For Comics Fans, New York Leaps Off the Page
Everyone knows that the Comic-Con International in San Diego is like a nerds-are-cool Woodstock, where freak flags are waved proudly and Hollywood sweats to build buzz for its releases. But New York is the birthplace of comic books, and the New York Comic Con, at just five years old, has become a respectable contender as the “it” place for a pop-culture celebration.
The city has had other comic book conventions, of course, but New York Comic Con has become one of the biggest, and this year it takes over all of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
The show, Friday through Sunday, offers plenty to do and see. But fanatics would be remiss if they spent their time only there. The city is filled with comics-related gems—hidden and apparent—that are worth exploring. As Stan Lee would say, Excelsior!
ON FOOT Comics have frequently used the city itself. The Brooklyn Bridge was where Gwen Stacey, a girlfriend of the hapless Spider-Man, met her death, and the lobby of the old Daily News headquarters was used as The Daily Planet in “Superman” with Christopher Reeve. Fans can always take a self-guided walking tour based on “The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City,” which pinpoints the real-world inspirations for some fictional landmarks. The Avengers’ Fifth Avenue mansion, for instance, is based on the Frick.
IN PRINT New York City has more than 40 comic book stores, and at many of them the faithful amass on Wednesdays, the day new issues and graphic novels are released. Midtown Comics in Manhattan is centrally located, with sites in Times Square and near Grand Central Terminal, but if you’re in Brooklyn, try Bergen Street Comics. The store is a haven for budding fans and veterans alike. There’s even seating that encourages leisurely browsing.
Bergen Street displays original comic book pages — small press to mainstream — and paintings by local artists. “There are people who will come to an art opening and not come to a comic shop,” said Tom Adams, who owns the store with his wife, Amy, and who has a passion for art. Comic book pages are appealing for two reasons: They offer a glimpse into how comic books are made, and, well, “they also just make the store look great,” Mr. Adams said.
Both Adamses are fans of the cartoonist Darwyn Cooke, and two of his illustrations are framed on the wall behind the register. One is of Catwoman, the other of Parker, the antihero created by the novelist Richard Stark. Last year Mr. Cooke adapted “The Hunter,” one of four Parker novels that he will turn into graphic novels.
A collectors’ edition of the second, “The Outfit,” will be sold at the New York Comic Con. On Saturday night Bergen Street will fete Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul, the popular writer and artist who are chronicling the exploits of the recently resurrected Flash.
ONSTAGE New costumes! Changed powers! Long-lost relatives! The latest comic book revelations are hot topics that would be at home at the Comic Book Club. Alex Zalben, Justin Tyler and Pete LePage are the hosts of this weekly gabfest on Tuesdays at the People’s Improv Theater in Chelsea.
The club’s first outing was in 2006, and the formula has remained relatively intact: interviews with guests (a mix of comedians and comic book professionals), a trivia contest, quick reviews of recent releases and commentary on industry news.
One of Mr. Zalben’s favorite guests is Kevin Conroy, an actor who frequently lends his voice to the many animated versions of Batman. “He knows how to play the audience,” Mr. Zalben said. “He comes out and says, ‘I am Batman,’ and everyone cheers.”
The Comic Book Club hosts have become a presence at conventions, including the New York Comic Con, where they conduct video interviews with guests and comment on the news. They have also gone online with audio podcasts and a YouTube channel. Lately they have been trying live streaming.
Future guests include Greg Pak, who writes the Incredible Hulk, and the animator Bill Plympton. “He’s going to come on and draw stuff while we’re doing the show,” Mr. Zalben said.
ON THE WALL There are drawings aplenty at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. It has come a long way from its beginnings at the back of a frame shop in Union Square, said Ellen S. Abramowitz, the president and chairwoman. Its 3,000-square-foot space is crammed with visual treats.
This week it began exhibiting the works of three artists: the underground cartoonist Denis Kitchen; Al Jaffee, known for his Mad magazine fold-ins; and Liza Donnelly, a cartoonist for The New Yorker. In a typical Donnelly panel two women are talking on the sidewalk. One says to the other: “Some men aren’t deceitful. Some men are dead.”
There always seems to be something going on at the museum — opening receptions, panel discussions, educational seminars. The organization also puts on the MoCCA Festival, a two-day celebration of comics, every April at the 69th Regiment Armory.
ON TAP Another way to celebrate comics is with a frosty beer. Comic book writers have been known to hang out at local spots like the Irish Rogue. That Clinton bar is a favorite haunt of Mark Millar, the superstar writer of Marvel’s “Civil War” and his own (ultra-violent) “Kick-Ass,” which became an underappreciated film this year.
Feel more at home with the indie crowd? Try the Black Sheep Bar and Restaurant, where tipplers this weekend may include staff members of Dark Horse Comics, based in Oregon. For a triple treat, there’s McGee’s, which is a hangout for the DC Comics staff and writers from the “Late Show With David Letterman” as well as the inspiration for the neighborhood bar in the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”
UNDER GLASS The new Midtown branch of Heritage Auction Galleries has a rotating window display filled with memorabilia and collectibles.
That public showcase was an important factor in choosing the space, said Greg Rohan, the president of Heritage, which is based in Dallas. “People have come in and wanted to know if they could buy” featured items, he said Alas, most await auction, though some are occasionally available for direct purchase.
On a recent damp morning the collectibles included the prop arm (opening bid: $7,500) of a “Terminator” android and a copy of Batman No. 1 from 1940 (opening bid: $9,500). Two painters on their way to a job gazed at the display and commented on the items in a foreign language. Then one of them spotted a comic book and switched to English: “Amazing Spider-Man.”