We caught up Tuesday with Lance Fensterman, who's running New York Comic Con for Reed Exhibitions (see 'NYCC Adds Show Manager'), to find out how he's settling into his new role and how the show is looking this year. 


You're new to New York Comic Con, but not the book industry part of it.  Can you tell us about your background and coming to NYCC?

Sure, I was actually grown in a Petri dish in the basement of Reed offices... I finally hatched this year, which I'm proud of.  Actually, I'm an outsider from Reed. I was an independent bookseller for about five years before the opportunity arose to run BookExpo America, which is the second largest trade book fair in the world.  Because I didn't screw that up (it didn't burn to the ground and no one was killed), apparently they thought well enough of me to offer me a little more.  So now I have the honor of basically running all of Reed's publishing/books/pop culture events in North America. I'm running New York Comic Con, the New York Anime Festival and BookExpo America, still.  It's cool, it's actually a great compliment to NYCC, something that launched three years ago and it's growing to point that they wanted to bring in a dedicated resource. Greg Topalian is still involved; he got a promotion as well and even has a parking spot with his name on it.  So he oversees the shows and I work under him running the New York Comic Con. I'm excited.


The timing is a little different this year--the show is in April this year instead of February where it's been for the last two years.  How are things looking for the 2008 edition of New York Comic Con? 

I'm ecstatic. We just got these countdown clocks that are really cool which we're going be giving to our retailers that sell tickets for the show.  It literally counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds, so we're down to 72 days, 17 hours and 51 minutes, and we're going to need every one of those minutes to build a great show.


It's coming together nicely. It's going to be almost double the size of last year.  The special events and special guests are starting to get lined up.  It's going to be a pretty exciting show, and I think it's going to be an even more diverse show than we've seen in previous years.  It's my job to say it's going to be great, but I gotta tell you, it really is going to be impressive.


When you say it's going to be twice as big, are you talking about more floor space for the exhibit hall or other things?

Right now we're talking about floor space. It's pretty early to be looking at the attendee numbers, because we're just starting to register.  In terms of fans, we're at triple the number we had at the same point last year (in reference to the show).  If we're roughly 12 weeks out from the Con, at the same point last year, we've got triple the number of fans registered to come to the show, which is great.  I couldn't ask for more.  And we're really just starting to ramp up our marketing efforts, and talk about all the guests and artists we have coming. 


In terms of the square footage, yes, I think last year we were at about 55,000 square feet and at this point, we're already at 85,000 square feet.  We're going to run out of space very soon.


You're talking about net square feet of exhibit space [not including aisles, lobbies, common areas, etc.]?

You got it.  Last year we had 55,000 square feet of exhibits, this year already we've got 85,000 square feet of exhibits.


What is the status of the different kinds of space?

Artist Alley is sold out; dealer space is sold out; and general exhibits are about 90% sold out.


What categories are growing the most?

It's a little of everybody.  We try to keep the dealers as a percentage of the show the same because it's important for them to have a good show.  If the show is 75% dealers, that's a little imbalanced and those guys aren't going to have that good of a show.  So we don't see the dealer segment growing out of proportion because we don't want it to.


We see gaming growing and anime continuing to grow.  We see studios starting to take out booth space as well.


Speaking of studios, is there anything that you're looking forward to as far as screenings or inside looks at movies or TV shows?

We partnered with IGN.com this year for the first time, so the big room at Comic Con will be called IGN.com Theater.  Partnering with them has really helped us deal with the studios and Hollywood.  We've built some good relationships there, but it's tough being on the other coast to really develop them.


We've announced two screenings so far, both from New Line Cinema: Harold and Kumar 2: Escape from Guantanamo Bay and Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D, which is pretty cool.  That's just the beginning.  We've got some fairly significant screenings that'll take place and will be accompanied by talent as well.  We're still working out all the details and working with the various studios as to when they want to announce things and when they can confirm things.  


The IGN.com Theater is going to be awesome.  We're seeing commitment from the studios that we haven't seen before.  It'll be an incredibly visible presence.  I know that sounds vague and like a tease, but it's the best I can do right now.


You said gaming was up, are you talking about tabletop gaming or videogames or both?

We're talking about videogames.  The tabletop games segment continues to be well represented.  We're seeing video and online gaming increasing a little bit.  There's going to be a fairly significant announcement on that front probably in the next four weeks.  We've got a couple of games we're hoping to premier at the show.  We've also got some talent in terms of the designers of the games that we're going to bring to the show--all stuff we have in the works that we're hoping to announce in the next few weeks.


One goal I had for New York Comic Con is looking at it as a pop culture platform.  Comics, graphic novels, and anime and manga are all the pillars that it's built on, but there's so much more in terms of what the show can do whether it's music, videogames and online gaming, or films and television.  So we to draw on that pillar that's been the main success of that show and grow out in different directions equally.  We don't want this to become a studio show.  We don't want it be all about Hollywood, or all about videogaming, or all about any one segment.  We want it to have something for everybody there.  And, it may sound like a boring thing to say, but it is a responsibility that I have to the fans.  We built something for everybody, in that it's a kick-ass gaming show, but it's also still an amazing comics show and an amazing graphic novel show.  So that's our challenge.


There's a big initiative this year to reach out to kids, and we've reported on some of the different aspects of that.  Can you talk about the reason Reed wanted to go in that direction?

It's the right thing to do.  We're talking about growing our industry.  We're talking about bringing up new readers, making comics and graphic novels cool to kids.  They're already cool, so we've got an easy start, but also making it safe and making it something they can be interested in at a young age.  


As I look at this from a broader perspective--books, publishing, not just comics, not just graphic novels--but the biggest challenge our entire industry faces when it comes to the printed word (or even take out 'printed'), is about finding those new readers, those new fans, those new sets of eyes that are going to consume this great work.  Because without those people, the work is going to be done in a vacuum.  So we want to do anything we can to bring these many great platforms to a new generation.  I think it's the right thing to do, and it's a lot of fun.  Kids bring a great energy to the show.  I think Sunday's going to be a great day.


You mentioned earlier that things were looking good as far as the pre-registration.  What are the final attendance figures from last year?

It was about 43,000 to 44,000 attendees plus about 5,000 to 7,000 thousand in the pro area, which brings the total to about 49,000.


What's the registration routine for retailers and other people in the business?

Piece of cake.  All you have to do is visit NYComicCon.com. On the left-hand side, there's a button that says 'professionals.'  We're free to professionals.  We ask for some simple validation information.  If you're a comic retailer, we want your Diamond or tax I.D. number, or if you're a librarian, something about your system or who your collection development head is -- just something to verify that you're legit, and then we get you a free pass. 


It's important that pros are at the show and can get business done.  It's one of the unique things we have at New York Comic Con that we have exclusive hours for trade professionals.