By Peter Dabbene
I’ve read comics all my life. That’s a statement which, at this moment, is probably being interpreted many different ways by many different readers. I won’t go into a whole “comics aren’t just for kids” speech, but suffice it to say I’ve read plenty of comics and graphic novels that easily outshine the books on the bestseller lists in terms of complexity, story and style.
Seven years ago, I attended my first New York Comic Convention. It was a largely unknown quantity at that time, just starting off and in the deep shadow of its bigger cousin, the San Diego Comic Con. My only personal experience with comic conventions had been as a kid, going with my dad to the local Knights of Columbus hall or Ramada Inn, paying $2 for admission, and debating between buying some old X-Men comics or a Mark McGwire rookie card.
For a long time, these small settings were the standard in comic conventions. They weren’t even called conventions. Usually, they were just shows, with the interest for comics low enough that they shared billing (and half the space) with baseball cards and other hobbies.
Times have changed.
Here I feel I must demonstrate some level of geek credibility—on the original Star Trek, the pon farr was a physical and psychological condition that forced the alien Vulcans to return home every seven years, to a land of strangely costumed people, for reasons we won’t go into here. Much like the pon farr, after seven years I found myself being called back to the NY Comic Con. (Actually, it was just a friend of mine calling, but you know what I mean.)
I thought it would be interesting to see how the New York convention had grown. Still, I was a little nervous—the last time I’d attended, I’d gone on a Friday afternoon, and was completely overwhelmed by the crowds, scale and spectacle of the whole thing. This time, my Comic Con ticket was for Sunday, and a weekend could only be crazier.
That Sunday, I drove to the Hamilton train station, parked and bought my ticket alongside a bunch of other NYC day trippers on their way to see plays or go sightseeing. I wasn’t the only one going to Comic Con, though; that became obvious when I saw a middle-aged man in a Green Arrow costume, and several teenagers with painted faces, plus horns sprouting from their heads.
People carried fake guns and swords as part of their costumes, and there was more than one Comic Con-unaware passenger whose face betrayed a trace of concern at this. Of course, if there were a real terrorist attack on the train, we’d have little to fear, what with all the superheroes around.
I arrived at Penn Station, and upon emerging at street level, didn’t need to take the usual moment or two to orient myself. All I had to do was follow the Ninja Turtles. Or the Indiana Jones family. There were costume wearers of all shapes and sizes, many armed with realistic-looking weapons, or at minimum, an acute lack of self awareness. Even a street musician got into the act, playing famous sci-fi and superhero themes on his accordion while wearing a Boba Fett helmet.
And there I was, uncostumed but marching along in a geek pilgrimage toward the Javits Center, feeling like I’d been absorbed into a mashup of every comic, manga or movie that bears even a hint of the speculative. At the entrance, attendees were permitted to check their bags, or, perhaps more conveniently, their weapons. Then, it was on to the show floor.
I met up with my friend, who was already inside, and we explored a bit. There were comics, T-shirts, and toys for sale, along with geek chic items like custom furniture with raised edges to keep your role-playing dice from falling off the table.
There were hundreds of artists meeting fans and drawing commissions; there were previews of upcoming Hollywood films and TV shows; there were several tons of B- and C-grade celebrity biomass signing autographs.
All fun stuff, but after a few hours, we were overloaded… and done. Turns out I’m just not that interested in B- and C-grade celebrities, movie previews and all that stuff. I’m interested in good stories, good art and the effective combination of the two. I talked with a couple of editors and artists, found a few cheap graphic novels, bought a toy for each of my kids, and we were out of there, ready for the best reward of the day—a genuine New York half-pastrami/half-corned beef on rye.
As with books, movies and other forms of storytelling, comics and graphic novels offer many different kinds of stories (and many different styles of art). So by all means, stop by your local library or comic book store and ask for some recommendations. Go to a less extravagant comic show and soak up the geeky ambiance on a smaller scale.
Or just go for the gusto and get tickets to the New York Comic Con. Maybe I’ll see you there next year.
Or maybe in seven.
Peter Dabbene lives and writes in Hamilton. His latest Mixed Martial Arts op-ed can be found at fightopinion.com/2012/09/29/ufc-peter-dabbene-jon-jones/, his Hamilton Post columns can be found at mercerspace.com/blog/pdabbene, and his website is peterdabbene.com.