This month's Comic-Con@Home marks the last major comic convention forced to go online due to the pandemic, with the late summer and fall offering a packed but precaution-heavy in-person con season to include local and regional events, as well as the return of major ones such as MegaCon, DragonCon, and the largest in North America, New York Comic Con.
Over the weekend, badges for the 2021 New York Comic Con (NYCC) went on sale - and sold out in a record 12 hours. ReedPop, the organizers of NYCC, confirmed they have a reduced capacity this year due to COVID-19 precautions but did not give out the exact number of badges sold. Members of its recently-unveiled Metaverse program got first dibs on those badges, followed by those who attended the last NYCC (in 2019).
2021's NYCC is part of a four-convention plan this year by ReedPop, which also includes Florida SuperCon, Emerald City Comic Con, and C2E2. Newsarama spoke with ReedPop president Lance Fensterman and event director Kristina Rogers about ths return to in-person conventions after much of the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic have seemingly passed.
Newsarama: Kristina, Lance, I was at C2E2 2020, the last major comic con, and there was a lot of happiness to go around but also an impending undercurrent of dread. It's easier and quantifiable to make sure everything's in place physically for a con, but what are you doing for the intangibles out there to make people feel safe and more at ease?
Kristina Rogers: The intangibles are the key, aren't they? And this is the hardest part to nail because 'safety' can mean something completely different to each individual.
We believe the most important thing we can do is clearly communicate with everyone before anyone gets to the show. We believe we need to be clear, even when that means we need to be clear that we don't have all the information, so we are clearly communicating what we do and don't know! I don't think we can necessarily make sure each individual is at ease when it comes to these intangible things, but the physical aspects pave the way towards creating an atmosphere that makes folks feel more comfortable and eases their concerns and anxieties.
Newsarama: And what are you doing for the comic creators, vendors, and exhibitors behind the scenes to make this the best you can for them?
Rogers: Communication is still key, just like with our fans, and we have taken a lot of steps to make it easier than ever for everyone coming to the event. It has been a year of not doing any shows, and now all of a sudden people will be finding themselves in busy spaces after being alone in our homes. We're going to see a lot of folks needing to decompress faster and more regularly than in the past - I know I will!
We are planning on more lounges and larger lounges for our exhibitors and creators, private bathrooms so you're not stuck in a huge line, the ability to have someone watch your table for 30 minutes, and other creature comforts like that will hopefully go a long way towards helping make some of the first shows back feel more comfortable.
Newsarama: Assuming things go well and the pandemic subsides and comic conventions can be held safely, the pandemic has also brought about some innovations to conventioneering - including some panels being broadcast live. What can you tell us about that, and which kinds of panels will and won't be live?
Lance Fensterman: As we see it, our shows won't ever sell out. If you can't get a ticket or can't get to the show, our streaming content will offer you a chance to be in the room.
Better still, we will offer exclusive behind the scenes content that will make the digital experience even better.
We found that some aspects of virtual events were more exciting than others for our fans, and our aim is to take those lessons learned to bring the best of live and of digital events together.
Nrama: Your first in-person con back will be Florida Supercon, down in Miami. What made that one the best choice to go with first?
Fensterman: A number of factors contributed to that decision, but primarily it was logistics and local regulations. We worked at the tail end of 2020 to move our 2021 events to the third and fourth quarter of the year, as did every other event organizer, so we spent a lot of time jockeying for dates with others.
As a Florida resident, I can attest to the fact that Florida was very clear about its plans with respect to reopening and it gave us more confidence that we would be allowed to run an event on the scheduled time frame.
Newsarama: And are there things you and your team will be looking at specifically in order to adjust for cons after Florida Supercon?
Fensterman: We are taking every show, every city, and every decision one at a time. It's really difficult to compare Miami to New York or to Seattle.
We will have additional learnings with each event, for sure, and in fact RX has already run several B2B events that we are learning from as well.
Still, on the whole, each show, market, and fandoms will be unique.
Newsarama: As a longtime convention goer, I'm used to the routine of coming early, lining up for security, then lining up to get my ticket, then lining up to be let in. Will that experience change due to COVID-19 precautions?
Fensterman: A con goer who loves lines! Bless you sir, bless you.
Newsarama: Well, I wouldn't say I'm a 'fan', but its to be expected.
Fensterman: We aren't in a position to answer the details of that right now because as I said, it may vary from city to city.
With that said, our intent is to deliver as similar of an experience as our fans have known and loved in the past that safety protocols will allow.
Newsarama: If someone begins to feel ill during a convention, con crud or not, what should they do?
Fensterman: For each of our events we will clearly communicate steps that attendees should take in the event they begin to feel ill, but the most important thing is that if you are feeling ill, you should not attend.
We think we have the greatest events in the world, but even that is not worth risking your health or the health of those around you.
Newsarama: Last question - how will ReedPop conventions look different from the shows you held before the pandemic?
Fensterman: I think the biggest couple of things you will notice this year are the addition of some great digital features like streaming, behind-the-scenes content, and our new marketplace, 'The Haul'.
We always try and make the community our primary focus, and this year that will be the case more than ever. There is a huge element of these first shows back that is simply about being back together - that means more organized meet up's, more space and features for the cosplay community and it's fans, tabletop gaming, and family-focused amenities and content. I hope people see a plethora of features that facilitate the act of being together as fans.
I can say personally that I don't think any of us will ever take the delight of shared experiences with similarly passionate fans for granted ever again.
Keep track of it all with our schedule of upcoming comic conventions.