NY Comic Con Director Talks Guests, Programs & Joss Whedon?

New York Comic Con 2008

T-minus 3½ weeks and counting. That's how much time is left between now and the launch of the 4th annual New York Comic Con, this year the weekend of February 6-8th 2009.

Since last we spoke with the show's director Lance Fensterman, a few new developments have emerged. NYCC has announced several guests and the bulk of their programming schedule, and another comic book convention organizer has announced the cancellation of a couple of 2009 shows. We spoke with Fensterman about all this and more…

Newsarama: Lance, so last we talked we spoke more about general show issues, let's talk more specifics this time around.

You mentioned the growth of the show in comparison to previous years. Can you break out your slide-rule and maybe give readers a sense of how this show compares to previous years in terms of floor space, exhibitors, and expected attendance?

Lance Fensterman: The size of the show will be about 20% bigger than last year and the number of exhibitors up about 10%. As for attendance, man, if I knew that I would be getting more sleep at night! I fully expect the show to be similar in size as last April. Remember fans, January 12th is your last day to buy tickets online and have them mailed to you! That was my shameless plug to help assure the show is bigger than last year!

NRAMA: We'll allow it…

Again, last time you mentioned you expected the show's growth in the next few years to come in the form of its impact as a city wide cultural event, media coverage, etc... any specifics in terms of growth in that area this year?

LF: Two primary examples: The turnout of "mainstream media" increases each year, and this year we are getting more interest than ever before, prior to the con. We expect large numbers of mainstream media in attendance and covering the show.

Another is the fact that all Borders stores in the metro area are selling passes to and featuring advertising for NYCC. That is a statement that the more casual fan wants into this event.

NRAMA: Wrapping up this topic, what are you most excited about for 2009 in the context of in comparisons to past years?

LF: I'm excited to see the show reach yet another plateau in its development. We had and amazing show last year that by all accounts went smoothly, I want to see it get bigger, broader, more fun for everyone and hassle free for the fans. Plus I'm stoked to hear what Michael Uslan has to say.

NRAMA: Thanks for the segue … since we last spoke, you've announced a bunch of guests. Pardon us while we ask you to potentially offend most of your guests, but if there anyone any 'anyones' you're particularly excited about?

LF: I mentioned Uslan, but I'm also excited about Chip Kidd as I am a huge admirer of his work in both design and writing. Joss Whedon is a mammoth guest that I'm looking forward to hearing from. Lastly, Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade, these guys are a freakin' trip. When I saw them take the stage in Seattle to a live orchestral version of there hip hop anthem, I knew these guys were awesome.

NRAMA: Over your first few years, have you gotten any sense what sort of guest attendees respond to the most - is it the iconic veterans of the industries the show encompasses? The current driving creative forces?

LF: What I love about this show is that there is something for everyone. I've said many times that our goal is to build a show with comics at its core and move outward into all realms of pop culture in equal directions. Every guest, every event sends a message to a different fan that NYCC is cool for them, it's a place where his or her friends will be, a place where the stuff they love, no matter what it is, is represented.

So I guess the short answer would be, no!!

NRAMA: Who in your estimation created the biggest splash over the first three years?

LF: Stan Lee. No question whatsoever. The man is a god of some kind that walks amongst us mortal fans. Seriously, walk around the building with him during the con and watch people's expressions. Read the emails I get from people pleading with me to get them in to see Stan - or inversely the emails I get when someone did not get in to see him and felt they should've!

NRAMA: Any additional new guests you can privilege Newsarama readers with being the first to hear about?

LF: Depending on when you publish this, I've already mentioned Joss Whedon for the first time. You want more than that! Joss and members of the cast of Dollhouse will be on hand, and you heard it here first!

NRAMA: As of this conversation, you've yet to announce your film/TV panels yet, so in as much detail as you can offer, how are those programs/guest shaping up for you?

LF: TV is shaping up very nicely, i.e. Joss Whedon. Hollywood is also coming along quite well, but they are all still tight-lipped on just who and what we are getting! I have some ideas, but they are not confirming just yet, so I've got to wait right along with you…

NRAMA: Lance, you know we're not shy about broaching topics like these (because that just how we roll), but WonderCon follows NYCC this year by just a couple of weeks. Any sense of if (and if so, how) the relative small window between the two shows affected the guests/programming for either?

LF: I honestly can't answer that, I wish I could. Currently they have very few guests posted on there web site and no programming, so I really can't make a comparison. I can say this, we've yet to hear from anyone or any company that they can't come to NYCC because of WonderCon. You know, I've never been to that show, maybe I'll go this year, it could be my post-NYCC vacation!

NRAMA: So Lance, speaking of other cons, last week Wizard announced the "postponement" of this year's WizardWorld: Los Angeles show in March, and the cancellation of their Texas show in November.

The late cancellation (at least for March) of L.A. is probably too late in the cycle to have any demonstrative effect on Comic Con (if the shows had any effect on each other to begin with), but any thoughts generally as a show organizer?

LF: My first thought is that there are going to be a lot of really bummed out fans, and we never like to see that. I think in a larger sense it seems to be a sign of the economic times. We’ve never been in an economy like we are currently in, and I think all of us in business are uncertain as to what these circumstances will bring.

The good news for a show like New York Comic Con or the New York Anime Fest is that Reed is an extremely healthy company and we have the resources and business model to see our properties through these hard times. So our goal is not so much to ride out the economic storm but rather to grow stronger and provide ever more value to our fans for there buck.

NRAMA: Are less shows overall better for the stronger ones?

LF: I don’t think the number of cons out there really effect what we do so in that sense I don’t think its better or worse. We, by our nature, concentrate on larger “game changing” events for our fans and our customers and the quantity of cons out there does not really affect us one way or another. Again, I see some of these regional cons as being really fan pleasers and happy fans means a healthy industry, so we never wish to see any show go away.

NRAMA: So you think the smaller regional shows help build interest in the larger national ones?

LF: I think they do and they fill a need for fans that can’t make it to the larger show and the serve smaller dealers and exhibitors that can’t make it to or maybe afford the major cons. There is a place for everyone in this eco system if they are providing great value for there fans and customers.

NRAMA: So you see this as a sign of the economic times and bad news for everyone?

LF: A rising tide floats all boats, so I think I sinking tide can sink some boats too, so yeah, I don’t think this is good news for anyone. However, our goal has always been to provide ever increasing value to our fans and exhibitors. If we do that, we will always be a hard event to miss. If it’s cool, they will come!

NRAMA: Moving onto programming (again)… is it our imagination, or is the open-to-the-public Friday programming starting earlier this year than in year's past?

LF: It kind of is. We thought, hey if the fans wanna come down before the show opens and see some cool panels, then why can't they? We didn't feel it diminished our trade programming at all and we always have an abundance of cool fan panels, so lets get it started early for them.

NRAMA: How has programming evolved this year? In any quantifiable or qualifiable way?

LF: We made an effort to ratchet down the quantity just a bit and ratchet up the quality. We want to have the best, most balanced programming we can and the most comfortable and organized environment we can offer.

NRAMA: Similar questions as to the one about guests ... any panel or panels come to mind that stick out at a personal favorite?

LF: Truth? I have not been able to read all of the panels yet! I read them in draft form, but since they've been finalized I've had my hands so full with other business. Sorry. Bad answer. But at least you know I'm honest.

NRAMA: In year one, you guys were flying blind guest/panelists wise, other than to observe like anyone else what seemed to be successful at shows like Comic-Con International and the Wizardworlds. Now with a few years under your belt, have you/NYCC gathered any personal insight into what fans want to see?

LF: A good combination of the standards and the new. For example, we can put Stan Lee on a panel with 3 or 4 legendary creators and people will always come, but what else can we do with Stan Lee that people are not expecting? Who else can we pair him with on a stage. It's ok to make odd/interesting panel concepts and combinations of talent, but that can't be all that you do.

NRAMA: Okay, we'll probably talk again once more before the show, but any parting thoughts or drops of knowledge to close with?

LF: Is anyone willing to be my personal assistant for free for the next 4 weeks? Things are getting cra-zy around NYCC World Headquarters!

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