this year’s show was, indeed, miles above and beyond last year’s show. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
The organizers fixed two of last year’s problems by holding the con in a room twice the size of last year. They also limited the number of tickets sold. Tickets for Saturday’s show were sold out a week before the Con. There would be no overselling this year. However, new problems arose.
The first involved tickets for the Special Events which took place on Friday. The con scheduled autograph signing sessions involving TV personality Steven Colbert, writer J. Michael Straczynski and comic legend Stan Lee for the convention’s first day. It was decided that there would be a limited number of tickets available for each signing to be given out at 3:00 pm the day of the show on a first come, first serve basis (or so the e-mail sent out to ticket holders said).
Imagine the surprise of fans that showed up at 1:30 pm, a full hour and a half before tickets were to be distributed, and found out that all of them were already given out. The explanation people working the con gave to the irate attendees was that people were waiting for the signing tickets at 7AM so how could they not give it to them early?
Uh, perhaps because you clearly stated on all correspondence you sent out to ticket holders that the tickets would be given out at 3:00 pm? Granted, it was one of the coldest days of the year in the city, with a blistering wind that made the day even colder. However, that doesn’t belie the fact that they were there—willingly—hours before they were supposed to be.
What of the people who took the organizers at their word? Those who wanted to get to meet the legendary Stan Lee on one of his rare trips East but had to work a half day? Or came in from out of town and stopped off at their hotels to check in and drop off their suitcases? They went to the Javits Center for nothing.
I mentioned above that the line to get into the convention started forming at 7:00 am. I can only assume the people who got there that early either heard about or experienced the wait people had to get in last year—whether you had a ticket or not—and how some ticket holders weren’t even able to get in.
The organizers, in order to avoid what they called a “mad rush” to enter the con, formed a single person line to get in which ended in a snake-like maze right in front of the convention entrance. Before I go more into this, let me quote something the con organizers sent in one of the many e-mails they sent to ticket holders (emphasis mine):
“Remember, if you ordered your ticket prior to January 31st and received your badge in the mail, you can proceed directly to the show floor with your badge. No need to go to the registration counters.”
However, as a badge holder who showed at 4:00 pm, the time the con was set to open on Friday, I was told that I had to stand in line, which by that point stretched to outside the convention center, out to the street.
Imagine if you, like the people interested in the signings I spoke of above, took the convention at their word in this e-mail. You arrive at the Javits Center a little before 4:00, and drop your coats at the coat check. You walk towards the convention entrance and are told you now have to walk outside and get in line. How do you think that person feels?
Crowd control was a big issue with the convention. Fans were herded through special entrances and exits at every turn. But these precautions seemed to be implemented with little thought or foresight.
On Friday, the above line was only let in through one of the two big entrances of the venue. The other entrance was reserved for exhibitors only. Why they would need to keep that entrance—about 30 feet wide—open for exhibitors who should have already been set up by 4:00 pm on Friday?
On Saturday, one part of the maze was used for the entrance in the morning and as an exit in the afternoon. Pity those who left the convention floor before the change and came back after.
Saturday also provided a number of other challenges, too. The line to get in when the convention opened at 10:00 am stretched from the Javits Center entrance on the corner of 37th Street and 11th Avenue all the way 40th Street. The organizers set up a registration booth upstairs to give out wristbands to Weekend Pass holders so that they wouldn’t have to wait in line to get in to the room.
One of the best stories of the confusion which happened on Saturday came from an artist I spoke to who works for the Big Two comic companies and who wishes to remain anonymous. He arrived at the Javits Center a bit before 10:00 am to get to the comic company booth where he was scheduled to be signing. He arrived, showed the convention worker in charge of entrance to the venue his badge—a badge which indicated that he was a professional and the company he worked for—and asked to be let in. The worker told the artist that he had to stand in the line with the regular guests waiting on the line mentioned above.
The artist went to see where the line ended and found it to be about four blocks long. Knowing that if he stood in that line, he would miss his signing entirely, he went back to the worker to try to get in once more with no luck. Eventually, a representative from his company had to come out and escort him in personally. The artist ended up late for the signing, but he was able to get in.
The worker explained to the artist that this was how it worked for every convention. But it doesn’t work that way for every convention. I have been to a number of Wizard conventions. Never has crowd control been such an issue. I have had a weekend pass for these Wizard events and yes, I had to wait in line on the first day, but never quite as long and never on the second day. There was never a maze you had to go through to get in. They had staff at the door looking at the badges to insure people were going where they were supposed to.
Many of these problems could be chalked up to poor communication between organizers and the people working the door. But when fans come back after the mess that was last year’s convention and find that the story given by the people working the floor doesn’t match what the organizers sent to them in writing, it would be hard for them to give the convention a third chance.