Nearly a decade ago, New York-native Martha Donato took a big chance during one of the hardest economic times in the country’s history when she launched a comic book convention in Long Beach.
The year before Donato organized Long Beach Comic Con in 2009, she and most of the other employees for Wizard Entertainment (a comics publishing company that now produces fan conventions) were let go. By early 2009 she started her company MAD Event Management, which produces the comic con.
“When I started it, I thought I would be able to do consulting work for people that needed event expertise and, well, guess what, there were no clients in 2009 because the recession was still in full range,” Donato said. “So when no clients came, immediately I started Long Beach Comic Con.”
Since the launch, Donato has also gone on to create the Long Beach Comic Expo held each February and a comic expo counterpart in New Jersey, along with multiple other non-comic conferences throughout the years.
But it was creating her passion project, Comic Creator Conference—first in Long Beach before making an appearance in Cuba—that she believes really set her company apart and filled a missing piece of the comic eco-system.
Known as C3, the conference allows professionals to network. The idea stemmed from seeing other shows that lacked those connection opportunities and instead focused on the celebrity guests to bring out big crowds, according to Donato.
“I wanted to give the creator, publisher and the vendor community an opportunity to meet and show best practices, network, jobs, whatever might come from that collaboration that was missing,” she said.
Now, with the celebration of its 10th edition this weekend, Donato plans to bring Long Beach Comic Con back to its roots with a ‘comics first’ focus and reaffirm her commitment to the creative arts.
She may not be a comic book nerd, but her history and connection to the creative community has garnered her respect by those within the industry.
“I consider myself very lucky that I have very close, long-standing relationships with many people in the business,” said Donato, who helped launch the popular Wizard World Chicago in 1997. “As we have all grown up and worked our way up in our different positions, we now can collaborate on a lot of cool stuff.”
That includes Donato’s ability to bring comic book writers and artists to her shows, including Eisner Award-nominated writer and editor Christopher Priest, who will serve as this year’s guest of honor during his Long Beach Comic Con premiere. Priest became the first black editor in mainstream comics when he worked for Marvel in the 70s.
The comic con will also feature more participating comic book publishers like Aspen, Top Cow and Prism Comics and newcomers Valiant, AfterShock and Charon Comics.
There’s also a ton of guest artists and writers fans can meet, like artist Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or cartoonist Javier Hernandez who co-founded the Latino Comics Expo, which was held in Long Beach last year.
While celebrity guests and cosplayers may drive ticket sales at comic cons and expos, Donato said it’s important for fans to understand that the comic industry is a critical part of the entertainment industry.
“They’re some of the most creative group of people you’ll ever meet, and they are really underserved for the most part in terms of contribution to the greater industry,” Donato said of comic writers and artists. “And they are a very important element of our ecosystem, critical, without them we have nothing.”
Long Beach Comic Con will take place Saturday, Sept. 8 and Sunday, Sept. 9. A Comic Creator Conference will take place Friday, Sept. 7. For more information click here.
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