I haven’t done a convention review in awhile, but I think it’s time again. See, this past weekend was the Long Beach Comic Expo. The Long Beach Expo began as a smaller, early year adjunct to the Long Beach Comic Con, which, if you’ve been paying attention around these parts, was our first convention we exhibited at back in 2009. We started Zombie Ranch quite literally as LBCC started.
Now the first Expo happened in February 2010, and was a very modest affair. In hindsight it was so modest it might be barely worth mentioning, but for the talent roster that was present in that small room. Subsequent years would see it expand out beyond, filling the lobby outside in an increasingly awkward fashion, until the 2014 Expo finally moved elsewhere in the convention center. I unfortunately could not call that move good, since Artist’s Alley ended up somehow even more cramped in its layout. I was glad our neighbors happened to be good friends of ours, seeing as we ended up crammed up so close together our chairs were touching. Couple that with a lack of a public address system and other issues and it seemed a case of one step forwards, two steps back, and even though the Expo expanded to two days that year the crowds and sales just didn’t seem to grow with it. Friends and peers had been bleeding away and I suppose I couldn’t blame them.
I worried, I’ll admit it. Dawn and I had made an economic decision to scale back to local shows, and Long Beach represented two of those slots on our schedule. We liked the show, we knew and liked the management, we’d “grown up” with the convention, but… the company that ran the con was based out of New York. What if they just gave up, what with all the continual growing pains that seemed to be happening? Could I blame them, either?
Well, thankfully that’s a question I hopefully won’t have to answer anytime soon. Instead of backing off, this year’s Expo doubled down, and as far as I can tell only good things came of it. Another move within the Convention Center put the show in a “Goldilocks” room — you know, not too big, not too small, just right? The entry area was posh, as was the area for panels, and the crowd was solid for both days. That was probably also because they massively stepped up their game with advertising, getting the word out early on major geek websites and even indulging in some radio and TV ads. Rather than bringing in something noisy and disruptive like a wrestling ring, the show reached out to the Girl Scouts of America and let them sell cookies on the floor as well as get out and experience the comics scene. I would not have expected that to be a good pairing until I realized how much I ended up craving the cookies. We bought two boxes. Meanwhile three girl scouts bought things from our table in turn. I think they came out ahead financially, but it felt nicely symbiotic, especially after seeing a couple of them dressed up in “Attack on Titan” gear. I don’t know if they earned their “take down giant naked cannibal” merit badges, though.
The show also featured a touching moment of silence on Saturday in honor of Leonard Nimoy’s passing, and hosted a first ever presentation of the Dwayne McDuffie Award for diversity in comics. And for the first time I can remember in a long while, there was an after party worth checking out on Saturday night which was still going strong by the time we left for home around 10pm (hey, give us a break, we’re old).
Anyhow, long story short, it’s the first time I felt honestly excited for the evolution of a local show since WonderCon, and for that to happen at the Expo was doubly surprising. They put a lot of effort into improvements and I think it really paid off. Hopefully it will continue to do so. They say that the fifth or sixth year is when exhibitors really start hitting their sweet spot. Maybe that applies to conventions as well?