There was a piece of paper taped to the front entrance of the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday afternoon, its opening paragraph reading like a manifesto. “For those attending for the first time, this is a medium size show not to be compared with Comic-Con International,” it said. “There's no pipe and drape around the tables or carpet that adds to the expense of a show. This allows the show to only charge $10.00 and allows collectors to spend more on their hobby.”
In recent years, fan conventions have mushroomed into high-profile, weekend-long events where studios announce new releases, cosplayers are photographed like celebrities and lines are everywhere. There was no line to get inside the Shrine for Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention. By mid-afternoon, the longest wait here was to buy a caricature from Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi. If you wanted to buy something, you could easily get the attention of one of the dealers. There were no costumed con-goers, no impromptu photoshoots blocking the aisles. It was a convention without the frills that, for some, are part of the experience and, for others, are an annoyance.
Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention launched the same year that Star Wars hit theaters. The idea of summer blockbuster movies was still novel. Comic book conventions as we know them today were still decades away. In 1977 Los Angeles, there were only a few, mostly short-lived events that catered to comic book fans. Bruce Schwartz took “the skeleton” of one of those smaller gatherings as it was folding. Out of that, he built Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention. Thirty-seven years and more than 350 shows later, he still promotes the convention.
Schwartz expanded on the idea of a get-together for comic book and sci-fi fans. He brought in guests and made it a monthly happening. Over the years, a lot of big stars have stopped by the convention, including Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron and Guillermo del Toro. The cast of Firefly once turned up at the Shrine, where the event has been held since 1989. The convention was also an early promotion stop for a The Matrix. From 1977 until 2004, they brought in guests, vendors and fans every month. Now, they put together four or five shows a year.
Sunday's event was the fifth and final event of 2014. Edward James Olmos, beloved amongst sci-fi fans for his role as Commander Adama in Battlestar Galactica, and Caity Lotz, who plays Sara Lance/Black Canary on Arrow, were the marquee guests. Their signing sessions were over by the time I arrived at the venue.
Kricfalusi, who recently made waves by working on Miley Cyrus' Bangerz tour, made his second appearance at the convention this year and remained popular with the crowd. He charged between $50 and $150 for caricatures and there was no shortage of interested guests. When I walk past his booth, Kricfalusi was coloring in a drawing of the couple sitting on the opposite side of the table from him.
There are a few artists and DIY publishers here, but most of the booths are helmed by vendors offering a mishmash of nerd-friendly items. There are boxes of DVDs and old VHS cassettes. Bins are filled with comic books, from cheap buys to pricey Silver Age titles. Paperback and hardcover books of varying vintage line the aisles. I start digging. Someone has a crate of records in nice condition. I flip past a BBC sound effects vinyl, John Barry's score for The Black Hole and a recording of The Thin Man radio show. At another booth, a man with a gray beard asks me to name an author I love. There are a lot, I say. He says to mention the first that comes into my head. I state an obvious pick, Ray Bradbury. He shows me a selection of paperbacks. Eventually, I return to the booth to buy a copy of a short story collection edited by the late author. Later on, in another part of the hall, I stumble across some old Conan paperbacks. I ask the vendor about them, who has the booth's resident Conan expert give me the lowdown on the stories in the volumes and how they fit into the character's universe. I pick up two titles for my husband.
Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention is egalitarian in its approach. The cover is intentionally set at a low $10 and that's a price that has gone up over the years. “Some of our bigger shows were $5,” says Schwartz. Vendor space is low-priced too. As advertised on the show's website, tables for this event ranged from $125 to $145. That's to make it easier for non-industry folks to bring in the items they want to sell. “Someone can just clean out their garage and make a little bit of pocket money and clear things out,” says Schwartz. Even the guests aren't charging as much as they could. Scott Koblish, currently the artist for Deadpool, was doing commissioned drawings for $20 a pop. By mid-afternoon, his schedule was filled with orders to finish by the end of the day.
At Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Convention, the organizers have stuck with an event model that has worked for years. Because of that, they have an event that provides a something of value to local fans of comic books and science fiction. “We want everybody to do it, to be able to come in,” says Schwartz.
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