Once a bustling, but not yet massive event within the halls of the Jacob Javits Center in midtown, this past weekend’s New York Comic Con is on track to have final attendance numbers toppling their previous 151,000 in 2014. Its famous West Coast twin (no relation), Comic-Con International: San Diego (Or: San Diego Comic-Con) has likely met its match, with this year's attendance at an impressive, Gaslamp District-packing 131,000 people.
This particular increase in attendance has begun something of a rivalry between the two events (at least in the eyes of the fandom) sparking debate around which — as with any perceived rivalry — is "the best" of the two. But what so many don’t seem to realize is that, when making these comparisons, the amount of variables that factor into the equation topple that of their constants. What I mean is that the two events are so vastly different that it’s hard to really determine what factors make one better than the other.
San Diego: The Fairgrounds of Geek Culture
For nearly an entire week out of the year, San Diego’s bustling Gaslamp District is taken over by superheroes and heroines for the sake of an all-out celebration of fandom. San Diego Comic-Con is the place to be for announcements on upcoming films that go beyond your standard Marvel and DC announcements, and there’s a reason that hundreds of thousands flock to the event annually. Beyond the madness of Hall H lies a hands-on experience that immerses fans within the worlds and concepts of some of their favorite subjects.
The area around the convention center is regularly occupied by off-site events and experiences; this past year, fans could test their skills on the Assassin’s Creed obstacle course, shriek their lungs out on a 50-foot Scream Queens drop ride, navigate their way through mazes based on American Horror Story: Hotel, enroll in the American Ultra program to decode puzzles in order to earn a small jar full of weed (for those who could legally consume it, of course) and take a trippy ride through the weird world of Adult Swim in Meatwad’s Full Dome Experience — just to name a few.
Properly known as Comic-Con International: San Diego, the event attracts the biggest studios, who put on the most incredible displays of marketing prowess all in an effort to attract more support for their productions. Fans who wait overnight, and sometimes in the rain for panels are rewarded with exclusive trailers, and when the gettin’s good, much much more. This past year, Lucasfilm surprised over 600 fans who camped out overnight for their Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel with a full symphonic orchestra concert, and a special guest appearance by real-life action hero, Harrison Ford.
San Diego puts on the fireworks for a massive display of fan favoritism, complete with daytime events and nightlife that can potentially bring out the best in even the most introverted of us. What could possibly top that?
New York: A Personal Experience On A Grand Scale
Hailed as the birthplace of comics, New York City is a bustling cityscape that stops for nothing — not even a massive comic convention. While the fireworks and fanfare of San Diego can light up the eyes of even the most cynical fan, New York Comic Con presents an honest convention experience on a grand scale. Fans who want to swing in and out of the con need not worry about navigating the congested crowds of the Gaslamp District (though, certainly, there are crowds in NYC) because it’s often off-season for film promotion. Instead, die-hard comic fans can expect an up-close and personal experience with a variety of factors within their fandoms.
At New York Comic Con, the spirit of New York permeates through the con; comic creators, actors and other forms of celebrity can often freely roam the halls with a little more confidence, which often makes for some incredible personal interactions with childhood heroes. Legendary comic writers can be found enjoying drinks at many of the after parties, often open to the public, with refreshments and food sponsored by eager TV networks - a massive difference from San Diego’s private or ticketed parties. Then, of course, there’s the Artist Alley, separated from the rest of the center in a massive space that could take up more than half the space of the convention's actual vendor’s hall. Here, iconic comic artists await at their tables; not only selling prints or commissions, but listening to the stories of their fans and interacting with us in ways that one simply could not experience anywhere else.
Strangely intimate for a con of its scale, New York Comic Con exudes a hometown feel within the confines of a giant convention. The vendor halls, abundance of both large and small panels, and even the convention center provide for a familiar feeling. With that comfort in place, the show then introduces fans to the grand scale of what it means to be a blockbuster convention.
While not everyone can attend both events in one year, I’d have to say that they are, in their own rights, unique experiences that are simply too different in feeling to compare. In fact, whenever I’m asked about which conventions are worth the hit to any bank account, my trifecta includes these two — and Atlanta's Dragon*Con, a non-stop festival of fandom that’s often seen as a rite of passage for geeks bridging into adulthood. New York and San Diego are staples on either side of the U.S., and both are can’t-miss experiences that all geeks deserve to attend at least once in their lives.
So, what will it be, fellow nerds? Will you fly East for the in-person superhero experience,West for what can only be described as Disneyland for Geeks — or will you brave both, and live to (hopefully) sing their praises as I have?