Peter J. Mellini is floored by the immediate response that East L.A. Comic-Con has received. It was only on Saturday, Jan. 7 — the day after they locked in a venue — that he and his convention co-founders sent an invite to the inaugural event out into the wilds of Facebook. When Mellini hops on a phone call with me the following Tuesday night, he's still going through emails from potential guests and vendors.

“A lot of people are excited about it,” he says. “A lot of people are surprised, too, because they didn't expect it.”

East L.A. Comic-Con is the work of longtime, local comic book fans. Mellini, 35, grew up in East L.A. and still lives in the neighborhood. He's the owner of San Gabriel shop Nostalgic Books and Comics. While he has held events such as book signings and zine fests at his store, he has long wanted to bring a comic book gathering to East L.A. A few years ago, he tried to put together a smaller convention at a local library, but things didn't work out.

His partners include Rudy Orozco, an architect and graphic designer whom Mellini met in junior high school, when they were part of the same comic book club. Another partner, Enrique Cruz, is an East L.A.–based artist with whom Mellini made comics back in high school and college.

In recent years, the popularity of comic book conventions has soared. Mellini has seen some of that first-hand. He used to go to San Diego Comic-Con back in the 1990s, back when it was possible to get tickets without clamoring for them months in advance. “We just went,” he recalls. “Just bought tickets at the door.”

And it's not just SDCC that's bringing in all the nerds. Events including WonderCon, Stan Lee's Los Angeles Comic-Con and Anime Expo have been drawing massive crowds. With big events bringing in throngs of people to squeeze through large exhibit halls packed with all the latest entertainment offerings, that creates a need for smaller, locally driven events. Mellini says that doing a show like this allows them to focus on comics, which often are buried under the Hollywood glitz of bigger shows.

East L.A. Comic-Con plans to put the spotlight on independent creators from the Greater Los Angeles area. So far, Mellini confirmed that artist Javier Hernandez (El Muerto) and cosplay groups We the Geeks of East L.A. and Monkey Monsters Cosplay will be at the event. Other artists are to be determined — “We're sorting through a lot of emails,” Mellini says — and will be announced through the convention's social media channels.

East Los Angeles Comic-Con, El Gallo Plaza, 4545 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., East L.A.; Sat., May 20, 11 a.m.

LA Weekly