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Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo Review: The Next Step Forward

By Shawn Marshall| September 17, 2012 | Comments Off on Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo Review: The Next Step Forward

Nearly one year after bursting onto the scene, Comikaze returned to the LA Convention Center. Although this version maintained an intense focus on providing a party-like experience for fans, there were many changes. With the combining of forces with Stan Lee’s group, Comikaze was reborn as Stan Lee’s Comikaze. With this change, the team came forward with some very ambitious plans. In fact, there were so many differences in scope and those involved in the planning of the show that it is fair to say that this version of Comikaze was an entirely different show than last year. They maintained the same desire to connect with fans, but the size and guest list were a seismic shift.

As with any new show, there are growing pains. As I said on Twitter over the weekend, we knew that we needed to prep a little more for the show this year than last year because of the size. In the end, we arrived about an hour and a half early (our standard arrival time for shows that are 30,000-60,000 attendees) and had no problems getting in. My wife does not get press passes, so we are always conscious of our needs to get to shows early, because she isn’t going to get any special treatment. This also helps me to get a real idea of the convention experience at each show, because it is easy to get disconnected when you always have media passes. I know that the line got bogged down and it became a real problem. I also know this registration process is a common problem at many shows, but the difference was the larger glut of attendees that were in attendance at Stan Lee’s Comikaze. Last year, it took over an hour for her to get registered at Gallifrey and they cap capacity at around 3,000. In the end, registration at Stan Lee’s Comikaze was a problem and they have acknowledged that. It was the mistake of a young con and it got more press because of the ambitious scope of the show. I have no concerns about this topic going forward. There are many things that the management team at Comikaze are good at and one of the most prolific is listening to their fans. The show has heard the complaints and they will remedy them for next year.

One of the things I liked best at the show is how loyal they stayed to their core philosophies, despite the huge growth. This is a very difficult thing to accomplish and I think that they did a good job of focusing on producing a party-like experience for their fans. I believe that Stan Lee’s Comikaze is developing its own identity, but I also think the show that they most closely mirror is DragonCon. The wide focus on programming and guests, as well as the commitment to cosplay all remind me of a young DragonCon. Last year, I identified four areas that I felt were cornerstones of the show. With a new group involved and a total change in scope, it would be easy to disconnect from those core values. So, here are some cornerstones to check in on:

1. Diversifying Vendors: Last year I was very impressed by the opening of the doors to a broad group of vendors. It allowed a little something for everyone. We all know that there is an old guard of con-goers that wants to see nothing more than comic bins and comic artists at a comic show. That being said, the con boom has occurred because so many shows have embraced diversity and culture over the simple focus on comics. The variety of vendors they brought to the show allowed hard core comic collectors to have their fun with bins of comics and creators all over the place, but at the same time there were plenty of vendors selling shirts, animation cells, art supplies, toys, and a variety of other things. That being said, I do think there are a few areas of growth that we might see going forward. As the show grew in size, the comic-core seemed to fall back in proportion to the “other” category. I hope to see a little more happen for next year in the way of bringing a larger focus on the mid-range comic creators and vendors. It’d be great to see some creators like Kyle Higgins, John Layman, George Perez and Mark Waid come out for Stan Lee Comikaze 2013.
2. Embracing Cosplay: Although all cons are okay with cosplayers (although, not always with their weapons), few push it the way that Comikaze has the last two years. The importance of cosplay to the energy of a con cannot be overstated and it was clear that Team Comikaze know this. Although you’ll never see me in a costume at a show, nor will you see me taking many pictures of cosplayers, I do understand and appreciate their contribution to the energy and excitement of a show. As I stated on this topic last time, they are critical.
3. Keeping Prices Friendly to Families: Last year Comikaze had to cut corners on things like programs to be able to allow such family-friendly pricing. There are very few shows out there that can give the fans a $35 weekend price and offer the amount of programming that this show did. On top of this, they maintained policies that made it so that children under 12 were absolutely free. Stan Lee Comikaze made it so that a family could afford a very fun weekend, so that they actually had money left over to spend at the actual show (something a few vendors told me they loved).
4. Focus on Quality: I know that some will cast stones about a few items here, but I ask that you consider the show with some perspective. This was the biggest show that LA has seen in a very long time and it was only their second (or possibly even first) year. The more I have reflected on the weekend, the more I feel that the quality level for a second year show of this size was extremely high. An important measure in this area of quality is how they responded to concerns from last year. If you look at the comparison, you’ll notice that they addressed every criticism fully and I think we’ll see even better for next year.

In the end, Comikaze Expo made quite a splash last weekend. Last year I made a call that I thought it would become a consistent show on the LA circuit for the foreseeable future. I felt that the ten year plan for the show is phenomenally optimistic and exciting. Happily, I can say that I feel even more confident about this prediction now. I also predicted that we’d see a third day added for 2013 and that looks to be coming true. This is going to help ease crowds and processing, but, even more importantly, it is the next logical step to becoming a cornerstone in the con market.

What do you think about the future of this show? Find me on Twitter (@The_Con_Fluence) and let me know what you think.

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