NYCC 2021: The Year After the Year That Wasn’t

NYCC 2021
Thursday afternoon at the north end of the Javits.

As a perennial attendee of New York Comic Con, I normally don’t write a wrap-up post. But I think we can all agree that the past two years have not been normal, so I thought I’d write about ReedPop’s attempt to return to business as usual with an in-person NYCC 2021 and how this year compared to previous years.

Last year’s NYCC was entirely virtual, with most content made available for free on the official YouTube channel. However, it was announced months ago that NYCC 2021, along with several other ReedPop events, would be in-person. A health and safety plan was released that stated that masks would be required by everyone, social distancing would be enforced, and a reduced number of tickets would be sold. As the Delta variant took hold, restrictions were tightened, and it was announced that all attendees, crew, and guests would need to be vaccinated. (But ironically, capacity limits were raised.)

As for the Covid restrictions, people were mostly up for it. A lot of these rules are everywhere in New York City – masks are required in most businesses and on public transit, proof of vaccination is mandatory for indoor dining, movies, and the like. There were some grumblings on social media about masks being required (mostly by cosplayers, who had to deal with additional regulations like no helmets) and proof of vaccination being mandatory, but I felt safer knowing that they were enforcing that. Before even being allowed to enter the Javits, you had to show proof of vaccination and get a wristband. And while I’m sure some people weren’t quite so strict with their mask usage, I didn’t notice anyone actively violating it. Social distancing was practiced primarily at autograph signings and photo ops, which utilized plexiglass barriers between talent and attendees.

NYCC 2021 was a lighter year than usual. Instead of getting guest and panel announcements, we were treated to more and more statements from companies that announced they would be sitting out this year. Most of the major comics publishers opted not to have a presence at all – including Marvel and DC – as did major distributors like Funko and Midtown Comics, New York City’s largest comic book shop. Studios who normally have a presence – like Amazon and SYFY – were absent this year.

This resulted not only in an emptier show floor (which allowed for wider aisles), but an emptier convention center in general. NYCC has always utilized every spare inch of the Javits; even lobby areas contain booths and activations. It made the lower-capacity crowd all that more noticeable. I know some vendors were lamenting the lower sales, but as an attendee, it was nice to be able to move, to be able to breathe (you know, through a mask). I almost never had to wait in line for the ladies’ room, which any female attendee of NYCC will tell you is particularly awful. You were able to sit down, even if it was on a spot of floor.

NYCC 2021
Funimation’s “Sakura Garden”.

Also, the companies that did show up really brought their A-game. Funimation had three booths instead of their usual one – a beautiful fake garden with benches and a bridge, their shop, and another garden on the Inner Roadway with a DJ who played songs from various anime. HBO Max set up a mini carnival in honor of Doom Patrol where you could win swag, and there were magicians and other carnival acts to entertain those waiting in line. Star Trek Prodigy brought a booth built to look like the bridge of the ship from the show and offered a video game that used your body as the controls. The usual Dragon Ball exhibit was super-sized and accessible without a line for once.

Of course, if you weren’t a fan of anime, it probably looked overrepresented at NYCC 2021. Without major studios like Amazon, Hulu, SYFY, or Disney filling up the show floor, companies like Funimation, VIZ Media, and Toei Animation were able to take up more space. As an anime fan who attends every year, I am usually disappointed at the lack of anime content, but since no one else showed up, it seemed like there was a lot this year.

As for content, there were some big-ticket panels where the cast was in attendance – Ghostbusters: Afterlife perhaps being the most notable, which not only featured most of the cast but also surprised fans with a screening of the film – but a lot of the studio panels like Wheel of Time and Sandman consisted of pre-recorded videos. Many people didn’t see the point in waiting in line to simply watch a video, and a pre-recorded panel doesn’t have the same energy and atmosphere as a live one. However, this did allow for the return of smaller, fan panels, which is something that hasn’t really been present at NYCC for the past several years. I particularly enjoyed the one on ace/aro representation and the one on the role women have played in building fandom.

NYCC 2021 felt more like the NYCCs of old, and not just because of the fan panels. There was a tabletop gaming lounge, which is honestly the first I can remember there being one. There was also a large area on the show floor set aside for P2P gaming, which wouldn’t have been possible during a “normal” year because there wouldn’t have been the space for it. Hopefully, the new expansion will allow these to return next year.

NYCC 2021
The “My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission” panel at the Empire Stage on Friday.

Anyone who has attended NYCC more than once will tell you that every year they change something, and it usually doesn’t go well. This year they introduced reservations for the two biggest panel rooms. In previous years, these were allotted half in a lottery and half by lining up in the designated queue first thing in the morning. This year, reservations were done online in advance through a first-come, first-served system that unsurprisingly was a debacle, with the website crashing repeatedly resulting in needing to be shut down and continued on a different date.

Opinions were mixed on reservations; some people were pleased to not have to worry about getting to the convention center early in the morning in order to line up for a seat. Some people disliked having to be online at a specific time (often for more than an hour, during a weekday) as opposed to the lottery system, which gave people days to make their choices. Then of course was the fact that reservations were not enforced uniformly. Most panels didn’t fill, but even those that did were inconsistent about checking reservations, which caused many attendees to question why they even bothered at all.

NYCC 2021 was also the first year that the new Javits expansion was open. (Perpetual attendees will tell you that the Javits is always under construction.) Most of the panels were held in the new expansion, which while seemingly designed for this specific purpose didn’t take into account what would happen when thousands of people were exiting a panel at once. (And the escalators were constantly breaking down.) It did do a nice job of helping spread out the crowd, though. And the new space is actually very nice, with high ceilings and big windows. Lots of cosplayers convened there for photo ops. (Also, the bathrooms are huge!)

Basically, there were pros and cons of the in-person NYCC 2021. My expectations were low – particularly as someone with a press pass, since most talent appeared virtually and weren’t available for interviews – and I didn’t really get excited until the day before the con, when I went to pick up my vaccination wristband. But I ended up really enjoying myself. I attended some great panels – David Harbour was fantastic, as was Avatar: Braving the Elements – I bought some awesome art, and I saw some cool cosplay. But most importantly, I have really missed conventions, and even it wasn’t as big and impressive as normal, it was still amazing to get back to NYCC. It felt like coming home.

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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