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.”
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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Been going to comic-cons since I was 10 y.o. And even back then the promoters (G.B. Love and all) would ask for the entrance fee ‘up front”
“gotta pay for the hall” they’d say…That’s fine, but the staff were volunteers, and I swear they actually cared when you had a complaint.
Come with bags o’ cash, leave most of it, or you are DEAD TO US…another fun thing killed by greedy assholes.
Wow, so many things wrong here it just makes me angry. Where to even start.
The space was sparse by design. The wide aisles and open spaces were to ensure that Comikaze is the exact opposite of NYCC or SDCC. Not a packed sardine can, but nice and breezy and easily navigable without tripping over everyone, with plenty of space for picture taking without being in anyone’s way. The large lounge was there to alleviate the issues they had last year getting people through the doors. The queue was moved to the lounge so everyone didn’t have to wait out in the street, but after the morning rush, yes, that could be a large empty space.
Major publishers are kept out by design, to prevent the show from become a platform for a major media circus, like San Diego has become. That is why most of the tables are all artists and small press, as they are all, almost by definition, fans and not major corporations.
Smaller panels have always been held in the convention rooms. After all, it is at the Convention Center. The main stage was front and center, because, well, it’s front and center, the main attraction. It’s a different way of doing things, because that’s Comikaze’s M.O. It also allows casual fans to just be able to walk up and just see something, without having to traverse the dark halls of the convention center and leave the main hall to actively search something out.
If you somehow missed the program guide for the panels, I’m not sure how. Not only was the program available online a week in advance, but there were several boxes of them at the bottom of the escalator leading into the main hall, and at the information booth. They don’t print out and hand one to every guest, because frankly that would be wasteful and expensive. Everyone has a smartphone now and we shouldn’t need to kill that many trees, or the expense of all that needless printing.
I don’t understand how you couldn’t see or hear the main stage. There was a giant screen 20 feet in the air. If one six foot tall guy prevents you from seeing over him, just move back. As you said, there was plenty of wide open space. In fact. the entire space in front of the stage was kept extra wide just so people had a place to stand. My booth was 3 rows from the stage, and I could clearly see and hear almost everything all weekend, except for some of the larger panels when they had audio issues from having so many live mics.
I don’t know when you were at the Medieval Times show, but it had a pretty big audience the entire time. It also proved the concept as to why the main stage was in the middle of the floor. Because they were loud and boisterous, lots of people would just walk up to see what was going on who probably wouldn’t have gone and sought it out if they read it in a program, but who would take an interest in when the walked past it.
The staffer your unnamed vendor had issue with is totally in the right here. No one vendor or artist should be getting preferential treatment. It literally isn’t her job to help a vendor sell, or sell more, of their wares. It’s to setup an opportunity for all vendors to sell their merchandise. If your vendor thinks staff should be escorting customers to their tables for them, or standing behind their booth with them helping them shill product, they are sorely mistaken and they clearly need to re-evaluate their business model.
The roots of Comikaze aren’t grounded in money. Comikaze was founded but a bunch of fans who had been trying for years to get into SDCC, but even with all their Hollywood connections, (including part owner Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira), couldn’t make it happen, so they took a page out of Bender’s book and decided they would start their own. Hot Topic sponsors the stage not to line Comikaze’s pockets, but for cross promotion, and to keep ticket prices down. A one day ticket for only $20, and kids in free? That’s nearly unheard of. A one day ticket at a Wizard World can cost $60 in and of itself, plus I need one for each of my kids, making taking a family far more impractical. And sure, I don’t like Hot Topic any more than you do, but for the more casual fan, Hot Topic may be far more accessible entry point to fandom than their local comic book shop.
Comikaze doesn’t make any money on the Guests, unlike other shows. Guess also aren’t paid to be there. All the guests are there because they want to be there as fans themselves, or agree for some type of cross sell. Anything a guest sells at their both is for them and not Comikaze. This type of quid pro quo allows Comikaze to get the absolute best bang for their buck, and that is passed along to you, the fan, in more variety of guests, panels, and artists, and lower costs. So yeah, San Diego may be bigger and have more, but you’ll be able to do much more at Comikaze becasue you spent less getting there. And are guests likely to just walk the aisles of the hall casually without some huge entourage at SDCC? They do at Comikaze. I ran into Chris Hardwick, the Pete and Pete boys, and the whole cast of Fangasm, and they all stopped and chatted with me for a good 5 minutes. Good luck having that happen and a bigger more corporate affair. I saw Kevin Smith on the floor at NYCC. From 30 feet away. Surrounded by a security team.
Comikaze has always been a con made by fans, for other fans. It’s entire raison d’être is to cater to a need in fandom that wasn’t being met. That being an easily accessible, non wallet busting con that you didn’t need to know someone who knew someone to get tickets to, and that was laid back and you wouldn’t be afraid to take the entire family to. It’s not like a Wizard World, which has degraded to the point that it is clearly about the almighty dollar first. Comikaze doesn’t run their con to make money, they run their con because they genuinely love their fandoms. They just happen to make a little money from booth costs, ticket and tshirt sales while there at it.
While we respect your views, we have to take exception to several of your statements. No, there was no audience during the Medieval Knights performance when we attended. There was, however, a crowd of videographers elbow to elbow filming it, and they were right up in front, pretty much blocking the stage with a solid wall of people, about half of whom had large cameras perched on their shoulders. If you wanted to see what was going on, you had to look at the overhead monitors. The central display was simply a sign with the Comikaze octopus on it, so the action was on the side monitors. Most people simply walked by, because the only real accommodations had been made for the press, not the spectators. Again, no seating was provided at all. Anyone who couldn’t stand for an extended period wasn’t going to be spending much time there. We also stand by the question of why it had to be Hot Topic – they have so little to do with the event that they might as well have courted Motorola, or Ford.
The ticket price was $25 a head to get in, and for just one day, so a bit more than you state. Kids in free at conventions is certainly a standard, not an exception, so no ribbon there either.
The vendor situation was indeed a problem – it is the job of the event coordinators to help each vendor do the best they can at the events, and other conventions do a vastly better job of this. It’s called “hospitality”. Vendors don’t expect disproportionate service compared to other vendors, but they do expect to be taken care of to a degree so that they can get on with the business side of things without having to fight to get basic information or services from the convention that all vendors should get. Several vendors we spoke to said that their returns from Comikaze were not as good as at other local conventions a fifth the size, and we believe it’s due in part to the laissez-faire attitude we repeatedly encountered at Comikaze.
The large open spaces were not set up that way to make the experience easier for the convention goers, they were there because the floor was undersold. They put cars on the floor to try to fill the space to make it look more full than it was, with clearance around the cars 20 feet on a side. They had sold about the same number of vendor tables as they had last year – but moved the lectures out of the faux “lecture rooms” made of pipe stands and curtains into real honest to gosh lecture halls this year. This was a huge improvement for the panels and the attendees, who didn’t have to strain to hear or be heard, but it left immense areas on the exhibit floor at the edges where there was just nothing.
The fact that program guides were not made available with the badges and the convention goers left to fend for themselves to figure out where they might find one is simply unacceptable. Every other convention can afford this, from conventions like SDCC on down to the local one day conventions, from the largest to the smallest – apparently, except Comikaze. Again, most people we observed simply did not have a program. Those that found them, or that looked them up online, were at the panels, but the panels would have been much better attended had scarcity and lack of direction on where to get a program guide not been an issue. If a convention sells a lot more tickets by intention than they have program guides for, what does that say about them?
Not having paid guests and passing the savings on to the attendees is sort of a null point as well. Few conventions pay guests to appear, as most have some project or activity that they want to promote, so they come out on their own dime. This is really not something unusual or remarkable that Comikaze did, it’s just the same as other conventions.
We’re sure the convention was originally created by and for the fans. But it was immediately snapped up and rebranded as Stan Lee’s ComiKaze Expo, and suddenly that changed, and not for the better.