Wednesday 7th October
11.06am. I sat in the departure lounge of Heathrow Terminal 3 waiting for my 2pm flight to New York to flag up on the board. I was off to the Comic Con in the city that never sleeps.
I was early. Way too early in fact but with the unpredictability of the M25, I chose to arrive with hours to spare rather than face a panic-filled last gasp run to the gate.
The purpose of my visit was, as you may have guessed, to partake in America’s second-biggest comic event of the year, the New York Comic Con. I’m a relative stranger to cons abroad, my first and only experience was the inaugural launch of the Long Beach Comic Con. But time had dulled my memory so I was looking forward to tasting this one as if it were my first.
A little about myself would probably help set the scene for you. I’m a writer, or sorts. Since penning the critically acclaimed ‘Forty-Five’ back in 2010, I’ve slowly managed to limp my way up the industry ladder. Hit the forward-wind to present day and I’m working for Michael Bay’s new comic publishing company; the 451 Media Group. I was heading out to New York to help with the launch of this new enterprise and looked forward to meeting real people rather than exchanging email pleasantries. Three new comic titles of mine were being showcased at the NYCC; ‘Exmortis’, ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Six’. I have to admit I was excited and nervous to see my work in print again; excited because nothing beats holding something you’ve written in your hands for the first time, but nervous that I might spot a glaring mistake.
However, that moment had to wait. First I had to fly, my second greatest fear after spiders. I hate flying and I especially hate flying long haul. My ultimate nightmare is the Samuel L. Jackson sequel to ‘Snakes on a Plane’… the dreaded ’Spiders on a Plane.’ To be clear, I don’t have a BA Baracus level fear of flying, I don’t need to be drugged or unconscious to step aboard, but it would be nice to simply wake up in my New York hotel room. Instead I knew I would be gripping the seat for the next 8 hours or so, feeling every bump, every pitch and roll, mentally keeping all of us up in the air. I don’t sleep on planes, so I was armed with enough distractions to help accelerate the journey time. Beyond the regular plethora of films, reading material and music, I actually had a comic to write. 8 hours was a luxury compared to the daily 50 minutes on my commute, so I was interested to see how well I would fare.
11.31am. I wished I could fast forward to 5pm EST.
The flight was spectacularly uneventful, a mercy for which I was wholly grateful. It was made easier by the fact I was seated one row away from a comic friend of mine, Joe Glass (writer of Stiffs, The Pride and reporter for Bleeding Cool). I spotted only one other comic celeb of note, Kieran Gillen (writer of The Wicked + The Divine) otherwise the flight appeared geek free and unusually bereft of passengers. I only managed 8 pages of my new adaptation, a Sci-Fi script, leaving me the rest to draft at some point. I watched Jurassic World (hated) and Ant Man (loved again) before we began our decent into JFK.
I didn’t fancy forking out $60 for a yellow cab in rush hour, so I braved the subway. I’m used to the kind of weirdos that congregate the London Underground, but New York seems to take this to a whole new level. I think the winner had to be the guy in a karate fight with an invisible Kato.
With very little obvious station signage, I had visions that I would wind up lost and riding a train forever as per Tom Cruise at the end of ‘Collateral’. Surprisingly, the subway was relatively straightforward and proved to be a wise (and less expensive) route. I jumped off the train at 50 ST and found I was only four ‘blocks’ away from the hotel. Even Mrs ‘E’ would have been proud of my navigational skills.
Rested and refreshed, I met up with David Forrest from 451. Dave and I have been working together for nearly two years on my 451 titles. I lovingly dub him my ‘handler’; it was great to finally meet for the first time and he soon became my New York guide. We walked to the 451 office across the street of the hotel to meet some of the team. It was strange walking into a company I’d only known remotely. There are days when it feels like it’s just Dave and I working on stuff; I forget there’s this larger workforce sitting in the background all with the same end goal in mind. I was welcomed swiftly as one of the team and was introduced to one of the founders, Anthony Gentile. Anthony presented some of the comics I’ve been working on for the past two years. I’m happy (and a little relieved) to report they all looked awesome.
After making plans for the following day, Dave and I headed out towards Time Square for the evening. New York is a barrage on the senses; it continues to scream at you regardless of the time of day or night. The only way to describe it is ‘Piccadilly Circus on acid’ but everywhere you look. It’s nuts, I don’t know how you can stay in this city and not get affected by it. It’s relentless, punishing; clambering for your attention with every step you take. For the time being I loved it, but I can see how it would grind you down over time, leaving you yearning for some peace and quiet. Maybe that’s what the karate guy on the tube was doing, he wasn’t fighting an invisible adversary but this continuously beating neon pulse.
Thursday 8th October
After a hearty pancake breakfast I headed to the Javits Centre, home of the New York Comic Con. I was expecting crowds of people similar to the swathes of fans that attend the London based cons, but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer number that actually descended on the venue. The tide of bodies proved tricky to negotiate through, meaning a usual 60second journey took more like 6minutes.
451 Media Group had an impressive debut taking up most of the key signage spots outside the venue. This, and the fact they were giving away issue #1s of all their new comics, meant we had a steady stream of fans clambering for a set. My 1hour ‘signing’ slot turned into a 4hour epic marathon – I was a signing machine sent from the future to sign three of my comics as quickly as possible. I’m grateful I had the foresight to shorten my signature to my initials…
I managed to sneak away a couple of times, catching up with the likes of Gary Erskine, Si Spurrier, Len O’Grady, Joe Glass and Thomas Jane (who gave me VIP seats to his screening of ‘The Expanse’ which looked pretty epic I may add). Highlight of the day had to be the fan-made Hulkbuster that stomped around the show floor mesmerising all and crushing everything in its path.
By 7pm I walked out a shattered but happy man. It was an exciting first day, one that now needed a hot shower, good food and a lot of alcohol…
Friday 9th October
I thought Thursday was busy, but Friday was demanding. Today my 4hour ‘signing’ turned into a 7hour personal best. I got very little time on the show floor and was almost relieved when Mark Mallouk turned up to take over for a while. It was humbling to meet Mark, especially now he’s been thrown into the limelight with the hotly anticipated, ‘Black Mass’. But Mark was a well-grounded individual and full of praise for the work I done so far on ‘Sunflower’. It was inspiring to meet someone I hope to emulate one day.
I also got to meet Clay McLeod Chapman who was promoting his 451 book ‘Self Storage’, I’ve been chatting with Clay on Facebook and I’m pleased to report his wicked sense of humour translates well from digital into real life. I also got to meet Robert Bruno, Troy Peteri and Gid Freeman; Gid has been a friend since he first stumbled across my work ’45’ at his review site, Comic Attack. Some of these people I’ve only ever known on email or through social sites and it was great to put the face to the avatars.
The end of Friday became a crazy last gasp as those fans with day-only passes tried to beat the clock. To help, I joined them as they were ushered out of the show to sign books in the lobby. I’ll spare you the details of the bar afterwards but it’s suffice to say never drink heavily with the busiest day of the entire con looming in the background.
Saturday 10th October
The hype had been steadily building for today. For two days the whispers between exhibitors had all centred around this morning. It didn’t disappoint. As the doors opened, I witnessed the crazy chaos of fans scrambling to line up for the stella names in the comic industry. It was the only day that I actually saw fans caught in frenzied panic as they ran to join a signing line of their favourite creator.
As a result, the morning was a baffling mix of quietness and crowded lines that snaked past the booth. I initially worried that the draw of the top tier would stem the flow of interest at our stand. However, armed with my stock of sharpies, waiting fans soon clambered for a free signed copy.
The day sped through at pace. I managed to tap-out to both Mark and Clay, who returned for a second day to autograph their own IPs. The efforts of the cosplays were phenomenal, with an impressive level of dedication and detail poured into a variety of costumes (my personal favourite was Prince Vultan who roared Brian Blessed style when I shouted ‘Gordon’s Alive!’ at him, although the bald Xerxes eating a burrito came a close second).
As the day drew to a close, I managed to hook up with a comic posse heading out to an Irish bar. I managed to meet up with some old friends (such as Liam Sharp, Si Spurrier and Josh Wilkie) and new (Doug Braithwaite and Digger Mesch). I perhaps should have heeded how I had felt this morning to begin drinking again, but with such great company it proved a tad tricky to avoid.
Sunday 11th October
Sunday morning arrived and with it, the final day of the New York Comic Con. It was a late start for me, the revelry of the night before curtailed any chance of me getting up at a reasonable hour. That said, I made the show for 11am and started signing pretty much straight away.
Our mission for the final day was to shift all our remaining stock; nothing could be left. I signed almost continuously until 3pm when we ran dry of ‘Six’. ‘Exmortis’ was a close second, and by 3.45pm I had signed my last copy of ‘Sunflower’. I was done! There were mighty congratulations around the 451 stand as we knew we had achieved what we set out to do.
For me, I was exhausted, burnt out. The NYCC had won. I didn’t have the energy to walk around one last time let alone stay until the very end. I jumped in the first cab I could find and headed back to my bed. It had been a great con, filled with excitement and first encounters, but I had drunk my fill of this city and yearned the peace and quiet of Reigate and seeing my wife and kids.
In summary, New York showed enough energy and enthusiasm to go toe-to-toe with its West Coast rival. It was packed with New York’s finest geeks doing themselves proud.
For me, I looked forward to my return visit next year. First, however, I had to steel myself for the flight home…
Andi Ewington is a creative writer who’s debut novel ‘Forty-Five’ was published to critical acclaim in 2010. He has written several more comics since then including a spin-off called ‘BlueSpear’, a one shot for Bandai Namco’s ‘Dark Souls II’, and numerous short stories. He’s also been developing a new IP called ‘Overrun’ which he likes to think of as ‘Tron of the Dead’. When not working full time, he is writing for 451 Media amongst other things.