Do you like comics? I love comics. Before the movies, the famous stars, a thousand television shows, what I loved most were reading comics. If you’re anything like me, you want to be close to the action. You want to find that new great read before anyone else, but you don’t want to spend your rent trying to get it. You want to shake hands with the creators and ask them a thousand questions. You want to be where the comics are…

Sit back and relax ladies and gentlemen while I tell you a tale of Comic Arts Los Angeles. The story begins in 2014, when Iris Jong found herself holding an idea that had to be shared. So, she told her friend Angie Wang, who told her friend Jen Wang, who shared the idea with her friend Jake Mumm.

Angie’s thought: Los Angeles, animation capital of the Northern hemisphere, should have a convention for independent artists. Certainly the home of Disney Animation, Cartoon Network, Frederator, Nickelodeon Animation, and Warner Bros should have a place for artists, of all levels, to showcase this work.

The thought started out, as most thoughts do, an itching seed in the back of her mind. But, as Angie shared the thought it retained water. Rather quickly it became obvious someone should make such a convention, and when the four friends looked up the answer was obvious: they were the change they sought. Their expectations started out small. Perhaps the event would be more like a block party; friends coming to support friends.

Since it was their first year there was a lot of concern, but once they shared the idea, it was like pushing a rock down a hill. Animators and cartoonists were excited to share the idea with their friends. The show poster spread like wildfire on social media. (I came to the convention through Tumblr.) Volunteers came out to help and soon it was really happening.

It wasn’t always easy. First, where does one hold such an event? Renting out an entire convention center is expensive and their first time out, such a space might prove to be too large. So, they looked to their next best bet; banquet halls. Here they were met with some confusion. Most retailers were uncertain what a comics convention would look like. The stewarts were used to bridezillas and anxious mother-in-laws looking to book the perfect place for the dream wedding.

However, in the heart of L.A.’s Fashion District a diamond in the rough lay waiting.

Here, I must take pause to speak directly with those unfamiliar with L.A. The Fashion District is nothing like it’s namesake, which conjures images of Hollywood stars shopping in upscale boutiques, palm trees, and trendy coffee shops. While there are a few garment shops there not what anyone would call upscale. On weekends the streets are lined with vendors selling fresh fruit, churros, shakes, and tons of clothes. Locals brush by confused tourist trying to find a great deal. It’s a place where all classes crash trying to get somewhere else.

And yet… the Fashion District is beautiful. Little bars are nestled into alleyways that open up to some of the largest buildings you’ll find in earthquake riddled California. Those garment shops have the friendliest merchants and amazing deal you’re not likely to find elsewhere. The residents are young artists and entrepreneurs looking for their big break. What place could be better for an indie convention?  

This mix of old and young, traditional and new, grungy and upcoming proved to be the perfect place for a convention full of working and aspiring artists, to say nothing of the actual venue.

The Think Tank Gallery is everything like it’s namesake. A fresh open space of white walls and big windows the gallery feels like a breath of fresh air. Hardwood and high ceiling gives room to lofty ideas and endless possibilities. Cleverly disguised as just another building, attendees enter through a single door at the ground entry. A long, narrow, flight of stairs leads straight up to the open room. Slender support beams, disguised as columns are the only thing giving any definition to the space. It’s a dream.

Location secured the team was ready to tackle their next concern, who was going to exhibit? As artists themselves the team knew they wanted their exhibitors to be at their best, so they implemented a few programs. At a convention it can be next to impossible to step away from the booth. If there is no partner, abandoning ship means missing potential customers, eager fans, and business connections. So, the CALA team implemented chip order system that allowed hungry exhibitors to order a burrito that could be brought directly to their table saving time and energy. Another problem most wouldn’t think about is dehydration. Exhibitors spend most of their day on their feet and all of their day talking. Seriously, it’s non-stop once the doors open. CALA made sure to pass around bottles of water and kept their teams going.

Unsurprisingly, their connections in the industry, combined with a desire to showcase work close to home made CALA a big hit with exhibitors. So much so that the problem became whom to exhibit. The goal was to attract all kinds of people. If you like superhero comics, come on in. Never read a comic, not a problem here. With an entry price of FREE, they hopped to get an incredibly diverse crowd, so they chose diverse creators.

Getting the likes of Shing Yin Kohr known for her adorable alien sculptures and the Harpy agenda she set up with Taneka Stotts.  Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neely were their supporting their comic The Humans published by Image comics and selling sick prints by Krisinta Collantes. Andrew C. Smith, the creator of Impossibear on Bravest Warriors, was there talking up his newest work.

This is a convention truly focused on the comics. You won’t find any big publishers, no cos-play, and zero films. Comic Arts Los Angeles is for comic book lovers. Period. The single greatest thing about the convention is how open the creators are. Everyone was willing to speak about not just their projects, but their friends projects, their technique, the newest technology, anything and everything to do with art. The convention floor is the place to be.

Just around the corner from the main floor are the panels. Last years panels were phenomenal and with twice as many this year I know we’re in for a treat.

Favorites from last year include The Animation Panel with Lisa Hanawalt, Designer for Bojack Horseman and Natasha Allegri, creator of Bee and PuppyCat, was a personal favorite. A projection screen was connected to a drawing pad. The artists showed how they come up with character designs and a few quick tips for budding artists.

Other popular panels include: Lifelong Artist. A spin on the break in panel you find at most conventions, LA focused the overall career of an artist and how it changes. Sam Alden was the special guest last year. He was interviewed by Ryan Sands. Friends in real life, the interview was both conversational and informative, funny and thought provoking.

This year’s panels are: Kids Love Comics: Writing for All Ages, David and Goliath: Indie Comics and the Animation Industry, Now You See Me: The Artist’s Responsibility to Social Justice, Living and Working Healthfully: Self-Care for Cartoonists, Creative Relaxation Corner: Read, Draw, Chat!

The creators suggest coming early. A line formed last year and there’s a pesky thing called fire-code. They want to get as many people in as possible, so make it easy on yourself and come early. Parking is right across the street. It’s fifteen dollars for the day, but combined with free entry it’s definitely worth it.

Look out for BGN there. We’ll be covering CALA for the rest of the week her on the site and we’ll be there live looking for your opinion and favorite finds. Hope to see you guys there!


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