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ReedPOP Goes In-Depth On Plans For New York Super Week [Interview]

Last week, ReedPOP (the company behind New York Comic Con) announced that it would present an event called “New York Super Week” in October — a ten-day festival of pop media events at venues all over Manhattan and Brooklyn.  And while the initial press release was full of hype and excitement, and contained a few intriguing tastes of planned events (Neil DeGrasse Tyson! Podcasts! Concerts!), the announcement came with very little information. There was no language about pricing, ticketing, or other logistics. The just-launched Super Week website contains links to forms so retailers and restaurants/bars can sign up to offer special promotions in association with the festival, as well as a submission form for organizations and individuals to propose events — but again, concrete details were light on the ground.

As might be expected, this has led to a variety of reactions from the comic and entertainment community. Many welcomed the idea of an expanded event, unbound by the confines of a convention center, while other conversations on websites and social media expressed skepticism about the motivation for crowd-sourcing venues and events, and commented that it seemed like an attempt for ReedPOP to monetize satellite events not actually organized by the company.

ComicsAlliance reached out to Matthew Wasowski, the Festival Director of Super Week, to ask for clarification on some of these issues, and get answers to a few of the questions that have arisen.

ComicsAlliance: This is a huge step for ReedPOP, and a pretty ambitious concept so far as fan expos go: taking a four-day central event (New York Comic Con) and building a city-wide festival around it.  What made you decide you were crazy enough to try it?

Matthew Wasowski: First, I’d like to mention that I’m a relative newbie to the ReedPOP team, so all answers I give are *mostly* correct and that I plead ignorance for anything that is slightly incorrect. How’s that for plausible deniability? Ha!

OK, enough disclaimers. My colleagues here at ReedPOP watched New York Comic Con significantly grow year over year since its inception. They’d recognized for several years that the number of fans was outpacing the available space in the [Jacob K. Javits Center], so they thought long and hard about how to properly expand. As our fearless leader Lance Fensterman says, there’s sometimes a chicken-and-egg effect in terms of making a big event, whereas it’s hard to get stellar content when there’s not a large crowd, and at the same time it’s hard to get a large crowd without stellar content. So we had to think of a way of taking advantage of the high-quality content every year at NYCC as well as the sheer number of fans.

As my team started to see that they’d attract more than 130,000 fans into the Javits for NYCC 2013, they knew it was time to make a firm decision about how to grow and decided on New York Super Week. By creating a week-long pop culture festival at various venues throughout all of NYC, we’ll be able to not only offer additional content that would no longer fit in the Javits, but we can also diversify and expand the types of content that can be offered. For instance, there’s been an explosion in ‘edutainment’ events the last few years in the City such as informal lectures and story-telling events, but those don’t fit particularly well in the traditional comic con setting. But they’re perfect for New York Super Week. We now have the perfect vehicle for events such as live podcasts, readings, concerts, screenings, story-telling events, tastings, and so much more under the very large pop culture umbrella.

CA: The press release mentioned the “Super Week Card” –- what perks and benefits will that provide?  And as there’s no mention in the press release, have you decided how much it will cost?

MW: To be as objective as possible, the Super Week card offers tremendous value. For a mere $10, the NYSW card gets card holders discounts and incentives at dozens of rad retailers, restaurants and bars across the city ranging from happy hour prices, free desserts, and merchandise discounts, to priority seating for select New York Super Week events. Personally, I’d pay an extra $10 just to sit in the first few rows for any of the events we’ll be holding at the 92nd Street Y’s Kauffman Concert Hall — I want to make eye contact with Ophira Eisenberg from NPR’s Ask Me Another on October 10! If anyone drinks a couple of beers at happy hour prices, takes an NYC pizza tour, or buys a stack of comics at Midtown Comics, then the card easily pays for itself.

CA: Since the announcement yesterday, there’s been a variety of reactions on social media and in conversation…  Some seem to consider this the next logical step from how you’ve listed after parties and outside happenings on NYCC’s website in past years, some see it as a power move to establish control over the extra-curricular events, in addition to the convention itself.  What are your initial goals, and how would you address the concerns that have been raised?

MW: Wow, I haven’t heard about this being perceived as a power move. Well, I don’t know if this sounds like a euphemism, but we will certainly be curating dozens of events, but I strongly disagree with the word ‘controlling.’ I basically have this dream job that allows me to work with so many event creators that I’ve known for years and/or been a fan of for years, to bring the citizens of Gotham a wide variety of really fun stuff to attend. I can’t believe this job really exists, let alone the fact that I have it. I’ve hosted Super Week-esque events for nearly a decade in New York, so I have a good sense of the variety of content people truly enjoy. Since so many people will be in town for NYCC, New York Super Week affords us the chance to give them additional activities.

For example, shows like Running Late With Scott Rogowsky or Story Collider only take place each month, and live podcasts from groups like Slate’s Hang Up and Listen or Juan Epstein rarely do live shows in NYC, so this allows us to bring all of this cool stuff together while the city is already awash with fans. Give the people more choices, more variety, and more fun!

And from a practical standpoint — sorry, that word ‘controlling’ is bugging me — this is still New York and there are a bazillion venues. If we wanted to truly control that whole week, I’d have to clone myself a few thousand times to be able to book shows at all the venues and create partnerships with all the bars, restaurants, and retailers. We’re just hand-picking a few that make sense and have pop culture sensibilities.

CA: You have a form on the Super Week website to submit event proposals — as this is a much more expansive concept than simple panels in a convention center, and organization will be accordingly more complex, how do you envision that working? Will all individual events be organized and operated by ReedPOP, by the individuals/organizations proposing them, by the venues, or will it vary from event to event?

MW: While we’ve already hand-picked many of the events slated for New York Super Week, I’m the first person to realize there are countless other events that would be a great fit for our fest with which I may not be familiar. So if anyone has an awesome show that would make sense, I want to hear about it and get it on the agenda! We’ve already rented out a few venues and have revenue share agreements with others during New York Super Week. This was simply a practical necessity. Venues in our city are extremely competitive and some start booking shows as far as 8-12-months out, so we had to lock-in a few this spring because we knew that if we waited to program some events during the summer, that most places simply wouldn’t have any available dates by the time we called them. As I’ve been working with event creators, I’ve heard a number of stories already where they wanted to book their own show around NY Comic Con 2012 and 2013, but waited too long and simply had nowhere to go because they waited until July, August, or September.  Most importantly, since ReedPOP works with artists of so many different capacities, we know that almost no one is a charity. We’re making sure that every event gets paid almost the same amount (sometimes more, sometimes a bit less) they’d get paid had they booked the show themselves. That’s actually how I got involved in the first place. A now-colleague of mine called me back in December and asked if I wanted to do a show as part the festival, and he was extremely quick to point out that I don’t only do events out of the pure goodness of my heart. Though my mom says I have a good heart. She’s nice like that.

CA: Following up on that, harassment in the fan community has been an issue that’s been increasingly visible recently — if you’re co-organizing and endorsing all these smaller events, what steps are you taking to ensure that the safety and comfort of all attendees is up to the standard that ReedPOP strives for?

MW: Luckily, this is where our venue partners really come in to play. We’ve purposely chosen venues that already regularly book the types of events and shows that will happen during Super Week, so they already understand the fans and work with them all the time throughout the entire year. For example, we’ll be doing a number of events at The Way Station in Prospect Heights and Rock Bar in the West Village. Those places have incredibly high standards for being safe and inclusive.

CA: Are there Super Week events that you’re particularly excited about?  Are there any especially personal passion projects for you (or any of the other ReedPoppers) on the schedule?

MW: Personally, I’m a liberal arts and trivia nerd, so I’m particularly excited for StarTalk with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson (but who isn’t, right?), the trivia shows by The Big Quiz Thing and Trivia AD, Punderdome 3000 which we’ll be announcing shortly. And although I’ve always been a dog person, we’re also going to put on the Intergalactic Feline Film Fest, so clearly that’ll just be hilarious and full of wonderment. A few of my colleagues in their late 20s and early 30s are particularly psyched for the Nickelodeon Nostalgia Nite so they can relive their tween years.

CA: Why announce this now, so far in advance, with so many details still unclear?

MW: Since we’ve never done New York Super Week before, we thought it would make a lot of sense to announce it around both Special Edition and a few upcoming New York Comic Con announcements. The festival is already less than four months away, so we couldn’t wait much longer.

If you don’t mind me saying…a few minutes after we formally announced New York Super Week on June 11, I toasted the whole ReedPOP team and thanked them for supporting me as I get this festival off the ground. The entire team is so dedicated and singularly focused on the fans, that you fans — yes fans, I’m talking to you now — are all my colleagues ever think about. We want to make you happy. We want to give you memories that will last a lifetime. We want to make you want to share your experiences with your family and friends. (Note: We don’t want you to barf when I keep laying it on so thick like this!).

CA: The Super Week website is fairly minimal right now, with only one rough image and a few links — is that the final logo that we’ll see on all NYSW branding?

MW: The image you see now is just the tip of the New York Super Week iceberg.  We chose this logo because it’s actually very flexible and modular, so throughout the summer you will see scores of variations that tie-in our logo with the individual events.

CA: New York Super Week, Special Edition, Book Con…  That’s three new events in New York City this year alone, in addition to NYCC.  Where do things go from here?

MW: Again, I have to plead the Fifth (mostly because I actually don’t know), but I’m sure Lance will lovingly talk your ear off about this! Again, it’s not about ReedPOP, it’s not about the comic book creators, the studios, the venues, or anything else…it’s about the fans.  Here’s to a super week for a super city, Gotham!

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