Is Southern California the land of the superfan? Maybe. At the very least, it's the land of the fan conventions. Trying to hit up ever con in the region is difficult. I couldn't do it. (Sorry, San Diego, maybe I can make it to Gaslight Gathering and Anime Conji next year.)
I did, however, go to a lot of conventions this year, enough to compile the third annual Best of the Cons round-up. The list is only for Southern California, mostly Los Angeles-area, events. This means that Dragon*Con is excluded even though I did go this year. (For the record, everyone who told me that Dragon*Con is the best of the conventions is right. If you can make the trip to Atlanta on Labor Day Weekend, do it.) Everything here is based on events that I covered for LA Weekly. If there's a convention that you think should be covered next year, speak your mind in the comment section.
Best New Convention
It's not often that first-year conventions aim huge, but Comikaze did and it worked. The team behind this general pop culture convention spent the bulk of the summer promoting the event at other conventions. They brought in big guests — Stan Lee, Elvira, Jhonen Vasquez — and a spot at the Los Angeles Convention Center. They drew tons of vendors, offered some intriguing panels and kept the cover charge low. Then, at the last minute, they announced more big guests, including Jackson Publick of The Venture Bros. Even fans outside of L.A. were buzzing about this event.
The first year wasn't without its problems. The exhibit hall was difficult to navigate, which may very well be the result of it taking place inside a parking garage. However, it was a triumphant first effort. I can't wait until next year.
Most Fan-Friendly Convention
Loscon has been around since the 1970s and it's a fundraiser for the world's oldest, active science fiction club. It's also one of the most fan-friendly conventions we've seen. Authors regularly interact with patrons. There are tons of events, ranging from panels to concerts to parties. They even have programming for kids and a library for when you simply want to chill with a good book. This year, they also had an exhibit of local makers, who showed off everything from DIY robotics projects to new video games.
Convention to Watch
Last year, Bent-Con was a one day event. This year, they took over downtown's Bonaventure Hotel for two full days. Shortly after the convention ended, they team behind the convention announced that next year's show will take place over the course of three days.
Bent-Con is growing fast, and there's good reason for it. This convention is dedicated to LGBTQ pop culture, mostly comic books. The organizers are doing more than creating a platform for artists and writers whose work explores LGBTQ themes. They're showcasing the diversity within the community.
Best Convention for Aspiring Comic Book Creators
Long Beach Comic and Horror Convention is still new and seems to be trying to sort out its identity (the horror component is a recent addition). However, the Halloween weekend event excels at comic books. Throughout the weekend, you'll find loads of good how-to panels for artists and writers. The exhibit hall is filled with comic book creators, many noteworthy and many who self-publish. It's good place to go if you need advice from people who have been where you are. It's also a good place to go when you're ready to start selling your work.
Best Convention for Gamers
E3 may be the biggest video game event of the year, but the industry-oriented event isn't designed for fans. IndieCade, on the other hand, is. The annual festival of independently-made games has different tiers of programming, priced at different levels. There are professional events, but there are also panels and workshops geared towards non-pros. And, if you want to just check out the games, that's free. Several spaces in downtown Culver City are set up like arcades and developers are always on hand to walk you through the games.
Best Convention to Get a Room
Typically, when you go to a convention, you can expect to see most of the action on the show floor. That's not the case at the Hot Wheels Collector's Convention. Here, you walk the halls for open hotel rooms set up to display massive Hot Wheels collections. Some of the items are for sale, some of them aren't. Pieces can range in price from under $100 to over $100,000. We saw one that was going for $125,000.
Best Convention for '80s Cartoon Nerds
For Children of the '80s, this new convention from the owner of fan site He-Man.org was the place to be. They had lovely collections of vintage Masters of the Universe and ThunderCats toys. They had an exhibit hall filled with goodies from a variety of '80s cartoons. And, they had themed drinks. I recommend the Skeletor.
Best Convention for '80s Cartoon Nerds with Children
For reasons that may or may not have to do with Michael Bay, Transformers has seen more activity than Masters of the Universe and ThunderCats since the 1980s. That said, there were a lot more kids at BotCon than Power-Con/ThunderCon. There were also more kid-friendly activities.
Best Tiny Convention
Long Beach Comic Expo is a one day event brought to you by the people behind Long Beach Comic and Horror Convention. It's small. Very small. However, it's packed with lots of comics. If you're looking to check out new work, particularly work created by locals, this is the place to go.
Best Convention for Cosplayers
I said the same thing about Anime Los Angeles last year, but it still hold true. Whether you're a casual cosplayer or you put everything you have into your costume, ALA is the place to show off your stuff. Part of the allure of this convention is the location. The LAX Marriott has a beautiful outdoor pool area that's perfect for cosplay photos. But what also makes ALA great for cosplay is the small, friendly environment the team behind this convention created. It's hard to feel uncomfortable here.
Best Convention for Ball-Jointed Doll Fans
Pacific Media Expo goes beyond anime and brings together a wide range of arts and entertainment from Asia. This year, they added programming specific to the Asian ball-jointed doll fandom. At this year's panels, beginners could learn the basics on collecting the beautiful and hard-to-get dolls from companies based in Japan, Korea and China. Seasoned collectors could learn new techniques for modifying dolls. The turnout for the panels was impressive, as was the selection of dolls on display. Hopefully, they'll add more ABJD programming next year.
Best Fan Table
Southern California Ghostbusters is one of many costuming groups across the globe dedicated to the popular '80s film. They caught our attention at Anaheim Comic Con this year with their proton packs and PKE meters. This group's nicely detailed costumes and props made their table stand out in the convention hall.
Best Convention Party
This year at San Diego Comic-Con, Adult Swim hosted several nights at Gaslamp Quarter club Quality Social. Each night was dedicated to a different show. The Venture Bros. party, which featured a special set from Flying Lotus, drew a massive line of fans ready to enter the party's cosplay contest. Some of the best costumed partygoers made it into the network's promotional bumps in the weeks that followed.
Most Enthusiastic Panel
Props to Aniplex for putting together a massive fan-oriented panel for Durarara!! at Anime Expo. The show's popularity within the anime community is rising steadily, particularly after Adult Swim began airing episodes earlier last summer. The panel, which featured most of the U.S. voice cast, was light on news but big on enthusiasm. Sometimes the screams were so loud that it was difficult to hear the panelists. That's not bad.
Most Hyped Convention Event
When Anime Expo announced that virtual pop star Hatsune Miku was a guest at this year's convention, fans went wild. For several years, Miku videos had been trickling into the U.S. from Japanese video sharing sites like Nico Nico Douga. This event was a major acknowledgment of Miku's expanding U.S. fanbase. And, sure enough, there were more people sporting Miku's long, blue pigtails than normal this year. During the course of the convention, fans got a chance to check out MikuKitty (Miku + Hello Kitty) and see Miku in concert. Did the event live up to the hype? You'll have to read the review to find out for sure.