Lightbox Expo Review
In its first year, the crowd for LBX managed to totally overwhelm the air conditioning units inside the Pasadena Convention Center. If the sweaty handshakes and glistening brows were any indications, the show was off to a strong start. Stronger than I think anyone expected. Talks and demos filled to capacity long before they started. Lots of people rubbing elbows, literally and figuratively. It felt like in its first year, LBX might have already outgrown its venue.
The fan community that showed up to LBX 2019 are all early adopters. Experimental test subjects who were willing to pay for a shot at beating the laggards to the punch. If this thing takes off, they will get to brag “I was there the first year. You should have seen it. All the most famous artists were just walking around in the crowd.”
What is it?
Attending this first year of LBX, I had a lot of questions. Largest among them was “Who is this for?”. Maybe a more accurate wording would be “Who does this event serve?”. According to the LBX website:
“LightBox Expo (LBX) was conceived as a way to bring together the best artists in animation, illustration, live action and gaming industries under one roof. Why? To hang out with fellow creators, share our art with the public, meet other artists, further our skills and educate those coming up in our respective industries.”
Let’s break down this mission statement a little:
“Share our art with the public”
Right upfront, this sounds like a convention. One might interpret “sharing” as a euphemism for “selling”, which I surely did. Sales at my Artist Alley table at LBX were strong. A fact which honestly caught me off guard. First year events are a crap shoot and similar art focused conventions were never profitable for me. Walking away from LBX with a strong payday was an excellent surprise.
Some experienced convention exhibitors reported back that they fared poorly with this crowd, despite its size. My perception of it was that the fans showed up to see their favorite artists and purchased from them almost exclusively. The emphasis on curb appeal that a lot of convention artists have built up didn’t play here. Attendees were very loyal to the artists they attended to see in specific.
“Hang out with fellow creators/Meet other artists”
I was really worried that LBX might be more of a professional conference than anything else. I’ve been to events where this seems to be the prime directive. It’s cool to show up to a giant class reunion style event but I don’t think that sort of thing that can drive ticket sales every year. Without an underlying cash flow from fans, it’s hard to sustain an event year to year.
Even though awesome hangouts are unsustainable on their own, they are completely essential for this sort of event to exist. Everyone I talked to was hungry for peer to peer contact. I think an event like this needs both profitable contact with fans and life-force sustaining contact with other artists to survive. So far, so good.
“Further our skills/educated those coming up”
Participating as a speaker is the main reason I personally wanted to attend LBX. Their guest lineup was sure to attract crowds of concept art aspirants, so I wanted to be there to represent the indie art world as a counterpoint (or maybe a compliment) to the popular curriculum.
In addition to the learning opportunities though, the talks were also an excellent way of shining a light on the guest artists. It provided context for complicated work that can be difficult to appreciate without a base understanding of how it’s constructed. Getting the artists to perform a little at the event definitely added a lot of interest. I’m hoping that in the future, more artists take the approach of creating a fun and interesting experience on stage, even if it is at the expense of practical education.
So, Who is LBX for?
Lightbox Expo is like Vidcon for artists.
For those of you who aren’t plugged in, Vidcon is a convention where YouTube creators are the main attraction. Thanks to the increasing prevalence of YouTube in modern culture, Vidcon has exploded in popularity. It’s like Beetlemania for Gen Z and it’s happening every year.
I believe LBX has the potential to serve a fan audience for its own community. Many of the guest artists have extensive fanbases that heavily overlap. Lumping them all in the same spot creates a bigger and more valuable draw. There are fans out there who are more excited about artists than they are for any celebrity, YouTube or otherwise. Creating a destination for those fans that makes the cost of time and travel worthwhile is a difficult task that’s been attempted before, but maybe never as well as at LBX.
So, who does LBX serve? Whether they intended it or not, I believe LBX is for the fans. It’s the first time where I’ve been to an event and truly felt like the artists were the real product. It is an opportunity for the millions of fans from DeviantArt, ArtStation, Tumblr and Instagram to see all their favorite online creators in one place.
Sales were good. Hangouts were good. 10/10. Would smash.