Comikaze is a comic book convention that began last year and was seemingly embraced by fans with an attendance of 35,000 in 2011. The convention was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Kentia Hall, which doubles as extra parking. It made for an odd experience, while creating an almost underground gathering feel.
For 2012, Comikaze partnered with Stan Lee and Elvira, moved into the convention center’s South Hall, and seemed poised for an aggressive expansion. I attended last year with my wife and kids, who found last year interesting, but overwhelming. We took another look at the convention this year, and Mission Start Podcasts asked me to see how this convention turned out.
We arrived at the convention center around 9:15 a.m. My wife decided not to pre-register for the convention even though I had. As we entered the building, we found the box office, doubling as at-con registration, with several registers available, but no line at any of them. She managed to finish her registration in the time it took to hand cash to the cashier.
In my case, I went to pre-registration. It had a series of small lines for people that registered via Groupon and a few other mediums. However, the line I had to wait in a line for TicketLeap customers, the most common form of pre-registration for Comikaze. This line was snaking throughout the convention center South Hall lobby. I had to wait in this line with two small kids. Naturally, the look of such a line had me worried and wondering how to keep my kids entertained. To my surprise, the line moved very well. It only took 45 minutes from where I stood in the opposite corner of the lobby to the counter. I have read online postings stating that the line took two hours for other people, but I found that the registration ran relatively smoothly compared to other conventions that I have witnessed in the same building, however, I will concede that the line seemed to balloon not long after I arrived.
The only complaint that comes to mind regarding registration is that there was no listing of pre-registered individuals at the counter. If you didn’t have a printout with a QR Code or a smart phone able to bring up your registration e-mail, no one could help you, so the burden is oddly put on the consumer to provide simplicity for the registration staff, instead of the other way around.
The dealer’s hall was surprisingly well laid out. The main stage was at the back of South Hall and was supplemented by a large projection screen above the stage. Inside, there was an astonishing variety of items, services, and organizations to look over. Personally, I saw comic books, DVDs, clubs/organizations regarding G.I. Joe, Star Wars, and Firefly, third-party goods, art, applications, and clothing to choose from. It has been a long time since I went to a convention and found an item I didn’t know existed, but I wanted desperately. Comikaze succeeded in bringing that feeling out of me.
The administrators of the hall put a column of artists’ tables though the middle of the hall stretching 2/3 of the entire width of the exhibitor area. This broke up the repetitive nature of the hall layout, as well as made it simple to navigate the same by providing a simple landmark.
My wife chatted with several vendors and found them to be very open and excited to be there. One very kind vendor even gave my kids vampire-related t-shirts to commemorate their experience. No one asked her for free items, but she was very quick to begin looking through her stock to see what may fit. My kids, for the first time, were very excited to stay at a convention, not just for the free stuff, but to see a lot more of what was in and around the convention. My son, especially, wanted to revisit a booth of a robot builder who has built two Star Wars R2 units, and a life-size WALL-E unit.
The main stage was definitely a hotbed of entertainment, with the opening panel held on it hosting Stan Lee. From there, various stars and shows were held like a stunt show based on one of DC’s more recent Batgirls and the arguably most maligned Robins, Stephanie Brown, a Q&A of Adam West hosted by filmmaker-turned-podcaster Kevin Smith (which is already on his Smodcast.com website in his Fatman on Batman series), a nerd dating game, and a discussion between Stan Lee and Todd McFarlane about their careers and the future of their industries.There were special museums detailing work by Stan Lee and Elvira, and items made to honor them set up creating nearly a century of combined science fiction history for you to view.
Artists from the previous and current seasons of the Syfy reality show Face-Off were on hand and doing live make-up applications. There was something oddly entrancing about seeing these people work in front of you instead of on a television screen.
The Zombie Apocalypse was well represented in the dealer’s hall as several zombies began wandering the hall early on Saturday. The Apocalypse took up the right side of the hall next to the bridge access to West Hall with a partition wall put up, except for a few access doors for people to enter by, but we'll get back to that in a little bit.
The guests… well, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say they are Comic-Con worthy. Inside the dealer’s hall were booths for Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Tony Moore, Tara Strong, Norman Reedus, J. Scott Campbell, Lou Ferrigno, Felicia Day, Thomas Jane, Mark Silvestri, Titmouse Animation Studios, Kevin Smith, and Todd McFarlane, as well as Stan Lee, Elvira, and a plethora other genre and niche superstars.
We were stopped at the booth of a voice actor named Darrel Guilbeau who did work on several animes including Ghost in the Shell and Bleach, but what caught my wife’s attention was that he did the voice of Mikado in Durarara!!!. They engaged in a conversation while I did a bit of kid wrangling, and after I had our young ones in one place, I heard my wife politely ending the conversation and about to join us, when Mr. Guilbeau uttered the phrase, “Would you like a picture?” He didn’t ask for any money or a check. He was just being nice with a fan. It often doesn't get more incredible at a convention when you’re able to talk about your hobbies with one of the artists who took part in it and they show they appreciate you as much as you appreciate them.
Thank you for the moment, Mr. Guilbeau. My wife is still on Cloud-9.
The panels held were interesting on multiple levels. Viz Media held a short anime fest, there was a Wild and Crazy Kids reunion, a steampunk discussion, a discussion with Max Landis (the writer of Chronicle), a discussion on the history of comic books before heroes, a discussion with video game designers from the Intellivision era (my first gaming system!)… There was even a panel regarding “romance and relationship mayhem in paranormal fiction.” (I’m guessing this is for the fans of sparkly vampires and mopey werewolves.)
In short, there were a lot of things to talk about for a wide variation of fans. There was so much to view, I was seriously torn on where I wanted to be!
Have you ever wanted to play Quidditch? Me… not so much. Admittedly, I was never into the Harry Potter phenomenon. However, I will not deny its impact on sci-fi culture, and fans at Comikaze had the opportunity to watch the Whimsic Alley Cup Tournament. It included actual official teams from UCLA and USC, and members of the USA National team who competed in the Quidditch Olympic Expo in Oxford, England. Even newcomers had a chance to play during the convention and get a feel for the game.
Activision had a “Fun Center” set up next to the main stage and used it to showcase some of their games like Amazing Spider-Man and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron.
The most interesting of the special events to me was the Zombie Apocalypse. I’ve attached a short movie for you to see before the event opened. It was a very interesting concept. What they did was find people who paid to be made up as zombies, both shambling and running zombies, and the “humans” were people with a flag football harness. For those who didn’t have to play the game in P.E., the harness is a nylon cord around the waist with flags attached by Velcro. If zombies tore off the Velcro flags, the human was food. The object was to get through the course with the flags intact and be a survivor.
I did manage to get back to the course as people started going through it, and it was fun to watch the humans try to run, juke, dive, and think their way through as shrieking and running undead did their best to stop them. Even my daughter thought about trying out the course, but the ambiance of the event got the better of her and she decided to bow out.
This is a bit of a double-edged sword. I’m of the mind that the fans you draw can be a serious part of the entertainment be it via attitude towards other fans (Joe the Peacock is still a douche to me), cosplay gatherings, flash mobs, parties, and other fan run events. In this area, Comikaze is rather quiet. There were a few gatherings that occurred, but it was hampered a little by a lack of a message board or forum on their website. This was a bit frustrating to me since I saw examples of incredible costumes in random intervals, but not an easily accessible way to follow the gatherings unless you were a member of the Twitter and Facebook feeds of the event. While following both is certainly doable, for a father of 3 that has more than a half-dozen conventions to follow and attend, I could use a more streamlined way to see what other fans are up to at Comikaze.
This convention has morphed quite a bit in one year. They managed to add a wealth of guests and attract a host of vendors and artists to take part in the weekend. I would say that the end result is very positive growth, and Los Angeles can now say that they have a large comic book convention taking part in the city. There are some hiccups that need to be ironed out, but the framework for a successful event is definitely in place. An official forum would be helpful for fans to connect, and some tweaks to the registration process can keep fan discomfort to a minimum.
Some have called Comikaze, “Comic-Con Lite.” I can see some of the parallels, but Comikaze can also be considered unencumbered by the invasion of movie studios and more able to engage fans instead of being used as a forum for executives to grab reviews for their latest projects. If this is “lite,” serve me a double.