Hello, readers! I’ve been hard at work editing my husband’s new graphic novel, Monster Elementary. I have had to balance my time more frugally lately. But, your patience is rewarded! Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo was November 1-3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and I come bearing photos, reports, and news from it!
A little bit about Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo, via Wikipedia:
“Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo, previously a two day, now a three day, event held during the fall at the Los Angeles Convention Center, located in downtown Los Angeles, California. Comikaze Expo embraces a diversity of genres, including comic, anime, gaming, sci-fi, fantasy and horror, with a large focus on the community. The annual event was first held on November 5 and 6 of 2011 with a total of 35,000 attendees throughout the entire weekend.
In 2012, CEO Regina Carpinelli announced that veteran creator Stan Lee and his company, POW! Entertainment as well as Cassandra Peterson (better known as Elvira) would form a partnership with Comikaze Expo, rebranding the convention entirely. Comikaze Expo was renamed to Stan Lee’s Comikaze, making Comikaze the only pop culture convention owned by two industry icons.”
I attended Comikaze in its first, non-Stan Lee branded, year. It was, in short, a mess.
Regarding the exhibit floor that first year, it seemed the organizers were willing to give a booth to anybody that was willing to pay. They were having tattoo artists give tattoos on the floor, and the quality of art and products on display, though plentiful, were not always of great quality. To further the chaos, there was no organization of the booths. Most comic book conventions organize their exhibitors based around certain categories such as “Publishers,” “Artists’ Alley,” “Small Press,” “Retailers,” “Autographs,” and so on. The floor layout seemed haphazard and had a lack of attention to detail. In addition, there were no floor maps or program guides. This made finding specific interests or vendors incredibly difficult. Only one room outside the floor was booked by the convention. So, the majority of the panels were held on the convention floor, walled off by thin curtains. Definitely not an ideal way to listen to your favorite pop culture icons.
Several of the vendors I spoke to that first year were extremely unhappy about their sales from the show. A common comment I heard was that the attendees were all “looky-loos” and “no one was buying.” One vendor in particular vowed never to return after that first year. This problem could have been attributed to how low the ticket prices were, attracting an atypical comic convention crowd. Tickets were sold for $12, with Goldstar.com giving a huge block of tickets away for free. Attendees not spending money with the vendors is and always will be a problem for any convention. If the vendors are unhappy, not even making back their booth fee, they will not return. And if enough vendors don’t return, a convention will die out.
I did not attend in 2012 due to my poor experience in 2011. Once again, I heard complaints from a 2012 vendor about “looky-loos” and the lack of purchasing happening on the floor. And I heard, again, a vow to never return.
After receiving a press badge for the 2013, now Stan Lee-branded, Comikaze Expo, I went in with an open mind and a good dose of curiosity. Let’s dive in!
AROUND THE FLOOR
I found the quality of vendors and exhibitors to be much higher than the first year. Gone were the tattoo artists and other unrelated vendors. And there were some decently major publishers including Bongo, Boom! Studios, and Aspen. Having these known publishers at the convention gives a major sense of legitimacy that was really lacking the first year. The floor was categorized by vendor type and there was a classy looking program guide and map distributed. A very basic change, but definitely a needed one.
I found one retailer that seemed to focus quite a bit of his merchandise on Disney, including a case filled with custom painted Vinylmations.
Some small figures by Rehvenge Ink Customs.
And some big figures by Customs by J.P. Amezcua.
Disney Infinity power discs have now hit the reseller market at conventions.
The Wall-E Builders Club had a booth on the floor. Though, no one was there when I dropped by. This club is headed by Michael McMaster, whom I met before at Wondercon this year.
Prolific Disney artist, Noah, was showing and selling his wares.
The 501st Legion, a Star Wars Imperial costuming organization, had a booth for information and recruiting.
Popular geek girl fashion line Her Universe was selling their designs. Her Universe started by creating Star Wars clothing and has expanded out into several sci-fi properties.
I found this delightful piece of art in the Artists Alley section.
Abraham Lopez is the genius responsible for this. If you’re interested, a small print of the full piece is $20, while you can also buy four large individual posters for $100 for the set.
Fan favorite Margaret Kerry was meeting and greeting her adoring fans.
Yes Anime had a plethora of Iron Man figures and statues available for pre-order.
I ran into these three kids on the floor.
Legacy Effects, a film effects company that specializes in creature creations, had a booth showing off their wares, which consisted of Marvel related properties.
One of the big features of the convention that was heavily advertised was “Stan Lee’s Mega Museum.” There was a lot of buzz, but not a lot of information. The actual display was hidden away behind black curtains.
The first part of the display were these larges cases of character busts, all Marvel of course.
The next section included figurines and statues, followed by original comic book art, including many pages and covers that Stan Lee appeared on.
After that, there was a smattering of film props.
After that, there was a very long switchback, longer than the length of all the previous displays, ending at a signing table with some props and collectibles hung on the wall.
My research told me that Stan Lee would be signing at that table throughout the weekend. You could wait in line, look at the items, and say “Hi” to Stan for free, but his autograph was at a price. I haven’t found confirmation, but one website reports a fee of $60 per signature.
I must say, if this is a “themed queue” for those who wait a long time for Stan’s autograph, then it is a nice bonus. However, to advertise it as a separate “Mega Museum” is disingenuous. If you look at the picture of the museum and switchbacks below, you can see how little museum there is in ratio to blank queue. I counted eight switchback rows with only two having any museum content.
I also did not care for hiding this all away from the public, and not being upfront anywhere about the content. Even the program guide did not have any explanation of what the “Mega Museum” was. I understand that Stan Lee on the floor of ANY convention is a crowd control issue. Hiding him away prevents attendees from blocking the aisles trying to get a look. However, not letting attendees know or give them any idea of what or how much “museum” they are getting for what could be incredibly long lines is not very consumer friendly. If I had waited longer than 10 minutes for the “Mega Museum,” I would have been very irritated. The “museum” definitely felt like an elaborate ruse to have you wait in line to pay Stan Lee for his autograph.
STAN LEE’S BIG ANNOUNCEMENT
Stan was scheduled to make a big announcement at 5:20 PM on Firday at the Hot Topic Main Stage, which was actually on the convention floor.
When Stan arrived, it was clear that the attendees LOVE him. Huge applause, hoots, hollers…it was insane.
Stan sat down with two other guests, a representative from POW Entertainment, Stan Lee’s multimedia company, and a representative from Disney Publishing (I couldn’t get their names because it was so loud).
After much small talk, and Stan talking up how great Disney is, he eventually announced that he was working with Disney Publishing to produce a comic book written by Stan himself called Zodiac. It will be deep in Chinese mythology, centered around an international cast of characters. In addition to the comic, there will also be a movie.
And then, he said he could say no more. “But remember….ZODIAC! And you heard it here first, at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo!” *CROWD GOES WILD*
“Disney Publishing Worldwide (DPW) today announced the acquisition of a new book based on the Chinese zodiac written by comic book legend Stan Lee with Stuart Moore, featuring illustrations by renowned comics artist Andie Tong.
ZODIAC is an action-packed illustrated novel that follows Steven Lee, a young Chinese-American teen who is drawn into a mysterious conspiracy surrounding twelve mystical pools of energy and a power-hungry secret organization. When he and other randomly chosen teens around the world are suddenly gifted with magical powers, they’ll have to find each other and learn how to handle fantastic abilities and responsibilities. Their greatest hopes and deepest fears will be brought to light by the powers of the zodiac!”
I had some immediate thoughts and questions regarding the announcement. One, the idea of Stan Lee writing something new makes more sense knowing that Stan has a co-author. I can’t remember the last time he wrote something on his own. Of course, I’d love to know exactly his level of involvement, whether he is actually writing the script, just doing the initial project concept, or somewhere in-between. Two, there’s no mention of the movie Stan mentioned in the press release or on the website. Three, why is this not being published under the Marvel banner? As a graphic novel, written by Stan Lee no less, wouldn’t that be a no-brainer? Disney has already announced a Museum of the Weird and Space Mountain graphic novel under the Marvel banner, so there doesn’t appear to be any separation issues for Disney.
All that being said, I am looking forward to this book. I welcome a new and original property for Disney to work with as opposed to another comic book based on previously established properties. Maybe next they can put in a new Disneyland or California Adventure attraction that’s completely original?
There was great improvement over previous years. A program guide, massive amounts of signage, a higher quality of exhibitors, and a large publisher presence certainly made this feel more like a pop culture convention and less like a flea market.
There were many more panels and increased programming with seven conference rooms utilized off the floor. This was a GREAT and needed improvement. Surprisingly, I actually liked having the “Hot Topic Main Stage” on the convention floor. It really added a great energy to the room and it was fun being able to hear the panels and presentation even if I wasn’t making an effort to find a spot near the stage. It also eliminated the need to stand in line for events on the Main Stage. I anticipate that the larger this convention becomes, the need to get these crowds off the floor and into a closed location will eventually eliminate this element. This is probably why the Stan Lee announcement was on a Friday and not one of the weekend days.
Is this a three day convention yet? Not at all. I was done viewing the floor within three hours, but that’s better than a half hour the first year. And none of the programming appealed to me. Would I go again? Sure! This convention seems to be finding its niche. If you are a big collector and have an interest in seeing and hearing from pop culture celebrities, then Stan Lee’s Comikaze will be somewhere you want to be. My interests are primarily comic books. And there is still room for improvement here. There just isn’t enough at Comikaze for this group of fans. Comikaze needs to attract some of the larger publishers. Plenty of conventions thrive without DC and Marvel present. But it would be great to see Dark Horse and IDW. Or even some smaller, yet popular, publishers including Antarctic Press, Dynamite, Slave Labor Graphics and Top Shelf.
This is one of the reasons why I think many independent creators and artists have problems making money at Comikaze. (And maybe why the publishers haven’t embraced it yet.) The current culture is not a celebration of art, storytelling and the comic’s medium. With more of a focus on mass produced collectibles and celebrities, it’s the wrong event to attract attendees that will embrace the creators and purchase from them. Maybe that’s okay. There are so many different types of fans and so many different types of conventions. Not every convention has to appeal to the same fan.
However, if Comikaze really wants a large comic book fan presence, they have to find a way to bring in the mainstream publishers. Once the publishers are signed on, more comic book fans will come and independent creators can start to make money. Once this happens, more and more creators will want to attend, and the fans who pay top dollar for unique and original creations will follow. A first good step would be to allow more Professional Creators to attend and check out the convention without having to purchase a booth. (I’ve heard stories from established creators who were not approved for a Professional courtesy badge. These same people have no problem getting the same courtesy badge from San Diego Comic-Con, a much more attended and increasingly more exclusive event.) Extending this courtesy should be a no brainer as it is good for the creator AND the convention to have more pros wandering around.
Well, that’s all she wrote! Did you attend Stan Lee’s Comikaze? What did you think? Until next time, EXCELSIOR!