With a last minute acceptance, I packed a bag and wandered down to Long Beach for a smaller comic book convention. I haven't been to this convention center since Anime Expo 2007! Have things in this area improved since then, or should fans stay away in general?
Welcome to the Long Beach Comic Expo...
This will be a bit of a dueling tale. Because I became aware of this convention a week before it opened, I registered as press late. Also, due to two events going on at the same time during the weekend, the convention hotel, the Long Beach Hyatt, was sold out. That didn’t stop me from looking around, though. The Hyatt had been renovated since the last time I stayed there in 2002. The aesthetic of the Hyatt is almost minimalist in nature now. They are using light cream and gray colors to reflect as much light as possible. During the daylight hours, this hotel has an extremely open look.
But, due to the sellout, I had to make some backup plans and stayed at the Renaissance Long Beach. I haven’t been in this hotel in almost eight years, since Anime Expo 2007. They have also moved toward a color scheme of light creams and grays. (Is there some kind of handbook on hotel design that I’m not subscribed to?) Anyway, the rooms are spacious and have some of the usual amenities like a coffee-maker and a mini-fridge, but there’s three things this hotel does that made an impression with me.
First, the bathrooms are large. Where a lot of hotel bathrooms often feel like one oversize person is all you can comfortably fit in there, this bathroom has room for two people without much worry. Secondly, there are outlets EVERYWHERE! One under the desk, one in the lamp on the desk, two on the two end-tables by the beds, and one by the recliner. While that isn’t enough for a room full of nerds, one power strip will make this more than useful. And third is they put a sitting shelf in the window of their rooms, giving you extra space to sit, lounge, and look over the harbor and convention center or Downtown Long Beach. It makes either a good place to sit or a place for someone to nap.
There are some interesting places to stay out here.
There isn’t much of a line for this convention. Long Beach Comic Expo was very dutiful about processing badges early and preventing people from creating a logjam while they wait.
There were a couple of hiccups, though. It did seem like Registration didn’t have everything they needed when they opened. I couldn’t get a lanyard when I received my badge. There were none at the desk. The lady behind the desk was very polite and asked me to come back later, which I did. I finally received a lanyard about 30 minutes before the doors opened.
So, to summarize this, their registration is pretty prompt, polite, and moves fast, but they need to make sure they have everything they need when they start.
It has been eight years since I came to the Long Beach Convention Center for anything official. I remembered this building being quaint, but small. I remembered liking the AX when it was here and things working okay. I found out later about the differences the AX staff had with the LBCC staff.
You know what I found out? This is still and interesting location. We had to be led to an entrance round the theater in the middle of the block due to the other event that weekend (a social psychology convention, as one person attending it told me) took the entirety of the main building's main floor.
Long Beach Comic Expo was happening in the main exhibit hall below the main level of the LBCC. It does have a fair sized hall that was used as the main Dealer’s Hall, laser tag, tabletop gaming, and signature row. Just a short walk from the hall’s exit down one hallway and down a flight of stairs were the meeting rooms that the LBCE was using for their panels.
All in all, this was the most compact comic book convention I have seen in quite some time. It works surprisingly well.
There was an interesting spread of items to be had here. Several vendors has comic books both vintage and new, graphic novels, T-shirts, steampunk products, vintage and new toys, anime products, theatrical posters, organized fan groups, and celebrities of varying levels.
Also in this hall was a small laser tag arena with inflatable obstacles to hide behind. This was a very hot ticket with the younger people at the convention and an interesting idea.
The layout of the hall, though, was very good. Several of the larger companies involved like Aspen Comics and Top Cow comics had larger booths up front. From there was a couple of rows of standard tables and there were vendor tables on the outer walls and one row on the interior. The center of the hall was made up of their version of Artist’s Alley. All of the interior tables were smaller vendors and artists (industry and independent) selling their wares and doing signatures.
It doesn’t have the same level of nuance as Comikaze, but it does have some very good aspects to it.
This was a surprisingly entertaining group of panels!
The very first panel I saw was a quasi-reunion of several original G.I. Joe voice actors. From there, I saw panels about homage movie Star Trek: Axanar with Galactica actor Richard Hatch, an X-Men retrospective with Chris Claremont and a guest appearance by Nightcrawler artist Todd Nauck, and a live Movie Fight with the Screen Junkies/Honest Trailers crew. Pretty good for a single day.
Even as I type this down, it’s hard to believe how much variance there is in the panels. There was also a panel of women in voice-acting, a Robotech retrospective, and a panel about DC’s Convergence event.
You may not expect this from a small convention, but their panels and guests are close to first-rate.
Cosplay at LBCE is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s a lot of people that are putting a lot of work into their cosplay, of that I do not doubt. But this crowd isn’t quite the adventurous group of cosplayers I have come to expect at AX, Comikaze, SDCC, and Fanime. While there’s a lot of the same people here, you don’t have the usual quality and saturation of cosplayers.
I do see the beginnings of that quality, though. Never stop trying. When we stop is when we truly fail.
This is one of the things that needs some work. I do see that the people running the Long Beach Comic Expo are trying hard, but there are some training issues that are creeping in, as well as some organizational issues that could use tweaking.
There were several volunteers all over the place in blue shirts saying to ask this person for information. The problem was that a lot of the time, they could only refer me to staffers for answers. Unlike a lot of the AX volunteers I ran into, these people did WANT to answer the question. I could see it in my interactions with them. They just didn’t have the answers needed. I applaud them for trying.
I also had the sense that communication was needed. When the doors opened to the Dealer’s Hall at 9:00 a.m., the vendors weren’t finished setting up. I don’t know if the dealers weren’t told that the hall opened at 9:00 or if they weren’t let in the building until 8:00 a.m. to begin setting up, but they weren’t ready. My first walkthrough was fraught with empty tables or people with half their wares still in boxes and hurriedly putting things up. My second walkthrough at 2:00 p.m. showed a finished hall, but a lot of exhausted people sitting in chairs watching wearily.
These are simple things to fix and I’m betting they can address this.
Downtown Long Beach is very vibrant. There has been a lot of gentrification happening in the area with a lot of newer apartment buildings that have been set up, businesses have been refaced, and the vibe of the area has changed. In fact, the outdoor complex, the Pike, is in the middle of a major overhaul. About 3/5 of the available space is either being refurbished, empty, or going through a major construction project.
Something else is that there are more than a few homeless people wandering the area. There isn’t a lot of active panhandling because there is a homeless assistance office nearby. Still, though, wariness is always a good idea.
There are a lot of restaurants in a relatively short walking distance. Off the top of my head, I saw an Islands, a Hooters, a P.F. Changs, a Chili’s, and a lot of other smaller and non-chain restaurants. It can be expensive to eat out, though. I found my average bill for one person before tip was about $15.00. It’s not a budget buster, but I would have to plan a little differently to come back to the area.
Long Beach Comic Expo, as a 2-day convention, only had one night of operation open to the attendees, and during that night, they teamed up with Club Cosplay to have an 18+ dance with alcohol for anyone 21-and-over. The dance went from 9:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. and it seemed to be going well.
If you didn’t want to stay there, a walk about a block up from the convention center on Pine Avenue has several dance clubs and bars for you to have the kind of fun you’re looking for at night.
There’s a few things that could use improvement. Long Beach Comic Expo, the winter companion to the Long Beach Comic Con, has a few hiccups that didn’t make the convention sing. That being said, there is a lot here to be happy about. The guest list is very strong for a smaller convention and they make excellent use of space when limited to the lower floors of the Long Beach Convention Center. I’m curious to see what they can do when they have use of the main building.
I had meetings and conversations with industry professionals and vendors of all levels. A lot of the time, larger conventions have these people too busy to have a few minutes of their time and that made for a pretty unique experience for me.
I am interested enough to visit again. Hopefully, a little more knowledge of the area and how the convention works can help me plan a full weekend and be better prepared for this convention.