Thoughts on the Merging of the New York Conventions

Yesterday, Reed Exhibitions announced that for 2010, both the New York Anime Festival and the New York Comic Con will combine for one massive convention. While some people seemed to be aware of this news for some time, it was the first I ever heard of it. And I must say, I had some very mixed feelings about it.

I’ll make no bones about it, of all the conventions I have attended in the past few years, my favorite has always been the NYAF followed closely by the NYCC. I fill up my Twitter feed with news of each con leading up to it, and I write nothing but gushing reports about them afterwards. It’s not just for hometown pride, it’s because of the wonderful folks in charge of them.

The local anime scene in New York City was dead following the final Big Apple Anime Film Festival in 2003. If otaku wanted to go to an anime con, they had to travel out of state. But when Reed Exhibition hired former Central Park Media employee Peter Tatara as their lead program manager for their new east coast conventions, we saw a massive resurgence of anime and otaku culture in the city that never sleeps.

Reed Expo debuted the first annual New York Comic Con in 2006 to an impressive 33,000 in attendance. While the con featured all aspects of nerd culture, there was more than enough anime and manga-related content for the NYC otaku. Then with Tatara at that helm, they added the New York Anime Festival to the line-up in late 2007. The NYAF debuted with over 15,000 in attendance, instantly making it the third largest anime convention in America.

So not only has New York had the honor of having two large conventions to look forward to every year, but Tatara would also organize the occasional otaku-centric events at the midtown Kinokunya bookstore all year around – ranging anywhere from Haruhi Day to Lolita Day to Occult Day to the upcoming Eureka Seven Day in a little over a week from now. Ever since the NYAF has come to town, we have had plenty to look forward to around here.

But there has been one thing that has become apparent in recent years, and that is that the New York Comic Con was growing into this huge beast of an event. While the Anime Fest has seen a moderate growth in attendance like any other anime convention, the Comic Con has grown nearly 50% in size every year. We saw it grow to 77,000 last April with Saturday and Weekend passes selling out. As popular as the Anime Fest was, it was clearly being dwarfed by the Comic Con.

With the popularity of the San Diego Comic Con on the west coast and now the New York Comic Con on the east coast, Reed decided to lay stake in bringing a similar comic con to mid-America. In April 2010, Tatara and the rest of the team will be holding the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) in the windy city and hopefully recapturing the success they’ve had in New York. This timeframe would be usually set for NYCC, so for this year, the NYCC will be bumped to take place in the fall, the time that we would normally be having the NYAF.

So where did this leave NYAF? Being the third largest anime con in America is nothing to take lightly, but when you compare it to the scale of NYCC and potentially C2E2, it clearly takes least priority. So after much uncertainty, they finally came up with a solution: merging the two New York conventions into one massive con.

According to the announcement, on October 8-10, 2010, the Javits Center will host both NYAF and NYCC. In the past, each con has only taken up a fraction of the convention center while other trade shows took place on the other side. This year, the two cons will take up the entire venue – NYAF on one side, NYCC on the other, and a big ass dealer’s room between them. Although programming and scheduling will run independently between the two cons, attendees will only pay one price to have access to both sides and the dealer’s room.

But is this really a merge between the two cons, or is this just hiding the fact that the New York Anime Festival is gone?

To me, this looks like all they did was simply expand the New York Comic Con to fill out the entire Javits Center, which was something that was eventually going to happen anyway with it’s 50% growth rate every year. And the NYCC always had plenty of anime / manga related activities going on every year. The new “merge” might add some new otaku activities that would not normally be at the NYCC, maybe even double it. But really, all they’re doing with this merge is moving all the j-pop culture stuff into one side of the venue.

And it’s not like we otaku were lacking much to do at the con before. One of the great things about the NYCC was that when I wasn’t covering the otaku events, I was able to check out some non-anime things like video games, Hollywood, or TV show panels. By concentrating all the anime-focus panels to run along side all the non-anime panels at the same time rather than on separate weekends, I’m almost certain I’ll never get to see anything on the other side of the Javits.

So you can have either the NYCC or the NYAF, but with both awesome events at the same time, I don’t think you can have both. There’s too much conflict and overlap. And since I’m focused on the world of Japanese pop culture, I’m afraid it’s the Comic Con side of the merge that I’ll have to say goodbye to from now on.

So long, NYCC, my second favorite convention. It was fun while it lasted. (T_T)

But perhaps the C2E2 will replace the NYCC for me. Because of all the great cons I have experienced with Reed Exhibitions in New York, I am committing myself to taking the plane to Chicago for it’s debut this April. I’m actually really excited about going to it. But it’s just sad that it had to come with the loss of one of the great New York City conventions.

Update: The man himself, Peter Tatara, emailed me about the merge:

Just read your NYAF/NYCC merger write up. […] While, yeah, there are concerns, there are also a lot of good things that will come from it.  Two of the biggest being bigger guests for NYAF as the rock stars of the anime and manga worlds will find a show with all the press and attendees of NYCC a lot more attractive than NYAF as it exists presently – and moving NYAF’s Masquerade into the 3,000 seat IGN Theater.  Further, bringing NYAF and NYCC together during the same time means it’ll be exposing NYAF and anime culture to a lot more mainstream press.  CNN, NPR, the New York Times, etc. are always at NYCC, and for them to finally see an anime event is a very good thing.

I do realize that the NYAF could benefit a lot from popularity and publicity that the connected NYCC would bring. However, I still believe that the anime section will be vastly overshadowed by the comic con section.

I’ll talk to Peter more about this at the NYAF two weeks from today, so you can bet I’ll have more to write about with this subject in the near future.

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