Q&A with Long Beach Comic Expo's Phil Lawrence

Rorschach and others representing at last year's Long Beach Comic Con.
Rorschach and others representing at last year's Long Beach Comic Con.
Albert Ching

Despite being in the midst of a decidedly troubling economy, there are still a large number of people willing to spend lots of money on seemingly non-essential items such as old issues of comic books, statues of superheroes and framed animation cells. And despite coming less than three months after the massive global event known as Comic-Con International in San Diego, last October's Long Beach Comic Con was a success by any standard, attracting multitudes of comic fans, retailers, professional creators and the standard host of now-obscure actors from '70s and '80s TV shows.

Long Beach Comic Con was so successful, in fact, that not only are they doing it again--October 29-31, back at the Long Beach Convention Center--they're also putting on a one-day event at the same venue this Saturday, called "Long Beach Comic Expo." This isn't your typical cheesy one-day show with a couple of boxes of junk and the biggest name in attendance is some dude that died in the first five minutes of a season three Deep Space Nine; Long Beach Comic Expo guests include Hellboy mastermind Mike Mignola, legendary horror illustrator Bernie Wrightson, Usagi Yojimbo creator Stan Sakai, 30 Days of Night writer Steve Niles and popular Batman artist Dustin Nguyen.

We talked to Long Beach Comic Con organizer and InPrint Media president Phil Lawrence about this Saturday's event, the crowded convention marketplace and putting on a comic show that (shocker!) actually focuses on comics.

OC Weekly (Albert Ching): I've been to dozens of comic conventions, and this is the first I've heard of a multi-day annual event putting on a one-day show to tide people over. It's a pretty novel concept. What was the inspiration behind it?

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Mostly it was to kind of stay in people's conscious, because of the crowded marketplace. To know that we are around, and we are coming back next year. Our second time around is actually going to be closer to 13 months than 12 months. And there's a bit of a demand in Southern California to do something at the beginning of the year. People said to us, "if you build it, they will come." On short notice, rather than do a two or three day show, a one-day show we think will suffice and kind of tide people over.

It is a crowded marketplace, but the Wizard World Con in LA--which started in Long Beach before moving downtown--died in 2008, and I think the Long Beach Comic Con really filled that void.

A lot of people definitely wanted something in Long Beach. We really had a great experience the first time around. It was one of those things, like, "Why wait another 13 months?" Let's see if we can kind of build on it, get people to come out, for the love of comics.

One thing that's probably in the back of your mind, or maybe in the front of your mind, is that there are a lot of one-day shows, and most of them are pretty cheesy. Quality control I'm sure was an important factor.

Not to knock on any other shows by any means, but we definitely wanted to keep it going from our other show. We definitely feature artists very prominently. Writers, artists, creators, so it's not just a purely dealer show. It's definitely something so everybody can come in, they can shop, get autographs, and have a good time in general.

I also like how you're keeping the comic book people sort of at the front, since we've all seen the conventions where they tout a lot of movie and TV people that have nothing to do with comics above everyone else.

That's our title, "Comic Expo." That's kind of where we're coming from. We want to definitely keep it very comic book-centric. Because it's a smaller show, we definitely don't want to get too far away from comics.

Looking back to last year, as a spectator, it definitely surpassed my expectations as far as attendance. Was it the same on your end?

It's hard to say. At the very least, we met expectations. You always want it to be better--bigger and better. At the end of the day, the floor sold out. We sold out a month in advance, which is not something we were expected to do. We definitely had a very robust waiting list. Everybody seemed very happy about attendance. I think it went really well on all cylinders.

October seemed like a good time to have it, too.

Officially or unofficially, we could really position ourselves as the last show of the year. We're almost like the last show on the west coast. It is a good time of the year, people are still shopping around. You don't want to get too much into the holidays. If you go into the summer months, you're looking at a very crowded marketplace. The most important thing is the comic book community really came out and supported us. The nice thing is, everybody supports each other in this community.

So coming up to the proper con in October, is it expanding at all?

Instead of having a shortened Friday, it's probably going to be three full days. We're working on some special things for Sunday, given that it is Halloween day. We can't make any official announcements yet. We're hoping to by Saturday. If not, then definitely going to be making some announcements in the coming weeks, probably within a month.

Long Beach Comic Expo takes place 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, February 20 at the Promenade Ballroom of the Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. $10. www.longbeachcomiccon.com.

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