Welcome back to the occasional column Convention Attention! I recently got an amazing opportunity to interview Regina Carpinelli, the co-founder of Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo, and Regina is as amazing as you think. She started with a dream and now she’s running one of the fastest growing ComicCons in the country. This year, Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo runs Oct 30 through Nov 1 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Guests of honor this year include Carrie Fisher, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Alisa Reyes, Summer Glau, Phil Lamarr, and of course Elvira the Mistress of Darkness and Stan Lee himself. Panel topics include cosplay, geek fashion, Adult Swim cartoons, the legacy of Power Rangers, how to write video games, comic book creation, and so much more. Click here for more info about the Expo, and click here for a list of featured guests.
Pretty impressive right? Just wait till you find out how it got started!
Andrea Johnson: let’s start with the big fun question: with so many ComiCons across the country competing for attendees, why did you want to start a new one?
Regina Carpinelli: Well, my brothers and I grew up going to San Diego Comic Con. In 2010 we were unable to get tickets, and it was a major bummer for us since we had been going for so many years. We went to another local convention and felt like it was lack-luster and didn’t have enough fun content for the price, so we decided to make our own show. We wanted to make an event that was A++ all the way around. We also wanted it to be accessible and affordable. There was no convention in LA — many had tried but all had failed (we did not know this at the time) — so we were like, LETS MAKE IT IN LA! We really had no idea what we were doing, but we had a dream and a lot of passion, and Comikaze was born!
AJ: Comikaze started in 2011. What was that first event like? Was it what you expected?
RC: The first event was amazing and chaotic all at the same time. When we started, we knew we wanted to make a really amazing event, but didn’t know anyone. We just knew we wanted it to be cool and to have people we wanted to see, like Stan and Elvira. I harrased Stan Lee’s and Elvira’s managers to get them to be guests, and it was either going to be a “yes” or a restraining order. Thankfully, they said yes! The day of the show we were only expecting about 2000 attendees, way more showed up! We were pulling friends and family off the show floor to help us work. We were also in the basement of the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the floor looked very similar to the movie District 9. A ton went wrong, but the majority of people LOVED IT, including Stan and Elvira, who shortly after the show became partners, and we changed our name to Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo. I guess we broke the curse of LA conventions because we had such a high level or attendees, and here we still are 5 years later. I read that 80% of conventions fail the first year. It really was an amazing miracle that ours survived. It was more than we ever expected and I am thankful everyday that I get to wake up and work on this dream with my best friends. It really is a humbling and proud moment to now see how much we have grown, and how our show is one of the best in the country. We even won Nerd Con of the Year in 2014.
AJ: In 2013, you were involved with the SyFy tv show Fangasm. Can you tell us more about that experience? Is TV something you’d like to do more of?
RC: It was a really awesome experience, it was really cool getting to work with these kids who were all so nerdy and who all have such a passion for all things geek. The kids were all amazing, and I am so thankful to still have them in my life, and see them grow and come to Comikaze with their new projects, and still act as a mentor to them. I am always down to do more TV — I am not gonna lie, it was a little hard filming the show and planning a convention at the same time — but if it’s the right project and has a positive message, I am more than happy to oblige. For me, I always want to inspire people. I personally have dealt with, and overcome, a lot of personal struggles, and I always want people to know that no matter if you have a disability, or you struggle with something like Bipolar Disorder, or have come from abuse or maybe have financial struggles, your life is yours to control, and with hard work and determination anything can happen. The road might not be easy, but you can always get through anything, and make anything happen. If I can do it, so can you.
AJ: Attending conventions has never been known as a cheap hobby, and Comikaze is known as one of the more affordable West Coast ComiCons. Was affordability always a planning goal?
RC: It was. We always wanted to be a champagne show at a beer price. We wanted to be a show where you can get tickets on the cheap and bring your kids in and still have money left over to buy stuff from our vendors. My partner Keith even came up with a really brilliant plan to help keep money in the pockets of attendees, while at the same time getting them autographs. Over the summer, we put only our 3-day tickets on sale for discounted rate of $55. We also had several thousand of these $55 3-day tickets that came with a free autograph from one of our guests. Things like this, combined with always having great prices for a great show and tons of promo codes ranging from 10%-20% off floating around, really make a difference and allows our fans to have more pocket money. We are also really big on telling fans to take the Metro or carpool or use our Lyft code “comikaze” for a free ride, and pack a lunch so they can save money on parking and food.
AJ: What are some of your favorite experiences from Comikaze?
RC: Since 2012 when we put in the Hot Topic Main Stage, every year I go up and introduce some of our key panels. Every Saturday of the show I introduce one of Stan’s panels, and I walk out with Stan, and we both take a moment before we start talking to just look at the HUGE crowd of fans who have come to Comikaze. Stan always smiles and winks at me and tells me we did an amazing job, and then we start his panel. Being on stage with Stan and having him be your partner is an amazing experience as it is, but sharing this small private moment with fifty thousand people in front of you, and having Stan just tell you with no microphone how proud he is of you, is such a wonderful thing. It’s like being in the eye of the storm. I also LOVE hearing stories from our vendors or artists or cosplayers, about how someone from the entertainment industry approached them and hired them for a job, or their project got funded on the show floor. We have always been committed to the idea that vendors don’t just purchase booth space and then, “good luck!” We are about promoting everyone, and bringing the brands to the fans and the fans to the brands. We want to see people coming to the show and being discovered. We want to see vendors make some money right before the holidays. The rising tide lifts all ships!
AJ: This year, Comikaze is proud to present the first ever Cosplay National Championship. I am a terrible cosplayer (although I enjoy it!). have you got any tips for non-confident cosplayers?
RC: There is no such thing as a terrible cosplayer. Cosplay is for everyone, and I applaud and have mad respect for anyone who cosplays, be it for fun or competitive, or in an outfit that cost $2,000 or was made from tin foil and paper bags. All cosplay is amazing and fun! Cosplay should always be about you ,and you having fun. It doesn’t matter your age, size, shape, color, ability, or costume. If you want to cosplay, then do it. Comikaze is a convention where everyone is accepted, and we love seeing people dress up, where you can be with like-minded people who share your passions.
AJ: You’ve been attending San Diego Comic-Con for years. How have Comic-Cons and the con going experience changed over the years?
RC: Well, I have been attending SDCC since the mid 90’s, almost 20 years. It was always the only convention I went to, and I got to see it grow and evolve, which is actually really cool. I remember a time when you could walk up and buy tickets at the door, and your friends in high school would have tables in artist alley selling their ‘Zines. So much has changed! There is now a Comic Convention in almost every state or major city. They are not affiliated with San Diego, but I think it’s cool that people everywhere can go to a geeky event and nerd out. It seems a lot of the newer shows focus on autographs more than comics. For us, comics are always first and foremost. Every year, we try to bring the best in comics to the show, and are very proud to have comic greats like Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Grant Morrison, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Mike Mignola and so many more. We also have over 600 amazing vendors from huge brands like Hot Topic and Sanrio to mom and pop shops and of course we also have a great list of celebrity guests like Carrie Fisher, Summer Glau, cast from All That!, Sons of Anarchy and Spartacus, and the most amazing panels. At Comikaze, we always want to have something for everyone.
AJ: Where do you see Comikaze five years from now?
RC: My partner Keith and I have the same vision, for Comikaze Weekend to be THE #1 event in Los Angeles. LA’s culture is completely unique, not just in the US but in the world. We have the most creative, talented people in the known universe. We create the entertainment that the world consumes. And the only celebrations we get are formal, black-tie affairs or film premieres, and those all have very exclusive guest lists. Those celebrations are great, but we need a party that EVERYONE can attend. And Comikaze is that party! Comikaze is Los Angeles’ celebration of Popular Culture and all the amazing things our fine city creates and has to offer. It is the place where Los Angelenos have a platform to promote their work, and to make their dreams become a reality. It’s the place where people gather for a long weekend of geeky fun, music and more. Comikaze Weekend is when everyone here can kick back, relax, and celebrate not just the product we put out, but the people who create that product.
AJ: Thanks so much Regina!