When the traditional comic convention disappeared due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, many organizers found ways to deliver many of the same experiences virtually, sustaining the comic, animation, and film industry during a difficult time.
Jim Demonakos and Bobby Chiu are continuing the virtual event format with Lightbox Expo, an ambitious foray into a wide variety of genres and mediums that is sure to interest all types of fans. We got to speak to Demonakos about the origins of Lightbox Expo and the challenges and nuances of programming a virtual convention in this exclusive interview.
What are the origins of Lightbox Expo and how did the two of you team up to start it?
Jim Demonakos: I’ve known Bobby for around 15 years at this point, and a few years ago we started talking about the idea of an animation convention. This idea slowly evolved, with influences from Bobby’s years of holding workshops around the world, and my experience creating pop culture events, into a much broader event that was there to celebrate the people behind our favorite animation, illustrations, live action and gaming, all under one roof. That’s how LightBox Expo was born.
What are the challenges and benefits of holding a virtual convention as opposed to an in-person one?
Demonakos: The challenge, especially now, is overcoming virtual event fatigue, as there’s a lot of people who don’t want to sit through another Zoom meeting. We try to mitigate that by creating cool programming alongside our artists and sponsors that are genuinely useful and entertaining, enough that you want to be glued to the screen for the weekend of the event. By the same token, doing it online has the benefit of reaching a much more international audience, which has been really gratifying as well, so it’s all a balance.
You have assembled a very diverse set of panels and properties. Do you feel that the comics, sci-fi, anime community has always been one that embraced being inclusive?
Demonakos: Yes, indeed. That’s one of things that drew me in to those fandoms is the feeling of inclusivity. There are so many places that feel exclusionary that having these pockets of fandom that are open to everyone has always been a comfort.
Which panel are you each looking forward to the most?
Demonakos: This is such a hard question, we have over 400 panels to choose from, so trying to narrow it down is honestly impossible. There’s something for everyone, from Drawing Jams to Recruiter talks to behind the scenes panels, to character design in the MCU, to an animation cage match and more. It’s a non-stop barrage of absolutely incredible programming!
In terms of fandom, what types of trends do you both recognize when assembling a programming?
Demonakos: Because our programming usually has an educational element to it, we try to take a larger look at what is popular right now and see if we can dig into it a bit, to make the educational part more interesting. For example, as mentioned above, we have one panel that explores the character design for the Scarlet Witch in Wandavision. That marries concept art design, critical thinking, and good ole’ fashioned pop culture in one event.
Demonakos: Sleep. After that, we are going to slowly start ramping up to our 2022 in-person event in Pasadena, California. We feel that by October 14-16, 2022, we should be ready to welcome the audience back in-person for LightBox Expo!
Lightbox Expo is currently running online until Sunday, September 12.