BY EVAN LAMBERT
You’re sweaty. You can’t breathe. You’re getting boxed in by a giant crowd of masked twenty-somethings. Hey, don’t push! Someone’s forcing you forward, forward — you stumble, almost fall flat on your face. You’re about to give up hope entirely when you see Batman on the outskirts of the mob. Batman! You’re saved! He’ll swoop you up to the rafters and fly you to freedom!
Not so much. He’s on break, eating a hot dog with Darth Vader. Welcome to New York Comic Con.
New York Comic Con, the East Coast’s biggest annual celebration of graphic novels, movies, video games, television, and pop culture, has experienced overcrowding problems ever since its debut in 2006, when state troopers had to bar visitors from Midtown Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center to control the growing mob. This year was no exception, as an estimated 105,000 people descended upon the Javits Center — and Con-goers certainly took notice.
“When you’re walking through crowds in a big, bulky, sweaty costume all day, it’s easy to get grouchy,” said Steve Wurtzbacher, 25, a North Carolina resident who came to the convention dressed as Fantomex from the Uncanny X-Force. Wurtzbacher, even with his beefy costume of heavy white fabric and artificial muscles, turned out to be no match for the superhuman-sized crowds. “People will try to push through you when they’re, like, three times your size! It’s the worst.”
The overcrowding problem especially affected lovers of anime, a form of Japanese animation popular in Western cultures. From 2007 to 2010, anime-lovers enjoyed a separate, smaller, relatively-less-crowded convention at the Javits Center: the New York Anime Festival.
“The Anime Festival used to have more artists and more panels, but now that [the event organizers] have combined it with Comic Con, we’re sort of relegated to the back,” said Eric Pearlstein, 26, who dressed as Link from the Legend of Zelda. “We barely get anything.”
Pearlstein, sporting electric blue contacts as well as Link’s trademark green fairy garb, felt that there was some budding tension between anime fans and the more numerous comic book fans.
“A lot of anime fans have complained about name-calling from the comic book fans,” he said. “There’s been a lot of drama…I feel like we’re in high school all over again. I even knew of a few girls who were reduced to tears over it.”
Some traditional Con-goers, on the other hand, thought that the anime fans should have felt more grateful to be included.
“The Anime Festival didn’t even exist until Comic Con came around…I don’t know why they’re so upset,” said Jordan Desjardins, 24, who dressed as an Orange Lantern from DC’s Green Lantern series. “We’re letting them share our convention. Plus, it’s not about it being ours or theirs, it’s about everyone coming together over one big thing that we all care about.”
Desjardins’ idealism aside, most attendees expressed a great deal of cynicism over the course of the weekend — especially in regard to the event’s rampant consumerism. Numerous booths featured T-shirts and comic book merchandise for sale. Attractive bikini-clad women flirtatiously advertised video games and websites to passersby in the main showroom.
“All those pretty girls who work the booths…they’re really nice and everything, but I just knowthat they would never talk to me if we met outside of Comic Con,” said Wurtzbacher. “Hell, they’d judge me in an instant if they ever saw me on the street.”
Despite all the drama, overcrowding, and superficiality, many Con-goers managed to find their own silver lining in this year’s convention.
“In the end, everyone who comes to Comic Con is a nerd at heart, so I can get along with just about anyone that I talk to here,” said Ken Mars, 21, an anime fan dressed as a character called Sesshomaru (a fearsome androgynous warrior with luscious, flowing white hair.) “That’s why I love Anime Festival. And Comic Con, I guess.”