If I could give one piece of advice to people looking to attend New York Comic Con in 2012, it'd be this:
If you can afford it, spring for the VIP passes.
Why? One word: lines.
In the past few years, New York Comic Con has exploded in size, all while the Javits Center is still undergoing renovations, and it's resulted in a serious overcrowding situation, which starts well before you get into the convention itself. NYCC's standard line to attendees the past few years has been "if you show up an hour after the show opens, you can walk right in", but that's no longer true. From what I saw on all three full days of the show -- Thursday is a partial day, only open to a limited number of badge-holders -- there was a still a line to get into the show well after doors had opened. The situation was by far the worst on Saturday, when attendees were spending multiple hours in line before they even saw the show floor.
But if you're a VIP, none of that matters. There's a separate VIP entrance, a VIP lounge downstairs and "first on the floor" access. Does it create two tiers of attendees, based on financial means? Absolutely. But for the people who can afford it, it works. And since "time is money", it can end up being a total value.
Once you're on the show floor, or the panel rooms, or artist's alley, no VIP pass will save you from lines (exception: the IGN Theater, which I'll get to). NYCC doesn't quite have SDCC volume yet in terms of attendees, but it also doesn't spread panels between multiple venues or have nearly the exhibition floor space. At times, particularly on Saturday, it was near impossible to move around the show floor, even with some of the space-saving attempts the organizers made. Even with relocating Artists Alley to the North Pavilion, the show floor was a mad house, and it was at its worst around the entrances and exits. There simply aren't enough ways to get up and down to and from the third floor at the Javits Center, and the few escalators that exist aren't equipped to handle that kind of traffic.
There has been some talk about moving the convention from the Javits Center to a larger facility, possibly a new convention center that would be built in Queens, which seems kind of foolish since the construction that splits the third floor as well as the subway extension to Javits should finally be completed in the next couple years. Still, something needs to be done to better manage the crowds in 2013, even if it means selling fewer badges.
Crowds weren't the only story at NYCC 2012, so let's cover some other things, both good and bad.
Speaking of good and bad, Artists Alley had a brand new set up this year, which had its pros and cons. The entire Alley was moved off the show floor into the North Pavilion, which gave NYCC more space for more artists/creators and more space between the rows of tables. Walking up and down the aisles was much more attendee friendly this year, and the layout made it significantly easier to slow down and look at all the tables without completely getting in everyone's way.
That said, by placing Artists Alley in the North Pavilion, it essentially annexed it from the show. It was no longer possible for the average con-goer to just stumble upon it, it had to be sought out. When autographing was in the pavilion last year, that didn't seem like as much of a problem, since autographing sessions by special guests are the exact type of thing that would be sought out. I honestly think it was far too easy for someone to walk into the show, down to the queue hall, up to the show floor, and back out, without ever coming close to Artists Alley. They did have a big sign hanging above the walkway to the North Pavilion pointing it out, but the separation was obvious.
Personally, I had the opposite problem. Artists Alley was such a huge destination for me that for the first couple days of the show, I barely spent any time on the show floor. The layout also had to make life frustrating for creators who had an AA table, but also had to appear at booth signings. Because of the crowds, that walk was insanely long, and meant less time spent at tables and more time spent stuck in slow-moving crowds.
One last point on Artists Alley: the North Pavilion has its own dedicated entrance and exit doors, but those weren't usable all weekend. I get not using them as entrances, that's fine. But not letting people leave through those doors seemed like a poor decision, especially for people who were heading north anyway. As it was, if you were in AA, you had to walk two blocks back south to get to an exit, which seemed unnecessary.
New York Anime Festival
I'm not an anime fan by any stretch of the imagination. But if I were, I'd probably be upset about how marginalized this part of the show has become. In 2010, the first year of the merged NYCC/NYAF, the anime portion of the show had the entire 1E Hall to itself. Last year it had a dedicated show floor on the fourth-floor pavilion and six dedicated panel rooms, which represented a scaling back but still made it feel like a big part of the show. This year it was just "integrated", and it seemed smaller than ever. Some of that may be due to market factors, but the reality is there were definitely fans who were told that NYAF was still a big part of the show and it was hard to see that over the weekend.
On Saturday -- with "The Walking Dead" panel serving as the highlight of the day -- the hall was full and three times as many people were waiting outside in the Queue Hall trying to get in. At least the show streamed the proceedings to the people stuck in the Queue Hall, which had to be some consolation, with IGN becoming NYCC's "Hall H". As an Ultimate Access VIP, I got to walk right in, sitting down just in time for the "Evil Dead", "Walking Dead" and "Firefly" back-to-back-to-back bonanza.
The improved VIP situation wasn't the only upgrade to IGN this year. They actually set up food carts IN the theater, which had to make room camping easier for those who got in early and planned on staying in the room all day. Now if they can only figure out how to get more people in there (probably a physical impossibility at this point).
The reality of every convention is that there will always be panels you want to see that are happening at the same time as something else you want to do (possibly even another panel you'd want to see), and NYCC is no exception. As it ended up for me, I only got to four panels the entire weekend: the three mentioned above and the "Marvel NOW: Spider-Man" panel on Sunday morning.
Maybe this was just my perception, but I felt like NYCC had fewer must-see panels this time around. Of course, part of that is the fact that panels are so well-covered these days, often being able to be viewed in full (save for any exclusive footage shown) within a few hours on YouTube. For example, I skipped out on the Buffy comics panel on Saturday morning to guarantee my spot in line for a signing that was happening toward the end of it, and the entire thing was online the very next day.
Then again, if I'd punted on panels entirely for the show, I would've missed the best moment of the show, which is a nice segue into some "Best of/Worst of" from my experiences of the show.
Best Show Floor Booth (Overall): Nintendo
I'm not a huge Nintendo fan, per se, but I was really impressed by their booth layout and the focus on hands-on experience with the Wii U. They also seemed to do a really great job managing the crowds of people who wanted to get a chance to play, which wasn't always easy. The booth was bright and easy to spot and, as cliche as it sounds, offered fun for the whole family.
Best Show Floor Booth (Personal): Dark Horse Comics
Not only was Dark Horse the home of multiple signings I wanted to attend, but everyone working the booth was incredibly nice and helpful and made things run as smoothly as possible, which isn't always a given at these shows.
Booth that desperately needed more space: Image Comics
Because of immensely popular properties like The Walking Dead, the Image comics booth was a well-trafficked destination throughout the show. The booth was long and narrow, and with frequent signings was often surrounded by lines, making it difficult for some attendees to get to the product they were selling. I'd love to see Image expand to a larger square-type booth next year, splitting the area between signings and sales.
Worst Show Floor Booth: Western Digital
Western Digital had a massive booth that I finally decided to check out on Sunday. The centerpiece of this booth was a trailer that you went in and walked through. The purpose appeared to be to market some new home streaming router solution, but as I walked through, it didn't sell that AT ALL. There were some iPads set up, and some people playing "Halo: Reach" on one end, but no one actually explaining the product or, well, anything. For something that was taking up such a large footprint on the show floor, the WD people didn't seem to want to draw people in. Maybe it was better earlier in the weekend, but by Sunday it was a dud.
Best Innovation From Necessity: The TMNT Tunnel
The 3rd-floor construction tunnel has been a staple of NYCC for years, because of, well, construction. This year one of those tunnels was made up to look like a New York sewer tunnel with a tie-in to the new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" series. It was a nice touch to a piece of the show floor that's normally been drab.
Worst Innovation From Necessity: Javits Center WiFi
This year, NYCC struck a deal to offer free WiFi throughout the center (previously the Javits WiFi was offered at a price, a high price). That seems awesome, except the WiFi didn't really work. You could connect to the network, and even get full WiFi signal on your phone, tablet or computer, but it didn't really pass data of any kind. Whoops.
Best Food: Anything outside the Javits Center
Worst Food: Anything inside the Javits Center
It's not that the Javits food is bad. It's just typical convention center fare, and ridiculously overpriced. There were dozens of food carts lined up on the street outside if you wanted something cheap, and plenty of places within walking distance.
Best Signing: VIP w/ Brian K. Vaughan and Steve McNiven
This is kind of cheating, since these were two separate signings, and only open to Ultimate Access VIPs, but it was really awesome getting exclusive access to these two creators. When you buy the Ultimate Access pass, you get promised two signings with creators, but they don't announce who they are until a couple weeks before the show. I lucked out this year in that they were two creators whose work I really love.
Worst Signing: The Walking Dead
I honestly have no idea how this signing went, but this is really about the ticketing situation. The show was supposed to be giving away tickets for this limited cast signing at 8 a.m. on Saturday, letting people in at 7 a.m. to begin queueing. Instead, what reportedly happened is that people were lining up outside the Javits Center in the middle of the night, and the tickets were given away to those people before 7 a.m. That makes sense on some level, since those people would've been the ones getting the tickets anyway, but people kept showing up after the tickets had been given out, expecting to get in some kind of line that would potentially lead to tickets. But that never happened, which is a huge miscommunication error.
Best Guest: Dan Slott
The "Amazing Spider-Man" writer was awesome all weekend. He signed every Spidey book I brought for him (and that was a LOT), he was jovial and did a great job at Sunday's Spider-Man panel, while fending off fans angry about "Superior Spider-Man".
Worst Guest: No One
Here's the deal: no matter how disinterested you are in some guest, there's someone at the show who thinks that person is awesome and has planned their whole weekend around meeting him/her. And just because you have a bad interaction doesn't mean that the guest was like that with everyone. Personally, every guest I met this weekend was welcoming, accommodating and awesome.
Best Art I Got: ...
Oooh, it's so hard to pick just one. Check the blog later for more on this.
Worst Moment: The lines on Saturday
I didn't have to deal with these too much, but sweet jeebus they need to do something about this.
Best Moment: Nathan Fillion's surprise arrival
For the first 10 minutes of the panel or so, Fillion talked via phone, then there was a giant screeching noise, and we thought we lost him. But he was still there. And by "there" I mean backstage. After another few seconds of playing things for the crowd, he walked out on stage and the crowd went NUTS. It was awesome, because Jewel Staite totally had no idea he would be there. She jumped in his arms and gave him a huge hug and broke into tears.
I honestly think being in that room for that is the highlight of all the conventions I've gone to.