See more photos in Dianne Garcia's gallery “Long Beach Comic Expo 2011.”

As fan conventions gain increasingly more mainstream attention, with focus leaning towards the biggest events of the year, it might be easy to forget the smaller gatherings dedicated primarily to comic books. On April 23, though, comic book fans headed towards the southern edge of Los Angeles County for the second annual Long Beach Comic Expo. An offshoot of Long Beach Comic and Horror Con (formerly Long Beach Comic Con), the one day event featured no hype, just a chance to pick up new reading material, learn a few things and maybe meet some of your favorite artists.

Long Beach Comic Expo, we should clarify, is tiny, despite the fact that it takes place at the Long Beach Convention Center. Instead of using the main exhibit hall that they open for the October event, artists and exhibitors set up in a ballroom. There were two meeting rooms set aside for panels. The crowd was roughly similar in size as what you might find at a hotel convention, but spread out in a large venue. As much as we love the excitement of the year's biggest conventions– for Southern California residents, those are Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con, both of which take place in July– Long Beach Comic Expo reminded us why we should never ignore the small ones.

The team behind Deadtective; Credit: Dianne Garcia

The team behind Deadtective; Credit: Dianne Garcia

1. Get to Know the Up-and-Coming Artists

At Long Beach Comic Expo, we spent some time talking with artists Nathaniel Osollo and Evan Spears, who were sharing a booth. Osollo is the creator of 140, a comic based on tweets sent to him. Spears is the co-creator of Chafed, a title that personifies the Internet. Later on, we bought a copy of the one-shot Deadtective and had the creators sign it.

As conventions grow larger and become more popular, up-and-coming artists can fade into the background. The cost of booths may become too expensive for artists without much financial backing. Sometimes sections usually reserved for independent and self-published comics can shrink, or are simply obscured by the massive swag offerings of large companies. Small conventions provide much-needed exposure for comic creators working outside of the mainstream.

2. You Can Be Spontaneous

One thing that happens every time we go to the larger conventions is that we make a game plan. We usually don't stick to the plan, but we make it anyhow. Writing down what booths you want to visit and what panels you want to see can help when you're dealing with sprawling venues and massive crowds.

At small conventions, though, you can play everything by ear. Space is easy to navigate and lines are almost non-existent. You don't have to tell yourself that you need to show up way too early just to get inside the venue or that you need to line up for the panel you really want to see hours beforehand.

Saturday morning, I figured I should check out a voice acting panel. It was at 11 a.m., which is kind of early considering that Long Beach is always much further away from me than I think it is. Regardless of the fact that I was running late, I was able to get through the non-line for a press badge and make it down to the panel just as it was starting. I can't imagine that happening at something like Anime Expo or SDCC.

At small conventions, you can get your much-needed survival guides for the big convention.; Credit: Dianne Garcia

At small conventions, you can get your much-needed survival guides for the big convention.; Credit: Dianne Garcia

3. Cosplay Isn't the Focus

No matter what size a convention is, you're going to find at least a few people dressed as their favorite pop culture characters. At larger conventions, though, you will oftentimes see so many cosplayers that it can be a bit distracting. I can't tell you how many times I've been sidetracked at a convention because I feel a need to stop every time I see someone cosplaying a character I love.

With less emphasis on cosplay at smaller comic conventions, you'll start to notice everything else, from conversation-starter t-shirts to the artwork that people are carrying under their arms.

4. Meeting People Is Easy

Have you ever passed up an artist booth at a convention because the crowd surrounding it was so thick that you figured there was no way you would get through it at that moment? Yeah, we have too.

The benefit of going to an event where there are fewer people is that it's easier to meet those who are there. At Long Beach Comic Expo, we were able to meet and chat with author Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and talk to Angus Oblong (The Oblongs,who we seem to run into everywhere). Less crowds means it's easier to find people and you may end up with more time to talk.

5. You Won't Leave Feeling Like You Missed Out on Something

For me, going to an event like San Diego Comic-Con is like going on a trip to New York City. I'm there for days and, while I'm there, it's a constant whirlwind of excitement. I'll see so much, do so much, yet, when I'm back in Los Angeles, I start to lament everything I didn't get a chance to see. There's something amazing about that. If you're the sort of person who loves the big city hustle, you'll keep going back, knowing that there are whole sections of the convention center that you still need to explore.

But, even if you're the sort of person who, like me, thrives off of bright lights and noise, there's something nice about the simple day trip to a place where you can take your time to check out everything. At small conventions, you can do that.

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