New York Comic Con is relatively new as conventions go, having only come into being in 2006. The organizers hadn't planned for the popularity of the fest and outsold all expectations. The folks behind the convention immediately went to work accommodating a much bigger audience than planned, and as of today, it is one of the most highly attended conventions in the world.
Perhaps more importantly than any of that is that the team working behind NYCC has become increasingly dedicated to creating a convention that prioritizes diverse voices and takes an active anti-harassment stance.
How Have Comic Conventions Evolved Over Time?
Comic conventions have undergone massive amounts of change over the last 25 years. Once a niche event that catered to a specific demographic, the increase in interest in comics, as well as the expansion of subject matter to include more cartoons, films, TV, and books, has meant that conventions enjoy a more thriving audience than ever before. Not to mention the increase in diversity in both characters and creators has reflected an evolving fandom that encapsulates a larger audience.
Kristina Rogers, the Event Director of NYCC 2019 as well as C2E2 and Supercon, started out volunteering at conventions, beginning 12 years ago with Emerald City Comic Con. When asked if conventions have changed in that time, she confirmed. "A thousand percent. It's been really great to see it become more and more popular. This brings on its own slew of problems, but also it's been awesome to see the number of women attendees get higher and higher. In New York, we're at 48% of our audience being women."
One major shift that may have caused the change is the rise in active cosplaying. Though cosplaying certainly didn't come about in the last decade and there is a long history behind it in itself, the sheer number of active cosplayers at conventions is through the roof.
On the appeal of cosplaying, Rogers noted, "When you cosplay, it allows you to become someone else. You're giving yourself permission to try new things, and go new places, and feel a little bit safer. It's not you with all your insecurities and things that you worry about, it's this character you love, that is super brave, or super funny, or always able to handle it. The popularity we've seen cosplay have is because it's cool and you want to see it, and then you want to participate in it, and there's a community that will embrace you."
Actively Creating Safer And More Diverse Events
Among the most important questions on a lot of people's minds about conventions as they grow in prominence is that of safety. Unfortunately, this is hardly specific to conventions, but organizers at big events of all kinds have had to take a closer look at how they view safety. For NYCC, that meant including an anti-harassment statement on the website, detailing what kind of behavior would not be allowed and how to report harassment to staff.
Rogers, who put together the anti-harassment page on the NYCC website, told us that "one of the things I care very deeply about is this. Our responsibility as a big show is that we set a lot of mood for other shows, so to be able to take initiative and take a stand on this and show other teams how to do it is really important to us. We put a link in our mobile app so you can report harassment. Not everyone wants to make a claim, they just want us to be aware. [We're] trying to know how to handle more sensitive issues and support people in the way they want to be supported."
As far as what other conventions can do to create a more diverse event, Rogers said, "Put your money where your mouth is. You can't say you want to be more inclusive and then not invest in creators and guests and not focus on your programming. You can't take the easy way out and not challenge someone. Like, you have five white guys on your panel, could you fix that? It's an uncomfortable conversation to have, but you have to have it. You have to have procedures that your team knows. If you're going to have security procedures, make sure your team understands. When someone raises their hand and says, 'This happened to me, and I'm not OK,' your team has to know what to do. It's no easy thing, but it's always worth the time."
Rogers added, "We're a diverse team, but it's always looking at the guests and making sure there's a balance. Being willing to reach out and ask, "Can you add some more people because the lineup is not very diverse." The reception we've gotten from that is so positive. We've never had to argue with anybody. Being willing to push that, and keeping it at the front of mind for all of the team. We create safe spaces for nerds. Come and be really nerdy for four days. It takes going that one step further to say, we want you to feel safe, no matter who you are."
Comic conventions keep changing and getting more popular, and it's hard to imagine what conventions will even look like in another 20 or 30 years. One thing is for certain, though, and it's that through increased diversity, accessibility, and a dedication to creating safer spaces, comic conventions are becoming a better place for fans of all kinds to enjoy than ever before.