Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo
- Huge cosplay presence
- Top-tier programming and guest lineup
- Family/kid friendly
- Large exhibit hall
- Public transit accessible
- Lack of comic presence
- Difficult parking
- Main Stage programming venue troublesome
- Crowded Saturdays
Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo draws a big, fun crowd of cosplayers and families with young kids and boasts an impressive guest list – but comic fans lured by Stan Lee’s name may be underwhelmed by the comic presence.
Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo has now firmly planted its flag on Halloween weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center, after a few years of trial and error. It’s on track to keep growing in the coming years as a great local convention, particularly for families with young kids looking to do something on Halloween that isn’t scary.
Comikaze is expanding further into the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2015, so we’ll be interested to see how this affects their layout and logistics; since we haven’t experienced this new space yet, the comments here are based on previous years.
Cosplay at Comikaze is huge, with a great deal of cosplayers listed as official guests and even more exhibiting on the show floor, plus countless cosplay related panels on the programming schedule. The last panel on the Main Stage on Saturday is the Costume Contest, which is well-attended and features some impressive entries. It also offers a cash prize for both individuals and groups.
But the Costume Contest is not the centerpiece Saturday night event like it would be at most other shows – it’s simply the last panel of the schedule for the day. So to compensate, Comikaze introduced a free after party at Club Nokia in 2014, which is about a 5 minute walk from the convention center. It’s age 18+ but offers a cash bar, a DJ, and live entertainment. The combination of awkward geeks and festive cosplayers makes for a weird atmosphere, but if you’re looking to keep the spirit of the con going into the night, it’s the place to be.
Back on the exhibit floor, there are no major comic publishers present as exhibitors; comics programming has grown over the years, but things like cosplay have outpaced it. And though the comics presence still seems to be lacking, it’s even weirder that this LA-based convention doesn’t have a bigger TV and film presence. For example, the 2014 Comikaze Sleepy Hollow panel wasn’t even half full – at San Diego Comic-Con just a few months prior, the same show had a full room while long lines of fans outside still clamored to get in. However, the 2015 event promises a whole Bob’s Burgers pavilion – a sign that perhaps local productions are finally beginning to really tap into Comikaze.
The highlight of the exhibit hall is the Stan Lee Museum, which occupies the far end of the hall near the autograph area and features a stunning array of vintage comic and pop art memorabilia.
Programming improves each year, with bigger celebrity guests hosting their own Q&A sessions (like John Barrowman in 2014, to a standing-room only space). Sadly upstairs programming rooms aren’t huge and have trouble accommodating the kind of crowds one might typically expect for a panel like Barrowman’s. They suit the smaller panels well, but big panels are either stuck with rooms that are too small or held on the Main Stage.
The Main Stage is listed in the event guide like it’s a programming room, but it’s actually just a large stage towards the back of the exhibit hall. Some attendees are fans of the Main Stage, saying it makes it easier for chronic floor-wanderers to drop in and out of panels. It also has the added benefit of drawing in an audience that may not have known about the subject being discussed.
But the Main Stage comes with a host of problems that, to us, are a serious detriment to the show. It’s standing room only – making it difficult, if not impossible, for the vertically challenged among us to see anything that’s going on (kids especially). Fortunately the area is open and wide enough that a crush should never be an issue, but it’s still not particularly comfortable standing towards the front of the crowd. And the loud sound is troublesome for nearby exhibitors, who are mostly fan groups and artists.
And while Comikaze is a generally a very family-friendly show, the Main Stage programming is sometimes at odds with that: take, for example, a past MadTV cast reunion panel that was held on the Main Stage. MadTV was a late night sketch comedy show with late night sensibilities, and its cast did not hold back during their panel – everything from profanity to sexually explicit jokes. Panelists shouldn’t have to censor themselves, particularly if they’re on a panel that was intended to discuss mature content. But holding panels in the middle of the exhibit hall with loud amplified sound makes it impossible for uninterested attendees to avoid the panel.
Outside, the lobby of the LA Convention Center is a remarkably wonderful place for cosplay photos, given the immense amount of natural light available. It’s easy to kill an hours of downtime by people-watching in the lobby. And since the LACC is massive, there’s plenty of room to expand – as mentioned above, Comikaze is already taking advantage of this.
But the downside of hosting an event in Downtown LA is that stereotypical LA problem: parking. Parking at the convention center itself is notoriously expensive ($20 per vehicle in 2014) and fills up quickly. Surrounding surface lots cost about the same, are often not particularly secure, and may require a long walk through the not-so-nice streets of DTLA.
We recommend commuting to the show via the Metro light rail: the Pico station (Blue & Expo lines) is one block from the convention center. It’s a short walk that’s safe and easy even after nightfall. Since the LA Metro now allows free transfers, it’ll cost you $1.75 each way.