The Long Beach Comic Expo is the “small” version of the Long Beach Comic Con that typically occurs in the February-April timeframe, as opposed to the Long Beach Comic Con that occurs in September/October. It used to be that the “Expo” was a one day show, but now that it’s the same two day duration the line is beginning to blur between the two. They now seem mostly like a Spring and Fall version of the same con.
This year the Expo moved back into February to avoid an April already crowded with WonderCon, MegaCon, C2E2 and several other shows (just look at the convention calendar to see how many cons are scheduled!) and that made it my first con of 2015 and I had a very different experience than I’ve every had at a show.
What made it different? A personal shift from treating the con as a place to empty my wallet in a binge of shopping into an focused experience with comics and comics creators.
In the past, I’ve always gone to a con with a shopping list and a number of things that I wanted to spend money on. I wanted to buy X number of comics on my want list. I wanted to buy various con exclusive items. I wanted to buy commissions from artists. I wanted to buy comics and sketchbooks ranging in price from $5 to $50 from creators up and down Artist’s Alley. Even though I’ve had, over the years, many great conversations with people while buying their wares (and I love supporting comics creators as much as I’m able) I realize I’ve had a very consumer-centric experience at 50+ conventions over the past 25 years. How much did that color my experiences? What is the con experience like for the attendee that does not have an almost bottomless wallet? Given the amount of money I’ve been dropping on early Silver Age comics over the past several month (as people who have been following ComicSpectrum on Facebook or who watch my “Countdown to Complete” web page may have noticed) I decided that it was time to slow down. Could I have fun without spending money?
Right out of the gate, I had to pay $10 for parking, and there is of course the cost of gas to drive to and from the convention. I’m lucky in that I get a press badge so don’t have to pay to get in the door, but that is an expense that most other people would have to bear. So let’s say that spending no money is “nothing over and above the cost of getting in the door”. The “no cost” experience is going to vary for everyone based on their particular interests and what a con offers to track to those interests. This will generally break into 3 categories:
- Meeting/talking to creators on the show floor (and people at publisher booths, which often includes creators)
- Attending panels
- Interacting with your fellow fans
Creators/Publishers on the Show Floor
I always look at the listing of the guests & Artists’s Alley before attending a con. I check to see what creators are there that I’d like to meet, I can plan out what books I might bring to get autographs, and I will often decide who I want to hit up for a commission (but that one was out for this show since I didn’t want to spend money). Long Beach had a decent selection of creators, many of whom I’ve met before (some multiple times). There were some big names and other lesser known creators, some who I have been following for a long time and some that I have recently discovered. It really serves to broaden your horizons if you reach out and try the work of creators before they become Marvel, DC, or Image’s “next big thing”. Many creators who go on to later fame really tend to remember the fans who talked to them and supported them when they were still relatively unknown.
I hit up several of my “usual suspects” and touched base with how they were doing. Richard Starkings (Elephantment), Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo), Josh Finney & Kat Rocha (World War Kaiju), Josh Fialkov (The Bunker, The Life After), Ray-Anthony Height (Midnight Tiger), Mike Kunkel (Herobear), Travis Hanson (The Bean), Norm Rapmund (The Flash), David Baron (Bloodshot: Reborn), Ryan Winn (Divinity). I spent the time from 9am-noon just talking to these people and there was so many more I hadn’t even gotten to yet! While catching up with JK Woodward (Star Trek Doctor Who, City on the Edge of Forever) I ended up watching his table for a while so he could step out for a smoke-break. It was fun interacting with the fans who came up and waxing eloquent ( I hope) about his lush painted art and letting them know he’d be back shortly. He had a large portfolio of originals I went through pointing out particularly cool pieces with more than one person who happened by.
I talked to people at the Aspen, IDW, Lion’sForge, and Top Cow publisher booths. Both marketing folks about what’s coming out and creators. I had a wonderful conversation about artistic influences with Isaac Goodhart (Postal) at the Top Cow booth. I picked up free ashcan comics for Legends of Baldur’s Gate, Star Trek/Planet of the Apes, and Zombies vs. Robots from IDW. I got ashcans for Miami Vice: Remix and Knight Rider at Lion Forge (who had a separate booth buy are publishing these via IDW).
I had some quick “fly-by hellos” (just to let them know that I am a fan and thanking them for the enjoyment they have brought me over the years) with creators like Bob Layton, Jim Mahfood, Gerry Conway, Ethan Van Sciver, and Terry & Rachel Dodson. Friends of mine at the show were excited to meet Chris Claremont and stood in a long line for an autograph & interaction with him. There were ther creators in attendance I’d have liked to chat with that I just didn’t get around to seeing.
I’m lucky in that I have a very broad interest in comics and there always seem to be plenty of creators at a convention that I have a good time talking to.
All-in-all I spent about half my time at the con talking with creators one-on-one.
Total cost: $0
Panels are where the Long Beach Comic Expo is pretty mediocre for me personally, but may be a huge win for someone with different tastes. They have a LOT of panels focusing on Hollywood media properties and celebrities (multiple tracks worth). They have an entire track for Cosplay. They have an entire track focused on how to make comics (for people who want to break into comics themselves).
Where they are inadequate, in my opinion, is on tracks dedicated to fans of READING comics that have no desire to work in the industry. Other cons I have been to have much more robust panel tracks dedicated to topics for people who want to hear about current comics, past comics, groups of comics creators talking about the comics they’re currently making. They also didn’t have full descriptions of the panels on the website or in the printed program, just panel titles. If you went down to the panel area they did have descriptions on some poster boards, but it would have been nice to have these more accessible.
It’s not that they had none of this, it just showed a definite lack of emphasis. There were several great “Spotlight On” panels where Kevin Knight from Eat.Geek.Play talked to creators and I learned a lot in these in-depth conversations. The Long Beach staff kind of dropped the ball managing these. Typically there is someone on the con staff that goes and gets guests to escort them to the panels to ensure they know where to go and that they arrive on time. Apparently they just assumed the guests would show up where & when they were supposed to. I went to the “Spotlight on Terry & Rachel Dodson” that was supposed to start at 12:30. By 12:50, nobody had showed up and I was tired of watching an empty stage so I left . At this point I could have gone to a panel talking about DC’s Convergence event at 1pm, and maybe should have, but opted instead to go back up and have some more one-on-one time with creators.
When I returned a little before 2pm to see the Spotlight on Richard Starkings, Knight was up on stage talking to the Dodsons, so they apparently showed up at some point after I left. Starkings himself showed up about 15 minutes late, wondering why nobody had come to get him. But, after that SNAFU, there was a solid 75 minutes of engaging conversation with Starkings who I have seen numerous times on panels before and I still learned new things about him: Like the time he ran away from home when he was 3, or his earliest exposure to Marvel comics in the “single ink color” UK reprints with Hulk in green ink, Spider-Man in red ink, and the FF in blue ink.
I might add that this panel was not in a room, but was in a reception area off the main hall and we would constantly be interrupted by the noise of people walking by having loud conversations or running squealing up to a replica TARDIS set up near where we were. At one point Richard took matters into his own hands and shouted to an extremely loud group of girls that they should not take pictures with the TARDIS as it was obviously fake. The real TARDIS has 6 panes on each window, whilst the one on display here had 9 panes per window….an obvious copy of the “real deal”. Pure gold!
Next up was the “Spotlight on Stan Sakai”. Stan, the consummate professional, showed up on time at 3:30pm, he even had wrangled up an easel with a large paper pad so he could do some drawings during his time on stage.
Listening to Stan talk about the history of Usagi was fascinating as always (host Knight mispronounced Usagi for the entire interview…but Stan remained unrattled). Stan recounted his research for the stories, talked about what’s coming next, and revealed that while he doesn’t seek out licensing opportunities, he’s happy to talk to people who come to him with proposals for making Usagi stuff.
There was also a Chris Claremont “X-Men Anniversary” panel that several of my friends (huge X-Fans all) attended and thoroughly enjoyed.
All in all, while there were some hiccups, but I really enjoyed the panels I did attend. My main wish would be for even more variety of choice spread out across the day of content for comics readers on things that are not tied into media properties.
Interacting with fellow fans
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…my favorite part of cons is getting together with my “comics friends” who I may interact with via the internet on a normal basis but can actually see face-to-face at cons.
The con had a “moment of silence” on Saturday morning in honor of Leonard Nimoy. An entire convention center of people with one hand held high in a Vulcan salute, remembering for a moment a man who had likely entertained the majority of them at some point over the years. This was a touching experience to kick off the convention.
I walked around with some friends on the floor, attended panels with others, and capped the day off by going for dinner at a local restaurant with a group (not counting the cost of dinner against my “con spend”, I have to eat anyway…)
I got a little shopping out of my system without spending any money because a friend of mine who was not at the con texted me and asked if I could look around for an Avengers #28 for him. He gave me his condition desires and the amount of money he was willing to pay and I was off. I checked at something like 15 vendors and ultimately only 2 had copies, both of them asking way more than the price my friend was willing to pay, so it’s back to eBay for him.
I got introduced to “con pricing” while talking to one of the comic vendors (usually not something they discuss with someone holding a handful of purchases). The idea here is that for certain comics that could probably easily be found cheaper online, there is a case to be made for selling them at a slightly marked up price because there is a benefit in not having to search for them from multiple vendors online and possibly pay separate shipping fees. Plus a creator might be at the con and if a customer buys the comic now they can go over and get it signed. We’re not talking about ridiculous price gouging here, but a few extra bucks per comic that is essentially that convenience fee that is likely not even going to be noticed by a casual fan that does not make a point of scouring prices online to know that a comic is easily available for less. Add to that the fact that a new comic is $4, so a comic from 25 years ago being priced at $4 or 5 instead of $1 may not even be noticed. The ethics of this are debatable, and really boil down to the fact that any comic is “worth” what someone is willing to pay for it PLUS the old adage “Let the buyer beware”.
I met and talked to people I’d never met before. I had a long conversation with one guy about early Marvel comics (kicked off by him asking why Thor’s 1st appearance was in Journey into Mystery #83 instead of in Thor #1 at a booth on the con floor).
The value you will get out of interacting with other fans has a lot to do with what you put into it. I’m not particularly shy about starting conversations with people I’ve never met before, so I make the most of this and it’s a fun way to share thoughts and ideas with other people who have something in common with you; the love of comics. This is something I highly recommend for anyone who has not done it before.
$10 – Parking
$20 – Dinner with friends
$0 – comics, toys, and collectibles
Priceless – the interactions I had with friends and creators
Ultimately, I made it through the con. I saw a lot of things I wanted to buy but that I certainly didn’t need to buy (which, come to think of it, defines all of the 95,000+ comics and multitude of additional items of ephemera in my collection). Not buying things was much harder because I spent so much time on the show floor (given the small number of panels that were interesting to me). I was definitely saved by the friends and the conversations I had. If I was just alone wandering the floor without the personal interactions to provide constant distraction it would have been much tougher.
The fact that I had to consciously decide on a fairly regular basis “That looks cool, I’d like to buy that….but I’m not going to.” I like buying stuff. I’m a consumer at heart. I’m addicted to material possessions. I don’t think that makes me a bad person, though it makes me firmly a member of the American middle class. Will I repeat this experiment? I might try it again at WonderCon coming up in April. They typically have a much richer schedule of panels that appeal to me as a comic reader so it would be interesting to see how much, if at all, easier it is to skip buying stuff. I’ll check back with you in a month and let you know!
Bob Bretall: firstname.lastname@example.org
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