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Geeks and pop culture collide at NY Comic Con 2011

By Juliette Martin

Section: Arts

October 21, 2011

Arriving at the Javits Center, located in a relatively secluded corner of Manhattan, is like stepping onto another planet. As you enter the enormous glass building, a sign hanging from the ceiling reads “Greetings, earthlings! You have landed at the 2011 New York Comic Con!” It is immediately clear that today the Javits Center—which normally houses business conventions—has been transformed into a very different place. All around, convention-goers are clad in extravagant costumes, often homemade and complete with over-sized Styrofoam weapons. Further into the building, unending rows of booths are set up. These booths house artists, booksellers, big-name video game companies, thousands of comic books and all things otherwise geek.

New York Comic Con, commonly abbreviated as NYCC, is the largest comic book convention on the East Coast, attended by tens of thousands of people during the four-day duration of the convention. Though the name focuses on comic books, NYCC has expanded to far more than that; if something is loved by geeks, you can find it at NYCC. Often this includes announcements of future products, which are met with great fanfare. This, it seems, is the apex of the geek world.

What is most remarkable about this enormous celebration is how much of a secret it is. Even on those four days a year when the Javits Center seems ready to explode with costumed people enjoying everything the convention has to offer—which sometimes seems to be in endless supply—much of the rest of the city is blissfully oblivious. Downtown, the protests on Wall Street rage on. Uptown, the businessmen continue their workday. Comic Con is a strange and isolated bubble of festive counterculture nestled away in an otherwise serious city. But with the enormous amount of money invested and traded between hands at NYCC and other gatherings like it, can such events, and geek culture in general, really be considered part of a counterculture anymore?

Though teeming with relatively unknown artists and a selection of more quirky and obscure booths known as the Cult Yard, NYCC has become as much a celebration of the mainstream as it is of the different. A major portion of the excitement at this years’ convention circled around the movie “The Avengers,” which features a team of superheroes pulled from classic Marvel comic books. Though rooted in geek culture, this movie is anything but obscure; with an enormous budget and big-name stars like Robert Downey, Jr., “The Avengers” does not seem to be the movie of a counterculture. Similarly, the dozens of similarly comic book-based movies that have been celebrated at NYCC in past years don’t seem like counterculture either.

Furthermore, geek culture is deeply rooted in mainstream capitalism. Despite what often feels like relative obscurity, an enormous amount of money is wrapped up in NYCC and events like it. With tickets ranging from $35 to $50 for a single day and $65 to $85 for multi-day passes and with tens of thousands of attendees each day, NYCC’s numbers do not suggest the obscurity of a counterculture. The vast majority of booths, commercial and artistic alike, are present in the hope of selling their wares or, in the case of larger establishments, advertising and offering hints at future products. With this much money wrapped up in a single event—one of the many across the country including the equally massive (if not larger) San Diego Comic Con—the world of the geeks is becoming an important moneymaker and a part of mainstream culture.

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