There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in order to pull off a decent comic/pop culture-centric convention. You’re automatically appealing to a wide range of fans, and even though you believe that simply piecing together merchandise booths and a small stage will satisfy them, you’ll have to add a lot more than that to keep everyone happy. Comikaze is an infant convention compared to most, and it has the kind of speed bumps one would normally expect from an event of this magnitude still trying to find it’s footing in the pop culture-centric world. At the same time, I found it incredibly difficult to walk through without noticing some painful flaws in its layout. By no means is Comikaze a failure as a convention – it’s actually pretty fun in some ways – but there is a lot of room for improvement.
If you read Topless Robot regularly, then you’ve probably come across Brian Hanson’s article bashing Comikaze’s SyFy reality show Fangasm. It does automatically paint a bad picture of the folks behind Comikaze, but don’t let that discourage you from visiting the event; if you live in California, you should definitely take advantage and go. Some fans even believe that the event is slandering the name of Stan Lee, but that’s not entirely true. Now I’ve heard a number of horror stories about how inept and generally awful Comikaze is within its first couple years, and that’s perked my interest about the event. Was the negative press true or not? That was my quest at this year’s Comikaze as I took part in the convention as a guest for the first time. Come along with me as I list out my top five best and worst things about the convention.
The Five Worst Parts About Comikaze
5. Celebrity Autographs
Every pop culture-like convention has their celebrity autograph section where you can meet your hero/role model/crush in person for a small price. Not only are some of the prices a little steeper than what I normally see at a convention (50 bucks for a picture with Michael Rooker? Ouch) but the layout of said area is just poorly executed. The booth where Stan Lee’s autograph area is located is hidden behind a number of curtain drapes. At first you walk through and think gee, this is a cool little museum area dedicated to all things Stan Lee…until you realize this is the part of the convention center where he’s going to be signing autographs on Saturday.
4. Artists Alley/Comic Book Vendors
In the same way that the Celebrity Autograph section was abused, Artists Alley suffered a much worst fate than other interpretations at different conventions. They weren’t shoved off to the corner or the side of the main floor, but quite the opposite. Comikaze wanted to try and prove that they admire and love independent artists just as much as the mainstream ones illustrating our favorite comic books. As a result they decide to place them right in the back middle section of the convention center, which is perfect because everyone will walk through that area. It’s just a shame that they’re wedged right in front of the Hot Topic Main Stage.
It’s so loud in that area between the panel and the people chatting in the general area. When you’re trying to talk to an artist near this section, it’s really difficult to hear them. Some would argue that art speaks for itself, but it would be nice if you could actually talk to those people who took the time and dedication to make these wonderful works of art. If you really care about them, place them in an area that will give them love but where we can hear everyone too.
And where were the comic-book booths? I barely found a couple of them in small sections of the convention center, hidden between some gaudy horror movie display or a random merchandise booth. There’s normally a bigger number of them in even smaller conventions of this sort, so the fact that I barely found any comic book vendors at all worried me, especially in Los Angeles where there are a considerable amount of great comic-book stores like Meltdown Comics or House of Secrets available for the public.
3. Communication Is Key
Many people have used the phrase “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” When you’re referring to the communication part of ComiKaze, it more or less relates to said phrase. There were a number of times where I would run into somebody working in information or security who had no idea what I was talking about when it pertained to the general layout of the convention (and, mind you, the convention is rather small compared to most).
One of the worst things about Comikaze that I experienced was those working the event. Throughout my time at the convention I never received a program, until I grabbed one from an empty table. When I was on the hunt for a panel room during the first day of the convention, I was completely unaware of where I was supposed to go for the panel I was taking part in shortly after the doors of Comikaze officially were open. It took some sleuthing, and some power-walking, to find out exactly where I had to go. To top it off, it took forever for me to obtain my press badge when the time came. I arrived rather early to grab it and take some time to lay out my plan on how to approach Friday at Comikaze and found myself in the press line over a half hour later, barely having moved a few inches from my original spot. It was a frustrating ordeal, but it appears as if they didn’t train their staff fast enough to prepare for the onslaught that was Comikaze. Now I do understand that there’s a lot to remember when it comes to an event of this magnitude, but this is a rather small convention and it should be easier for staff to remember where key booths are located for people to find.
2. Mismanagement of Panel Time
Perhaps one of the most criminal aspects of Comikaze is the time mapped out for certain key panels throughout the convention. The main one I’ll use as an example is Weird Al Yankovic. Now, this is a popular recording artist/comedian who has rarely ever participated in comic/pop culture conventions, and Comikaze was the first big one that he was a part of in the States. He was given less than a half hour onstage and the moderator was more concerned about advertising herself and the reality TV show she was on (Fangasm) rather than asking genuine questions that would really spark Weird Al and the audience’s attention. There were a couple of other panels, whether on the Hot Topic Main Stage or in one of the other rooms, where folks were given either too much or too little time to talk about a particular topic or person.
1. The Hot Topic Main Stage
This comes off as the weirdest sentence I’ve ever typed in a convention coverage piece, but I’ve finally found one that didn’t utilize the space that they had around them properly. Now, the idea of placing the main stage in the middle back of the main floor is brilliant, but only to a degree. Sure, you give the panelists an equal amount of exposure, far more than you could ever imagine at Comic-Con, but the general structure and acoustics of the main floor play a great disadvantage.
If it’s the middle of the day on Saturday and the Comikaze main floor is packed with people, you will barely be able to hear whoever it is on the stage, even IF you’re close to it. I tried my best to hear Stan Lee, and the Powerpuff Girls reunion panel, but there were so many people talking in that one big convention center area that it was hard to hear even with the microphones turned up full volume. It was even difficult to see people like Tara Strong on the Main Stage screen because there were two smaller screens being eaten up by a monstrous Comikaze sign that was already displayed on several banners around the stage. Yes, we know that we’re at Comikaze. Can we please see the person on the stage right now instead of an octopus?
There should also be seats for this area, not only because it makes the Hot Topic Main Stage appear more organized, but that way the disabled folks in our audience know where they could possibly sit closest to the stage instead of being shoved in the back, unable to move due to the sea of people. I understand the need to try and make it more accessible to everyone, that way they don’t miss out on key panels the same way many folks do at Comic-Con, but the general layout and where it’s set up is painfully wrong.
The Five Best Parts Of Comikaze
5. The Panels in General
Comikaze may have some flaws with its general layout, but at least they managed to do something right with the variety of panels they had on display. They weren’t just centered on just comic books or video games; you got everything. In one area you could attend a panel on how to break into the screenwriting business. If you were more of the interactive, brave type, you would find yourself over at the Dungeon Master show where you could be part of the fantasy adventure taking place in front of you. With the number of panels taking place at Comikaze, you get an immersive experience in different subjects, which is rather fun to learn.
4. The Interactive Areas
There’s only so much walking around a convention center that you can do until you realize how bored you’re feeling. Should you go venture forth somewhere else in the convention? No way – there’s plenty to still take part in at Comikaze. If you’re a cosplayer, there was a wonderful fashion show that you could sign up for where you can show off some of your latest hand made wares. And if your passion leans more towards the video game side of things, you could go to the cool gaming section of the convention. There were a number of old school video game consoles and arcade machines to play with.
It was really tempting to just sit in this part of Comikaze for the rest of the day and play Super Mario 3 in a soft, cushion-y chair.
3. The Cosplayers
Earlier in the convention I spoke to a vendor in artist alley who attends a number of smaller events similar to Comikaze. We both came to the realization that there are more cosplayers in the vicinity, than, say, WonderCon or Comic Con due to the size alone. There’s more room to experiment with possibly cool new outfits here without any sort of judgement from others. Cosplayers are normally sweet folk, but you need some place to really test out an outfit, see if it works or not, and what better place than Comikaze?
There were barely any Slave Leias to be seen in this vicinity (thank GOD) and instead attendees were flooded with a variety of different outfits, from an R2D2/Disney mash-up to various interpretations of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes.
2. Booth Diversity
One of the big advantages of being in an infant convention is the room they have to show off various products/people in booths that wouldn’t get a chance at a bigger venue. While I was walking around the convention, I found not only a cool number of artists that I have never seen at this point but some vendors, artists and even websites that got their chance to shine in Comikaze due to their ability to give places like these a chance with a booth on the main floor. I never would have learned about the website Geekscape or a wonderful artist like Devon Devereaux if they hadn’t been out on display here with the wonderful help of Comikaze. Good work, guys.
1. The Youth of Comikaze
This may be the millionth time I’ve reiterated this, but Comikaze is still a baby convention compared to most, and because of that it has so much potential. What I see isn’t just big mistakes, but room for an incredible amount of improvement on what could be the best convention in California. Rather than flaunting that they have Stan Lee’s name in front of it, there are a couple of genuinely good geeks in the mix that are really striving to make Comikaze the number one convention in California for all things comic and pop culture-related. There are a few conventions that strive to be bigger, but Comikaze has managed to keep their space rather small and intimate, so fans can easily walk around back and forth without being overwhelmed by the amount of things they can do.
But there’s still a lot to experience. In the end I had a bit of fun with Comikaze and while there may be some growing pains still, I can’t wait to see how they continue to expand next year.
Photos taken by Alan Falconer
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