[NYCC 2015] Vending v. Attending at Comic ConOctober 16, 2015
As I enter my mid-twenties, I can proudly say I’ve attended my fair share of comic cons- both local and internationally acclaimed- as attendee and as a member of the press.
This past New York Comic Con I was presented the unique opportunity to volunteer at a booth. It was NYCC’s 10th year, and after having difficulty with the ticket process back in June for the show, I was desperate to make it all four days, a feat I hadn’t yet undertaken. I had already purchased a Saturday pass, but luck was on my side and I ending up procuring a Thursday, Friday and Sunday Exhibitor pass. Here’s what happened when I worked NYCC for three days, and attended one as a commoner.
So how did I manage to get an Exhibitor pass? Luck, as I mentioned before. Several weeks before the con, back when I only had the Saturday pass, my cousin sent me a Facebook post of a friend of hers who was looking for volunteers for his colleague’s booth, Bill Cole Enterprises, an art supply and comic book preservation store. I jumped at the opportunity.
You can check out more of the GCE’s NYCC coverage with the NYCC 2015 tag. Or here, start with our coverage of the X-Files panel.
Thursday, October 8th Exhibitor
I barely slept the night before, pre-con jitters always leave me an anxious mess. My alarm clock rang at 6 am but I was already awake, I needed to be out the door before 7 to catch a train into New York City. It was rush hour, and the forty-minute train was packed with business suits, not a cosplayer in sight. The train pulled in to Penn Station at a quarter to 8, and within minutes I was above ground walking hastily to the Jacob K. Javits Center. I was still very early, my instructions were to call Bill, the man I’d be working for, at a quarter to 9 for him to bring me the Exhibitor pass.
Even though I was early, and the con wasn’t opening its doors to the majority of the public until two and a half hours later, there was still a line forming outside the doors of the center. I lingered about, not sure what to do. Bill told me to meet him inside by the Will Call booths. I went up to the security guard and explained I needed to go in to get my badge. He nodded me through, and I felt about a dozen eyes follow me inside enviously.
When Bill met up with me, he tossed me the badge as he was ‘inside’ the con. I had never seen the Javits Center so empty. A man walked by in a suit, a bright yellow tie, yellow-tinted sunglasses and facial hair constructed like a familiar genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. I nearly blurted out Robert Downey Jr. before rubbing my eyes and reminding myself that he was a cosplayer and not actually Tony Stark. I followed Bill to Aisle 2600, a spot I would become quite comfortable with over the next four days. Bill and I went over the instructions I had been given and we discovered I was his only volunteer for the day. Not knowing anything about art supplies, I hastily walked the booth to read up on the items. Gel pens, backing boards, Touch markers, mylar sheets… all these would become second nature by Sunday.
When 10 am finally rolled around I was prepared as I could have only hoped. Bill was a great guy, and being his only volunteer I opted to stay at the booth the whole day instead of asking if I could walk the floor for a bit. The only times I left the booth on that Thursday was to get a problem with our lead retrieval device fixed, buy lunch and use the bathroom.
Talking about bathrooms, the two times I used the bathroom were the only time I got to sit down. From 7 am when there were no seats on the train, to when I’d be getting on the train later that night over 12 hours later.
I barely saw anything at Comic Con except for the booth across the aisle, and passerby’s.
When 6 pm rolled around, NYCC staff began shutting off some of the lights. They walked around with bullhorns, yapping at attendees who were still lingering to leave. As the crowd funneled to the escalators, I helped close up the booth which was simply putting cloths over the merchandise.
Friday, October 9th Exhibitor
Friday wasn’t all that much different than Thursday, I was the only volunteer until later in the day when two others came around 3 pm. The other major difference was that I got to sit intermittingly, Bill had freed up one of the chairs that was placed for the art contest he was running.
I started to grow envious watching attendees come to our booth with their freshly signed photo-ops, looking to incase it in mylar protection. I learned the secret to slipping them in the casing with ease. The green monster was subdued, however, as I began to enjoy the work I was doing. In the afternoon, when the other two volunteers were helping out, I was able to leave the booth to walk around for a bit.
After closing up the booth, I met up with Steph and Marc for dinner and drinks at Stout. Steph and Marc, as you know, run this wonderful site and are from Canada (while I reside in New York). We talked about the new GCE Marketplace, video games, and dissected some of the news from the day.
What I can say from our conversation is that the Geek Chic Elite has some big plans on the horizon. Get amped!
Saturday, October 10th Attendee
Oh man. My free day.
Using the perks of my Exhibitor pass I got to the center at 8:30 am, and immediately booked it down to the panel hall, and got in to the already filled Jessica Jones/Daredevil panel line. I was about three-fourths of the way down, but was confident that the main panel room would be able to fit all of us in the for the panel later that day. NYCC employs the wristband policy for the main stage panels. Line-up early in the morning for a wristband and then you have the rest of the day to frolic among the masses. What is surprising is that I have never gone to a limited room panel before.
When the line finally started to churn forward at a glacial pace an hour later, I was relieved. My feet were on fire from the previous two days, and there hadn’t been enough room in the line for me to sit down for short periods of time. When I got closer to the front, I noticed the left side, the side I was closer to, wasn’t moving, while the right side was blazing by. Not understanding what was going on, I joined the right side and made my way to the front, three people back from getting a the golden ticket. It became apparent that this was the only person giving out the wristbands, and the left side was stuck in a bottleneck and couldn’t move over. Many on the left side began to vocally complain. The man giving out the wristbands told my group he’d be right back with more wristbands and that we should stay put.
Except, when he came back he walked past us and began doling out the highly-coveted wristbands to the left side. Several minutes later he returned, and with the words we feared most. He was all out.
Several people in the line next to me began to get agitated, and with proper reasoning. There had been an overflow line for the panel, which had gotten the wristbands before the original line. It was now nearing 11 am, I had been in line for nearly four hours waiting, and to hear that a wristband I should have received was given to latecomers didn’t sit well with me or the people in the crowd near me. We wanted to talk to a supervisor or manager. The man giving out the tickets completely dismissed anything we said, and after persistent pestering from us, he dispatched a security guard to talk with us, who told us the manager was giving out wristbands for a different panel. Why was a manager giving out wristbands? Shouldn’t the manager be say, managing?
Dejected, and not wanting anymore of my time wasted, I left the line to explore the con I had so desperately wanted to see for the past two days. Later in the day I met up with some people who had been standing next to me in the line and they told me what happened after I left. The security guard had threatened to call the police on those that stayed. And all for what, wanting to talk with a manager about the process?
I’ve heard that the main stage panel wristband process at NYCC isn’t actually as bad as what happened during the instance, such as the Agents of SHIELD/Agent Carter panel that had about six people dispatching wristbands covering all sections of the line (the lines are at least 20 feet wide). So what happened here? I may never know. And I really wanted to go to the panel too.
I spent the rest of the morning meandering around, seeing things attendees had been suggesting I check out. I visited Artist Alley and bought The Wicked and the Divine Volume 2 to get signed by the team of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson- they were lovely people. I watched the Daredevil and Jessica Jones signing, and the Marvel Cosplay Contest as well. I stopped at a friend’s booth and chatted, and then I stopped at the booth I had been working at to see how they were holding up. By 5 pm I had walked the floor a half a dozen times, shopped to my hearts content and was depleted of energy. I left the con a half hour later, hoping to get to sleep a little earlier then I had the previous two nights.
Sunday, October 11th Exhibitor
Back to work on the final day of NYCC! All weekend I had been enviously eyeing the Stan Lee collectible booth right around the corner. They had been selling about 500 NYCC exclusive Stan Lee Funko Pop vinyl’s each morning, and the line was long before the con officially opened each morning. Bill, the man I was working for, could see my thirst. He did me a solid and had the people working the booth bring me one out of sight from the prying eyes of the public. Bill fronted me the cash and I ran down to the Chase ATM in the food court to repay him. It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.
Sunday was the biggest day, and the two other volunteers who had been there late Friday afternoon (and were there Saturday), were no-shows. There was barely a restful moment, and I found myself on my feet for long periods of time. The pizza Bill bought us for lunch was a great booster. When the crowd got too thick I was placed at the corner to make sure people weren’t stealing the Touch markers. I was constantly bumped into and rocked from side to side, definitely not one of my favorite moments.
When closing time rolled around I watched as the crowd thinned out, many people walking slowly to savor the last few minutes of NYCC 2015. As soon as the lights began to dim and the staff with bullhorns began making their rounds, the hard work of breakdown began. Bill is an older gentleman with a knee injury, so he definitely needs a good amount of help. For the next three hours I was packing things, lifting heavy boxes and loading up pallets to be carted away by forklifts to be shipped away. The physically intensive labor involved was fatiguing. I bid Bill, and the other vendors I had become friendly with good-bye, and there were rumblings that San Diego Comic Con would be in my future.
In Conclusion, AKA TLDR
The long hours, the anxiety of being at the con, but not actually enjoying it, and working hard to ensure visitors to the booth would find what they need and have an enjoyable experience made for one of the most interesting and eye-opening con experiences. Working at a con seems like it’s a dream for many, but don’t be fooled by the illusion. It’s demanding work.
Knowing now how much hard work vendors put in, even before the con doors open, has given me a whole new respect for the businesses that make the pilgrimage to these events. Many of these vendors only breakeven at cons, once covering costs of transportation and application fees, and go just for the exposure alone. My tip would be to stop by as many as you can, and even if you can’t afford or have little interest in their merchandise, grab a card or snap a picture, because helping vendors get the word out is a big service.