Interview: Lance Fensterman and New York Comic Con

by Zac Bertschy, Feb 2nd 2009

We've interviewed you before, but to give the readers a little refresh, tell us a little about what it is you do.

Sure; I'm the vice president of Reed Exhibitions, and I oversee all the pop culture and publishing events, which makes me the show manager of New York Comic Con.

So I guess right now is the insanely busy time for you, right?


Oh yeah – there's a big clock on my wall counting down the seconds to the show opening, and it's pretty crazy right now.

The obvious question, I suppose, is – what is there for anime and manga fans to do at New York Comiccon?


Well, we're working really really hard right now to secure all the details on a screening of the world premiere of the live-action Yatterman movie. The tentative plan is to have a screening at New York Comiccon, and there'll also be a screening somewhere in New York City. We're also working to have Takashi Miike, the film's director, also being there to do some signings and give a talk. We're excited about that – this whole thing kinda came out of the blue, and we're scrambling to get all the details set at the last minute.

Did the film's distributor approach you with this?


Actually, we've been talking back and forth for a while about it and we weren't sure what the timing would be like; we looked at it for New York Anime Fest as well, and it just sort of came together for Comic-con.

How big a presence does anime and manga have at New York Comic Con? Aside from Yatterman, what else can fans expect to see there?


We've got a bunch of other screenings set up; Claymore, Shigurui, Shin-chan, Maria Watches Over Us, The Third, and a few other screenings in the anime space. We've also got a bunch of exhibitors there; Tokyopop will have a presence, I don't think they have a booth but they will have some panels, Stewart Levy will be sitting on a panel to discuss the business of manga and where it stands right now. Viz will have a couple of panels at the show, as will Del Rey; they have a booth at the show. We try to have a nice mix of everything at the show, with comics, TV, and videogames. I'd say about a quarter of the show – in terms of programming and exhibitors – will be related to anime or manga. Which is nice, that's a good mix.

Would that be a growth from previous years?


I'd say it's consistent. If anything, it's gone up just a little bit with the launch of the Anime Fest, just because we have better relationships in that industry now. It's hard to say, though, because there have been so many challenges in the anime world now, and that's effected their involvement a little bit, but it's still high profile, there's still plenty of anime space at the show. That's a pretty unscientific way to put it – we don't measure the exact number of panels or exhibitors, we just try to strike a balance.

This is kind of an old chestnut, but for the longest time there's been this sense of a sort of ‘rivalry’ between American comics fans and manga fans – do you ever see any friction there? Do American comics fans ever approach you about why there's so much anime and manga content at your comic convention?


Actually, that's never really come up – in fact, I'd say it's the opposite. He anime and manga fans, they want to see their manga, and they're part of this world, and they want to be represented. But also, that's one of the reasons we launched the Anime Fest – it's a big enough community to need its own space. Of course it's welcome, as all popular arts are, at NYCC, but there's something about needing your own space and seeing your friends that's so important to hardcore anime and manga fans that we felt launching Anime Fest was really important.
So, short answer, no, not too much infighting, but everyone wants what they want, and they want it to be represented at the show. And that's great, we love passion. We wouldn't be here if they didn't have that passion.

Would it be fair to say that a big chunk of your attendees are locals? Living in the New York area?


It's about 55-60 percent of our attendees live within about 200 miles of the show, but we're growing every year. We did a lot of outreach into Philadelphia and Boston, but yes, it's very much an east coast con.

So say someone is an anime fan, and this is their first convention. What tips would you have for them?


It sounds really lame, but if you get on the website, we have this cool thing called I-Con, which is ‘interactive con’, and you can look through the entire show – the exhibit floor, the guests, the panels – and select what you're interested in, and plan your time out that way, and figure out what you want to do, and make sure you get to see everything that catches your eye. But be prepared – it's a big show, there's a lot happening there!

What's your expected attendance this year?


We actually don't know - I could give you a projection but the reality is we really don't know. Last year we had 67,000 fans, at this moment in time I'm pacing ahead of that by about 15 percent, but right at this moment we've only sold through about 40 percent of the tickets we will eventually sell through. We're pacing really well, but this is a very last-minute kind of a show; there's a lot of walk-up business, people who don't preregister, so I won't know really until the Sunday night of the convention.

I'm sure you get a ton of emerging talent – hopeful artists wanting to meet professionals and show off their stuff. If a blossoming manga artist wanted to get a table at your artist's alley to display their wares, should they hold off until New York Anime Fair, or is the audience at Comic-Con receptive to that sort of material?


You know, this show – and I say this not in a negative way – but this show is a bit more professional, meaning there's more about the business of the business going on, and that's very deliberate. The Anime Fest is really about the fans having fun. The first time we launched the Anime Fest we did have professional hours – specifically designed for industry executives, artists, creators, licensors, librarians – and in year two we did away with that because it just wasn't necessary; Anime Fest is about the fans having fun. Comic Con is about the business – for half the time, anyway, or a third of it – and the other two thirds is about the fans. But we have a lot of professional events, and if you're a new artist, and you have anything – anything that you can accredit in any way – we'll get you a professional pass, and you can come in during the pro-exclusive hours where there aren't 67,000 fans and you can have substantive conversations with artists and publishers. You're not going to walk up and get a publishing contract, but you can get advice from the artists you admire.

So, anime and manga aside – we're all nerds here – what's the biggest, coolest thing at Comic-Con that you think everyone's going to lose their minds over?


Actually, the Yatterman screening – I kid you not – has had the most passionate response so far. It's been huge; people are coming from all over the world to see this, people are just going crazy for it. Grant Morrison and the whole comic book crowd, Jim Lee – there's a little something for everybody really. We have some premieres we're excited about; the new animated Wonder Woman will be screened, and Bruce Timm will be there for that, and we also have the new Futurama movie.

It's funny – whenever I look at the schedule and try to sum it up with one event or one guest, I can't – there are so many audiences being served, so many different genres represented.

So, finally, can you give us any hints or tips as to what we might see at New York Anime Fest this year?


Oh, man, I can't believe you asked me that – so cruel. I have a few days until Comic Con and you're asking me about fall? This interview is over! [laughs]

Thanks to Mr. Fensterman for his time; you can read up on all the anime and manga-related events, panels, guests and so forth in handy PDF format here.

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