Whitney, TheBoy & Comikaze Expo

by , under conventions, Geek

This weekend was the second Comikaze Expo (a pop culture convention saluting comics, movies, games of all sorts, and horror). Located at the LA Convention Center, I was eager to attend because they were really promoting it as an affordable convention with something to offer for everyone. And I had friends that would be there.

I didn’t get to go to the first year of Comikaze, but I heard that there was promise- the people behind it were really enthusiastic and wanted to make sure that a lot of groups were represented.

Then, Comikaze Expo partnered with Stan Lee (and then was bought by Advanstar), who partnered with Elvira – there’s been a full on blitz in marketing to give this convention a lot of awareness. So I was hopeful that it would live up to the bigger cons. I wasn’t expecting the spectacle of SDCC, but having been to Wondercon (which was much smaller than San Diego) – I hoped for something like that, but with a bit more personality (I was told that it’s normally pretty quirky, but that one in Anaheim this year was Wondercon Lite).

The convention opened at 10 am, and after traffic and parking, we got there a little after 11am. I was a little worried, there was a panel I really wanted to go to that was at noon, and as soon as I saw the line, I knew there was no way I would make it inside in time.

At the front of the convention center, the line went out the doors and didn’t seem to move. But that wasn’t the line to enter, the staff told us. They had restarted the line along the side of the convention center, wrapping around the building. (Later on we realized they were trying to get those two lines in the doors and have one organized line feeding in, but that wasn’t how they explained it. Instead we were told to either get in line or go home and try to get a refund- the exact words of one staffer.)

We showed up right at the same time as D-Piddy, better known as Deadpool from the Deadpool vs series. He was sent into line, and we followed. (Follow the bouncing merc!) We walked. And walked. And walked. Until we had wrapped around the building to the parking structure. And waited. And waited.

It was well over 100 degrees, and the men who walk the streets with ice cream carts were taking full advantage of the line. And honestly, I probably would have gone insane if Deadpool hadn’t been ahead of us. Rushing up to cars to dance for women, humping traffic signs, and high fiving every kid out there. (If you see his video, when he walks up to the staffer in the red shirt, I was just on the other side of the angry lady in blue. And we were right by him for most of his shenanigans outside)

Amusingly, just a few people ahead of me was…. Scott Pilgrim. Armed with the Power of Love, we awkwardly waved to each other, and I got to listen as the people in the the other line wondered if Scott knew Ramona was so close. (Why I didn’t get a picture of the two of us together is beyond me)

In the end, even once the line started to move- it was still an hour and fifteen minute wait until we made it inside the convention center (and there was a good 10 or so minute wait after that to get our wristbands- no badges here).

So what was the hold up? In an attempt to get a lot of people in, Comikaze offered tickets through TicketLeap, through local TV stations and through Groupon. Because of that, they needed stations for each of those options, and there were only about 10 people total (not 10 per ticket vendor) handing out the wristbands. (And if you were buying it on site, you were sent to a separate area where you got your wristband right away- while everyone had to wait in the long line, once you were in the doors, you were essentially penalized for buying your ticket early.)

We missed all the panels I’d wanted to attend. I don’t completely blame them for that. I could have made more of an effort to get there earlier. (See further down for the rest of my thoughts about the line)

The floor itself was broken up into a few areas- the exhibit floor, the Zombie obstacle course (which was $30 extra for admission), a gaming section, a Quidditch Pitch (that alternated between a Quidditch tournament and Nerf warfare). The floor was fairly well laid out- there weren’t a lot of areas that bottlenecked with people, even though I knew there were a lot of people there. And there were a lot of clean bathrooms and food options.

TheBoy found some fun t-shirts, and he surprised me by buying me an entire Slytherin outfit. I now own my robes, a skirt, sweater vest and tie. I just need to get a wand (which he told me I should have just bought while we were there) and a dress shirt. I’ve been wanting one for awhile and the deals from Whimsic Alley were really great (I got my robes for $89!).

I also ran into Alan Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) out on the floor, though I missed his panel. When TheBoy saw who I ran off to hug, he pointed out that we’d actually passed him a few times on the floor! So it wasn’t personal Alan, if you saw us before that. I just was busy looking at booths!

The Good

More than most convention centers, LA Convention Center had some really great air conditioning. It was so good that I started cursing a blue streak when I went outside and realized it was still over 100. Which is unusual- it’s been awhile since I’ve gone to SDCC, partly because I couldn’t deal with how warm and stuffy the exhibit floor would get.

The food venues- not only were there couple of food locations on the exhibit floor, there was a food court. I didn’t get to check out all their prices (we brought our own snacks), but there were a lot of options. We did buy a fountain soda, and it wasn’t as expensive as some other cons I’ve been too.

Space. There was a lot of it, and there weren’t a lot of areas where you could get stuck in a mass of people (compared to SDCC where it’s impossible to walk across the floor). In their autograph sections, they seemed to have considered where the lines would be, and so you could actually walk through there without getting stuck. (On that note, we saw Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus – didn’t get in line for autographs, but it made TheBoy’s day)

And it was easy enough to find an outlet to recharge my phone.

The Bad

For all the things that they considered (like the autograph lines), Comikaze didn’t seem to consider the basics. When you are selling Groupons and blasting across social media that you have an affordable convention with big names- people are going to buy tickets. And unlike most Groupon deals- people are going to show up. But because Comikaze sold tickets through so many channels, it seemed as though they had separate scanning necessities- and they just didn’t anticipate having people show up early.

I was frustrated too- I’ve never been to a convention where they didn’t have an army of people handing out badges, because the faster you get people their badges/bands, the happier they are. It sends the message that you’re organized and know what you’re doing.

Combined with that, there weren’t many people on the staff that were sympathetic about the line. I heard several staff members flat out telling ticket holders that if they weren’t happy they could go home and try to get a refund, but it probably wouldn’t happen. (With attitude) And I heard plenty of stories of people who were treated the same way, and suddenly didn’t think the convention was going to be any good.

The line itself wrapped around the building, over curbs and through grassy areas. We were behind Batwoman and the Question (aka Renee Montoya) – and the cosplayer dressed as Ms. Montoya was in a wheelchair. Batwoman actually went back to the car to get her wheelchair because neither of them were expecting that long of a wait. Though the woman was able to get in and out of the chair, once the line started moving- we held their place so that they make their way around the sea of curbs.

The line also went through the entrance and exits for the VIP parking. When cars were leaving, we were yelled at by Comikaze staff for blocking the lanes- when there weren’t any volunteers to at least make sure that people weren’t going to cut in line if that happened. People moved out of the way when cars showed up- which is more than anyone should have expected.

Not to mention- it was over 100 degrees out. I’m amazed more people didn’t pass out.

The last sore point was that they over used the Convention wide PA. They weren’t just making occasional announcements, but using the PA regularly instead of something that was just up at the main stage. Every time the woman started to scream, TheBoy stared to whine “shutupshutupshutup” until she did.

The Weird

They had a DJ playing before you entered Comikaze. It was interesting to have something other than silence… but it was still weird. It also made it hard to catch cosplayers attentions if you wanted pictures. I can’t imagine that it made it easy for anyone conducting interviews to cut together anything that seemed seamless either.

The Ugly

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that I was less than impressed by the people handling the social media (as well as the program). On their Facebook page, when people were inevitably asking when the panels would be released (I think this was the Tuesday prior), their account posted mid comment stream in all caps telling people that it would be announced when it was announced, otherwise they could just hold off until the last minute like with Comic Con. When questioned about it, they said that they have “attitude” and aren’t boring like the other conventions.

Of course, when they did release the panel information online, it was inaccurate. There were names listed on panels of people that weren’t appearing, and when they asked the Twitter account about it- received flippant @replies saying that it was a particular person’s mistake and they should email her (seriously- the response was “That looks like a [PERSON] mistake. Email her.”). And when the person who got the reply suggested that it was unprofessional that they throw anyone under the bus, they got attitude back.

While I applaud them for attempting to have a distinctive personality type- asshole is not exactly what gets people to come back year after year. You can be fun without being unprofessional- which unfortunately is something they haven’t learned.

In both situations, they could have been handled easily. For the Facebook one- all they had to do was make a separate post saying that the panels were being finalized and that they would announce it there as soon as it was up. (I’ll ignore posting erroneous panel information) For the Twitter issue, I don’t care who’s mistake it was, it’s unprofessional to name someone and throw them under the bus. All they had to do was admit that obviously some wires were crossed and say they’ll fix it ASAP.

It doesn’t matter how great your convention is, exhibitors remember which ones are professional and which ones aren’t. Fans, too.

I’ve heard other stories about how the entries for the Masquerade were handled- that people were left waiting to see if they made it in, and that during the whole line debacle on Saturday that Comikaze’s social media team was absent until reports started to flood the local news stations about how poorly it was handled.

The Bottom Line

Do I know if I’d go back to Comikaze? I really don’t. Sure, it was inexpensive (and living in LA, all I had to worry about was parking and the ticket)- and it did seem like there was some promise… but it felt as though they were too quick to try to add on bells and whistles without making sure they had the basics down.

I do think it has promise. They did seem to really try to build a balanced convention that embraced everyone- but I think that they need to put their enthusiasm into being a little more professional (and certainly by making sure that anyone using their PAs understands that you can be enthusiastic without screaming), and by not trying to claim the title of LA’s big convention without actually earning it. (This was a good write-up from a vendor about Comikaze)

I did have a blast. But that had more to do with getting to spend time geeking out with my husband. It’s been awhile since we’ve been able to go to a con together, and he’s great company. We got to be snarky together, guess who people were dressed as (some costumes weren’t very obvious- there was a blonde Dorothy that confused us for a bit), and scour the booths that sold t-shirts for something appropriately geeky.

So I don’t know, Comikaze. I’m not immediately sold on buying a ticket for next year. The ball’s in your court.