Spotlight On This Weekend’s Long Beach Comic Expo With Martha Donato And Ivan Cohen

by Hannah Means Shannon

This very weekend, from February 17th to 18th in Long Beach California, the much-lauded Long Beach Comic Expo returns to delight fans and pros. I describe it as “much-lauded” because every creator I know who has been involved in the show seems to come away smiling, and so far the fan response is very good, too. LBCE hasn’t been afraid to explore new ideas in how to present a show and engage fans, like creating the Comic Creator Conference (C3), which creates an environment where creators can learn from other creators and networking can occur face to face.

This year, there are going to be some big additions, including a new “Social Square” on the convention floor, a focus on the genesis of Black Panther as a comics character, and even more than a hint of Stranger Things for fans.

Martha Donato, the President of Mad Event Management (a.k.a MAD), owner and operator of Long Beach Expo, and Ivan Cohen, the Director of Programming for LBCE, were gracious enough to answer some questions for us about this year’s show.

HMS: What key features of the show can fans expect from previous years of attendance, and what might they find that’s new to explore?

Martha Donato: Key features still include Artist Alley, Cosplay Corner, and Programming. New to explore include Social Square, an interactive and highly social area on the exhibit floor (think live performances, celebrity signings, photo booth, and a DJ!) and a redesigned Space Expo Pavilion that’s fun for all ages.

HMS: What are you hoping that fans will take away from their interaction with your special guest at the show? What do you hope that guests will gain from the experience?

MD: We always hope that fans will engage with the creators and participate fully in the programming—this is an important way for people to find new talent and appreciation for the art form.

Ivan Cohen: We’re excited that Joe Keery from Stranger Things is joining us at this show. We’re a very comics-focused convention, so when we get someone from outside the comic-book world, we try to make it something special. There’s a lot of overlap between comics fandom and Stranger Things viewers, so it seemed an especially good fit.

Our first-ever Guest of Honor this year is Don McGregor, who’s coming in from the East Coast to be with us at Long Beach. When people flood the theaters this weekend to see Black Panther, a lot of what they’ll be seeing has its roots in comics Don wrote decades ago. He’s done a little bit of everything and I’m excited he’ll be meeting fans during three different panels over the weekend, as well as at his own table in Artists Alley.

HMS: What is your philosophy behind the Comic Creator Conference? Is it the idea that if comic creators are engaged, and want to be part of LBCE, it will prove a more fruitful experience for attendees in learning more about comics?

MD: The philosophy behind the Comic Creator Conference (C3) is to facilitate the development of relationships that will carry over into the business of making comics. We have a talented and resourceful pool of creators who are unserved in finding legitimate networking events and real business advice and solutions. We use the Long Beach shows as the base for C3 for practical purposes—we’re already there with our resources and that allows us to keep the registration fee very low, which makes the conference accessible to more people. My hope for C3 is that it grows to find a broader platform and reach more creators.

HMS: When you are putting together panels for LBCE, what are some of the ideas you keep in mind to create a unique experience for everyone? If you find that some types of panel groupings are “tried and true” at other conventions, do you follow that, or are you more experimental?

MD: We make sure our sessions are equal parts education and entertainment. The programming aspect of our shows is very important to us and we devote significant resources to constantly search for new concepts and topics. We don’t follow other conventions at all.

IC: We try to offer something for everyone in our panels, whether it’s their first convention or their 50th. From panels on the basics of cosplay to a live demonstration of how a comics page comes to life, or tips on building an R2-D2 to the rise of the black superhero on screen, it’s a pretty robust assortment.

This time around we’re also able to capitalize on the release of Black Panther to have a panel with three writers of the comic, past and present, hoping to expose fans who are maybe unaware of the character’s comics origins to a taste of more than 50 years of his adventures and how they’ve evolved over time.

HMS: Are there benefits to LBCE’s unique location that have shaped the identity of the show? What might those be?

MD: Long Beach is a unique spot to hold a convention given its proximity to Los Angeles and the beach. As well, there are many restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues within walking distance of the convention center. That gives us an advantage (especially for the MAD team, who are based in New York and want to thaw out in February!).

IC: From a programming standpoint, Long Beach and its proximity to Hollywood give us a chance to reach out to a creative community that can “drop in” for the panels and appearances that best fit their busy schedules. Unlike, say, San Diego, where the only way anyone can just come for the day generally involves a private jet and a massive carbon footprint, the more-human-proportioned Expo allows for someone like Aaron Covington—the co-screenwriter of Creed—to come in just for a Sunday afternoon panel where he can talk about his recent comics work. This accessibility lets our fans experience a really diverse array of creative voices up close.

Thanks to Martha Donato and Ivan Cohen for taking the time to chat with us!

You can find all these attractions and more at Long Beach Comic Expo this weekend, running from February 17th to 18th, 2018!