Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo 2012 has come and gone and I have had a few days to recover from two sunny days in downtown Los Angeles and think about my adventure. There were good times and bad times at the con. For a show in its second year, it was big; but did you miss out on much by not going? Yes and no and here’s why.
This year’s expo was a marked improvement over the 2011 inaugural show. Last year, the exhibit hall, registration, and panels all took place on the same level. And it was so packed that no one could tell where the lines were to check in and people could barely hear the panels due to the noise of the crowds walking around outside (seriously, the panel rooms were little boxes on the exhibit hall floor cordoned off with thin black curtains). Also in 2011, the show had a big tattoo section to the show which was absent at this year’s expo. Although the 2011 Comikaze Expo was fun it was not worthy of the comic convention status it was hoping for. Shortly after the show in 2011, the staff announced they would be back next year and that they had learned from the many mistakes of the weekend. Months later, it was announced that the Comikaze Expo would be officially a Stan Lee event, rebranding their image and likely drawing in many more fans. I even fell into the awe of Stan Lee being there and purchased an early ticket package to join “Stan Lee’s Comikaze Army.” In addition to Stan Lee becoming involved with the show, Advanstar Communications, a trade-event organizer partnered with the event to help make 2012 better.
Immediately upon entering the Los Angeles Convention Center this past weekend, it was apparent that Comikaze had spread out and taken over more of the venue; there were banners and signs everywhere. Registration had been moved to its own corner and the exhibit hall and panel room were on different levels of the center. Lines for registration already snaked through the lobby and back outside as things were about to open up. Stan Lee cut the ribbon to officially open the exhibit hall floor Saturday morning and the show was a go! The gaming tables filled up, the vendors and attendees were interacting, and panel rooms started seating people for rounds of programming. The restructuring of the expo’s layout was definitely a success. Under closer observation though, there were many issues that could hurt the show’s future. Lines to register were chaotic and some pre-registered attendees ended up waiting for hours outside to pick up their wristbands, while other folks who had not prepaid walked right up to the box office, bought a ticket and were admitted to the show in minutes. Vendors and exhibitors seemed to be passing out many postcards and business cards but sales looked to be minimal. Independent movie screenings (many in the horror genre) and cosplay were the most talked about parts of the show while comic books were not coming across as the foundation for this comic convention. Only three announcements about comic related news made big waves at the show: Stan Lee is doing a cameo in THOR 2 and knows what it is; Elvira is making a new comic book; Stan Lee is going to put out a mobile game that is “comic-bookish.” Every comic book show has its issues; Emerald City Comic Con had to temporarily close its doors to attendees this year due to capacity of the crowds; Comic Con International in San Diego was plagued with longer than their normally long lines this year. But cons should be able to prepare for these sorts of situations rather than worrying more about getting their celebrity guests to a table to overcharge for photo-ops and autographs.
- REGISTRATION LINES: Presales for Comikaze had been going on for months and reports could have easily been generated to estimate the number of attendees that would be lining up for the show each day and for proper training for the staff members that were going to be checking folks in. There were at least nine different wristbands that the staff was responsible to figure out to give to attendees and going through the list to find the right one, and then consult with the supervisor slowed the check-in process down immensely. By Sunday, a better system had been worked out, but lines were still long and there was a wait. Comikaze CEO Regina Carpinelli deserves kudos for fighting to try and get the lines out of the heat (even facing off with marshals) and working hard overnight to make some changes and improve Sunday’s check-in process. More work needs to be done though.
- DAY OF PASSES: Why would an attendee at the 2013 show bother pre-purchasing a pass to Comikaze when the line to buy a wristband the day of the show was only minutes long? The same-day windows should have been used to help alleviate the line of pre-paid registrations for at least the first hour or so each morning before opening to those with cash in hand.
- COST OF THE PASSES: Comikaze Expo is by far one of the cheapest shows around and that is one of their selling points. They want fans to be able to afford to attend the show rather than shell out $200 for a weekend of waiting in lines. This is a noble gesture. But then to charge $5 for their “official program guide” and another $5 for the cinch-sack bag is ridiculous. Why not make a package deal or raise the rates from $15 a day to $25 and include those two items with registration? (There were boxes of the unsold programs left over by the end of Sunday). Keeping the costs of passes down was also so that fans could buy more on the exhibit hall floor. This is a benefit to the attendees and the vendors/exhibitors. Unfortunately, most of the vendors/exhibitors products were priced on the high end, activities inside were expensive (the Zombie run was $30), and food was ridiculously priced (it was too hot outside that many people stayed at the convention center to eat). It’s understandable that a vendor/exhibitor needs to make money to pay for their booths, products, and travel expenses but prices at this show were as high as some top end shows like Comic Con in San Diego, not the smaller, younger shows that Comikaze Expo is. Emerald City Comic Con is in its tenth year and prices were nowhere as high as Comikaze.
- VIP PASSES: Selling VIP packages and passes is awesome for a convention. There are special bonuses for buying those deals early on. However, I bought one of those passes and was given a list of benefits I would receive. I paid for my “Stan Lee’s Army” package and then did not hear a word from Comikaze until a couple weeks before the show. I was to receive an armband, dog tag and other promotional items I could have worn to the various other comic book events I attended all summer but instead was ignored for 5 months and then did not even receive all the items I was promised. To top it all off, I was one of those that had to wait in the long lines for registration on day 1. Mailing out those VIP packages early on would have easily given the show the opportunity to get more word of mouth recognition at summer conventions, movies, and through social media. What were the exclusive bonuses for buying that package I got? A dog tag, a 20% off card for buying Comikaze retail items, and a golden wristband. I also got the VIP bag that many other passes received with a MAGIC starter deck, a raffle ticket for a Stan Lee signed comic and more discount coupons. And that was for an extra $30.
- ZOMBIE OBSTACLE COURSE: Zombies are a big trend in pop culture and the idea of running an obstacle course with Zombies sounds fun. But $30?! To run through a course, climb over inflatable obstacles, and hopefully survive. This was clearly about profit. And while some people ran through, there never appeared to be a long line for the chance to be chased by zombies. And then on Sunday, Activision (one of the show’s sponsors) kindly, and supposedly “all of sudden” decided to help sponsor $10 of the $30 course fee for all attendees. This “impromptu” discount was accompanied by what appeared to be preprinted signs and floor announcements all morning. Guess the $30 thing wasn’t working out.
- EXHIBIT HALL FLOOR: The exhibit hall was truly amazing. Large, easy to get around, and lots to see. There was a main stage for celebrity appearances and other panels to be held on and drew crowds into the room without a need for a long line or fighting for seats. The stage was also set back away from the vendors so while their events were going on, attendees could still visit booths without too much noise interference. The floor was a little cluttered though. The gaming area, Stan Lee Museum, Elvira Museum, Quidditch field, Zomibie Course, celebrity tables and main stage area were well marked and roped off allowing attendees to find them easily and for traffic to move through smoothly. The rest of the booths and artists/talent tables all seemed to be bunched together. There were aisles and then cross aisles. It was easy to miss a booth or get confused by the numbering (even if you can read the map). The Artist’s Alley was really not an alley and while they were separated, the artists could have used an actual alley like other shows have or like the celebrity guests got.
- COMIC BOOKS AT A COMIC CON: Comikaze Expo’s big emcee is one of the biggest names in comic book history. So why did it feel like the independent horror films, gaming, and zombies were more represented than comic books? There was comic book talent in the house, a couple panels here and there, and Stan Lee made a couple announcements related to comics (but more about promoting his own brand than actual comic books). The show needed comic book publishers in the house. There were independent publishers present but they were outdone by film, steam punk, crafts, and other booths. Big publishers like Marvel and DC would likely bring a more comic book feel to this show and perhaps drive fans out to the other comic book related booths if they were to attend. Even smaller publishers Aspen Comics, Image Comics (not really so small anymore), and even Raw Entertainment bring a comic book presence to big AND small shows these days, so why were they absent from Los Angeles (a major city and market)?
All that being said, is Comikaze Expo worth attending? YES! Hands down it has the potential to really become the comic convention Los Angeles has needed for a long time. Suffering through the growing pains of their early years is going to be the “price to pay” to hopefully, one day have a show that takes over the entire L.A. Convention Center (and maybe even surrounding venues…cough cough…Avengers screenings at the Staples Center…cough cough). These growing pains do not seem hard to fix or face though. There are dozens of comic conventions around the country that can be looked at for research and planning for the next Comikaze (the staff even said they attended other shows to learn how to make Comikaze 2012 better). There was improvement from 2011 to 2012, but minor problems like registration issues should not repeat the exact same mistakes two years in a row. However, the staff of Comikaze Expo deserves a high five for this year and a third chance in 2013 to put on their show in L.A.