Last weekend, fans congregated for two days in downtown Long Beach to celebrate their love of movies, comics, cosplay and more at the annual Long Beach Comic-Con. The fans were there to get away from work and have fun, while I was there to write an article about the event.
Comic-Con has become a fixture in the modern cultural zeitgeist, annually taking over San Diego since 1970 and drawing over 100,000 fans to the aforementioned city for one summer weekend to the biggest and most famous comics convention — San Diego Comic-Con. Rare and exclusive merchandise, early access to footage of highly anticipated movies and the opportunity to listen to and meet celebrities are some of the convention’s biggest selling points. The success of San Diego Comic-Con has spawned a global series of spin-off events, including Long Beach Comic-Con.
As someone who grew up loving superheroes, Godzilla and Transformers; I saw going to San Diego Comic-Con and entering the famous Hall H room to view the exclusive panels and trailers presented there as a bucket list item. However as I got older, I came to see attendance for these things as unnecessary. Going to San Diego Comic-Con is time consuming and expensive, and the panels and movie footage would eventually end up on the internet or the big screen.
Everything that I believed drew people to Comic-Con felt like a part of some corporation’s advertisement for “the next big thing,” such as another slate of upcoming films funded by profit-hungry producers. A part of the allure of conventions is indeed the opportunity to buy things and meet people who are there to sell things, but to say that is their only appeal is to ignore the welcoming environment they give to pop culture enthusiasts.
My first “con” experience began with waiting in a line of excited fans attempting to dodge the burning, sweat-inducing heat in what small and temporary shade we could fit in as everyone trudged into the convention center.
One of my biggest fears when it comes to the heat is sweating, something I’ve previously been bullied for as ridiculous as that sounds. I was scared that people might point at me and make comments about sweat spots on my shirt that probably resembled an inkblot from a Rorschach test. But no one cared, or at least they didn’t give the impression that they did.
Instead, the people at Comic-Con made me feel welcome. The attendees were present out of love. Everyone there was experiencing the same heat that I was; making fun of a guy for being affected by it wasn’t on anyone’s mind. They weren’t there only to consume products or show off their costuming skills in a shallow and grandstanding fashion.
While walking through the convention, I saw genuine enthusiasm and passion. Cosplayers were happy to be photographed and share tips about creating authentic-looking costumes, while writers would hang out after panels to network with aspiring creators and offer tips to them on making a living in their field. I regularly witnessed people step into the life of a total stranger to excitedly acknowledge a costume, bag or t-shirt with a cool design, exchanges that would range from a quick nod to a full conversation.
I had a quick encounter like this when a man on his way out of the convention walked up to where I sat, stood tall before me, pointed at my shirt and laughed as he shook his head. He was sporting a t-shirt dominated by the symbol of the “Bullet Club,” a professional wrestling group competing primarily in Japan. My shirt had the smaller logo of a rival group. Our attire represented opposing factions, but he radiated true happiness at seeing another person who understood references to the same professional wrestling league that he enjoyed. This rare event lasted no longer than half of a minute, but the sincerity of it made me feel comfortable on a floor full of hundreds of people.
The convention felt less like a flea market and more like a chance to shamelessly express one’s love for a piece of pop culture that connected with them, without worry of being met by mockery. The event felt like a welcoming place for earnest expression, something that I’ve too often felt missing in conversations.
Three days after Long Beach Comic-Con 2017 was history, Sept. 8 and 9 were announced as the dates for the 2018 convention. The event’s website already has a clock counting down the days, hours and minutes until then, and my cynicism about it is mostly gone. For someone else, that countdown probably signifies a chance to make money. But for many others it will be another chance to embrace fandom and escape from the banality of a routine dominated life, and that’s the part of Comic-Con that I look forward to next year.