A Weekend of Contrasts by Chris Cassone
Dec. 2-3, 2023
When I arranged the pass for LA ComicCon, the massive entertainment-based 3-day tradeshow held at the Convention Center, I was simply intrigued with the phenomenon. We see it on the TV news with all of its geeks dressed up in the wildest of costumes to pay homage to their fan-sanity. At 73, I didn't think I was too far past enjoying it. In fact, I felt right at home with many seniors in full cosplay attire.
It was difficult not to enjoy the convention for it had everything, almost to an overwhelming degree. As for genres, ComicCon includes comic books, horror, sci-fi, anime, manga, gaming, and pop culture. Something for everybody. And there was a lot of everybody, a crowd north of 130,000 attended and it seemed they all were in my aisle. A good 25% of the crowd was "dressed up," in costumes but not like Halloween. No, these folks wanted to be the characters they impersonated.
And these costumes come at quite a cost. Which brings me to the money factor. First, I get it. If people want to buy it, you sell it. But there was an undercurrent of mania that is hard to identify, as everyone there was on a mission to find that one comic book, that piece of Hobbit gear, that one important autograph of whoever starred in that last season of whatever. You feel it. The sixteen acres of the convention center just vibrated with this desire. Some may call it greed. I think that's too strong a word, but it does color the emotion.
I found myself wanting, if only for my grandchildren. Yeah, Grandpa will look cool in this official T-shirt, or maybe not. A Christmas present of a Funko Top will cement the old man in the Grandfather Hall of Fame. The amount of money changing hands began to seem almost pornographic to me. Oh, it's healthy for the economy and all that, but there was an element of involuntary purchasing. I spent way too much, don't understand why and I don't have mouths to feed.
However, that night was a totally different story, in almost every way. The LA Zoo's dazzling "Zoo Lights" is really the other end of the spectrum. I went because it was a family gathering and I could use the sauntering to increase my step count. Let me tell all of you, this was no hokey holiday light exhibit. Not at all.
Created by Gregg Lacy and the Bionic League, the designer team for Kanye West's SNL appearance, many festivals including Coachella and several stadiums, it was more an art exhibit than cultural phenomenon. The basic building blocks were wire-framed animals with translucent fabric stretched around them. Most were infused with LEDs of all colors and the effect was an emotional one. The quiet, early winter evening with the artistic flora and fauna created a sense of peace and other worldliness that soothed the crowd of over 130,000 (almost the same number as ComicCon.)
The 60-90 minute self-guided walk was full of stroller-led families, couples on a date and, oh yeah, more families. With a price point of $29 for adults and $13 for kids, it was a $100 evening for many but that's a good thing. The money is going to the Zoo, remember? They feed and care for exotic animals, right here at the edge of the desert. A worthy cause, to say the least and a far hue and cry from the LA Convention Center where parking is $30 and a cup of black coffee is $8. Oh, and did I mention the marauding skateboarders and bike riders who beat on my friend just outside the Convention Hall? I myself was accosted by two shakedown artists in the darkness alongside the Crypto. Can't we all just get along?
Aside from the LA collateral damage, the difference went deeper than just money. Walking among the Zoo Lights was an almost spiritual experience, a quiet introspection into one's place in the scheme of things. There was a calm respect that the crowd exhibited while basking in Bionic League's artwork. For that's what those animals were, works of art and we were in a museum setting, almost church-like in its holiness.
Will I return? Most definitely. And I will return to both. ComicCon is a drug that raises all of your vitals: heart rate, oxygenated blood and cultural acuity. There is a need to be at the cutting edge for many of us and ComicCon definitely fills that bill. But the serenity of the Zoo Lights is waiting for you after the sensual overload of the cosplay world. The Zoo's immersive landscape full of these Japanese lantern-like sculptures made me feel truly alive, especially witnessing it through the eyes of a two-year-old.