My Disney Top 5 - Disney at New York Comic Con 2023by Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
People always ask me, "Why don't you just move down to Florida so you can be near Disney at all times?" Inevitably, my answer always concerns the weather and the proper change of seasons I am accustomed to here in New York. I know there are a lot of people who will think I'm crazy for this following statement, but I love the snow. I've been skiing since I was four years old, and snow is just a big part of my life – snow blowers and shoveling included. I also love the thawing out in spring, the transition into summer, and perhaps my favorite season, the fall. I could not commit to living near Walt Disney World and giving up on these distinct seasons. Now, some of you down there might say, "Orlando has its seasons." True. I've been at Disney when it's 40 degrees outside, and I had to buy a fleece jacket to go to the parks. But I'm not going to get those big snowstorms and those fall days driving up to New England to look at the spectacular foliage, am I?
Of course, with fall each year comes one of my favorite things, and no, it's not all the pumpkin-spiced stuff that starts appearing just about everywhere. It's the largest comic and pop culture convention in the whole world, New York Comic Con! Remember when Disney used to mail you your magic bands before your upcoming stay? You'd go to the mailbox, and you'd see that big package. We'd open it up and see all of our brightly colored bands, sometimes with our names engraved. It was a way to build excitement for your Walt Disney World vacation. Well, I feel the same way when I check the mail, and there's an envelope from ReedPop waiting for me, especially when it feels a little weighty. That means my Comic Con badges have arrived, and the big event must be approaching.
For several years now, I have been covering New York Comic Con for MousePlanet, and my goal has always been the same: explore the massive convention for any references to Disney. In the past, that has meant meeting artists, authors, collectors, celebrities, and most importantly, the ever-fascinating crowd of fans that call the Jacob Javits Center on the west side of Manhattan home for four crazy days. Over the years, I've come to love this crowd more and more each year. They are a truly fantastic group of individuals, each more creative than the next. What did I find on my search this year? Check out my annual Top 5 Disney at New York Comic Con: 2023 edition.
5 – Disney's EnterTOONment HQ
This year, I was walking the halls of the convention center with one of my 21-year-old twins, Casey. We have been going to these types of events for quite a long time now, going back to when they were around 9 or 10. It's a long day when you're there with young kids, and they usually try to provide a separate area where you can bring the younger fans to power down and enjoy some entertainment aimed at their age group. Disney was wise to hop on that bandwagon and provide an entire room full of kid-friendly fun while at the same time promoting some of their famous characters and shows from Disney Channel and Disney Junior.
As soon as they entered the room, each kid was awarded a free swag bag with some comics, drawing pages, and a Moon Girl Pop figure. Not that I was asking, but despite my press badge, they were adamant that I could only take a peek inside and not take a bag for myself.
Young conventioneers could sit and watch some Disney programming in comfy beanbag chairs, play games, read comics, and even meet characters like Marvel's Moon Girl.
When I visited the EnterTOONment headquarters, young fans lined up to meet Bluey and Bingo.
This part of the convention certainly wasn't geared towards me, but it was worth mentioning. If you think an event like New York Comic Con might be too overwhelming for the younger ones, know that they have provided enough distractions to make it worth having them tag along, especially on Sundays, when the tickets for ages 6-12 are only 27 bucks. Bottom line? Disney did a great job with the EnterTOONment HQ.
4 – The Lionel Train Booth
Growing up, my brother Michael was a serious model train fan. Downstairs in the basement of the home we grew up in, he took over a big chunk of space near our dad's workbench and built himself one heck of a train setup. It had bridges, buildings, trees, grass, people, and even a plaster of Paris mountain, complete with a train tunnel. That rubbed off on me a bit because, for the last 20 years, I have set up a classic Lionel train set under my Christmas tree each year. So when I saw the Lionel Trains booth at Comic Con this year, it was a pleasant surprise. There hasn't been a Lionel Train booth at any comic convention I've attended.
The even bigger surprise was finding the booth packed with Disney trains! Anyone who's ever been to the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland since they first opened knows that Walt was a train fanatic, so it's essentially the first thing that greets you upon arrival. For 115 years, Lionel has been making the finest model train sets available. This year, the two venerable companies joined forces to celebrate Disney's 100th anniversary with some incredible train sets. If you had a young one with you or you are more of a casual train fan, there are the simpler Ready to Play sets that can run anywhere from $50 to around $100.
However, if you're a train enthusiast – and I'm being kind here and not using the words fanatic or geek – Lionel and Disney have some beautiful sets that will set you back around $500. The item I loved most at the Lionel booth, however, was this recreation of a 1934 Mickey and Minnie Mouse handcar.
This had to be one of the most excellent collectibles I came across at Comic Con this year. By the time I arrived on Saturday, Day 3 of the convention, Lionel had completely sold out of their supply of handcars. I'm not sure I would have sprung for the $200 price tag, but it would have been tempting. When I looked these up on the official Lionel website, I learned that the original Mickey and Minnie handcar toy sold more than 250,000 units during the 1934 Christmas season. That remarkable success single-handedly paid off the company's debts and catapulted it to the top of the model train market. If you have to have one, go to the official Lionel online store and get yours today. I hope Santa has one of these under my tree this year!
3 – Disney Collectible Merchandise
I saw lots of fantastic Disney merchandise this year at New York Comic Con. Here are just two of my favorites.
There are tons of statues and figures on display at Comic Con, but few things literally stop me in my tracks the way that this Buzz Lightyear collectible figure did. That's because it isn't just a collectible figure. It's essentially your own personal Buzz animatronic. I don't think my written words will do it justice. If you want to see what I mean, head to the Robosen website to see what this thing does. It's remarkable and remarkably pricey as well. While there, check out the Transformers line and glimpse the future of collectible remote-control figures. It truly needs to be seen to be believed.
Super 7 is becoming a significant player in the collectible action figure world. Fan of The Clash? Want a Joe Strummer action figure? Head to the Super 7 online store. Need a figure of Dr. Teeth and all of The Electric Mayhem? Same place. Their tagline on their website says it all, " We grew up with giant monsters, comic books, punk, science fiction, skateboarding, robots and rebellion. No one made what we wanted. So we made it ourselves." It's hard to argue with that as a company philosophy. Super 7's booth was impressive this year, and their display case filled with their so-called SuperSize line caught my eye.
If I had the room, I'd already own the Ben Ali Gator from Fantasia. And on a non-Disney note, if you read the books like me as a kid, those Richard Scarry figures are way cool!
2 – Disney Art
One of the best aspects of Comic Con is seeing all of the art produced by professionals and fans alike. At every comic convention, there is typically an area known as Artist Alley. This is where the big mainstream comic artists show their stuff and meet with fans. But it's also where young independent artists and authors try to get their work seen by the public. I have always tried to meet and support up-and-coming artists at each con I attend, especially at a massive show like New York Comic Con. These struggling artists need as much support as they can get when they are in the room with all of the biggies from outlets like Marvel and DC, and I've met some incredible artists and storytellers over the years doing so.
The main show floor is where you can find all of your merchandise, books, collectibles, and booths from industry giants like Marvel, Funko, and Dragonball, but interspersed throughout the sea of anime figures and Funko Pops there are always booths filled with fan art. Here are some of my favorite examples of fan art from this year's show.
I've been a big fan of the gang at Amourable Art. I've watched their booth and their collection grow over the years, and they never disappoint with their incredible and unusual style of fan art. Here's a beautiful example of one of my all-time favorite scenes in any Disney movie: the lantern scene in Tangled.
I realize this isn't Disney, but I had to mention the fact that someone is finally paying homage to one of the great comic strips of all time, Calvin and Hobbes. I rarely, if ever, see anything dedicated to this fantastic duo, and I made sure that one of these came home with me as well.
When you go to enough of these conventions as I do, you see many of the same vendors. So, when something looks new, I stop and take notice. I first spotted the "Simba symbol," and then I was drawn in by Oswald. The big reveal came when the artist, whose company is known as Sew Much Thread, started explaining to me that his art was all done with nails and thread. Extremely impressive, for sure. Head to the artist's Instagram if you're interested.
Of course, it's not just the little guys that I'm drawn to. Last year, I spent some time interviewing official Disney artist James C. Mulligan. You can check out that article here. It was great to catch up with him again this year and see some of his latest creations, including this very timely Splash Mountain print…
…and this New York Comic Con exclusive print of Remy on Broadway, complete with tongue-in-cheek rat references scattered throughout the background.
James always exudes the Disney magic. It's evident in his work, and it's clear by the fans at his booth grinning from ear to ear as they view his creations and hear his warm and enthusiastic words, that he's one of us. It's like one big Disney fan talking to other big Disney fans. Seeing him again this year was a highlight of the day for me. Follow James across the Internet to learn more about James and to see more of his incredible work. Maybe even do some holiday shopping for your favorite Disney fan. He's an absolute treasure.
1 – Mary Blair Original Art
Speaking of treasure, if you're on the hunt for the ultimate animation collectibles, then head to what is roughly dead center of the New York Comic Con show floor, and you'll find the Choice Fine Art booth. It's more like a labyrinth of both classic and new animation art. You won't find the small stuff or the fan art here. Instead, you'll find actual drawings and original animation cels from Disney, Warner Brothers, DC, Marvel, Star Wars, Hanna Barbera, and anyone else significant in the history of the art of animation. Make sure you show up with some big bucks to spend. Don't come here looking for a $40 print for your son's dorm room walls. These are investments. Most of us are just there to admire the greatness, although I'm sure some were there to make a purchase. Peter Pan has always been my favorite Disney classic, so I was immediately drawn to this hand-painted cel of Peter and Wendy in the Darling Nursery.
What I love to find are rough sketches by Disney artists. Something that was potentially concept art or a work in progress. Case in point: this beautiful piece of production art from The Fox and The Hound featuring Vixey and Todd. I've always had a soft spot for this film, and I'd love to call this sketch my own.
But, for the second year in a row, I was, once again, stopped in my tracks in The Choice Fine Art booth with not one but two original pieces of concept art from Disney legend Mary Blair.
Last year, I wrote about turning the corner into the Disney section and spotting a simple but stunning little painting from Mary's work on Song of the South. If you're a Disney fan, you know who Mary Blair is. She was a Disney artist and color expert and worked on classics like Dumbo, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, and Song of the South, among others. It was her color styling on a string of films like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan that made her the legend that she is today. Mary's sublime art direction drove the look and feel of those three tremendous classics. Disney Parks fans experience her work firsthand every day. She was the designer and color stylist for "it's a small world" and Contemporary Resort guests can admire her 90 ft high floor-to-ceiling mural, which serves as the centerpiece of the hotel's Grand Canyon Concourse.
I'm such a massive fan of Mary's work and her particular style, and for the second year in a row I dreamed that I had an extra 25 grand or so to take home a genuine masterwork from one of Disney's finest artists. But which to choose? Cinderella and her castle? Or Alice and The White Rabbit? Maybe I should be dreaming bigger. Just under 60 grand, and I could have owned them both!
New York Comic Con never disappoints. Throughout the year, I have made it a point to attend similar, more minor cons locally or in nearby states, but New York is the big one. It's a community of people that I have grown to love deeply.
There's a line in the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song Woodstock that sums up how I feel about the whole event.
By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere was a song
And a celebration.
This song was written by Joni Mitchell, who at the time was Graham Nash's girlfriend. Joni didn't make it to Woodstock. She, infamously, stayed behind to appear on The Dick Cavett Show instead of attending and performing at the defining concert of her generation. In the song, she recounts the phone conversation she was having with Graham, describing how once he finally got to the music and arts festival, he realized just how extensive that movement and his community were.
That's how I feel each year when I finally get to the Jacob Javits Center for New York Comic Con. You start to feel it on the neighborhood train platform, where a few people, usually those you know from town, are waiting in the brisk fall morning air for their ride to the city. It grows more prominent on the train as people get on at each stop, many in costume. Then, you emerge into Penn Station, the business suits are replaced with super heroes and you join the crowds headed over to the west side. With each block, your community grows larger and larger until it's just us walking through the streets of Manhattan. Once you get over there, you realize just how big this community of fascinating and like-minded individuals is. And you smile and know you're home again.
If you love that communal feeling you get when you finally get back to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, then you should head to New York Comic Con next year. Head to their official site for more information and to join their email list. Let me know if you end up going, I know I'll be there!
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.