Ah, New York Comic Con. For months, you have been the source of my excitement. With each passing day and additional news article, I grew more and more anxious to visit you, to see what all the hub-bub is about. I only go to about one comic-based convention a year, and never getting the chance to visit San Diego, which house the Mecca of comic book conventions, I figured New York would be the next best thing.
Well, I was right and wrong.
Originally, I couldn’t wait to write-up my experience of NYCC 2010. At the very least, it would be something to update my blog with, and at the most, I would have all kinds of pictures of the cool swag I acquired and the cosplayers that attended.
But instead, I have a story of how NYCC almost made me quit the hobby of comic books after 20 years. It’s almost unfathomable that a comic book convention would turn one of its attendants against its very nature. But it almost happened. And even more ironically, it stems from both Marvel and Stan Lee. Here’s what happened.
One of the reasons I attended New York Comic Con 2010 was because of the appearance of Stan Lee. Now, if you don’t know who Stan Lee is, he is the creator of a number (if not most) of Marvel Comics’ properties, including the X-Men, Spider-Man, and Iron Man. For years, I have had a reprinted copy of the Amazing Spider-Man issue number 1, signed by the artist of the book, Steve Ditko. And for almost as long as I have had that comic, I have had the desire to search out Stan Lee and have him autograph it right next to Steve Ditko. So, hearing that he would be at Comic Con, I decided that I needed to attend.
Well, a few days before the show, Marvel announced how the Stan Lee, meet-and-greet and signing would be held; via a blind lottery. My hopes were dashed; I am not lucky enough to win a coin toss, let alone a random lottery against hundreds of other participants. (In fact, the only prize I’ve ever one in recent history was never sent to me. By the way, fuck you PIX in Philadelphia. Give me my Smallville Season 8.)
Anyway, this didn’t stop me from going to Comic Con. I also brought the comic I wanted signed with me, in case I ran into Stan Lee in the bathroom or something I could always be that creepy guy and ask for a signature that way.
Friday happens, and Lauren and I had a great time. We met a whole bunch of cool people, got some stuff signed and got a few sketches. It was great.
Saturday was less so. After being herded through the building like cattle to be given a bag of stuff (which could have been given out at the door and saved everyone forty-five minutes of their day from being wasted) Lauren and I muddled our way through the conventions halls as best we could, which was almost impossible from the number of people there. We had heard that the Saturday of the show was completely sold out, and the crowds of people indicated that this was true. This made the day completely miserable because there was no opportunity to enjoy anything. It became nearly impossible to stop and browse any of the tables, and it you managed to do so, the crowds kept bumping into you, knocking you off balance and sweeping you away into their mix. Absolutely insane.
Anyway, I’m digressing. So a few hours into the show, Lauren and I head out of the main convention room to get some space, when we see a sign at one of the booths advertising a Stan Lee signature with “package purchase.” We inquired about this particular package and were told that it is $150 for a t-shirt and sweatshirt, and, of course, the signature. We were also told that Stan would sign one piece of memorabilia. For the chance to make an 18 year-old dream come true, we decided to purchase the package. However, as we were handing the people the money, Stan was being whisked away to make it to the Marvel booth for his scheduled signing.
The people at the POW! Booth (Purveyors Of Wonder, Stan Lee’s newest business venture) gave me a receipt for my purchase, and told me to rush over to the Marvel booth to speak with Max. I was told to explain to Max that I purchased the package and show him the receipt, and I would get my signature. So Lauren and I braved the crowds of the con floor and made it to the Marvel booth, and waited on line.
A gentleman by the name of Tim, one of the guys from Marvel, approached me, seeing that I did not have the required ticket to wait on line, and questioned me. I explained to him the situation, and he seemed cool with it. He said that it any of the Event Staff gave me a hard time to tell them that Tim said it was OK for me to be there. I shook his hand and waited patiently and excitedly.
As I got to the front of the line, I was greeted by two Marvel Event Staff guys who were trying to keep order. I explained to them why I was there without one of the “golden tickets.” The guy to my left was decent enough. When I mentioned Max’s name, he turned to try and get his attention. But the guy to my right leaned into my face and spoke to me as a mother speaks to her petulant child.
“I am telling you that if you don’t have the ticket, then you can’t be here.”
Anger flushed my face. After paying $150 for a package just to get a signature, not to mention 20 years of collecting comics and countless dollars that I have given to Marvel, I did not deserve to be spoken to like that. I get that they were there to keep order and that they have probably dealt with a number of line cutters already, but I had a reason to be there, I was told to be there, and I don’t appreciate some snot-nosed fuck getting in my face condescendingly. It was clear to me that this guy didn’t work for Marvel, that he was a temp hired on to help with the event, as he wore a shirt that said “Event Staff”, meanwhile, Tim and some of the other Marvel employees that I did recognize were dressed in regular clothes. But Marvel should be aware of how there temps are speaking to their fans. This guy represented Marvel, so, at that moment, he made Marvel look like dicks.
Anyway, the other guy got Max’s attention for me, but when Max turned around he said “That’s a POW thing. They need to deal with it.”
Again. More anger.
I stood at the front of the line for a minute, refusing to move. I eventually did, and Lauren and I rushed back to the POW booth to tell them what happened. I explained that Max is a dick, a fact that they were apparently aware of, and that he turned me away. They asked me to come back around a half hour later to speak with someone of management. These two people were really cool about the whole thing. They genuinely seemed like they wanted to help me, so I said OK, and Lauren and I went outside for a little bit.
About 30 minutes later, we returned to the POW booth and were met by the woman we were supposed to see. Lauren began to explain the situation, and it went downhill from there. Apparently, this woman, whose name I did not get, went to the same school that retail managers go to, because she spoke to us like we were returning a defective DVD to Best Buy.
“I understand your frustrations completely.”
Oh, really? So you have been seeking out the autograph of a man for 18 years, only to find yourself so close and was told to fuck off? Because that’s my frustration right now.
She said that she could either give me a refund or get me a signed shirt. Now, let’s examine the Freudian undertones in her choices. By offering me the refund first, she clearly just wanted me to go away. It wasn’t about making money or placating a fan. It was about not having to deal with the problem any longer. She didn’t care about what I wanted, or even, despite her claim to “understand.” I worked in retail for eight years. I know the feeling of saying “Here’s your money. Now get out.”
I considered the second part of her offer for a moment. A signed t-shirt. Then I realized that I didn’t give a shit about the shirt. Yes, I wanted the man’s signature, but it meant almost nothing to me if it was not on my already signed-by-Steve-Ditko comic book. At this point I will admit that I want what I want on my terms, but who doesn’t? I didn’t care about the t-shirt or sweatshirt that was part of the package.
I told her I wanted my money back, which she couldn’t care less about. She told the other two people, the ones who were helpful, to refund my money and walked away. I gave them the two shirts back, and I could tell that they were sympathetic to what I had just been through. (Sadly, I didn’t get their names, but I wish I had gone back to them and thanked them. They were the only two descent people, besides Tim from Marvel, that I dealt with throughout this entire ordeal.)
All in all, this entire situation ruined my Saturday. For a few hours after that, I questioned my devotion to the hobby of comic books. How could a fan be treated with such derision and condescension? Without fans like me, these people and businesses would not exist to the extent that they do. I understand that they can’t placate each fan, because it is impossible to make everyone happy. But to treat them like shit is a different story.
Thankfully, we still had Sunday of the show to go to, and even though I was dreading it, I managed to have a good time. It helped to reinvigorate my fandom, especially talking with a few more of the creators and having a good time. After meeting Buddy Scalera, author of the Comic Artists Photo Reference line of books, I realized that not everyone in the business is a self-centered asshole. When I told him how much I loved his books, and how great the layout and product was, he shook my hand, seemed genuinely touched by words, and told me to email him some of my finished artwork. This certainly wasn’t something that I expected from anyone, but it was great to see someone care that much.
He wasn’t the only one, either. There were so many artists and writers that were happy to meet and talk to they fans, mostly because they realize that their fans are there to meet them. It’s just sad that two of the biggest entities in comics, Stan Lee and Marvel, both had representation that failed to grasp the idea of what a fan is.
While I toyed with the idea of doing away with my hobby, I’ve settled on the fact that nothing will change. I will continue to purchase my comic books on a regular basis, mostly because I’ve invested so much into the characters already and I care too much. However, I have come to realize that I no longer hold Marvel or Stan Lee in the same reverence that I once did, given the impact that they had on me this past weekend. And it’s a sad thing.
The ten-year-old boy in me is feeling a sense of disappointment that he never has felt before.