Stepping aside from the world of sports for a moment, or in this case, a full day at Jacob Javits Center last weekend, where this year’s New York edition of Comic-Con once again claimed the world of comics and superheroes as the king of the entertainment industry, drawing hundreds of millions to its TV shows and movies, generating billions of dollars to its corporate entities.
And it all started with a ten cent magazine of simply drawn animation for kids.
Yes, we’re coming up on the 85th anniversary of the day a former WWI Major named Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson came up with the idea of presenting original animated artwork for kids in a small magazine format. It was in January of 1935 that New Fun Comics made its debut on newsstands – some three years before the big guy from Krypton with the red cape.
Prior to that, some publishers had reprinted the “funnies,” comic strips already presented in daily newspapers, but the Major, who by that time, had settled in the growing Long Island community of Great Neck, couldn’t secure those rights, so he coordinated fresh art for his project.
And you know where that has grown to today.
A day at Comic-Con is an experience in itself, attended by what felt like everybody who has ever screened an Avengers movie crammed into the massive convention center all at once. And where decades ago, a comics collectors “swap meet” would have considered it odd to see a collector arrive in the costume of their favorite superhero, today, a full 30/35 percent of all attendees, maybe more – by this observer’s estimate – are dressed head to toe in outfits straight out of the comic books. And most of the rest are in t-shirts, tattoos, or other colorful ways of displaying their devotion.
The costumes! Oh, the costumes are amazing! It’s an easy cliché to say it’s a preview of Halloween presentations. Oh, no. We’re not talking cheap party store fabrications with plastic masks tied with a rubber band. We’re talking full blown, months-in-the-making, accurate depictions of outfits that sometimes even Hollywood dressers find difficult to create.
There’s Batmans, Spider-Mans, Jokers, Penguins, Capt. Americas, Hulks, Thors, Wolverines, Harley-Quinns, X-Men characters, Avengers characters, Star Wars characters, Star Trek characters, Anime characters, and so on. Hundreds of them. And then there are many that make you wonder, “Who the heck is he supposed to be?”
Some of the outfits are crude, painted cardboard, or folded tin-foil, or like something Ralph Kramden concocted, but others are absolute maxed-out replicas.
The new female version of Capt. Marvel was big this year. So was Game of Thrones characters. So was any of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther characters. Naturally, whichever superhero movies are big in the last few years inspire the greatest adoration.
And the families! Entire families come dressed to the hilt, including babies in strollers, who obviously have no clue why mom and dad don’t look like mom and dad and look like they’re from another planet. Well, maybe they are.
One family had mom painted up all green like She-Hulk, dad had green hair, and the baby was a miniature Jedi. Another mom pushed her young child around in an obviously home-made boat like he was Sponge-Bob.
Some come in themed groups, like the villains of Spider-Man – Doc Ock, Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, and the Vulture. Don’t know if they knew each other or just found each other, but they walked the show together just like out of the pages of a Spider-Man Annual.
Cosplay has become the attraction. That’s the name for impersonating your favorite characters and there were even costume contests for best outfits. And of course, all of the costumed characters encouraged your attention. Ask any of them for a photo, and they immediately strike a pose like they were on the cover of a comic.
You can just imagine how many millions of selfies and other photos were posted on their Instagram and Facebook and other social media accounts that day.
And then, at the end of the day, something occurred to this observer. The one character who was conspicuously absent from virtually all of the costumed iterations, essentially devoid of any representation, was basically the King of all comic book characters, the guy who changed those funnies pages into a superhero kingdom, that visitor from another planet in 1938, Superman!
Yes, he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, and is faster than a locomotive (enjoy the ode, George Reeves fans), but apparently, the big guy with the S on his chest has become diminished in comic corners. I don’t think I saw one attendee in a Superman outfit. A few t-shirts here and there, and one woman in a black female version of a Super-Girl outfit, but no Supermen.
Albeit it’s not like I screened past every attendee to take a survey, and I wasn’t there every day of Comic-Con, but Comic-Con does attract dozens of Capt. Americas and Capt. Marvels, all of the aforementioned, obscure characters and strangeness such as those dressed as the Super Mario Bros., one guy covered in vines and moss from a tree, and even one guy who came as the Leg Lamp in “A Christmas Story,” – yes, you read that right, the lamp! But no Superman!
DC and Warner Bros. are, no doubt, concerned about one of their premier properties, and we’ll see what happens when they again bring the Kryptonian to the big screen, but for now, that kid who grew up in Smallville might be inhaling some kryptonite for a while, both in the movies and in the comics.
Of course, early Superman comics continue to generate huge values, as well as early Marvel comics and the many animated publications of decades past, and there were dozens of comics dealers there to underscore their popularity. After all, what’s a Comic-Con without comics.
Grading comics has now become the norm in the hobby. It’s all about the condition. There is a service known as CGC, or Comics Grading Company, that will carefully evaluate the condition of your comic, permanently encase it in plastic and give it a grade, from 1 to 10, and with finite variations within. Almost nothing gets a one, and nothing gets a ten, but when a collector sees a grade of say, 9.6 or thereabouts, they’re ecstatic, and that comic becomes increased in value multi-fold.
It doesn’t seem to bother anyone then, that the permanently encased comic can no longer ever be “read,” and that you’re only looking at its covers, but that’s the one they want to buy and keep. The theory being that it will then always maintain its condition. Ooh, it’s a 9.2!
And all of the great comic book artists were there, signing autographs and making impromptu sketches for fans. One of the all-time best, Neal Adams, was there with his works. He’s arguably the Mickey Mantle of comic book artists, with another great one, Jack Kirby, who passed away some time ago, as the hobby’s Babe Ruth.
The corporate representation at Comic-Con has become overwhelming. Of course, all of the comic book publishers – Marvel, DC, and their lesser competitors have massive booths and incorporate giveaways or other ways to promote their products.
Star Trek was there promoting their new shows on CBS All-Access with a room about the size of an elevator compartment that allowed fans to pause inside for thirty seconds and supposedly feel like they were being beamed up. Sorry, I’m a Trekkie, but didn’t get the feeling. Lots of lights and colors, but no sounds of the Star Ship Enterprise or anything that remotely felt like Star Trek.
Dozens of guest stars were on hand to greet fans, sign autographs, and stand still for photos. There was a time when you could pay for their autograph and politely ask for a photo. Not so fast, anymore, young Padawan. It costs big bucks now just to take a photo with your favorite actor or actress. It could cost $40, $50, or more, just take their photo! And even so the lines were long.
Among those there for photo ops included: Tom Hiddleston, Paul Rudd, Amy Acker, Anika Noni Rose, Benedict Wong, Billy Dee Williams, Clare Kramer, Dominic Monaghan, Jodi Benson, Laraine Newman, Paige O’Hara, Paul Reubens, Sean Astin, and Nichelle Nichols.
The convention also holds literally hundreds of small screenings and panel discussions, like visiting intimate talk shows with themed groups. Too numerous to cover in detail, but they included: Neil deGrasse Tyson holding a comics-themed version of his Star Talk TV Series; a screening of the HBO series, The Watchmen; a Lost in Space preview of Season 2; a preview of the new season of The Orville, and panels discussing the Walking Dead Universe, the Star Trek Universe, the world of Pokemon, many comics series, and so on.
Comic-Con is produced by a company called ReedPop. They produce Comic-Cons literally all over the world. The San Diego edition is considered one of the biggest and best. New York is becoming a strong challenger.
Next year’s NY Comic-Con is already scheduled for Oct. 8-11, 2020.
Better start working on your costume now!