Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo 2011: Full Report C2E2 2011 - Chat with Peter Tatara
by Bamboo Dong, Mar 17th 2011
With C2E2's packed schedule, and only so many hours in a day to see everything, we tried to get the inside scoop on all the best events from director of programming Peter Tatara.
It's the second year for C2E2. Is there anything you learned from the first year that you think will make this year a bigger hit?
Absolutely. Every year, each show we do reinvents itself. We look at what worked, we look at what didn't. We sit down and brainstorm as a team and send out surveys and host meet-ups and drink-ups with fans, and we listen very closely to what fans tell us in these meetings. We'll also check out blogs, messageboards, Facebook, and Twitter to see what fans are afraid to tell us to our faces. Every year, we just want to improve on what works, and try a different approach for things that don't.
One improvement we made this year was including a discounted parking program for fans from outside Chicago. We're also expanding our shuttle buses for fans from inside the city with new stops at local landmarks and comic shops.
Oh, there's also free WiFi now in the building, but I can't take credit for that.
Can you give me an example of something that didn't work?
Last year, the show was “C2E2” in all of our promotions, but when we had to keep explaining to fans at the convention what “C2E2” stood for, we realized we probably got ahead of ourselves. Not everyone in the building knew what “C2E2” was, and I imagine there were other fans who didn't come at all because it flew right over their heads. So this year, we're calling it the “Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo” in all our marketing, like TV commercials, ads in local papers and magazines, and the posters we have in over 200 retailers. We also changed the logo so now it shows the full name, plus a gorgeous piece of art created by Ivan Reis. That's the logo we put on ads, banners, and even Pepsi bottles throughout Chicago. So instead of just C2E2, it's the “Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo” with Ivan Reis Green Lantern art all throughout Chicagoland.
Did you change anything with respect to programming?
Absolutely. Most of C2E2's guests last year were comics creators. We featured a small number of entertainment guests, but there were many, many, many more comics guys and gals, and the number-one item in post-show surveys was a desire for more and bigger entertainment guests. We invested in this a lot, and C2E2's guest roster this year includes Thor himself – Chris Hemsworth – and geeky grand slams including Patton Oswalt, Chris Hardwick, and Eliza Dushku. We've also got main cast members from Chuck, Vampire Diaries, Walking Dead, and True Blood. As far as anime goes, we don't yet have a guest coming out from Japan, but we're very proud to welcome the voice of Shinji Ikari – Spike Spencer.
ReedPOP's handled a lot of big shows, like New York Comic Con and New York Anime Festival. Do you approach each show differently, or is your game plan the same for each one?
A little bit of both, actually. The very first thing we do when planning a show is to talk to the fans. We try to make connections with local retailers, theaters, podcasters, etc. We basically try to build up a community of friends. From there, the content, the guests, and the big pushes around the show really depend on the city and its wants and needs. We're doing some very fun stuff in Chicago with Rick Bayless, for example, something we couldn't do in New York. We don't just want to replicate the same event over and over again. We've got a framework that's allowed us to make all our shows, like New York Comic Con, New York Anime Festival, Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, PAX, PAX East, Star Wars Celebration, and Singapore Toy, Games & Comic Convention, but even though each show starts with the same seeds and processes, if you look at these shows, each has a unique feel.
So being in a city like Chicago versus New York changes how you would plan or run a show?
Yes. Like I mentioned before, when we build a show, we speak to partners and try to work closely with local groups. In New York, for example, we've got great friends at Kinokuniya Bookstore, Japan Society, Superglorious, the Paley Center, Subway Cinema, and a bunch of other local organizations. In Chicago, the players are very different. We've found new friendships with folks including Graham Crackers Comics, Anime Central, Reading With Pictures, The Onion AV Club, and Nerd City Online. What we create with our partners depends a lot on them. Nerd City, for example, is hosting a concert series that's unlike anything we've done in NYC. But aside from just partners, New York and Chicago are very different cities. New York's got 8 million people bundled up together, and even though NYCC attracts fans from around the country and internationally, most of our audience still comes from the NYC area. Chicago's a smaller city, so even though for NYCC, we can concentrate all of our attention on Manhattan and the boroughs, our plan for C2E2 has to be regional. Everything, from our plans, our promotions, and our attention for the convention has to cover the Midwest, rather than just focusing on downtown Chicago.
What are the challenges of running a comics show, like C2E2, versus one that's focused solely on anime or video games, like NYAF and PAX?
The comics business is a massive one, so when we're putting together a comics show, we try to cover this scope, but there's so, so, so very much out there. Looking at the New York Anime Festival – or any anime convention in the US – it's built around a half dozen to a dozen names. It takes a lot of money to bring a seiyuu, a manga-ka, or a director from Japan to the USA, and because of this, we build NYAF around a few, distinct pillars. However, you couldn't have a comics show with just five or six creators. For C2E2, we've got over 300 guests ranging from Guests of Honor to Artist Alley. You have your mainstream stuff with Marvel and DC, but there's also indie comics, alternative comics, golden and silver age comics, webcomics, and many, many more inclusive communities. We try to offer something for all of them. Creating a comics show means offering a survey of who and what's out there in the comics world, but a show like PAX or NYAF can dig a lot more deeply into the community.
So to narrow down our conversation a little bit for our readers, what can anime fans look forward to this year at C2E2?
At New York Comic Con and the New York Anime Festival, we've been able to bring out some amazing names from Japan. With C2E2 being a young convention, it's hard to commit the funds to bring out Japanese guests, so – admittedly – you won't see seiyuu, manga-ka, or anime directors at the convention this year. What you will find are daily costume contests, a Saturday night Masquerade, panels on breaking into animation and video games, a look at Marvel's upcoming anime series, a discussion on the new Avatar cartoon, a presentation from Anime Central, and three full days of anime screenings, console freeplay, and tabletop gaming.
Our big anime guest at C2E2 this year is Spike Spencer – probably best known as the voice of Shinji Ikari in Evangelion – although he's Nadesico's Akito Tenkawa to me. Spike's going to be hosting two panels at the convention, one on breaking into the voice acting world and another recounting his life-and-death adventures at cons throughout the years. He'll also introduce a screening of Evangelion 1.11 and do a Q&A following a special screening of Evangelion 2.22.
Say I was coming into town on business, heard about the show, and only had the time for one C2E2 event. What would you recommend?
Only one event? Wow. Well, there are a few big contenders here. The Chris Hemsworth Q&A, the Eliza Dushku Q&A, and the Walking Dead, Chuck, and Vampire Diaries panels will all be mobbed. Our panel with Rick Bayless – talking about comics, food, comics creators, and foodies – will be pretty unique, too. I guess if you could only go to one event, though, I'd suggest our Patton Oswalt show on Friday night. Comedy Death-Ray will be presenting an evening of comedy at C2E2 starting at 6:30 PM on Friday. Patton Oswalt is headlining, and Dan Telfer, Joe Mande, and Scott Aukerman will all also appear. Patton's a huge name and a huge nerd, and we can't wait to see him on stage. Aukerman's great, too, and was the brains behind “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis”. If you're unfamiliar with it, it's well worth Googling.
What if I was a big anime fan, and I decided I only had time for one anime event? What would you recommend?
This is easy to answer. Evangelion 2.22. Evangelion 2.22 comes out later in the month, on the 29th, but thanks to FUNimation, we're able to present it at C2E2. If you're an Evangelion fan, you need to see Evangelion 2.22. If you're not an Evangelion fan, you need to see Evangelion 2.22. I caught the movie during its limited theatrical release earlier this year and was on the edge of my seat – literally – through the entire thing. I was breathless watching it. It is a stunningly gorgeous film, packed with enough robots and fanservice to win over anyone unfamiliar with the saga, and for fans, it adds so much to the Evangelion mythos that we'll be debating what it all means until the release of the third movie. You need to see Evangelion 2.22, and then meet the voice of Shinji and hear from him about how he, Shinji, and Evangelion have all changed in the over ten years between the original series and these follow up films. This is hands-down the must-see anime event of C2E2.
In regards to your experience with all the shows that Reed runs, over the past few years, is show attendance generally on the incline?
Yes. New York's grown to almost 100,000 unique attendees, and all of our shows have grown year after year. C2E2's 2011 numbers are trending similarly, but most of our ticket sales happen over the weekend, so I won't know where we land until the Monday after.
Do you keep track of demographics? Who's coming to these shows?
Yes, we do. With the Anime Festival, it's split pretty much 60/40 between women and men, with the audience mainly tweens and teens. With C2E2 and NYCC, we get an older crowd, mainly 20-somethings and 30-year-olds, and the gender breakdown is reversed, 60% men and 40% women. As I mentioned, too, our NYC shows draw nationally and internationally, but the vast majority of attendees are from around NYC. Chicago pulls much more from across the Midwest.
Let me put you on the hot seat. At a glance, comic books versus anime and manga. Which industry is stronger?
Is this a trick question? I love anime, I used to work at an anime company, but it's easy to see the anime and manga industries in the US are hurting. Sales aren't where they once were. We're no longer selling the same number of DVDs, nor at the same prices. I gladly paid $300 to get all of Escaflowne when it first came out, but now you can find the series for $30. Well, rather, if you can find the series, it's $30. Just walk into the anime section of a Best Buy. It used to be two full aisles. Now it's maybe a few racks, about where it was back in the early VHS days. As for manga, just look at Borders. The business is hurting, and while we're finally seeing official, licensed streaming of content, it's not making the same bucks as packaged media – and those less bucks mean less folks working in the business here in the US and ultimately less money going back to Japan to help fund new projects. On the comics side, there are issues and troubles and we may be on the verge of a paradigm shift in digital comics distribution, but looking at Disney snapping up Marvel, and DC's realignment of Warner Bros., it's a much healthier business to be in. And, you know, Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, and X-Men: First Class all hit this summer.
Speaking of streaming media, with entertainment taking to the internet, either through streaming content for video, or e-readers for print, are you seeing any ripples from that hitting conventions? Has that affected bookings from vendors at all?
We're really seeing the audience shift from a collector to a consumer culture. We're watching, we're reading, and then we're moving on. This means, ultimately, less books and less DVDs are being sold. But while we're becoming consumers of media, we still very much tend to collect the ephemera around it. In other words, fans are putting more money into statues, toys, models, and other items instead of actual books or DVDs. Personally, I've got a stack of sonic screwdrivers on my desk, but I don't have all of Doctor Who on DVD. It's on Netflix. This is changing the makeup and arrangement of exhibitors at conventions. It changes the playing field to a degree, but the larger change is when new content providers – names like Crunchyroll, Graphic.ly, or Comixology – enter the scene. The biggest question, though, for me, is looking at those same providers, and at Facebook or Twitter, and seeing how they allow fans to connect. So much of a convention is about bringing people together – but how does a convention where you need to buy a hotel room, a plane ticket, and a myriad of other expenses stay relevant in a world where there is now a free, instant community 24/7 floating in the air?
I just realized I didn't answer that question, did I? I just asked a bunch of my own. It's something I and the team think about a lot. You're seeing events like SXSW make some bold moves into the digital space, and then you're seeing digital communities make some amazing strides in the real realm. Heck, look at PAX. The Penny Arcade Expo. PAX Boston happened last weekend. At its core, it's a group of fans of a webcomic. It's a virtual community that has fostered a real world one. I'm going onto a tangent, now, though.
I'm excited for C2E2 this year. We've built a lot atop of last year's show, and I'm looking very forward to welcoming the voice of Akito Tenkawa to the show. Even if Spike's going to be talking more about Evangelion.
Note: This interview was conducted last Thursday, before the tragic events that happened in Japan. We've since spoken with Mr. Tatara again, who emailed us the following response:
Through the New York Anime Festival, I've been fortunate to have made many friends in Japan. And, Friday morning, when I awoke to the news of the earthquake and resulting tsunami, I feared for every one of them. Since then, I've spoken with friends, partners, and colleagues throughout Japan. And I and everyone at ReedPOP sends our hopes, well wishes, and prayers to them. If you'd like to join us, in sending wishes and donations to help those who have lost loved ones and in rebuilding from the Tohoku earthquake, please visit japansociety.org/earthquake. Our friends at Japan Society have partnered with various Japanese and American non-profit organizations who support disaster relief in the past, and they've established a fund to aid such organizations again in response to Friday's earthquake. All donations made to Japan Society's Tohoku relief fund are tax-deductible, and 100% of all contributions will go to organizations that directly help the earthquake and tsunami's victims.