CONVENTION REVIEW: 2016 New Jersey Comic Expo

Location: Edison, NJ
Website: www.NewJerseyComicExpo.com

This past weekend the New Jersey Comic Expo (NJCE) returned to Edison, NJ for its 2016 event. Last year’s inaugural show was a success, read on to find out if they avoided a sophomore slump!

PRE-SHOW: Social media drove advertisement for the show. NJCE organizers pounded social media sites with guest updates, artist/exhibitor spotlights, ticket sale promotions and planned events. They were very responsive through social media and direct email contact. Their website was easy to navigate and updated regularly.

THE VENUE/STAFF: Upon arrival I was greeted by volunteers who happily directed me to the press area to pick up my badge. Any questions I had for volunteers during the show were answered accurately and in good spirits. While it sounds like a small thing, that’s not something that you experience at every show and it’s nice to know the volunteers at a show are truly there to help.

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The show returned to the NJ Convention Center in Edison, NJ. For a smaller sized show, this venue works well as it allows enough space for guests to move around comfortably, while taking care not to spread things out to thin. There were an ample amount of bathrooms, food vendors and secondary rooms to handle panels and special activities. Show organizers did a TREMENDOUS job anticipating the guests that would generate long lines of fans, and placed them in areas of artist alley that could accommodate the traffic.

GUEST LIST: The 2016 creator list grew from last year’s show and featured some pretty outstanding guests (Neal Adams, Mark Bagley, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Tony Harris, Adam Kubert, Whilce Portacio, Rags Morales, Bob Layton, Rick Leonardi, David Finch, Mike Zeck, Bart Sears, Mark Teixeira, Jerry Ordway, Keith Giffen, Kevin Maguire, James Robinson, Peter David, Paul Jenkins, Fabian Nicieza, Peter Tomasi, Jeff King, plus MANY more). For the most part, guests were easily accessible and lines were reasonable throughout the weekend. There was plenty to see and do in artist alley this year.

This year’s media guest list didn’t appear to generate much interest among fans. The autographing and photo-op areas seemed vacant for most of the weekend but fortunately the invited guests appeared to be in good spirits.

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EXHIBITORS/VENDORS: There was an adequate amount of vendors and a nice selection of merchandise available for fans. Of course you had 101 Funko Pop! dealers on the floor, but there were also some unique vendors in attendance with some great products (comic book display frames, comic themed beer steins, vintage movie posters, $10 tees, etc). There was an excellent selection of comics dealers on the floor. Expensive key issues, $2 recent back issues and $1 silver/bronze age back issues could all be found by fans attending the show. While some of “display” books were a little overpriced, there were some great deals to be found if you were willing to dig a little bit.

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The show also featured a dedicated kid’s comic area for younger attendees to get their faces painted, meet children’s comic creators and take part in drawing activities. Peter David, Jeff Shultz and a handful of other creators participated in the kid’s activities which was very nice to see.

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EXTRAS: When programming for the show was announced, I was extremely excited to see “live art” sessions with some of the top guests attending scheduled to participate. The art created during these sessions would be raffled off later in the day with profits benefiting the Hero Initiative. Upon arriving at the first scheduled session, I found this was nothing more than a tiny, standing room only room with a couple of tables for the artists to sit and sketch at. There was no projector setup or live streaming available for those in attendance. In order to see the artists draw, you had to basically lean over their tables and peek over top of their sketch pads. While I believe the show organizers had a good idea and the best intentions, these live art sessions were poorly executed. Having said that, there were some fantastic pieces of art created and auctioned off for a great charity. I appreciated the organizers providing alternatives to just walking the show floor and I really hope they stick with the live art events, just improve on their first try.

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Bodnar Auction Sales was also in attendance and had a large area setup off of the show floor. At their Sunday auction they featured a private collection of Superman memorabilia containing items from the 1940’s to present day. This was the first time I have seen an auction house in attendance at a comic convention and it was quite a pleasant surprise. Even if you didn’t participate, just walking through and looking at all of the items made you feel like you were in a Superman museum. The auction was open to the public, so if you wanted to escape the main show at any time on Sunday it was a great getaway.

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The live art sessions, charity auction, panels and photograph/autograph areas were all lightly attended. I would have liked to see the show do more to generate interest for these activities during the course of the weekend.

FINAL VERDICT: The show has definitely grown since its first year. The guest list improved and there were more vendors and activates available to attendees. The location is just the right size for a new convention, and should serve as a sufficient home for the expo for a few more years. While the secondary programming had its hiccups, it was still nice to have options other than the show floor. The New Jersey Comic Expo organizers and volunteers should be proud of the weekend they put together. If you’re in the tri-state area, I recommend adding this show to your convention schedule for 2017.

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