NYCC 2021 – A Reflection

Earlier this month, from October 7th-October 10th, New York Comic Con was hosted at its usual haunt in Hell’s Kitchen Jacob K. Javits Center. Last year’s convention was held virtually, as were most other large events throughout the country, in response to safety concerns regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But this year vaccinations against coronavirus have been made publicly available, which limits transmission rates and dramatically decreases the risk of developing fatal symptoms. While vaccination rates may not cover 100% of the country’s population, the folks who run New York Comic Con decided that the convention was going to be held in-person again this year, albeit with a few precautions:

  • The number of tickets put on sale was cut dramatically to limit crowd sizes.
    • Normally sold: 250,000
    • Sold this year: 150,000
  • Guests would either have to show proof of vaccination and don a “vaccinated” wrist band or would have to show proof of a negative COVID test at the door.
  • All guests had to wear a mask while indoors.
  • Instead of lining up for potentially hours to get seating for a main-stage panel, all guests had to register for a seat online.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, and despite the new safety measures, thousands of fans still poured into the Javits Center to celebrate the things they love with friends and strangers alike. I was one of those many fans—eager to experience the ‘con but very nervous about whether the new precautionary measures would actually keep us all safe. I went with my mom, who’s been bringing me to NYCC since I was 10 years old. Having over ten years of experience with this event, I wondered how this year would stack up in comparison. I felt much more stressed about this year than any other. My mom and I are both fully vaccinated, but it doesn’t mean we’re 100% protected from the virus. Here’s some good news though: even with all the strangeness and worry, NYCC 2021 was still a satisfying and enriching experience.

Something that may comfort you, reader, is that the Javits Center staff enforced their COVID-safety measures better than I originally had hoped. I was afraid that an event as large as Comic Con would make it impossible to successfully enforce a mask mandate or proof of vaccination/negative COVID tests. But from what I saw, these measures were largely successful. Almost everyone I saw had a green wrist band (a.k.a. the “vaccinated” wrist band) on, and the staff members were quick to call guests out for not wearing their face masks properly. But not many people even needed to be strong-armed into following safety measures. People were generally very courteous about personal space (well, as much as you can be at a convention) and wearing their masks around others. In fact, many people incorporated a face mask into their cosplays, which shows how creative ingenuity can still shine through the grim year-and-a-half hanging over us.

That doesn’t mean everything was all sunshine-and-roses, though. Obviously, people have to remove their masks to eat or drink water, and masks themselves aren’t foolproof. I personally still felt the need to be as cautious as possible for the three days I attended (Fri-Sun). Whereas I would normally try getting a front seat for a panel, I opted for seats far away from others, either in the far back or way in the wings of the crowd. In fact—while I usually blend my time at these conventions with equal parts watching panels and walking the exhibition halls—I only went to three panels this year. All three of the panels that I sat through were on Friday, but I decided to spend the next two days purely wandering the convention.

The panels that I did see were worth the time investment. By accident, my mom and I found a panel about a horror comic imprint run by Sandy King (wife of horror-icon John Carpenter), where we got to hear her, and her impressive team of collaborators, talk about the joys and challenges of printing horror stories in the graphic novel genre. The imprint, Storm King Comics, is built by the teamwork of comics-industry vets and new blood. Like every Comic Con, one of the true delights of the convention lies in hearing artists discuss their work and engage with their fans. Even though I had never heard of Storm King Comics before, their passion and wit made me want to immerse myself in their work immediately (which the two volumes I later bought from their exhibition booth can attest to).

We then saw Dee Bradley Baker and Matthew Wood speak at a panel about their experiences working in Lucasfilm. Both are voice actors and have been heavily involved in several Star Wars projects over the years. Baker is predominantly known for voicing the clone troopers in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars: The Bad Batch, and Star Wars: Rebels. Wood voiced General Grievous and the Separatist battle-droids for the Star Wars prequel trilogy and reprised these roles in various animated series and video games. As a massive Star Wars fan myself, hearing these two talk about their work was such an honor. Their voice acting work fills the space of so many of my childhood memories, and I was thrilled to hear more about how this work was made and what it means to them.

At the end of the day, we went to a retrospective panel about The Boys, an Amazon Prime series based on a dark comedy/satire comic of the same name. Season two aired during the peak of the pandemic, which meant that the cast and crew couldn’t talk shop about the show with fans or media the same way that they normally would. This panel was the first time that the cast came together at a convention to talk about the show in about two years. The entire cast of principle characters weren’t there, but a decent chunk of them were: Anthony Star, Erin Moriarty, Karen Fukuhara, Jack Quaid, and Chace Crawford. I was pleasantly surprised how casually funny and playful every actor was, but I guess I should’ve expected that from the cast of a show where an Aquaman-stand-in character has a conversation with his own sentient gills.

After those three panels on Friday, our focus for rest of the convention was simply the convention itself. In other years, we would schedule our days based on when different panels or events were going to happen. But this year felt like it was all about the present moment. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so long in Artist Alley (the space exclusively set up for comic writers and illustrators), which could take up half a day alone if you really lingered on every booth set up down there. My mom and I even made several long trips to the massive exhibition hall, lapping around certain aisles and sections more than once. This isn’t to say that we haven’t spent other years exploring the NYCC exhibition hall—we always dedicate time for walking around the hall. But this year felt like we fully immersed ourselves in it, engaging with vendors and craftsmen and painters and other fellow nerds far more than I can remember from before.

The pandemic may have hung over the convention like a massive cloud, but I can’t truthfully say that it worsened the experience. If anything, the atmosphere lent itself to a much-needed shift in priorities for how I want to spend my time at conventions in the future. Instead of wasting time standing on lines or sitting in a dark room for several hours to catch a good panel, almost all of my Comic Con weekend felt like a true immersion into the disparate community of fans and artists that I’ve loved for years. Mingling through crowds of stunning cosplay, having great conversations with artists about their work (like when an industry vet at the Storm King Comics booth spoke at lengths with me about the importance of lettering in a graphic novel), and trying to make good memories—that’s how my first post-lockdown Comic Con played out. Hopefully we’ll achieve a post-pandemic world in the near future, but it’s comforting to know that some things have already changed for the better.