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NY Comic Con: A Pop Culture Spectacle Designed by Passionate Fans for Passionate Fans

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Q&A with Lance Fensterman of ReedPOP

Lance Fensterman, senior vice president of ReedPOP, discusses the value of authenticity, shared experiences, and why being a fan makes him uniquely qualified to design pop culture events for diverse tribes of devout, animated fans.

Q. Tell us about New York Comic Con.

LF: It’s the largest pop culture event in the United States, about 180,000 people in 2016. It started 10 years ago with roughly 15,000 people and has ballooned over the last 10 years. 

Q. That’s massive. What do you think has contributed to the growth?

LF: The show has grown for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s because we always put our fans first. When you give them what they want, they tend to support you. 

We’re also thriving, along with the geek economy, by tapping into passion for popular culture and self-expression. 

Q. Describe this legion of fans — who typically attends?

Every stripe of nerd you can imagine makes up these tribes. Whether it’s toys, comic books, graphic novels, Japanese pop culture, film, television, or video games, all these tribes come together at New York Comic Con to celebrate what it is to be a nerd.  

Q. There’s no group quite like it — you can feel their passion. And it’s palpable from the other side as well, right?

LF: Yes, it’s exciting; the fandom is so strong on both sides, with the creativity you find here and the amazing work being done across all mediums. It’s cool to have built a platform where these creators can showcase their work and the fans come to celebrate it.

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Q. Give us some background on ReedPOP.

LF: We built ReedPOP as a brand and a culture to delight geeks around the world. We specifically hire passionate fans like me (I have A LOT of Legos!) to build events that are genuine, incredible, authentic, and relatable it’s a mission driven by what the fans want.

Q. The audience is incredibly diverse. How do you appeal to all walks of fandom?

LF: It varies by tribe. The toy tribe wants an exclusive toy. Video gamers want to play the game before they buy it. Comic book fans want to meet the illustrators. For film and television, it’s about exclusive content. What’s common among all the tribes is they want to experience something unique. They want a shared experience with others who love it as much as they do. They can say, “Oh man, I was there when Daryl from The Walking Dead talked about creating that character.” That’s what we try to provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Q. What sets the New York show apart from other Comic Cons?

LF: It’s an exceptional event that courses with energy because of the city. There’s a genius to the energy and a franticness amongst the fan base that you don’t see at other shows. Sometimes it’s hard to corral and control, but it’s a good challenge when you have such a passionate community.

Even the Javits Center, a building that’s stacked up and down rather than spread out, makes it different. Plus, you’re crowded shoulder-to-shoulder in this energetic way, which is just like Manhattan.

Q. That energy has grown the event beyond the Javits — tell us about the expansion.

LF: This million-square-foot building no longer contains us, so we’ve taken the show literally to the streets. Expanding across the city enables more people to join and interact with the content. And more brands can reach those audiences.

It’s our goal to be a city-wide festival that isn’t confined. We want to spread out so wherever you are in the city, whether it’s concerts, pop-up events, or big-time venues like the Hammerstein, you will know New York Comic Con is happening.

That’s the vision, which takes time. But with the right partners, like Freeman, that provide support in every possible way, our vision can become a reality. 

Q. What are some of the challenges of managing a show of this magnitude?

LF: One thing is getting everybody in safely and around to see and do what they want, which takes strong planning, organization, and logistics.  Those things build the framework on which all of the fun hangs.  

Q: In addition to expanding, you also livestreamed many of the events. How was the engagement?

LF: We’ve had significant engagement. It’s a valuable tool for brands to amplify their message and create an experience with our community in person, as well as those viewing virtually around the world.

Q. What makes NY Comic Con thrive?

LF: It’s all about shared experience. People get on a plane, bus, or subway, and stand in line for hours just to get in the building. Almost everything you want is available somewhere, but sharing that experience with people who love the same things you do is core to this community. When we create an emotional experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else, we know we’ve had a successful show.

Q. If you were a fan attending this show, what character would you be?

I normally dress like a high schooler T-shirt and hoodie. So I’d go as a businessman in a suit and tie with dress shoes, not sneakers. And I’d shave. No one would recognize me! 

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