Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo 2012: Is It L.A.'s Comic-Con? Not Yet, But...
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Over the weekend, Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo took over Los Angeles Convention Center's South Hall and the Generalissimo, as he is often called, was all over the pop culture convention that bears his name. His face loomed above the crowd from propaganda-style posters. Lee himself appeared on stage and at autograph signings throughout the event. Symbols of his storied years at Marvel lined large display cases. Artists like Camilla d'Errico and Mark Dos Santos turned his likeness into convention exclusive items. There was even a fan who showed up wearing an incredibly detailed Stan Lee mask, complete with gold-rimmed sunglasses.
But this wasn't so much a celebration for the guy behind Spider-Man and the Hulk as it was the ultimate stamp of approval. The 89-year-old comic book giant had lent his name to what is perhaps the most ambitious fan convention to arise in greater Los Angeles over the past few years.
Typically, fan conventions start out small and maybe they'll grow into larger events over time. Even San Diego Comic-Con spent decades under the radar to the mainstream before becoming the behemoth that it is today. Comikaze Expo is different. Founded by three siblings -- Regina, Mario and Fabiano Carpinelli -- Comikaze Expo began in the Convention Center's South Hall parking garage last year. They only had $10,000 behind them, but still brought in superstar guests -- Lee was one -- and tens of thousands of people. Their budget was small, as was the venue, but the production was huge. Now with Lee on board, Comikaze Expo has grown up fast. This year, they scored the entire South Hall building. At the time of the publication of this article, attendance numbers were unavailable, but, CEO Regina Carpinelli said in an email that they were "above and beyond" the team's expectations.
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There are always growing pains with conventions and those can be amplified when an event mushrooms before it has developed a longtime following. That happened for Comikaze on Saturday, when a line wrapped around the Convention Center as the temperature surpassed 100 degrees downtown. Inside the event, I heard varying stories about the pre-sale ticket line, with people estimating wait times as anywhere between a half-hour (which is long, but not unexpected for a convention) to over two hours. On Facebook, some attendees who had bought their tickets online noted that they got fed up and left before they entered the con. One mentioned that he went and bought another ticket, as the box office for on-site sales lacked the epic wait.
Comikaze did respond to the complaints on Facebook and the line situation appeared to be resolved on Sunday. They also honored unused Saturday passes on Sunday. "We made every effort to address the challenges our customers faced on Saturday," said Regina Carpinelli in an email. "Today [Sunday], we believe we were successful in getting our fans into the show within fifteen minutes of lining up."
Inside the convention hall, Comikaze had a lot of offer people from a multitude of fan communities, from Quidditch Pitch to a Zombie Apocalypse obstacle run. The exhibit hall didn't have a huge presence from comic book publishers, although Hollywood-based imprint Archaia had a booth with creator signings, as did a few other independent companies. There was a good number of comic book creators who had their own booths with some, like Reed Gunther mastermind's Chris and Shane Houghton, drawing healthy crowds all weekend. On the video game front, Activision had a booth, which was awkwardly placed next to the main stage. At times, video game noises competed with the biggest panels of the convention.
Up next: Comikaze vs. Comic-Con