This past weekend, I attended the New Jersey Comic Expo for the first time, having heard good things about the show. I knew that it was owned and operated by the same company (MAD Event Management) behind Long Beach Comic Expo and Long Beach Comic Con which I had consistently heard favorable reports about from friends and journalists. At the Long Beach events, I had seen evidence of good organization, strong programming, and a positive experience for fans, in particular.
New Jersey Comic Expo, a younger show, had the positive vibe I was expecting based on buzz. One of the biggest things that creates a positive vibe for attendees at a convention of any size is clarity: clear floor and event layouts, divisions in the “type” of experience in which fans can choose to participate, clear scheduling of events etc. Programming rooms were clearly marked with full lists of events each day, and a specially designated room presented art demonstrations while another focused on “make comics” themed discussions that could help folks learn comics-related skills. Not only was the programming well planned, it was well presented to fans.
NJ Comic Expo has established some very good habits in clarity and organization. That may seem like faint praise, but as someone who has worked as a professor and an editor, organization is very high on my list. At conventions, this kind of clarity allows attendees to get the most out of their experience, whether they simply want to wander, or whether they have a checklist of things they’d like to do.
The NJ Comic Expo had an attractive convention guide with a floor map, visually blocked out programming schedule, a descriptive programming schedule also, and a full list of vendors and guests. If you are used to having a clear guide like this, you’ve most likely been attending fairly large conventions. Smaller shows often have a paper leaflet or just floor standing maps to look at. To me, the NJ Comic Expo’s show guide seemed like a clear indicator that they are setting up the structures that can handle a growing event and an even bigger attendance level.
Some of the priorities displayed at the NJ Comic Expo also looked promising, making sure their exhibitors and guests had a good experience and felt valued. Artists alley was placed fairly centrally to the show floor, so that foot traffic was drawn toward observing comic creators at their tables. This could help increase interaction for newbies who might never have talked to comic creators before and simply wandered by. There are a few major conventions where artists alley can feel more sequestered, pushed to the back, or marginalized, making comic creators feel less important—that didn’t appear to be the case at NJ Comic Expo—and I’ve also heard that the creation of comics is a big focus at LBCC and LBCE as well.
Another positive thing to note at the show is that it contained a lot of variety. The vendors were varied. There were craftspeople trading their goods, local comic shops from as far away as Virginia, perhaps beyond, and a wide array of back issues, new comics, and collectibles available for what seemed like reasonable prices. There were side-events for those who might be interested, like a massive Superman-themed auction of memorabilia on the second day of the show. Food was also provided on-site as well as plenty of bathrooms. These are all things that hint that NJ Comic Expo has created a foundation which can grow comfortably if the fanbase grows.
Attendance on Saturday, the day I attended, was lively. The positive vibe I mentioned was there—people were chatting and having a good time. The show was a friendly environment, encouraging people to explore areas of fandom. Wide walkways helped attendees get around easily. I wouldn’t say that attendance was as large as it could be, though. The space and arrangement of the show allows for more attendees (which is great from a planning perspective), so it remains to be seen if the show will reach higher attendance over time.
The only thing that I could put my finger on that might be holding the show back a little could have been the ticket price. Saturday tickets cost $45, Sunday tickets $40, and whole weekend tickets were $60. The weekend ticket was a solidly good deal, in my opinion. At $30 per day, that seemed equal to what the show offered. $45 for Saturday seemed a little steep.
That may seem picky of me to say since there was such a wealth of programming and experiences to explore, but based on the number of guests, the size of the floor, and the average turnover of attendees at about 3-4 hours, $30-35 might have been more scaled to the experience. New Jersey Comic Expo could easily become a show where their pricing is accurate to the experience, since it’s on that point of expansion right now, but I feel that there’s room for improvement. However, considering that parking was actually free means that, in all, fans were not spending a ton of cash to be there, which helped.
In all, I would definitely recommend attending the New Jersey Comic Expo next time around if you like comics, cosplay, pop culture, and collecting. There’s plenty to learn, see, and do, and it’s a welcoming environment to encounter new ways to celebrate fandom.
Here are some more photos from the show: