Panel By Panel: An Exploration of LA Comic-Con

For the convention, and the thousands who attend it, comics are not just a hobby, they are a lifelong passion.

Los Angeles Comic Convention brings thousands of locals and out-of-towners together for three days in one of the biggest events in Downtown Los Angeles. Last year, the convention counted over 106,000 attendees, and based on previous attendance records, which have shown consistent growth, that number is only likely to grow in years to come. From films to art, television shows and comics, there are plenty of activities for everyone to discover. There is something for everyone here, whether it is a rare collectible or a sage piece of advice. 

I came into the convention halls on Saturday, perching myself up on the main entrance balconies to start taking some crowd shots.

Other photographers had the same idea, but they were more of the hobbyist school photographer types, those who wanted to add to their Instagrams more than their publications. Very kind folks that I proceeded to exchange social media handles with. 

A half-hour passed and the doors to the main floor opened. We all stood by until it was safe enough to pass. 



Now that everyone was spreading out, free of the massive waiting lines, I could see so much diversity in attendees, excited to strut their stuff or fill out a wishlist they’ve kept for months.

I saw excited families helping each other up the stairs, scattered backpackers with branded caps, politely making way for others.

All of these people, from all walks of life, united in a shared love of comics. 

Other attendees celebrated their fandoms, introducing the curious to their passions through the long-standing tradition of cosplay.

Cosplay – where fans create their own costumes of their favorite characters – showcases an individual’s craft and love for the design, made for that moment when the convention doors open.

Personally, I think some of these costumes are bulky and cumbersome, but when all I’m willing to carry is a camera, who am I to judge? Besides, it’s all the more exciting for the upcoming cosplay contests.

While some enjoy the convention as a place to hangout, others find it to be a major business opportunity, especially within the labyrinthine and often crowded Artist Alley. 

Artist Alley is the area of the convention where artists from across the industry, from professional comic artists to amateur zinesters, display and sell their work. They sell printed art brought to the con, their own merchandise, and even their own talents as people often commission artists to draw certain characters. The Alley is named so because the tables are arranged in rows, so all visitors need to walk up and down the available space like a street. I also believe it is called such because Artist Alley just sounds pleasurably alliterative.  

This is where I found myself after exploring the main floor and interviewing cosplayers.


As nice as it was to hear people talk about their costumes and what their collective fandom meant for them, my primary interest in comic conventions lay in supporting the local artists and making connections with writers whose work I admire. 

Javier Hernandez (far left)

That day, the person I sought was one Javier Hernandez, a veteran comic creator and teacher throughout California for many years.

I first met him at this same convention in 2017, back when I was beginning to pursue photography as a possible career option.

When we talked, I found out that this guy was awesome!

He created his own comics and his own characters and even got one of them made into a movie.

How have I never heard of this guy? I remember asking myself back then. We’ve been in contact since then.

I came up to Hernandez, hoping to say a quick hello. I found him working on speaking to a young high schooler about his pride and joy comic book, El Muerto. However, once we made eye contact, he immediately recognizes me and offers a firm handshake. He then introduced me to the high schooler, told him I’m a writer, and I found myself in a fun conversation. 


Once the high schooler left, after Hernandez and I convinced him to buy some El Muerto comics that he loved, the two of us were able to catch up. I told him of my recent accomplishments, getting short stories and some photography published, and his reaction took me by surprise: he said he was proud of me. We were no longer separated by the creator/fan or subject/reporter dynamic: we were now friends. I felt honored and welcome. I told him it was great to see him again, and continued through Artist Alley.  

Despite that heartwarming exchange, the best encounter I had walking through the alley ways was with my old roommate, running his own professional Los Angeles Comic Con booth with his wife. 

Riley Haney is a senior at USC Annenberg, but he is also the owner of the booth for Calligrammar, a print-making company he owns and produces the posters for.

For Haney, it has been difficult to balance his school life with his business, pulling many all-nighters creating stock for a new print while studying for his midterms. However, getting to meet new people at Comic Con was worth all the work. 

“The number of people who have come up and had 20-30 minute conversations with me after my art resonated with them is wonderful,” Haney said.


“It is cool to meet people who are my neighbors and part of this community that loves art, comic books, and movies. The people can’t be beat.”


What he’s selling really is incredible: posters where calligraphy forms a full picture, featuring speeches from popular fictional characters and various musicians. It was a very unique style, and I made a mental note to follow Calligrammar’s Instagram page so I could see more of it.  

I kept on walking for a few more hours, and found myself at the main stage when the day’s cosplay contest began. 

One of the main events for this particular Comic Con was a cosplay competition called Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge Live: The Dark Crystal Cosplay. For this contest, contestants needed to create outfits and designs based on the world of The Dark Crystal franchise.

The winners were a family of four, and, in my opinion, their two young children wore the most adorable costumes I’ve seen throughout this entire convention. 

As everyone started applauding the very talented family, my thoughts were focused on the children, who, while obviously a little camera shy, were still excited enough to wildly smile and even act out on stage as the characters they dressed as, playful forest warriors. Maybe that was just them being children, but their happy faces and their reactions to the cheering crowd brought warmth to my heart. I imagined that the biggest prize those kids really won was the chance to become a part of the show they loved, and get a sense of the work the creators of that show put in.

Thinking about that experience for those children brought out the same feelings I have when I get to hear writers talking about their processes and watch artists draw magic onto a blank piece of paper.

In those experiences, I get a glimpse into a creator’s world for a moment and then learn from them as I go into creating something of my own. 

Despite everything I’d done, all the people I’d met, there was still the nagging feeling that I was still missing something.

That there was still an important event I should have gone to, but the more I walked, the closer I got home, I realized that I only felt this way because everything at the convention feels so important. 

Whether it’s a panel, an autograph, or a random purchase, you remember that all of these experiences, all of these memories, come from one event, and it can change your view of things for the rest of the year, or even the rest of your life.

All photos taken by Jose Cardenas.