Talking NY Comic Con '09 with Director Lance Fensterman

New York Comic Con 2008

You may have noticed ads on this and other websites as well as a recent slate of news releases starting to tout the 2009 New York Comic Con at New York's Jacob Javits Center. If it seems hard to believe the 4th annual version of the show is coming so soon after the 2008 show, your internal calendar isn't off. This past year's show was held in April; the upcoming show moves back to early February … that’s less than 10 months in-between.

Despite the abbreviated down-time between shows, the world has changed greatly since curtain fell on Comic Con '08. A comic book movie became the 2nd highest grossing film of all-time and is an Oscar favorite; we've elected a new President that represents a social sea change many people didn't think they'd see in their lifetime; and oh yeah … world and national economy is looking even weaker than  Punisher War Zone's box office receipts.

How does any of this affect the upcoming show? We'll tackle at least one of those topics in this, the first part of a continuing conversation we'll be having with the show's Director Lance Fensterman in the weeks leading up to New York Comic Con 2009.

Newsarama: So Lance, before we get into Comic Con 2009 and the future, since you are Newsarama's contact into the massive organization that is Reed Exhibitions, can you shed any light on an announcement made several months ago - that Reed will be involved with Penny Arcade's consumer video game convention PAX in Boston in 2010?

Lance Fensterman: We are pretty psyched about the partnership we’ve hatched with the crew over at PAX, and not only because we now have several game systems and monitors strewn about the office and can call it “work”. We are working hard towards expanding the PAX event to the East Coast in 2010 and it’s going to be exceptional. Details are still being worked on as we are still a ways off, but needless to say we are extremely happy to be working with everyone at Penny Arcade, they do things the right way, and much like us, the fan is the focus of all that they do.

NRAMA: Can you speak about Reed's role in the show, and how and why it came about?

LF: With the success of New York Comic Con and the launch of the New York Anime Festival we began to look at markets and niche’s that as an organization we never had in the past. We also added some key people to work on these events (myself included in that lot) that brought with them a very different perspective and saw different opportunities in different markets. My boss, Greg Topalian in particular was pretty psyched about gaming and we moved aggressively towards a partnership. I think you’ll see more expansion into the pop culture space from Reed in years to come in a variety of different ways…

NRAMA: With this new relationship developing and the knowledge and contacts that come with it, do you expect it will have any demonstrative effect on the video game industry's profile at Comic Con, this year or in the future?

LF: We are actually seeing huge growth with video gaming companies at NYCC this year, however I really don’t attribute it to the PAX partnership. It was only very recently that we even began to talk about that partnership publicly and many of the gaming companies were already committed to NYCC. We see the markets as very different. Currently, gaming companies see NYCC as a place to reach crossover and casual gamers, PAX is all about the hard core gamer. Having said all of that, the relationship with PAX has given us greater insights into how to work with these companies which has been very helpful. Again, they run a great business.

NRAMA: Any other future Reed plans that might have any resonance with fans of 'genre' entertainment like comic books, movies, video games, etc?

LF: You’ll have to wait and see on that one, but yes, we are actively working on new projects in a number of areas that will be pretty exciting when we are ready to roll them out. I promise to have your number on speed dial...

NRAMA: If we don't pick up, please leave a message…

Before getting into the specifics of this year's show, let's talk about the issue that perhaps the overriding subject of any business conversations these days, the apocalyptic state of the national and world economy

LF: Wow, apocalyptic. Ouch. Okay, I’m ready, hit me…

NRAMA: Can you talk about how the economic downturn and uncertainly might affect (if at all) this year's show, and Comic Con's future moving forward?

LF: Thus far, besides my 401k getting crushed, we have yet to see any negative effect on NYCC from the exhibitor side of things. The show floor is still on target to grow, less than in years past (50 or 100% growth is hard to maintain!) but as of today, I don’t attribute that slower growth to just the economy but rather our proximity to the Toy Fair. It’s hard for toy companies to do two big shows in 2 weeks, so we are not getting the turn out from toy companies that we would like. I expect things to get more serious after the first of the year. I’m an old retail guy, so i know first thing that things get a lot tougher for everyone after Christmas, so I’m holding my breath that the show will be in great shape after the realities of the holiday season set in for our customers.

NRAMA: So no sudden changes in terms of exhibitors? This year's show fairly well booked before the fairly sudden and drastic downturn?

LF: Nope, we have a great team and a great show, our customers see the event as an opportunity to buoy there business, not another drag on cash flow. I’m really proud of that. I did mention the toy companies, but we see that as a logistical issue to a value issue.

NRAMA: If not this year, so you expect there will be repercussions next year and how is Reed responding to that?

LF: I think we are all aware that we are entering a prolonged period of hard economic times and I think large events of all kinds, no matter what sector they serve are going to face harder times. The way to fight through that is to focus on our customers (fans and exhibitors) and create an amazing event that is cool for fans and valuable for exhibitors. If we do that, NYCC only becomes more indispensible to all of its constituents.

I don’t mean to sound like MBA Junior over here, but really, it’s the simple truth. I also see great opportunity in playing up the pure business portion of NYCC. No other show allows the trade with exclusive hours to do business, and I can see adding additional education and networking opportunities for the trade as an important way to add extra value to our exhibitors in the future.

NRAMA: How about from the attendee end then? We've spoken about this before, given you're drawing from one of the largest local fan bases on the planet, it would seem like New York Comic Con doesn't necessarily need for attendees to buy airfare and to fly in or make long drives from other cities and book hotel rooms…

LF: 40% of our attendees are form beyond the [NY] tri-state area. Interesting eh? I wish I could forecast this one, but a vast majority of our ticket sales come in the 3-4 weeks leading up to the show. So right now I’m pacing fine or a little behind last year, but honestly, that does not mean much, we’ve probably only sold about 15% of our eventual total sales thus far. I believe that if we produce a kick ass con, our fans will reward us by spending there last 50 bucks with us – but that’s our challenge every year – wow our fans!

NRAMA: There is a theory that in tough economic times, relatively small ticket entertainment venues (comic book sales, movie attendance, DVD sales) thrive? Any thoughts on the theory?

LF: As a bookseller it was a mantra I held tightly to! Is it true? We’ll have to ask Jim Cramer that and he can scream the answer back to us…

NRAMA: Let's talk about the move back from April (last year), to February this year, more in tune with the first couple of Comic Cons … May we assume the move "back" was due to availability at Javits? Or were there any other factors involved?

LF: The move was 100% about Javits, these were literally the only dates we could get, so we took them. I liked the spring, customers liked the spring, fans liked the spring – guess what? We can’t get spring dates at the Javits and probably never will be able to. Drag. It’s funny, when I meet with the folks at the Javits, they literally bring with them 3 or 4 giant calendars filled with all of the events for each year. We don’t just look at '09 or '10, I look with them 3 to 4 to 5 years into the future, NYCC needs a consistent home on the calendar for years to come.

As for February, don’t worry, no one will have to wait outside, we’ve already secured nice warm halls for everyone to line up in!

NRAMA: How (if at all), do you think being in February (as opposed to April) will affect what attendees can see and do on the con floor?

LF: Besides missing some of our favorite friends in the toy business, I don’t see the dates as having a massive impact on the experience of the show floor.

NRAMA: We'll get to more of the specifics of this year's show in the next part of our conversation, but for now, can you talk broadly about where you see Comic Con in terms of its maturation now its in fourth year?

LF: NYCC is now the 4th largest event that takes place in NYC. Did you know that? It’s the marathon and Auto show and then us. I think that says a lot about where the show is going and how quickly we are getting there. I see the show as starting to come into its own, starting to stabilize a bit and find its identity. I don’t think we’ll see the massive growth we did in the first 3 years as it’s nearly impossible to sustain that, instead I think you will see the shows impact as a city wide cultural event start to grow and the size of the show growing steadily along with that. I think you’ll see a consistent date pattern emerge very soon, I think you’ll see tradition begin to get set, I think you’ll see TV/Hollywood/Mainstream pubs/National chains all begin to take note of the event, I think you’ll see increased media coverage.

This is all to say that I think NYCC is in an exceptionally good place and our job is to push it in new directions (like those I mentioned earlier) while never losing what it is about at its core which is our fans and comics.

I hope we can talk more soon, I’ve got a lot more cool stuff to share with you!


Newsarama's New York Comic Con 2009 Page

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