Peter Tarara and the Merging of New York Cons

Three weeks ago, Reed Exhibitions announced that they would be merging the New York Anime Festival and the New York Comic Con for one major convention in 2010. The next day, I posted an editorial about my disappointment over the news. I felt that when the two conventions merged, we would be losing one good convention.

Peter Tarara, Programing Manager for Reed and the man in charge of the Anime Festival, immediately responded to my blog post with an email and an invitation to talk one-on-one with him on the issue. So I spoke with Peter last week to learn more about the motivation for the merge and what it will mean for New York’s anime fans:

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Which came first, the fact that you had to do C2E2 in the spring or that you had to do the New York Comic Con in the fall?

C2E2 came first. We were having conversations with the Javits Center over dates for the Comic Con, and we couldn’t get dates for the spring. We could have opted to have it super, super early in the year or much later in the spring. But when we finally had the spring dates finalized for C2E2, that very quickly put us in the mind frame to change the Comic Con to the fall.

After moving the Comic Con to the fall, what options were left available for the New York Anime Festival?

From the dealer’s perspective, we could not have the Anime Festival within weeks of the Comic Con. While the fanbase would be able to make both shows, companies like Bandai or FUNimation would not be able to do two shows in a row like that.

So we considered holding the anime festival in a different venue without any showroom or major vendors attending. We looked at places like the Armory, the Pier, Kinokunya, Japan Society… just do a bunch of events without the show floor. But even then, there wasn’t a clear date available at these venues that didn’t conflict with another major anime con or some regional show. So having it the same weekend as the Comic Con was still our best option.

Was the New York Comic Con always schedule to take up the entire Javits Center in 2010?

Yes. When we booked the Javits Center for the Comic Con next year, we booked the entire venue.

Then why keep the Anime Festival as a separate entity from the Comic Con? Why not just expand the anime events in the Comic Con?

We had the New York Comic Con before we had the Anime Festival, and we’ve always done anime events at the Comic Con. We’ve had T.M. Revolution, we’ve had Sho Sakurai, we’ve always had big Japanese guests there. But we don’t get that many anime fans there because it’s a different type of show for a different type of audience. Even in its name, the “New York Comic Con” speaks very differently from the “New York Anime Fest.”

So by keeping all the panels, events, and name distinct from each other, we’re able to communicate to the anime fans that this is a show for them and their own community. And community is the big thing, because when we do anime events at Kinokunya, Japan Society, or other places around the city, it’s building that community for anime fans. So this is the way that we let the community know that yes, we’re in the Javits Center with the Comic Con for next year, but there is still a place there for anime fans to gather, and it will be an event bigger space than it was before.

How big was the overlap between the Comic Con attendance and the Anime Fest attendance?

The largest events at the Comic Con take place in the IGN theater, which holds 3,000 people and we were able to fill those up with the TM Revolution and Sho Sakurai events. So I would estimate upwards of 5,000 anime fans attended the Comic Con in the past.

Comparing that to the 17,000 anime fans that attended the Anime Festival last year, does that mean that there are many anime fans that will not attend the Comic Con?

Absolutely.

And you think that this merger will bring those anime fans to the Comic Con next year?

Well, the Comic Con and the Anime Festival will still be two separate events. Yes, they will be in the same location at the same time, but they will still be two separate events. The guests will be different, the panels will be different, the program guides will be different. So we’re not just sticking anime in the basement of the Comic Con.

When it comes to obtaining Japanese guests, do you feel that the size of NYAF put it at disadvantage over the two larger anime cons, Anime Expo and Otakon?

No doubt about that. If you look at just the two New York cons that we run, you’ll see that we were able to obtain much larger Japanese guests for the Comic Con just because it was much larger than the Anime Fest. So by putting together the two cons, we are going to be able to go to those Japanese guests with that larger attendance number. We’ll have a much larger megaphone to go at them with.

It seemed that Yatterman was the big anime event at the last Comic Con. Do you think that those Japanese guests had enough of the spotlight with guests like Joss Whedon also attending?

We gave that event a lot of the push, and they had a lot of their fans turn out. We had people from all over the world travel to Comic Con just for Yatterman, fans from Asia, Europe, all over the world. We had to actually relocate Sho Sakurai’s appearance because there were too many fans there and we were afraid of their safety.

But naturally, all the media attention that came out of the Comic Con was skewed towards Joss Whedon and American TV shows. It’s a problem with all major conventions, just look at San Diego Comic Con and the attention over Twilight.

Whenever you have a big comic show, fans will always feel that not enough attention or focus is being put on anime or comics. But that’s only because the media wants to report on Hollywood and TV shows. It’s hip, it’s sexy.

Is it true that Yen Press is not going to have much of a presence at the Anime Festival this year?

Yen Press will be involved with FUNimation with the Soul Eater event, but they will not be holding a dedicated booth or panel.

Any reason for this?

I don’t know. We approached them and offered, but they said no.

[Note: Yen Press's Kurt Hassler commented on this issue days after the festival ended.]

Has there been concern from the vendors over the Anime Festival in general?

Sure, there’s actually a concern with both conventions that New York City is just way too expensive for them to make it out to. That’s why New York has not seen a convention since the Big Apple Anime Film Festival in 2003, the city was just too expensive for them with all those unique demands.

This will always be a problem for us, and we try our best to overcome this obstacle. By combining the two conventions together, we can assure the vendors that there will be a high number of attendees for their particular store. We will have plenty of anime fans to make the anime vendor’s trip worth while.

So what will anime fans have to look forward to with the new C2E2 convention this April?

C2E2 is going to be similar to the Comic Con in that it will be a big tent, all around pop-culture convention. We’ve already been in talks with the local anime con there, Anime Central, and we’d like everyone to know that we’re not trying to launch an anime-specific con for Chicago. We’re just going to hold C2E2, Anime Central will still be Chicago’s major anime con.

But like we did with Comic Con, we want anime and Japanese pop culture to be a part of C2E2. So we’re in talks with Japanese guests and American voice actors to attend the event. And of course, fans can expect FUNimation and all the other major anime and manga publishers to be there as well.

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Ultimately, we won’t find out if the merge was a good or a bad idea until a year from now when the mega-con will take place. But at least Peter does have the anime fans in mind while planning for this event. And if the merge can bring in larger Japanese guests than NYAF could not on its own, then I guess it’s all for the better.

But really, how can NYAF get guests even larger than the ones who attended this year, like Tomino and AKB48? ;-)

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