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An Interview with Marvel Studios Promoter Michael D’Alessio at the NY Comic Con

Me interviewing Michael alongside the booth

Deryn Younger, Editor

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On Sunday, October 8th, I went to New York Comic Con – one of the biggest comic conventions in the country. For those reading who may not know what exactly Comic Con is,  New York Comic Con is an annual fan convention dedicated to comics, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys, movies, and television. Over 150,000 guests attend per day over the course of four days, which include celebrities, exhibitors, vendors, or just regular fans and cosplayers.

While there, I had the chance to sit down with Michael D’Alessio – the genius who works with Marvel to run the Marvel booth at NYCC and other comic cons across the country and the world. Together with Marvel, Michael creates one of the largest booths at Comic Con to thrill a superhero-loving audience and give them access to signings, sneak-peeks of upcoming movies, and much more.


 

Q: In simplest terms, what exactly is your job?

 A: I’m the president of the event marketing agency for Marvel, which means that I work with Marvel’s people in their offices to develop their event here. Marvel comes up with the ideas of what to do on stage, whether it be signings, meet and greets, etc., but I’m the one who has to make it happen. I basically design the set, build it with my crew, and make sure everything is down pat. My crew and I have to know how everything works, what it does, and what to do if something goes wrong. The booth itself is well over one-million dollars, so I have to make sure nothing happens to it!

 

Image courtesy of Business Insider

Q: Does Marvel have different themes for each annual Comic Con?

 A: Normally, the comic cons in San Diego and New York – the two biggest conventions – do differ. On the East Coast, everything typically stays the same but the activations – signings, celebrities, etc. – change each year. On the West Coast, however, everything changes each time. We’ve done everything from bringing in actual movie sets from Marvel movies to welcoming the best of Marvel superheroes. So yes, the themes are different for each con, but they do change with whatever is most popular.

 

Q: Since you started your career, how have you seen Comic Cons change as new shows, franchises, etc. have come along?

 A: NYCC first started around 11-12 years ago, and it only had about 30,000 people. Now, there’s over 300,000 people between inside and outside of the convention center. I was actually the first “big” booth when I worked with a video game company to showcase them, and I’m still the biggest booth even though I now work with Marvel and other clients here. In regards to new shows coming along, there’s always new shows and booths popping up at every con I go to, which is interesting because people often think that geeks are people who are to be made fun of, but you look at the top-selling movies in the world – Avatar, The Avengers, etc. – and those are all “geek” movies! There’s more geeks out there than you think.

 

Q: Do you think the crowds differ between, say, San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con?

 A: Definitely! In San Diego, the people are much more laid back but still rather demanding. They don’t necessarily freak out when they see a celebrity like a New Yorker or New Jerseyean would, and San Diego is definitely a lot calmer than NYCC. In New York, you don’t get the chance to see celebrities as much as you would in San Diego, which is mainly why everyone freaks out so much. The types of people who come to NYCC are great, but they’re definitely more aggressive and know what they want; they have a plan, they stick to it, and then they leave.

Q: I understand Marvel does work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which you also participate in. Can you tell me more about that?

 A:  Marvel always tries to take the Make-A-Wish kids into the booth and give them an awesome experience to make their dream come true. I try to get the kids in the booth to meet the celebrities, get photos with them, tell them their stories, and all that. Marvel is all about their fans, and truly loves each of them, and that doesn’t mean just the able-bodied ones. Marvel goes out of their way for the disabled, the wounded veterans, and, of course, the Make-A-Wish children and their families. We are fervent believers that every single person at the show should have the same experience open to them, and my crew and I along with Marvel make sure that we accommodate as much possible to make that happen. In reality, it’s not that difficult to make the experience accessible – you just need to plan for that from the beginning. To Marvel, as well as my team, inclusivity is priority, and that inclusivity is at every touch-point to the consumer.

 

image courtesy of timeout.com

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is looking to go into a job like this? 

 A: Almost everything I do here is something that they don’t teach you in college. You can’t go to school for this, but you will need a college education to get into this profession. One important thing college does teach you is how to think, more specifically how to think deductively, and once you get that under your belt you’re on your way. Public relations classes help a lot, as well as advertisement classes. All of these things are definitely helpful, but one of the main things is you have to know is how to think on your feet and need to be able to get your hands dirty. Events are hands-on and you have to be willing to work and think creatively to keep people entertained. It’s also important to note that every single person who works at my company, promoguys.com, as well as those who work at the conventions started out as a fan. I befriended them, they asked to volunteer, and I brought them on and trained them. In reality, we don’t really allow volunteers – I’m a firm believer in that everyone should get paid for their work… and this job is definitely work!

 

Q: Truthfully, what is it like to work with celebrities?

 A: Here’s my advice to working with a celebrity: always make sure they use the bathroom before they go on stage, and always treat them like the real people they are. They’re your hero when you see them on screen, but it’s important to realize they’re real people and you have to treat them that way. Whenever my team and I meet a celebrity, we always address them by their first name and make them feel welcome, which immediately makes their wall come down and allows for them to have a good time. You want to make sure their experience with you and with Comic Con is memorable. Comic Con is supposed to be a safe place for celebrities, fans, and geeks like me, and we want to make sure we keep it that way to make the entire experience as enjoyable and as memorable as possible for everyone.

In addition, it’s important that you always realize that celebrities are there to do a job, but you also want them to have a good time while doing that job. Most of the celebrities I’ve worked with have been so excited to meet fans. Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennett are two of the biggest stars from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D on ABC and they will literally stop everything they are doing at the signing for fans that they can tell are passionate about their work. It’s especially important to those two ladies because they love to meet other Asian girls and women who want to get into acting and directing, because since both of them are Asian, they’re aware they’re knocking down barriers for the next generation.

In terms of working with celebrities overall, I can tell you that Samuel L. Jackson is hysterically funny, Chris Hemsworth is the most charming guy in the world, Chris Evans is shy but has a smile that can light up a room, Sigourney Weaver is the most captivating woman, and Channing Tatum – who isn’t a Marvel actor but is still someone I’ve done a lot of work with – is exactly like his character in 21 Jump Street in terms of how he treats his friends.


 

Getting to peek behind the curtain of Comic Con is definitely an experience that, probably, most of the attendees don’t get to have. While others see the outside of all the booths, the glitz, and the coolness of the entire con, I was fortunate enough to see an entirely different side of things at Comic Con. I never realized the amount of planning, effort, and creativity it truly takes to create something uniquely special and captivating for the entire Comic Con audience – and Michael’s booth is just one out of the 400 there!

 

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An Interview with Marvel Studios Promoter Michael D’Alessio at the NY Comic Con