Five years ago, a new comic book convention opened at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and it was called Comikaze. It featured two marquee guests in the form of Stan Lee and Elvira. During the second year, the convention expanded quickly, especially when it was announced that Stan Lee and Elvira bought partnerships in the convention. A few years later, does this name recognition translate into a large convention that is worth the visit, or is it too much too fast?
Time to find out...
Have you ever had that one hotel that just ruins every other hotel stay you have ever even contemplated? That hotel that sets the bar so high that you can’t think of the average hotel as even satisfactory? That is the Residence Inn in Los Angeles for us.
Let’s start with the rooms themselves. Every room has a couch with a fold-out bed inside. Every room is decorated in rich browns and deep reds. Every room has a kitchen with a full refrigerator, stove, and a microwave. The bathrooms are spacious enough for three people to do business in, though they will have to shimmy by each other.
We used every square inch of our room for equipment, collectables, work on cosplay, and rest. There was still space to spare in the room for several other bodies to be doing something.
The hallways are in the same browns and reds with one of the more interesting carpeting patterns we have seen, and the elevators, despite there only being four of them, rarely leave you waiting long.
And then there is the staff. These people actually seem to care about what you think. While checking in, one of hotel security took our luggage upstairs via cart. In fact, he had just finished putting everything inside when we arrived. I can’t get that kind of service in a lot of locations in California. Every staffer we crossed made sure to acknowledge our presence and be kind.
If there were any detractors to our stay, it would be two things. The first is that we had no tub, only a stand-up shower. That isn’t a problem, but it had this modern rolling door design that left a small gap just large enough for water to ricochet to the floor. That was a bit annoying to someone like myself with minor obsessive compulsive disorder. The only other problem I had was the lack of a hot tub. I’ve noted it before, but that is a very nice way to wind down after a convention, and I didn’t have that option.
Jesse summed it up better than I could: “This isn’t like going back to a hotel; it’s like going home.”
As a side note, if you haven’t heard, the J.W. Marriott began charging people attending the Anime Expo an extra cleaning deposit that would be refunded after they inspect your room. I’ve heard through the grapevine that they did the same thing to Comikaze attendees. While it is the closest hotel physically, the J.W. Marriott has ended up on a list of hotels I would only stay at if I was truly desperate. I didn’t think it would end up on the same mental list I have the Hotel Figueroa on.
The era of four-hour-registration lines may be over.
Comikaze had one bank of registration people in a configuration similar to San Diego Comic-Con. That doesn’t sound like a lot when you have a convention of 50,000 to 60,000 (in my estimation), but it was actually too much for their needs.
Jesse and I arrived on Day 1 and registered as press, which was quick and courteous by any stretch of the imagination. Then, to have a question answered and to observe the Dealer’s Hall line, as well as see how regular registration was running. With only minutes before the Dealer’s Hall was to open, the registration workers, 10 of them, were energetically seeking people to process. I almost feared making eye contact with them, they were so frantic to process more people. I managed to show one I had a badge and he moved past me, but I saw another one who was also trying to wave me over.
It may sound bad, but it’s not. It looks like a humble registration setup, but they actually had this running extremely well. Top marks, for sure.
Comikaze has held its events in the Los Angeles Convention Center since its inception. That may need to change in the near future.
I’ve had to review multiple events in the Los Angeles Convention Center, and most of them deal with a lot of the same issues that Comikaze is now running directly up against. Most notably, that is non-contiguous or non-continuous exhibit space and convention center staff that can be best described as surly.
I will get to the hall space in the review of the next section, but the staffing issues often came down to communication and a lack of professionalism. Jesse and I had to ask questions of people after we arrived, and it was easy to find Comikaze staff in green shirts and identify convention center staff in their black suits and more formal dress. The problem was that an answer we received from convention center staff often directly contradicted what we heard from the Comikaze staff and because of that, the convention center staff was more frustrated with us. It wasn’t like they singled us out or yelled, but it was clear that the convention center staff didn’t have all of the info they needed or a clear set of instructions, and that bled over into them often being short or cross with us.
This is a constant issue with this location. Other than that, the best I could describe the building is dated. It has a lot of nice open feeling spaces with lots of glass, but that glass also lets in a lot of radiant heat. For example, we walked through the bridge connecting the West Hall to the South Hall and it felt like an oven in the upper level, but as soon as we moved to an area without windows to the front of the building, the temperature dropped, not noticeably, but uncomfortably.
The city recently approved an expansion to the convention center that would involve tearing down 95% of it and rebuilding it from the ground up. I don’t think that can happen soon enough… except for the year or more that the building would be unavailable for large events.
Comikaze has had the single best Dealer’s Hall design I had seen… until this year.
It’s no secret that Comikaze often announces things late for reasons I am not privy to. I often get the convention dates the Spring prior to the convention, usually giving me 3-6 months of notice to prep a budget, clear my calendar, and make a plan. Long time convention-hoppers know that this is a late compared to the 10-12 months most conventions can give you. I think this procrastination bled over to the Dealer’s Hall.
Let me explain.
Comikaze was held on Halloween weekend at the same time the Los Angeles Convention center was having a job fair/recruitment drive, and they were preparing about 70% of the South Hall for an obesity clinic and convention. While Comikaze was the biggest event at the Los Angeles Convention Center that weekend, I do believe that it probably solidified its plan last, giving it the smaller of the halls, the West Hall, as its main hall. This space is smaller than the South Hall, and it was apparently not enough to hold everything in one space. Comikaze usually has the Main Stage with the marquee guests and panels at the back of the Dealer’s Hall with the autograph area to one side of the hall. This year, the Dealer’s Hall and Artist’s Alley were in West Hall, and the Main Stage, autograph area, and cosplay guests and fan communities were relegated to a section of the South Hall.
What this meant is that Jesse and I had to traverse the bridge between the West and South Hall at least a few times per day, which is time consuming and a bit of a drag. Then, that also meant that we were less likely to see the marquee guests that were a curiosity for us, instead of a must see. This also meant that you didn’t have to visit the Dealer’s Hall to see the big guests anymore, so we didn’t have the opportunity we had in prior years to second guess purchases we were struggling with.
This felt like a step backwards in design and convenience. I think that if this is going to be a regular problem, the convention may be well served with starting to survey other venues for better options to hold a mid-to-large-size event.
While there were a number of panels to keep everyone busy from near the beginning of the show to the end, I noticed something that my mind wouldn’t let go of.
You see, this convention this year had a number of pretty good guests: William Shatner, Summer Glau, Yoshiki of X-Japan, Nichelle Nihcols, Walter Koenig, and so on. These are all big names in science fiction. Not only did none of these people have panels, other than their appearance on the main stage, but, there was a serious lack of industry panels in general.
We did see a good range of fan and entertainment panels, but it was hard to get past the idea that unless you were hanging around the main stage, there wasn’t much news on the future of the industry to be had. This felt a little odd. You would think that a convention with Stan Lee's name on it would have creators leaping to debut something or update fans on their latest projects.
Even so, we still saw some interesting panels, including a panel about 80’s and 90’s cartoons and the Dungeon Master improv panel.
Hopefully, this lack of balance can be addressed soon.
Comikaze falls on the middle of the scale when it comes to cosplay.
There is a good amount of cosplay going on, and some of it seems to be fairly imaginative. Though there is much more cosplay than at San Diego Comic Con, there does seem to be less than there usually is at WonderCon. There was a problem with groups, though. As it was during Anime Expo, the Los Angeles Convention Center staff were very eager to move large groups away from stairs, including the stairs in the South Hall, which had no large events happening (at least the day I observed) other than Comikaze.
That being said, I did enjoy interacting with the cosplayers. A lot of them were eager to answer questions about their particular look and weren’t dismissive unless they had somewhere to be, which is understandable.
One thing that a cosplayer did point out, though is that Comikaze had no cosplay repair station in it. There was a booth in Artist’s Alley that pledged itself to help, but unless you walked by and happen to see the sign saying so, you wouldn’t know they exist. It’s not a serious gripe, but it is one that will matter to a segment of con-goers.
Comikaze’s staff has matured nicely. No, I don’t mean they’re getting older.
I’ve been visiting Comikaze since it occurred in Kentia Hall at the LACC, an expansion hall that doubles as a parking lot. Now, it is taking up over half of the convention center. I am glad to see that Comikaze’s staff has grown well with the convention and taking on the bigger challenges that came with it. There did seem to be a good level of comfort with people at all levels. Other than the communication issues with the convention center staff, they carried themselves very well.
There were even staffers wandering the floor with signs that said “Ask Me!” on them. We stopped to ask one staffer an issue and he did a good job of fielding multiple questions, one at a time, and not panicking if he didn’t know an answer. Instead, he calmly directed people to the Information desk.
It’s never fun to feel like you have been overlooked, and Comikaze does a good job of stopping that feeling before it starts.
Downtown Los Angeles is a mixed bag. The gentrification of the area is starting to wane a bit as the construction that has been pervasive is moving off Figueroa Boulevard to the side streets and adding new condos. As they do, there is a lot of businesses moving in. A lot of eateries are trying to open in a very busy thoroughfare and empty store fronts have become rare in an area that had them as a normal part of the landscape a decade ago.
That being said, these restaurants are also more expensive than a lot of other locations, asking you to pay a premium since the area has turned into a business and entertainment district. There are some lower-price gems to be found, but you will need to be ready to hop a cab or take a walk of ten minutes or more to find it, and even then, some parts of the area can be questionable fast.
There is also a lot of homeless wandering and sleeping in the area. There were very few in the vicinity of the convention center itself this weekend, but they are pervasive in the area as this is a good place to find people with money moving about or walking their dogs.
I guess Downtown Los Angeles is a decent place to spend an evening, but, be wary at all times.
Comikaze on a whole was pretty strict on shutting down at night. I heard reports that people in the building after 7:00 p.m. were quickly shooed away. I don’t know if that was convention staff or convention center staff (I could guess), but there were no late panels or events. Except…
Other than the restaurants and a few out-of-the-way hangouts in Downtown L.A., Comikaze offered a Halloween Party and Concert to everyone that had a badge, regardless of what day the badge was good for. This happened at Club Nokia above L.A. Live and had a bar, decent space to hold a show, and a performance by the Flux Capacitors, an 80’s tribute band that has been labeled as the official band of Back to the Future.
I gotta admit, I am not one for large parties. My version of a party is a bad movie, pizza, and friends talking endlessly. That being said, this party was pretty interesting. There were people in costumes of all types, the vibe of the room was very relaxed, and there was room to breathe in the venue.
If I wasn’t such an early person by habit, I would have spent a long while here.
I won’t lie. The lack of industry influence to balance out the fan panels and the weirdly spread nature of the former Dealer’s Hall into two rooms was a disappointment. There were also communication issues with the convention center staff.
However, this was still a fun show with a chance to interact with celebrities that do not make a lot of appearances these days that run the gamut of science fiction and pop culture. Seriously, how many conventions can you interact with starts from the original Star Trek, the current Flash, Sons of Anarchy, All That, 2001: A Space Oddessy, Firefly, and countless other sci-fi and animated shows when you’re not hunting convention exclusives and visiting with other fans? Not many, and most of them, you have to fight to get badges before they sell out. Comikaze has remained very accessible.
Comikaze is where you can get the fan experience without a high ticket price or a waiting list. I would strongly recommend it for your first comic book convention.