Comikaze has had humble beginnings by being held in a make-shift hall in one of the parking lots of the Los Angeles Convention Center in it's first attempt just two years ago. Last year, they moved into the South Hall with some fair success and received a boost when Stan Lee bought in as a partner. This year, they tried an aggressive expansion with museums, sponsorships, and a reality show focusing on several interns. Has that formula paid off? Do we have a new convention in California that lures people to come, or is it more like plumbing the quarter bin?
Myself and two members of the Rolling 20’s decided to test that theory.
In a break from my usual patterns, we stayed at the Los Angeles Luxe Hotel. It was formerly known as the Downtown Los Angeles Holiday Inn. It is decorated in rich earth tones and is pretty subdued as hotels go. There were no after-hours noises or parties, so the hotel was pretty quiet throughout the day. Each room has a wet bar with overpriced items in it. They wanted $9.00 for a small can of jelly beans. If you cleaned out the refrigerated wet bar and put your own stuff in it, they will still charge you $50.00 for cleaning and sterilization.
We kept the wet bar closed.
Parking was also $40.00 per night and valet only ($60.00 per night during large events, like the local Lakers and Kings games.)
On the plus side, though, the staff was very accommodating. They came each day to ask if we wanted free bottles of water and chocolates, offered us apples, responded within 20 minutes to maintenance or extra requests, and treated us fairly for the most part. There was some confusion with the hotel valet that wasn’t pleasant to deal with, but we eventually let it slide.
All in all, it’s not a bad hotel, but with only 2 elevators for 9 floors, you could be waiting a bit on a busy day.
There was no shuttle system for this convention, even though the list of hotels available was almost identical to the Anime Expo, including the Westin Bonaventure. Though, for reasons I don’t know, no one seemed upset by the lack of convention-provided transportation.
This is another situation where I want to seriously know why Anime Expo registration can be such an arduous affair when other conventions in the same building can be so slick. I lined up at 9:00 a.m., two hours before registration. Their registration opened on time at 11:00 a.m., I was about 15 people back in line, and my total wait time during active registration was… 6 minutes. That’s quite a feat when there appears to only be 12 to 18 people with scanners. They scan your confirmation, and immediately hand you a badge. You walk to another table where they give you a lanyard and a badge holder, and you’re done.
There is no registration pack, but there’s 5 different locations you can pick up copies of the convention schedule/program inside and outside of the Dealer’s Hall.
There was another thing that they did that was BRILLIANT. When I lined up for registration, I was in a line with several people who already had badges. It turns out, they had people waiting to get in when the convention opened at 1:00 p.m. on Friday in the same line as those waiting for badges. I didn’t understand until after the doors opened at 11:00 a.m. While I went to get my badge, anyone with a badge was taken up the escalator on the far left side of the Dealer’s Hall, and they were taken to a place to line up and wait for the convention to open INSIDE THE DEALER’S HALL. It had a snaking barricade set up so people were not waiting in the sun all day and losing I.Q. points from exposure.
If I had a complaint, it would be that the badges have no identifying name on them if they are not a special guest, exhibitor, or press member. If you lose a badge, anyone can pick it up and walk into the convention.
During the weekend, there was rarely a line for registration of any sort. They handle their ticketing expediently and keep people moving. However, there was a line to buy tickets every day, including the last day of the convention. It appears that word-of-mouth is spreading about this convention, as well as the advertising done via SyFy’s Fangasm show.
I said it last year, but someone from the SPJA should contact Comikaze and ask how they can match their process.
The Los Angeles Convention Center is still an interesting place for a convention with its numerous meeting rooms, bridge over Pico Boulevard, and two halls for dealer or multipurpose space. Comikaze is especially confusing to me due to how well it did use its space.
You see, Anime Expo and Comikaze have roughly the same attendance. Anime Expo may be a bit larger, but not by much, and Comikaze’s entire operation was inside the South Hall. They didn’t use the Skybridge or the West Hall… and, it worked well!
For panels, they used the rooms on the third floor of the South Hall and another space I’ll tell you about in a minute. But, even with all of the panels, the use of all of the South Hall for exhibition space, and the cafeteria in full swing, there was rarely a feeling of crowding in the convention center. They allocated space well and kept too many people from creating logjams.
Even the convention center staff was nicer than I was used to, especially after this year’s interaction with the Anime Expo. Although the building was busy, it was very relaxed, and there was a lot of smiles on people’s faces.
If you’ve wondered what it would be like if someone tried to emulate San Diego’s Comic-Con on a smaller scale, you’d have what we saw at Comikaze.
They have upgraded from last year by bringing in some larger name vendors like Aspen, Top Cow, Valiant, Yes Anime, Lion Forge, and Toynami. Hot Topic and Whimsic Alley were large sponsors this year, and both had booths with wares and giveaway games. There were also comic vendors, clothing sellers, cosplay idols, and stars who had their own tables. I managed to wrangle a signed print from J.Scott Campbell at his booth.
We were really awestruck by the Legacy Effects display. They brought examples of their work for people to view, and that included life-size displays of the Iron Monger armor, the Destroyer armor, several Iron Man armors, and a few other odds and ends.
Comikaze still has a great layout for their dealer’s hall, and they have tweaked it to be even better. There is still a main hallway that is double the size of most of their other walking lanes. You can take it straight back to the Main Stage where their biggest guests, announcements, and demonstrations take place. However, this year, they balanced their dealer’s hall by adding the Artists Alley and small press as the last tables you walk by to get to the Main Stage. It gives the room more balance when you have a reason several times a day to walk by vendors and artists to get to the big stars as they speak.
The autograph section was on the far right of the dealer’s hall along with tables for some of the bigger stars like “Weird” Al Yankovic and Louie Anderson, and on the far left was the Video Game Museum. It was like walking through memories of video games past, including stand-up arcade machines of the original Super Mario Brothers and Toobin’, glass cases filled with patches (kids will know them as “ancient achievements”), and even old couches across from working tube televisions with either a Super Nintendo or an Atari 2600 attached to them.
Keith Apicary would have a conniption with all of the awesome to be seen there.
Additionally, there were museums to the careers of Elvira and Stan Lee, where you could view their memorabilia and where they would occasionally appear to sign things for their fans.
The panels are mostly fan and fan-organization affairs, but they are still a lot of fun.
There were discussions of female fandom, how to duel with a lightsaber, improv groups, comedy shows, and a lot of the other usual panels you find at conventions about beginning cosplay and how to collect certain items.
Arguably, the most punch in the presentations was at the Main Stage at the back of the Dealer’s Hall, where Levar Burton, the casts of Fangasm and Who Wants To Be A Superhero, Tara Strong, and Stan Lee himself made appearances.
There is a little bit of everything to feed your fan-beast.
While cosplay at the last comic book convention I visited was light, Comikaze was much more intense with it, if a bit disorganized. There were large groups for both Marvel and DC, but not much else. However, there were more random cosplayers walking in and around the convention for you to see.
Maybe it’s the vibe of a sci-fi convention, rather than just an anime convention, but there was a MUCH more varied sample of cosplay at this convention. We saw Power Rangers, Ghostbusters, Sailor Scouts, X-Men, Avengers, Justice League’ers, Serenity crew, 7 different Doctors and their companions, and the villains associated with the same.
We even saw some obscure cosplay we haven’t seen before.
There is a lot to like as people let their flags fly…
Comic-Con still has the best, friendliest staff I have ever encountered… but now, I have a close second-favorite.
Comikaze’s people were more than helpful a lot of the time. They actually seemed to care what kind of time the attendees were having. Early on Day 1, I ran into two staffers who held up paddles and were looking warily at the attendees. I thought it was some kind of line control until I came close. The paddles said, “Ask Me!” I’ve seen conventions answer questions as they came, but this was the first time I’ve seen people with clipboards of information actually solicit questions before they are asked.
The thing I wasn’t prepared for was how well the Los Angeles Convention Center staff worked with the Comikaze staff. After personal experiences from this July hitting a new low, the staff the LACC assigned to Comikaze were helpful and offered suggestions. If their suggestions didn’t work, they wanted to know so they had the correct answers.
Where were these people for AX?!
If you’ve been to Anime Expo or one of the myriad of conventions in Downtown Los Angeles, you know what you’re in for. The area is a financial district, so there is money being made by people who already have a lot of money, and a lot of things in the area are priced accordingly.
Parking is a premium that can run anywhere from a few dollars to almost $50.00 per day, restaurants have entrees that average around $17.00 to $26.00 per plate unless you know where to look, and there isn’t a whole lot to do in the area unless you’re into fine dining, dinner clubs, or the local concerts and/or sports teams.
Maybe they are just de-sensitized to all of the events that happen at the Convention Center through the year, but there is no incentive for the city to get involved in entertaining the masses locally. I know that San Diego has set the bar impossibly high, but I would like to see my home city at least try to work with local conventions to get more people to come for them.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a night life if you didn’t arrive with money to spend. Comikaze doesn’t have dances or late night panels as they operate most of the daytime hours (9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.). The local city doesn’t have much to offer beyond that besides the afore-mentioned dinner clubs, Lucky Strike bowling, or a movie theater.
Hopefully, you brought a video game system or tablet to occupy your downtime.
There is still room for improvement and growth in this convention, but there have been large strides made since last year, and that is an achievement considering how fast this convention has expanded. The staff really seems to care what people think and say about things both good and bad on their efforts. More and more high-powered vendors are also paying attention to this convention. Does that have to do with the fact that Stan Lee and Elvira’s names are on the banners? In all fairness, probably, but they’re working that to their full advantage, and I feel that the con-goers are reaping the benefits.
“Comic-Con Lite” may be finding its own formula to high success soon. It may even transform into another can’t-miss convention that Los Angeles has been searching for. If you want to find out what happens, show up next year, True Believer!