So we’re back from Comikaze 2012… pardon me, I guess it’s full formal name now is “Stan Lee’s Comikaze – Comic, Anime, Gaming Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Expo – Shock and Awesome!”.

We were there for the inaugural show last year, and since they let us be special guests with a free Artist’s Alley table, we were not as much for the complaints that some of our fellow vendors had. Plus I always find it good practice to cut a show slack in its freshman outing (with the exception of the horrible Pasadena Rock’n Comic Con, but that was basically the Birdemic of conventions). They gave away a lot of complimentary tickets that first year and had heavy discounts on the rest, so there were crowds, and people (at least from our perspective) seemed in the mood to buy. The L.A. Convention Center is also just a quick car trip from our house, so all in all it was a laid-back experience despite some of the hiccups I mentioned.

Actually, now that I’m scouring back through my November 2011 blogs, it seems like I never talked about Comikaze. So I guess I didn’t really mention anything, good or bad. Well, I covered the good already, and the bad could be chalked up mostly to inexperience… such as having no separate rooms for the panels and expecting curtained off areas on the convention floor to work as a viable substitute. Since we were not part of any panels we did not suffer from this, but I empathized with those who did because an open-on-top, curtained off area does not stop outside sound, and there was a lot of it, particularly in the form of very loud P.A. announcements that drowned people out so badly the panels had to just pause until they were over.

If that had happened again this year, I would honestly wonder what the organizers were smoking, but it did not. Many things were improved, not the least of which was moving the show out of the basement area it was held in last year. I cannot, however, argue with a couple of reviews of this year’s show that I’ve read, one from the perspective of veteran exhibitor Travis Hanson going to Comikaze for the first time, and the other from veteran attendee Whitney Drake doing the same.

Reading Whitney Drake’s account of the line to get in was stunning, because yes, the weather was terribly hot. On Saturday morning when we showed up to get our exhibitor badges we were inside the lobby, but the sun coming through the glass was enough to break the exhibitors waiting into a sweat, and there were a surprising amount of exhibitors waiting. Word was that for whatever reason, no badges could be printed and distributed prior to 9am, and so everyone was jammed up, not to mention anxious since the show opened at 10. We were stuck there for at least a half an hour before we were able to get into the exhibit hall and start setting up. I heard some people claim that because of the delay security were willing to let people in to set up without badges, but that’s a whole other can o’ worms.

Drake’s report on the attendee line? That makes me feel that we got off easy. Ouch. I did have one friend who texted us saying he tried to make it down around 1pm or so and didn’t even make it as far as a line, the parking situation alone at that point made him give up and drive back home. Honestly, it took me about 20 minutes after we finished setting up before I started to relax and feel sane and reasonable again… I can’t imagine the effect on the general crowds. Actually, I suppose it might answer the question of why it seemed so slow for us for the first several hours on Saturday despite the crowds, because those crowds might have also been trying to overcome a grumpy beginning to their outing.

I did also think of something else when I read Drake’s suggestion that they might have wanted to have more people processing tickets. There’s a good friend of the Ranch named Gregory who likes to volunteer around at the L.A. area shows, and he showed up to say hi on Saturday afternoon with a strange story that he’d been turned away because of some ruling that because Comikaze was a for-profit enterprise, they weren’t permitted to recruit volunteers. Anyone who’s been to any of the Comic-Con International shows knows just how important the volunteers are to beefing up your staffing. Now the Comic-Con organization is non-profit, but I think there’s other for-profit conventions that recruit volunteers with no problem. I think even Comikaze had volunteers last year. I don’t know what changed, but the new policy seemed to have blindsided the organizers as much as anyone else, and because of that might have left them severely short on working bodies. That bottleneck likely contributed to all the “traffic jams”, with too many attendees and not enough people to process them efficiently.

Travis Hanson’s point about the P.A. is also valid; it wasn’t interrupting panels this year, but it still felt intrusive, particularly towards the end of Sunday when they appeared to be getting almost desperate to sell off their Comikaze merchandise. First was the announcement everything was slashed to 50% off, and then, I kid you not, there was a point two staffers with armloads of Comikaze t-shirts went down the aisles shouting they were selling them for $5 apiece, like they were street vendors hawking their wares. Whether under orders to do so or not, that was just weird, and I suppose underscores the point of not making your exhibitors feel like you’re in competition with them.

As for the idea of bells and whistles at the expense of basics? I’m honestly surprised neither blog made more mention of the Zombie Apocalypse course, which was a fairly late addition that I’m sure was inspired by the one AMC put on at Petco Park during San Diego Comic-Con. There was a separate admission charged to be part of that, but that made sense since it wasn’t even being run by the same company. Here it was a $30 charge to be a survivor (later discounted to $20 in the course of the show) and a $70 charge to be a zombie, and the zombies needed a two hour training session in addition to time for make-up. The course itself was made up mostly of inflatable slides and the like, which looked somewhat fun, but when I finally got over to take a close look at it through the “quarantine fence”, it seemed very deserted. Maybe I just caught it between runs, but then again, I think it’s entirely possible that the amount of would-be zombies willing to pay $70 to be part of the experience was vastly overestimated. And without zombies, where’s the experience for the would-be survivors?

I don’t know how it went on Saturday, but on Sunday all I saw was a couple of zombies shambling around the bounce castles, with the whole area being uncrowded enough some FemmeLoki cosplayer was having a photoshoot at the fence, complete with stand-up reflectors. All in all, it seems like they poured a lot of effort into that aspect of the convention for not much return, which is then when you start wondering if they could have spent the money and time more wisely. Comikaze’s sophomore show fixed some things, but other experiments didn’t quite pan out.

Will Dawn and I go back next year? That depends on a lot of factors. This year we didn’t get a free booth but we at least got to take advantage of an offered “grandfather clause” which gave us a good discount for having been present at the first show. If they raise up their prices, we might need to make some hard decisions, which are also complicated by not quite knowing yet what the SoCal convention scene will be like in 2013.

I do know that we finally listened to what all our friends and peers kept telling us and booked a table for Phoenix. So anyone out Arizona way, if you’re free Memorial Day weekend, Dawn and I will be coming your way!