Travel Show Takes One Visitor to Another Planet
By Marc Cappelletti
If you didn’t see the sign across the giant vestibule you’d think that the New York Times Travel Show had included some very far off destinations this year – far off like Krypton or Bronson Beta. That’s because also sharing the Javits Center’s sea of square footage was Comic Con, the annual convention for all things comic book, gaming and nerdy.
The feeling upon entering was not unlike the famous scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker (me) and Hans Solo (oddly enough, my girlfriend, to fit the analogy) walk into the Mos Eisley Cantina located in a far off galaxy (34th and 11th) to find a room of aliens staring at them. In that world, the humans were the grotesque ones. And at the Javits Center on Saturday, the Travel Show people were alien.
As a member of the earthly, not interstellar, travel industry, I took to the floor of the Travel Show to attend a few seminars, learn whatever I could about changes in the industry, and listen to how businesses were coping with the current – spoiler alert – economic downturn. The room was an iStock photographer’s dream. Industry men and women with quaffed hairdos buttoned up their crisp suit jackets, shook hands firmly and smiled incessantly. They recalled previous conferences, discussions they’d had and promises they’d made to meet up at the hotel bar after the day was over. They ran off cabin numbers, discounts and book-by dates like ticker-tape machines. Meanwhile, those from the island nations danced and passed out shots of orange rum.
The general public, those who paid to get in, were of a different species altogether. With pale faces, like they hadn’t been out of the house in years, let alone the country, they roamed the floor with dead eyes, mindlessly swarming booth after booth. They signed up for whatever free giveaway was available and then moved on to devour free samples at the Asian culinary demonstration. Free tickets to Tahiti here. A spa package for two over there. The room provided endless hope for a people who seemed as if that was all they had.
If it is the job of the Travel Show to make one want to travel then I must offer my congratulations, because after three times around the room and a fourth time being walked into by persons who never apologized, I wanted to get the hell out of there and see the world. Even repeatedly pronouncing foreign words like “Hurtigruten” a la Swedish Chef had lost its luster. I left the incandescent lighting of the Travel Show in search of real entertainment. I needed a fresh perspective on things. And I knew just where to find it.
In the main vestibule, the Joker was sharing a slice of pepperoni pizza with Laura Croft, Tomb Raider while an overweight Asian girl in a Hello Kitty outfit stood for pictures with a fully-armed storm trooper. In between Hello (Big) Kitty and the storm trooper was a twig of a teenager with oily skin, a packet of trading cards and a t-shirt that read, “iFanboy.” As I soon found out, iFanboy is an entrepreneurial and overwhelmingly popular website created by a few comic book fans devoted to the discussion of everything comic book. The site has become so popular that its users identify themselves just as much with the site as they do the comic books they discuss. Hence, the t-shirts. Name me a travel site that’s accomplished that kind of brand awareness and I’ll sign you up for a chance at a vacation getaway.
I quickly encountered characters from every conceivable planet and time period. The Shadow, fairies, maidens, guys who dressed in plain clothes but just so happened to grab a four-foot gold plated Viking sword on their way out the door – everyone was there. Even though I told my girlfriend that they were “ridiculous,” I occasionally watched as girls dressed like some secret sect of hooker hobbits from Lord of the Rings posed for a drooling photographer with a goatee and stonewashed jeans. “I’ll make you a star! I swear!” he could have said.
But what does one really do at Comic Con?
For starters, it’s a collector’s heaven. Even actors from sci-fi shows come to sign autographs and hopefully get a bump in royalties with a few extra DVD sales. The only autograph signing going on at the Travel Show was from Rick Steves and Samantha Brown. Great, now all I need is my Arthur Frommer and my collection will be complete!
Comic Con has also become the arena to test out new games in the market place and hunt for limited editions being sold or simply displayed in collections – a sort of “my collection’s bigger than yours” situation. Most of all, though, Comic Con is the place where like-minded people come together to share their love of comics, of stories, characters, and anything fantastical. It’s a showcase of some unbelievably talented and creative people who have pushed their passions to the maximum. Many have carved out a decent living for themselves. Most simply find that it feels good to be with people who understand their interests. That’s how it is at industry conventions. You use up gallons of energy to become an expert in something and as soon as you meet another who has done the same it’s almost impossible to hold back. You have to share your experiences. You have to tell them of the road you’ve been down in the hopes that they’ve traveled the same path. You long for vilification that your quest was not made in vain.
The overarching theme this weekend was that if you follow your passion, you’ll go places. That’s it. And whether you end up on Aruba or Zeldon IV, you’ll be a member of something bigger than yourself. You’ll find purpose. And who knows, you could find yourself relaxing on a beach somewhere reading the tales of Green Lantern next to your girlfriend whose bikini also doubles as her Princess Laya slave girl costume. You never know. People have concocted far more outlandish stories only to be believed by millions.