Over its five year history, Stanley Lieber’s Comikaze Expo has had a growth best described as “like clockwork”. Sometimes even expanding before they could fill their space; leaving a legacy of huge floor gaps and just flat out weird fillers. 2015 marks a legit arrival for Comikaze Expo. Moving the main vendor and artist alley into the more comfortable West Hall of Los Angeles Convention Center, expanding cosplay focus, and not allowing the main stage to hinder exhibitor booths all had a big impact on show presentation making this one Stan Lee’s best showing yet.
From the time you enter the convention center doors, the atmosphere hits you using a lobby bursting with cosplayers ranging from various Harley Quinns to obscure movie references and everything in between. Tons of cosplayer sites staked out corners of the con center lobby and underground parking garage to set up semi-pro photoshoots. With all the downtown overlooks and unused stairwells in it; LACC is actually one of more photogenic convention centers around. As a pleasant latent effect, these impromptu shoots create a mini attraction for attendees to stare and take their own photos. One of the noticeable effects on the floor is a reduction of people clogging the aisles by stopping to take pictures with those cosgoers.
Comikaze has a had a partnership with angsty hipster clothing retailer Hot Topic for some time and its grown to create some big floor exhibits with more partners like Lootcrate, Funko, and a few others. If you’re a comic convention goer and you can’t see either of the big two publishers then you want stuff you’d at least have to go to SDCC to see and the Comikaze team does a solid job of bringing pieces of that experience. Of course the real identity of the show is capitalizing on the Stan Lee name. From toys, clothes, skateboards, to the Stan Lee mega museum all serve to transform the convention center into a shrine for the godfather of pop culture. It’s still a kick to see people mesmerized by all the various things Stan’s brand has touched over the years.
No matter whose at the helm, without the big names fans want to see any show is no more than a glorified flea market. Comikaze didn’t have a deep line up but had some major names in comics and entertainment for fans to interact with. Names such as Grant Morrisson, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, DMC, and Elvira. That line up alone is enough to move any needle.
One of the problems the show has had in the past is not being able to figure out a consistent way to incorporate artist alley. I still have nightmares about the year it was essentially just a barrier to the main stage causing knocked over merchandise and some unhappy exhibitors. This year they simplified by keeping AA with the main hall presentation but separating it into its own block on the floor. It was hard to gage how well exhibitors in AA did. Overall most attendees were walking with some sort of bag of goods, both from AA and the booths, in hand. It’s a testament to the shows growth because at one point Comikaze was notorious for being a show with more lookie loos than shoppers. Every show smaller than Emerald City has the challenge of teaching their audience to be customers and every show handles it differently. It could be Comikaze is finally using their attractions as selling tools. Hel*, even I dropped cash and I haven’t purchased anything at a con in three years.
Every show has its issues and Comikaze was no exception. It’s a weird position to be in when you have more than one hall can accommodate yet not quite enough for two. All the celebrity autographs, cosplayers, gaming, and Star Cars were moved into a small part of the South Hall along with the Hot Topic main stage while everything else nested in West Hall. With most of the comic book attractions in the opposite hall, if fans wanted to hear Grant Morrisson you had to trek through half a mile of humanity to get to it. It seems there could be a better trade off to not have the stage disturb exhibitors yet still be convienent for comic fans. That still wasn’t the area’s biggest issue. Looking in from the street there was a noticeable lack of signage to even indicate anything expo related was happening there and even in the south lobby the entrance for the Comikaze part was hard to find. At its five year mark it’s apparent Comikaze still has some growing pains, but they’ve managed to learn and not repeat previous mistakes. So you can expect to see fixes for all this for the 2016 show.
Ultimately this year’s Kamikaze Expo got more right than any previous year. With the looming giant of Wondercon invading Los Angeles Convention Center in 2016, Comikaze had to demonstrate they could put on a memorable outing to prevent obsolescence. Not only did they accomplish the goal but put forth tons of opportunities for future growth. It’ll be interesting to see how these two shows affect each other next year.
You can follow Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo on their website for more info on their 2016 dates.