LONG BEACH: THE OTHER COAST CITY WITH A COMIC CON TRADITIONBy Jimmy Dolan
When somebody mentions the kitschy pop-culture fest called Comic Con, the Southern California beach city that almost everybody thinks of is San Diego. That’s understandable. The beginnings of San Diego Comic Con go back to 1970, and what began as a convention of comic book lovers has expanded in size and variety ever since.
But here in another Southern California beach city, where another Comic Con has just wrapped up a successful weekend for the third year in a row, there is the feeling that local tradition is becoming established.
The Long Beach Comic Con—which this year became Long Beach Comic and Horror Con—has become a cultural fixture in the LBC. For two days, thousands of pass holders flocked downtown to the Convention Center, which was well-stocked with comic books, film, pop culture, and surprisingly good shopping.
But as attendees of this year’s Halloween-weekend event in Long Beach look back in assessment, many are left with the feeling that they used to get in San Diego—that is, Long Beach’s convention seems a lot like what San Diego used to be. Lots of people were saying the same thing after last year’s convention, too.
The Long Beach Comic and Horror Con is more intimate than San Diego in both size and scope. Smaller publishers and independent publishers—such as Top Cow and IDW—have a chance to shine without being overshadowed by giants Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse.
Although it has been a week since Long Beach opened its third convention, it’s still making waves on the Internet. The photos that continue to trickle onto Facebook and various blogs clearly illustrate a successful event—and seem to assure that the third annual Long Beach Comic and Horror Con (LBCHC) will not be the last.
You don’t have to be a nerd… but it helps
Like the majority of comic book conventions, LBCHC isn’t just a weekend to celebrate comics. As we’ve all seen with San Diego, a comic con is not all geeks in spandex and endless stacks of discount comics. Long Beach had its share of visual artists, serious collectors and traders, pop culture retail, and niche gift shop booths. Last year, movie and television studios were in Long Beach promoting Saw IV and the new Walking Dead series. Despite the fact that the latter is based on the comic of the same name, comic cons are becoming a popular outlet for any pop culture medium. This past weekend, we checked out a diverse offering of interesting participants that included everything from the Mad Men-esque paintings of Tina Schmidt, to the grotesque and bizarre creations from FanVixens, to the cutesy apparel and accessories of Long Beach-based Apple 8. With two screening rooms showing independent films, laser tag, amateur wrestling, and live dramatic readings, LBCHC had a menu like TGIFridays.
Of course, if you are interested in comic book culture, there was plenty of talent on the show floor. Long Beach’s favorite graphic novel retailer, Pulp Fiction, was swarmed all weekend—offering 40 percent discounts on all titles. J. Scott Campbell and Nei Ruffino, the penciller-inker team responsible for last year’s Long Beach Comic Con exclusive variant cover art of Ultimate Thor #1 returned with their own separate booths. This year, fans who purchased advance tickets were treated to a Long Beach exclusive variant cover of Hulk #1, drawn by Whilce Portacio, who was on hand to sign copies all weekend. The team behind the most recent Simpsons Tree House of Horror comic was available to sign the comic and held a panel discussion on their upcoming projects. Fitting with the horror theme, 30 Days of Night writer Steve Niles sat in his own booth, looking extra creepy in his Satan costume, complete with colored contacts. Thomas Jane and Time Bradstreet hosted panels honoring each other’s careers and showcased their impressive work in comics and film. Felecia Day and the rest of the cast and crew of the popular web series The Guild returned to Long Beach, where they filmed parts of season 5 for LBCHC’s sister event, the one-day Comics Expo. As a Comic Con tradition, many artists on the show floor offer free or paid sketches of whatever you can dream up. Anything from a favorite character that the artist draws to a fan portrait. We had Nathaniel Osollo, creator of Dark Mouse whip up a hilarious depiction of Gary Busey.
This year, the convention expanded to a double comic book and horror con, bringing in publishers, filmmakers, and artists from the horror genre to post up alongside their superhero counterparts. Comic Book Sunday presented the first short film festival, “Fright and Might” to be held as a part of the convention. The festival included six feature-length films, a slew of shorts, including some from Metalocalypse director Jon Schnepp, and a filmmakers’ panel discussion.
Horror master Hart D. Fisher’s new FilmOn horror channel, American Horrors hosted a full two-day schedule of screenings and panels of films from the horror and exploitation genres. The American Horrors crew brought a prop severed head to their booth to promote the new low-budget film The Perfect House, which has the odd distinction of being the first movie to ever premier on Facebook.
As if having anything Hart D. Fisher has touched at the con wasn’t enough, legendary horror director, household name, and apparent comic book enthusiast John Carpenter was in the house for a short autograph session, and to debut his new comic book, John Carpenter’s Asylum. LBCHC attendees had the opportunity to pick up a preview issue of the new series and meet the famed director.
Saturday’s panel discussions included two hilarious appearances by the people responsible for the Adult Swim stop-motion shows Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole and Robot Chicken. The Frankenhole crew decided their panel would end up much more lively and entertaining over a bottle of whiskey, so they sipped Johnnie Walker Black Label the entire hour. An episode from the upcoming season was screened for the first time ever, months before it will air on Cartoon Network.
Seth Green and company made a return appearance from their 2009 panel, and previewed the upcoming season of Robot Chicken as well as a DC Comics Universe special that will air in the comic months. The Chicken crew spoke and answered questions for a completely packed house, and clearly had as much fun as the audience.
One of the more interesting and crowded panel discussions brought in writer/director Shane Black as a guest. Black is responsible for such action flicks as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, and plans on bringing his carefully crafted, nuanced approach to the Iron Man franchise, as he takes over for Jon Favreau on Iron Man 3. Black discussed his dissatisfaction with most current action films, and wishes to return filmmaking to an era that used script and filming techniques that draw viewers into the experience instead of making them more aware that what they are seeing is just a film. He talked about the overuse of computer-generated images and cheap, filler dialogue, but expressed hope for making Iron Man 3 a character-driven, believable and intimate film experience.
Supporting “Our” Heroes
A big supporter of Long Beach Comic Con each year is a non-profit group called The Hero Initiative. The group provides health insurance for freelance comic book writers and artists, who don’t get it from the big publishers they work for. As one representative told us, “The majority of the guys you see out here at conventions are freelancers. They get paid for a job and that’s it. Marvel and DC will make millions and these guys, the creators, are left with no benefits and hardly any royalties. Our aim is to support our heroes; the guys who make what we all love possible.” Based in Los Angeles, much of their work is done at conventions like Long Beach’s. They sponsor special comic book issues and sell books to raise money. One of their more recent endeavors involves getting together 100 of the biggest names in the comic book industry and asking for their interpretation of a popular character, such as Spider-Man. The original artwork is auctioned off and all 100 are collected in a hardcover art book. 100% of the proceeds go to provide freelancers with health insurance.
At this year’s LBCHC, The Hero Initiative debuted the first eight illustrations from The Justice League 100 Project, the latest challenge, which asked 100 top artists to draw their interpretation of a Justice League front cover. As more of these special covers are presented at conventions over the coming months, more will be put up for public auction.
They’ll Be Ba-a-a-a-ack!
While LBCHC may still be relatively small, it holds great potential for tourism and is the perfect place to experience the quirky, unique city that is Long Beach. A convention like LBCHC holds just enough star power to make it noticeable, but doesn’t kill the fun with marketing and hyperbole. Several smaller conventions will be taking place all over California in the coming months, but SoCal fanboys are still recapping the past weekend in Long Beach with their friends. The past weekend brought the debut of a new comic book from the legendary director John Carpenter, first time previews of upcoming Adult Swim programs, a look into the mind of the director of the highly anticipated Iron Man 3 movie, the ever-adorable Felecia Day raffling off a 100-pound sword, a handful of big names in the comics industry, comic book covers made available exclusively at this convention, the debut of the Justice League 100 Project, and hundreds of satisfied fans with backpacks now overstuffed with comic books and memories. But you won’t find a red carpet at this convention. Long Beach Comic and Horror Con may never become the next San Diego or New York, but it doesn’t need to. This convention was the result of tireless dedication and hard work and is possibly becoming more of a Long Beach tradition than just another event at the convention center.