Walking through Grand Central Station and seeing people dressed as Japanese schoolgirls, ninjas and superheroes is unusual, even for Manhattan. New York Comic Con and New York Anime Festival attracts the few, the proud and the geeky into the Javits Center for three straight days of comic books, movies, anime and zombie apocalypse.
Going to Comic Con/NYAF is not an activity for those who have a low threshold for public humiliation. Besides the spandex and the skimpy costumes, there is also the constant demand to participate in activities which practically demand shedding any self-consciousness.
One big attraction was the Michael Jackson Experience, where dancers competed to copy the moves of the late great performer. Although not brave enough to try, it was an experience to watch the heavily costumed souls courageous enough to attempt dancing weighted down by loads of fake armor. The fear of public humiliation aside, it was likely one of the most popular spots at the event.
Then there were the fears of what goes bump in the night, and there was a whole showcase of events highlighting bad things that could happen.
I managed to be brave enough to go into the Alien exhibit, making the participant go into a small space pod that shook and buzzed. Not highly recommended for those who experience motion sickness, claustrophobia or who are just plain chicken, the pod left me in the fetal position, trembling. Two minutes of watching aliens attack in a closed space seemed like an eternity and made me look at bugs in a whole new level of disgust.
Another spine tingling adventure was going into the Animal Planet’s Lost Tapes, which had the con-goers go into a mysterious forest, lit up in strange florescent lights, searching for legendary creature that “walk among us.” People just wanted to go in even to have a picture taken in the creepy surroundings that looked disturbingly realistic. Had a bug been featured, I’d have likely fainted.
Still, the scariest part of the event was how many people were there. Trying to navigate the crowds back to my exploration was impossible and I finally gave up on seeing the rest of the dealer’s room. So instead I turned to the panels list and caught a late night event, the fantasy writer’s panel of famed authors -- Jim Butcher, Brian Sanderson and Naomi Novik discuss the legacy of Englishman J. R. R. Tolkien, the late author of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings trilogy.
While all the authors paid homage to the great grandfather of sword-and-sorcery fantasy fiction, it is worth noting that many authors are leaving the mold of the Lord of the Ring series, that of setting their stories in a fantasy world. The new theme is that vampires and dragons aren’t just something that exists in lands populated by elves and knights, but might be a horror we could face today here on Earth.
As part of a generation that grew up on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and writer Anne Rice's vampires, the supernatural has become a metaphor for the problems that people face daily. Everyone’s had a monster boss or co-worker, but what if they were really demonic?
It will be fascinating to see what happens with the next 10 years of fantasy literature, given the more realistic bent the authors were discussing, and who will be considered the creators of the next milestones of the genre. Given the intensity of the applause, it is likely that Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files will be considered the next lodestone.
At previous cons, the themes have always been other more magical worlds like that in the Star Wars saga or Tolkien's Middle Earth. Many saw fantasy as a way from escaping from a world that they didn’t fit into. Nerds just didn’t fit into society and were isolated, and the literature reflected that.
From the themes considered here, it seemed like the guiding principle has been that magic is all around us and we just aren’t seeing it.
The mainstream popularity of comic book movies and Asian animes has made it cool to be a geek. Of course, with the admission of the magic that we’re not seeing, the con didn’t shy away from mentioning all the dark magic and villainy that comes along with it. Though we are now unafraid to be proudly nerd, we do have to be afraid of vampires, strogoi, yeti and zombies.
And the response from the nerds? Bring it on!