Comikaze is a comic book convention now in its fourth year of existence. It went from a convention started by a brother and sister to being owned by Stan Lee within a few years. There is no secret to Stan's impact on the comic industry, can the convention that bares his name continue to grow, or has it hit an early peak? Where does it shine and where does it need some work? We headed back to the familiar ground of the Los Angeles Convention Center to find out...
There was a new hotel in the area as of the spring of this year, and I have been curious about it since I heard about it, the Residence Inn of Downtown Los Angeles. After spending three full days in this location, I have a new favorite hotel in this area.
Let’s start with the fact that their standard rooms are the size of a small studio apartment. The bedroom shared space with the living area. You heard me… a living area, with a couch, a lounge extension, and a small table. In addition to all of this, there is a KITCHEN in the rooms! The kitchen had a full refrigerator, a pan for general cooking, a colander, and place settings for four people. This is the place where you can get off your ramen-only-for-conventions habits and cook an honest meal to keep you going.
The staff here is very helpful, too. I had issues getting around early on. The people behind the counter didn’t hesitate to step out from behind it to show me around or help me open a door I was told I could unlock to get to the Lounge. Not only that, but after ordering pizza one night, 6 of the 8 dishes in the room were dirty. I piled them in the sink with the full intention of washing them on our last day. Once we were done with a late photo shoot, we started packing to leave the next day, and I couldn’t find the dishes to wash. After a couple of minutes, I found them, in the dishwasher, and the washer had been run. Since everyone in the room said we hadn’t done it, we can only assume that housekeeping was nice enough to have those dishes cleaned in case we need them again.
This place is awesome and is now my first choice.
Comikaze had a list of hotels that will sound similar to fans of Anime Expo, like the J.W. Marriott, the Luxe, The Courtyard Inn, the Millennium Biltmore, and the Bonaventure, among others. The problem is there isn’t a hotel that is closer than a block away from the Los Angeles Convention Center. If you have one or two specific purposes at a convention, or are not planning to change costumes frequently, this isn’t a bad thing. However, if you have a busy schedule, there is no shuttle system to ferry you quickly, and that means that you won’t have to opportunities to change or rest if you are going from panel to cosplay gathering to panel, so you’ll have to pack like a journeyman to keep your fangasm going.
There was never much of a line for registration at the convention. Things ran quickly, and the company running Comikaze was smart enough to be over-prepared for the amount of people expected. There were nearly two dozen stations set to scan barcodes from online-bought registrations to send them to a few printers which you pick up with a badge holder and a lanyard.
There are no registration packs given to you at registration, but there are several kiosks holding stacks of
program guides for you to pick up at your leisure.
In short, registration is a pretty fast affair. They don’t spend time creating bottlenecks or making winding
lines, since they spend time limiting lines and keeping you moving. In the end, that’s all you can ask of
this section of a convention’s operations, right?
I have developed a real love/hate relationship with this convention center, and that relationship was further stoked during Comikaze.
The building has been used in several movie shoots and has a very distinctive look, but the fixtures are not aging well. I believe the last expansion to the building occurred in the 1997. As someone who has been alive in the last couple of decades can tell you, technology has taken leaps since the last time the infrastructure of the LACC has been updated.
Also, the staff here, not Comikaze’s staff, but the Los Angeles Convention Center staff, is downright surly, if not openly hostile. This is an actual conversation between me and an Elite Staffer, one of the people hired by the convention center:
(I stood a good 10 feet back, and she started yelling towards two girls trying to get a view of a guest
leaving the main stage.)
CC STAFF: Would you please move back? No, you can’t see him! You need to move back!
(The girls moved back, but she kept yelling without looking at anyone.)
CC STAFF: You need to move back!
(I still didn’t see anyone directing anything at me, and I just stood waiting to see the direction of a guest.)
CC STAFF: You have to move! (loud muttering in a different direction) Dammit, I need a radio.
CC STAFF: You, get back!
ME: Me? Sorry, I was waiting to see someone.
CC STAFF: Stan Lee ain’t here! Move it!
ME: I’m not here to see Stan.
CC STAFF: Well, he ain’t here!
ME: (I saw the person I was referring to walking by.) That’s him. Excuse me.
CC STAFF: Well there he is! Go on, then!
Me: Thanks! Rude!
So, per previous reviews of the Los Angeles Convention Center staff, they really don’t know how to respond to fan convention-goers, nor do they have any customer service skills. They just tend to be brusk and stand-offish. If you can avoid them, it’s highly recommended.
The layout of the Dealer’s Hall at this convention is a real work of art. There is a large main aisle down the middle of the hall. The walking areas between all aisles is larger than the average convention, giving more possibility for casual browsing and traffic freedom. The far right side of the hall has both the Stan Lee museum, Elvira’s area, and the Autograph area which had Power Rangers, Eric Roberts, John Barrowman and other stars. On the far left side, including the additional Hall G, was a large seating area for people to use, but during the early mornings, they also use this as a place to hold the line for the Dealer’s Hall. This is effective to both keep people out of the elements, but it also gives shoppers a chance to salivate prior to buying.
The Main Stage was at the rear-center of the hall, giving people solid reasons to visit the Dealer’s Hall multiple times and walk by several booths and gives fans the opportunity to second-guess a purchase they haven’t made. It is a smart way to keep people coming, even though they think they are done shopping.
Lastly, there is the Artist Alley area, which inhabited a lot of the central space of the Dealer’s Hall. The artists weren’t locked away in a different room or segregated to the far end of the hall, but were given the chance to mingle and show their wares to people who may usually dismiss them or choose not to visit a separate room for artists.
This space is well designed and should be used by other conventions to maximize the exposure of multiple types of vendors.
I think that Comikaze’s greatest strength is its panels.
There is a host of panels that has become the norm at recent conventions regarding how to turn your hobby into a career, how to crowdfund properly, how to cosplay, how to pose in cosplay, and others. Moreover, there was a clip played from 3D Cosplay Dreams, a new 3D cosplay documentary filmed in the last year.
The most notable panels often happened at the Main Stage at the back of the Dealer’s Hall. At that stage, I saw Stan Lee multiple times, some Power Rangers actors, Jewel Staite, John Barrowman, and a 6-foot tall Hulk cake. (Yes, you read that last phrase correctly.)
I know I was highly interested in Yoshiki’s panel, but when Stan Lee came out with him to announce their collaboration on a new graphic novel, Blood Red Dragon, that was both a fun surprise, and an interesting discussion when Stan talked about Yoshiki’s multiple accomplishments.
You do have the opportunity to rub elbows with some of your favorite genre stars, possibly in a format better than Comic-Con, but I may not be the best person to ask, since star-chasing has never been high on my personal priority list.
Cosplay at Comikaze is much more prevalent than at your average comic book convention, but it isn’t as dense as a lot of anime conventions. I saw a variance of different characters and a lot of care put in into their costumes. I even saw some comic book characters I am very familiar with in the real world for the first time in my existence. The people tended to be very fun and willing to stop for a picture, even when they were in a hurry.
The convention also had a cosplay repair station and lounge set up for people to do quick repairs or just kick up their feet and relax. The station appeared to have a multitude of tools to fix minor problems short of your seams coming undone.
Comikaze, in my opinion, anyway, has suffered from a lack of a central online forum for people to list any potential gatherings. I only learned of the DC and Marvel gatherings on the first day of the convention after running a Facebook search. Unfortunately, the DC shoot ran right up against another panel I already planned to see. This would mean that unless you either start a group, or are actively searching for a specific cosplay gathering on the Internet, you have a decent chance of not being aware it occurred unless you happen to be in the place and time of the gathering by sheer coincidence.
The staff of this convention the last couple of years has been among the better staffers I encounter in my year in California. The staff here has remained professional and very direct. There are some issues with consistency, though. On Day 1, in front of the main stage was a roped off area we were told was for press, so I and others from other organizations used this section to get photos and take notes. On Day 2, I went back into that space and was there through one panel and waited for a second. When that second panel started was when a staffer I had seen twice suddenly said I couldn’t stand there and the area was for staff only. When I asked when that changed, she said it’s the same it has always been. I know that’s not correct when I spent time talking to a staff photographer the day before and even handed him my card stating where I was from.
I don’t mind that I can’t be at the front for photos, but when the rules change mid-convention is both confusing and frustrating.
While the building is in a convenient location to reach from most sections of the city north of Orange County, it has several things that make it less accessible in regards to some conventions. First, there is the lack of a hotel adjacent to the convention center. You’re going to be walking for 5 to 10 minutes to get to your hotel from the convention center on average. Next, there are no moderately priced restaurants nearby. You should budget about $14 per meal these days (before tax or tip) to make sure you have money to eat.
Part of the meal issue is dealt with by food trucks that are brought in, but the trucks are paying extra fees to the company running concessions for the Los Angeles Convention Center and, as with a lot of businesses, those costs are passed on to the consumer via higher prices. After looking at a sandwich from a food truck costing $12.00 with a 20-minute wait, suddenly walking away from the convention to use a table and a chair and buying a full meal for a couple of dollars more doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
There are also some homeless wandering the area and are active panhandlers since this is a very expensive section of town. While there has been a lot of gentrification in the area, it is not the easiest area to safely navigate. There are some small streets very near even my hotel that I didn’t want to wander, and I doubt anyone should accidentally wind up on the other side of the 110 freeway.
The nights around here were very busy. Due to the delay in Comikaze going from mid-October to November, we had to contend with two NBA Basketball games in three days of Comikaze. We even had a sports fan dressed from neck to toes in L.A. Clippers gear and wearing a bright red afro wig comment on how strange someone’s cosplay of Meridah from Brave and Rapunzel from Tangeled as zombie survivors was. Some people say “potato”, I guess…
But, the area does have more than a few things for people to do at night. There is a grip of places to go including higher end restaurants, bars, and a couple of quieter dance spots to go. In fact, Comikaze itself hosted an after-party on Day 2 that was complimentary to Day 2 or full weekend badge holders at Club Nokia. Inside, they had a photo booth, a DJ busily spinning music, and active staff that weren’t just alert, they were courteous, too.
Even with everything you have read above, I feel like this year was a step backwards for this convention. The attendance numbers aren’t out, but it seemed like less people showed up and the fan community here was less active than just last year. I’m not sure if this was because the convention ended up on Halloween, if it was because it was later in the year than it was in its first three years making it contend more with the holiday season, if there was some shift in management that trickled down to the operations level, or if people just didn’t find the guests as intriguing as last year. I couldn’t find a good reason for this perceived tick down, or why my own feeling on the convention was that it wasn’t as much fun as last year.
I still think this is a convention that is well worth the visit given your chances to get something signed by a talented artist or writer and how this convention really feels like it was built by fans for other fans, but there is a feeling that something is going to need fixing to make this convention truly great again.
I hope they figure that out sooner than later.