by Gene Turnbow

Stan Lee’s Comikaze happened this past November 1-3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. There were a lot of cosplayers in attendance, and we were happy to see some actual fans at the convention and some of their amazing craftsmanship and execution.  There was even a Lakers-themed Iron Man, and a Victorian “Iron Lady”, complete with crenolated skirts and repulsor beams.  But by far the single most interesting exhibit was the one set up by Stan Winston Studio, the fabricators of amazing costumes and props for the Iron Man, Thor and Avengers movies.  We actually got to stand within a couple of feet of the maquettes of these remarkable builds and took pictures – not just for the gee whiz factor, but to document the detail in these designs for the more ambitious costumer, so we took the opportunity to just snap the stuff from every angle we could.  It may not be the sexiest story on Comikaze out there this year, but it depends on your point of view.

The real suits in the movies were often computer graphics when worn by the screen talent, mostly because of the practicality of moving around in them, or because they had to fly in the scenes.  But this hasn’t stopped the more skilled fans from making suits that you can actually walk around in. If you’re doing Iron Man recreations, this may be the photo set you’re looking for.  Besides, it’s engaging to see just how really detailed this stuff looks close up, and frankly, we geek out over exactly this sort of thing.  At the bottom of this article you can see a really detail heavy collection of pictures of the various Iron Man suits, with emphasis on the ones you don’t usually see closeup pictures of: the original first suit built by Stark in the cave, and the unmanned battle drone suits from the first movie.  Interestingly, a close-up examination of the battle drone suits suggests that they built the chest cavities big enough that you could actually put a man in those suits anyway.  Seeing out might be a problem, but with a little subtle redimensioning you could fit a person in one.  Or build one around a person. We think that lack of good reference material may be the only reason conventions aren’t swarming with these suits.

Problem solved.  You’re welcome.

 

The rest of the convention was surprisingly sparse – the exhibit hall looked like they were trying to make a small convention look bigger.  Triple width aisles, big empty unused spaces, and Marvel and DC were noteworthy by their absence. The plus side was that a whole lot of independent publishers, artists and writers were there.  The collection of panels this year were actually held in lecture halls instead of being shuffled into little curtained off areas of the main exhibition area, so you could actually hear the panelists speak, if you went to them. Sadly, most people didn’t know they were even there, because nobody got program guides when they got their membership badges.  You could get one if you hunted for one, but you had to know to ask, and be lucky enough to ask somebody who knew.

There was a main stage – sponsored by Hot Topic.  Yes, we understand they carry a ton of pop culture clothing and accessories – but it paints a pretty clear picture of the real roots of the convention and those roots don’t have a lot to do with fandom.   Hot Topic doesn’t create anything that actually adds to the world of science fiction and fantasy.  They just merchandise, selling licensed products based on what others make. In the fandom food chain, they’re third tier, or fourth.

The stage was curiously planted dead center in the back of the exhibit hall, with no seating.  One couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd of six foot tall video teams there from the various press services, so there was essentially no audience to speak of for the major events – not that you could hear anything anyway, since the exhibit hall noise and the noise from the stage were in continuous cacophonous combat.

One event was dramatized medieval combat, and it was rather brilliantly done.   You’d expect that, because the knights were from Medieval Times, from the theme restaurant in Anaheim, California.  But what was not brilliant was how we learned they were there.  Again, remember, no program guides to work from, so we followed the sound of thunderous cheering from the back of the exhibit hall.   When we got to the back, all we saw was a crowd of media videographers, and on the overhead monitors we saw the staged swordplay.

And that’s when we discovered that the wild cheering was prerecorded.  There was no actual audience.  It was all faked.  Rather than deriving from a genuine respect and involvement with the fans, the air of excitement and enthusiasm had been carefully fabricated.

Really?  Really?  Is this what we’ve come to expect from our sci-fi and comics conventions?  Chicanery?

The Comikaze convention runners are trying to get the most out of the smallest amount of resources, and while we admire that kind of resourcefulness, conventions are celebrations of fandom, not how much money you can squeeze out of the attendees and vendors.  One such vendor, who asked to be unnamed, told us they were stunned when the person handling vendor relations for the convention told them that  “it’s not my job to help sell or setup a situation where you can sell more.”

Spit take.

Once we got over the sticker shock at the box office, and the last minute surprise of not being able to bring our video team due to Comikaze’s unwillingness to give us enough press passes to make that practical, we found ourselves in the good company of fans and creatives – but these same people can be found at other conventions, and better ones.

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