The New Con in Town: Martha Donato on LBCC

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Long Beach Comic Con is the new kid on the block of the comics convention track. Debuting this weekend, October 2-4, 2009, in Long Beach, CA, the show is set to make a splash by offering a mixture of comics, Hollywood, gaming and an abundance of special guests, including Stan Lee, Jim Lee and Thomas Jane.

BF spoke to LBCC director Martha Donato about organizing the convention and asked whether she’s feeling the early jitters yet.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Only a little over a week to go before all hell breaks loose. Are you feeling nervous, in a good way? Belly butterflies?

I’ve been feeling a good nervous since the beginning.  Sleep seems optional now with so much to do. 

BF: Let’s look back at how the con came to be: why did you decide to organize LBCC, and why did you decide to settle down in Long Beach?

MD:  After leaving the business for awhile, but keeping in touch with so many friends I’ve made, I realized I missed it – it being the people.  Long Beach is a natural spot for a comic book show – the weather, the atmosphere, and the large population base.  Plus, there are so many talented creators living in the area, and Southern California is home to great publishers as well.

BF: Now that we’re almost there, what were the high points from an organizational point of view in getting this thing on track?

The highest point was the day when Jeph Loeb started inviting all of his friends and associates to be guests at the show.  He was so enthusiastic about having a local show, and true to his superhero powers, he brought us attention that would have taken us much longer to gain on our own.  The other high point was the day that Aspen Entertainment signed up to be our first exhibitor.  They’ve been great friends to us.

BF: Were there also some bumps and bruises you’ll look to avoid next year?

Bumps and bruises come with the territory and cannot be avoided.  In trying to avoid them next year, I’m sure to create new ones.

BF: The LBCC website boasts a quote from SDCC organizer David Glanzer. Do you see Long Beach being relatively close to San Diego as an added draw to generate buzz for the con?

Sure, there are tens of thousands of people who enjoy SDCC annually.  They leave San Diego wanting more, and we can give them a refresher in the fall.  David Glanzer is a huge supporter of this industry, and SDCC has a model that most show organizers envy and respect.

BF: LBCC is adding to the changed and expanded convention landscape across the US. How difficult is it to establish an identity today? And what identity does LBCC want to establish?

  No question about it, it’s difficult to establish an identity today.  Our goal is to create an event that centers around the talent that create the things we love – comic books, films, video games, action figures, etc.  We have a generous Professional registration program that allows industry professionals the chance to attend the show at no cost.  It’s been exciting to witness the diversity and high level of talent who are planning to attend.

BF: Does the sheer amount of conventions being held throughout the year imply that a fan’s con experience today isn’t what it was five years ago?

  I attend several shows throughout the year, and have for a long time.  I think the experience for the fan is excellent – as good today as it was five years ago.  Perhaps better, if only because of the power of the social networking sites that allow us to meet and connect before we set foot on a show floor.

BF: The both of you previously worked at Wizard. It’s a bit ironic that Wizard Entertainment is also organizing a new/rebranded convention two weeks later. What are your thoughts on that?

My thoughts on that are to wish them well.

BF: Now, neither Marvel nor DC is exhibiting at either show, though there’s a DC Nation panel on Friday. How hard is it to get the Big Two to exhibit? And what are the odds of it happening in 2010?

We’re excited to be announcing a few Marvel panels, and Portfolio Review as well.  It’s nearly impossible to get Marvel and DC to exhibit at a new show.  The odds of it happening in 2010 are low, but I’m going to keep trying!

BF: Any guests you were really hoping to land, but ultimately didn’t get?

Hayden Christensen.  I’ve been wanting to have him as a guest for years.  But then again, I probably need to invite him.

BF: How much effort goes into getting guests or exhibitors to come over for a con that has yet to establish a name for itself?

It takes a huge effort to convince both, but even more so with exhibitors.  They need to trust that the energy and money they spend at a show is justified and that they will feel good about their decision.  It’s important to show them a marketing plan that clearly defines how the attendees will find out about the show.

BF: Finally, has there been a date set for 2010?

We have a date on hold, although it isn’t our first choice. Back to your point earlier about the crowded convention calendar, it’s difficult to find a date that doesn’t conflict with another event. We ended up with this date in 2009 due to an opening in the convention center calendar, and hopefully, that will happen for us again in 2010.

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