Fandom conventions are a thing. For most, the framing of what a comic convention can be is based on the Super Bowl and World Series of conventions. The San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) and the New York Comic Con (NYCC). Two giant conventions in two large metropolitan areas boasting the best panels, the best guests, professional-grade cosplay and the real deep cuts of merch and art. If you’ve never been to a convention before, for the love of God don’t make either of those your first. Their history and reputation means the crowds are thick, the lines are long and your homemade Harley Quinn costume is going to meet forty other Harley Quinn’s and half of those will be clever alt takes (usually designed by an outside company and dressed on a hired model, the truth hurts). The last time I was at SDCC for the weekend, I got hit in the back with a cane by a woman dressed as Shrek who didn’t like me trying to slide by her in the thick of the crowd. SDCC and NYCC are for the convention weathered. Those who can make a schedule of panels to hit while instinctually keeping in mind the wait time to get into them. Those who know exactly which merch and publishers will be there and exactly when to hit their tables for a convention-only product. And those who budget and build a cosplay starting a year in advance. It’s for those who fetish a pain in the ass weekend for fandom.

If that’s not you but you do want to dip your toe into fandom immersion, the smaller conventions are calling your name. Conventions like… the Long Beach Comic Expo which took place over two days at the Long Beach convention center January 11th and 12th.

Now my first convention was SDCC ten years ago where I pieced together a Molotov Cocktease cosplay and flew from Virginia to San Diego. It was a very ok cosplay. My future visits to SDCC, I didn’t even bother with a costume. As mentioned, the bigger conventions feature the ELITE of cosplay and this girl doesn’t have the time or the money. However, for Long Beach Comic Expo, I was willing to make a small exception. Saturday, January 11th, outfitted as one of my favorite characters Rogue, we pulled into parking at 1 pm where the attendant asked “when’s the cosplay contest? I haven’t seen many costumes.” Uh-oh. You see, Comic Expo began at 10 am. We were late. If the attendant hadn’t seen many costumes, what was this crowd going to look like?

Comfortable, was the answer. There were costumes. Harley Quinn’s, some furries, my sister from another mister Jean Grey and I bumped fists in the hall, but the convention as a whole was described by multiple people as “intimate”. I’d just been in the Long Beach Convention Center a year prior for Midsummer Scream where every bit of space was utilized for performances, vendors, panels and all kinds of horror mayhem. The Long Beach Comic Expo was sharing space with a children’s dance competition on the upper floors. Over and over again I nearly tripped over several small girls, hair done up like wow and in sequins, as we wandered around. The merch options were great with a selection of vintage figurines and custom-made costume pieces plus Space Expo returned with a whole section on space and dinosaurs (I am ALWAYS here to peek at 3D printed fossils) and a laser tag obstacle course. But there was also a booth selling timeshares… which was just weird to walk right into from the start. 

With a few spins around the main hall, a break for lunch at Hooters, and a run through the panels, we were done in three hours. A far cry from the all day, all weekend nature of SDCC. But that’s the gift of an “intimate” convention. Instead of being shuffled away from a table by a crowd, we had the time to really peruse what was available. Without long lines, I was able to slip into both “Fanbase Press Presents: All About QUINCE – The Latina Superhero We Need” celebrating QUINCE the Eisner-nominated, bilingual comic book series (a panel featuring Sebastian Kadlecik, Kit Steinkellner, Emma Steinkellner, and Peter Murrieta talking inclusivity and the whole of badass representation) and a program of women-made films that I didn’t even find on the schedule. It was just there, running its heart out.

There were meet and greets with Bai Ling (The Crow), Cesar Garcia (Better Call Saul), Dana DeLorenzo (Ash vs the Evil Dead), Jason Faunt (one of the Red Power Rangers) as well as YouTube celebrities and famous cosplayers. Charging for photos and autographs they were but I also observed… conversing with their fans. I watched a Joker lean on a counter and just hang out with one of the guests. And, yes, at SDCC or NYCC you’ll find Seth MacFarlane and Patton Oswalt and Scott Bakula. But half your day could be spent in those lines for even higher prices and they sure as hell do not have the time for a conversation.

Long Beach Comic Expo, and others like it, are niche and the perfect place to feel out the world. To have a chill afternoon dressed as your favorite character, poking around vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and invest in a timeshare (just kidding, never do that). Intimate, yes. Celebrity guests you need to pause a second to clock who they are, yes. A strange children dancing convention happening at the same time, yes. 

A nice geeky time in Long Beach where I bought $10 of $1 comics based on the covers alone?

Also yes.

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