Creative Director - Los Angeles Arts Society
I didn’t grow up on comic books, but, like many of my generation, I grew up on shows based on comics. Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, and even that goofy Mask spin-off were all regular viewing during my childhood and, to this day, remain some of my earliest TV memories. Even today at the ripe old age of twenty-something, there’s a primitive part of my brain that still lights up at the thought of costumed heroes and villains duking it out for the fate of the world, humanity, or what have you. Fortunately, it turns out that I’m not the only one, as my LA Arts’ partner Alex and I’s visit to the Long Beach Comic Expo this past February made very clear.
The first thing I saw when I got there was a fleet of cars modified to look like ones central to nerd culture. Among the autos was a DeLorean decked out like the one in Back to the Future (but thankfully not plutonium-powered like in the movie), a hearse made to look like the Ecto-1 from the 2016 Ghostbusters, retro and modern Bumblebee-esque Camaros filled with Transformers memorabilia, and a Jurassic Park jeep and SUV blaring John Williams’ iconic theme. I’m not really a car guy but the geek in me internally squeed and thought it was an awesome way to pump guests up and get them in touch with their inner kid before they even set foot inside the convention itself.
The security people checking members of the press (they had a separate line for journalists, a nifty little perk) as they entered the center were noticeably polite, treating me comfortably as they scanned me and telling me to enjoy the expo when they finished. This pleasant disposition was shared by the staff inside as well, with the guard who directed me to the restroom even wishing me a good day when I came out and headed back onto the vendors’ floor. I shouldn’t be so surprised since my interactions with staff at Long Beach Convention Center have always been pleasant as far as I can remember, but it stands out to me because people working such events aren’t always so agreeable. Just making the extra effort to treat guests in a civil manner goes a long way in making them feel like, well, guests, which is exactly how I felt.
The exhibitors were similarly friendly for the most part, though there were a few exceptions. One booth selling Godzilla t-shirts caught my eye but the guy running it had little interest in conversation, answering my questions with flat “yeah”s and preoccupying himself with other business while I tried to engage him. I thought it strange that a vendor selling merch of something as niche as Godzilla would begrudge potentially interested customers trying to engage them about the focus of their product, but hey, what do I know about customer service.
Most of the other exhibitors, however, were more than happy to talk about whatever they had to offer. Writer Preston Poulter, for instance, was eager to discuss his comic series’ White Lily and Guinevere and the Divinity Factory, explaining the unique historical background of the former and the intriguing philosophical undertones of the latter. Not only was he excited to elaborate on his comics, he was also receptive to my thoughts on them, agreeing when I said Guinevere’s themes of individualism versus collectivism were “very Randian” and acknowledging the influence of the Fountainhead author on his work.
Also agreeable was comic illustrator Agnes Garbowska, who Alex and I regrettably didn’t get to talk to for long. A particularly persistent fan swamped her with commissions right then and there, so she had her hands full with pencils and paper the whole time we were at her booth. But, she took the time to take a break from the commissions when her friend Miki (who was exceptionally friendly in her own right) let her know I just wanted a signature for the My Little Pony postcard that I bought for my nieces, kindly thanking me for my purchase and, perhaps, my patience as well.
But it wasn’t just comic authors and artists hawking their larger-than-life wares. We were pleasantly surprised to meet and chat up Jackie Dallas, the actress who played the girlfriend of the teacher in Stranger Things, as well as get selfies with a bountiful bevy of cosplayers. From Darth Vader and the forces of the Galactic Empire to the Original Series and Deep Space Nine iterations of Starfleet, and from Tony Stark to Princess Mononoke, it’s safe to say that almost all provinces of nerdom were represented at the event, and with such pride too! Looking at all the costumes, one couldn’t help being blown away by the time and effort that their owners must have put into making them. Meeting superheroes like Batman and Captain Planet or even villains like The Riddler and, say, Lego Lord Voldemort may be the stuff of dreams, but through the craftsmanship of the cosplayers we met, we were able to briefly enjoy such childhood fantasies as if they were real life.
Further compounding the childish sense of nostalgia were the assorted other vendors selling and displaying art, toys, and similar goodies. Miles Toys and Treasures had an impressive selection of vintage action figures from media as disparate as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a collection made all the more grand by the fact that almost all the figures were still in their original packaging. Another booth offered a charming combination of custom Lego mini-figures and dummy weapons (life-size, not Lego-size). Other groups like the Sci-Fi Coalition and Star Trek The Fleet offered guests civic-minded venues for exploring their media interests as well as participating in community service with other fans.
Having catalogued all these sights and wonders, it kills me to say that I wasn’t able to go both days, leaving Alex to fend for himself on day two. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, that day he bumped into none other than Rachel Hollon, our very own Elvira for our House on Haunted Hill Halloween party this past October. As it turned out, she had been there for both days, but somehow she slipped past us with her killer-diller, gender-bender Han Solo cosplay the day I went. I suppose I can only let this be a lesson to make the necessary arrangements to attend both days when next year’s expo rolls around.
Speaking of which, I’m not sure if I can wait for next year! I like to think I keep up with pop culture happenings and going-ons, but I haven’t felt the way I did after attending LBCE in a long time. The cosplays, the conversations, and the quality of service by those working all made for a magical experience that brought out the kid in me and whetted my appetite for more conventions. WonderCon is around the corner and Comic-Con is coming up in the summer, but Long Beach Comic Expo is the high, memorable bar by which I will judge all others.
Photos by Alex Martinez and Reggie Peralta
The views expressed in this review are those of the author’s and not necessarily the views of LA Arts Society. Let us know what you think of it in the comments section below. For more reviews, recaps, events, and other news from LA Arts Society, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. If you’d like to book an event, volunteer with LA Arts Society, or have any other questions, feel free to reach us on our Contact page.