The Comikaze Experiment

My Comikaze 2013 review

 

What: Stan Lee’s Comikaze Pop-Culture Convention

Where: Los Angeles Convention Center

When: November 1-3

Bottom Line: The Comikaze group has worked hard to build a convention that will rival San Diego Comic-Con but instead have built an organization that will compete with the Wizard World series of conventions.

 ComikazeEscalators

About me

I’ll keep it short, don’t worry!

My name is Paul Roman Martinez. I am the writer and artist of the Adventures of the 19XX series. The book series has been nominated for two Russ Manning awards, and for my work on the graphic novel and at conventions, I earned a spot among 50 promising Entrepreneurs chosen from around the country to participate in the 2013 Scion Motivate Conference. I have been in print since 2011 and online since 2009. I have 5 books in print, with two of them currently on their second printings and a third title about to go to a second printing. All of my work is self published with help from the fans, and a board game based on my series is set to arrive in December of 2013. I have spoken at numerous conventions and events about my experiences in self publishing.

 

In 2012, I exhibited at 13 conventions of varying sizes. In 2013, I’ve trimmed that number down to 11, and in 2014, I hope to do around 10. I don’t have a distributor and, aside from a few unique relationships, my stuff isn’t carried in stores. That means almost everything I sell either gets shipped from my home or sold at conventions. For small independent publishers like myself, conventions are not about “getting the word out” or “networking.” They are about selling books and merch. If I happen to make some great contacts along the way, then that’s a great bonus! (Triptych Books guys, I’m looking at you!)

 

I don’t review every show I do. Most of them don’t need a review from me. But Comikaze is kind of a mysterious beast. The show burst onto the scene in 2011, and their profile has been growing rapidly ever since. I knew from year one it was going to take a couple years to figure out what kind of show it would become. And I think I can safely say the picture is now pretty clear. Let’s go through a checklist of important areas of a good Comic Book Convention. Everything in this is written from an exhibitor point of view, so if you’re a fan, you’ll probably find a better review somewhere else!

 

• Parking

Costly/Inconvenient.

Comikaze likes to compare themselves to San Diego Comic-Con a lot, so I will too. But I will also compare them to some other great shows, like Emerald City Comicon in Seattle and Phoenix Comicon in Arizona. There is some pretty affordable parking at the Los Angeles Convention Center, but it fills up fast. The small parking lots around the con in the city range from $20 to $40 a day. Comikaze makes a big deal about how affordable their tickets are, but when you combine a $25 ticket price with a $20-40 parking price and meal costs, there isn’t a lot left over for people to purchase products. Now San Diego Comic-Con is a destination show that takes over the entire Gaslamp district and most of San Diego. Very few people going to that show only bring enough money for parking and entry, especially if they’ve been waiting their whole lives to go. In addition, San Diego, Seattle, and Phoenix all have a very good and very well used public transit system. Even Wondercon in Anaheim has access to miles of Disneyland parking. There’s a great quote from an article on Forbes.com that the Comikaze promotional department was spreading around on Facebook during the con:

An attendee noted, “I came with $50 in my pocket, and was able to cover all my transportation, all my food expenses, and my ticket out of pocket.” That doesn’t leave much to support the vendors who make up the bulk of the show floor, but it was a very common attitude on the floor.

 

• Food

Not the worst convention food I’ve ever had.

This is another area—like parking—that Comikaze has little control over, but food is still an important factor at shows. The food at the LA Convention Center is as pricey as anywhere else, but there were some food trucks parked outside and 1 operational starbucks in the building, from what I could see. Of course the Starbucks always had a ridiculous line and the food trucks were mostly terrible-looking, confusing fusion food. (Confusion? Did I just invent a new genre of food?)  But within a short, walk there are actually a lot of great restaurants that weren’t too busy. (I enjoyed a delicious eggplant parmesian sandwich at a place that played terrible music terribly loud.)

 

• Attendance

Not all 50 thousand attendees are equal. (No offense guys; you’re just not.)

On the chart further down on the page, I break down the attendance of the 6 largest shows I’ve done in 2013. Comikaze 2013 got similar numbers to Phoenix, Wondercon Anaheim, and Emerald City. But why are the attendees there? How did they hear about the show? How long have they been looking forward to it? How far did they travel to get there? These are all very important questions that go into building a passionate convention fan base. The Comikaze group has done a great job of getting bodies into the doors. They have every year. But every year I’ve also noticed that, for the number of people they have on the floor, sales should have been much better. In 2012 I had two booths together, one of them a corner, I did a panel on self-publishing with Kickstarter, and I did the official Stan Lee Wants You show poster that now hangs next to the main escalators leading up to the floor. Those things combined with the attendance should have made for one of my best shows of the year. Instead, in 2012 and 2013, I found a crowd that was mostly disinterested in comics. I saw many people walking through the floor and leaving, holding nothing. They seemed to be there for the spectacle of the show, to gawk at cosplayers, and to see what this comic convention thing was all about. A lot of people complain about what San Diego Comic-Con has become over the years, and Comikaze claims they are trying to be the comic show that San Diego used to be. But if you look at the front page of their website, the word comic is mentioned once, and only one comic book guest is listed among their top 8 guests. Instead they bill themselves as a Pop-Culture Convention. Their motto is “Where Pop Culture Rules the Earth.” I guess their name has “comi” in it, and that almost spells “comic.” This doesn’t include Stan Lee, whose name is attached to the convention. And I’m not including him because if you went to the show and saw his cologne booth or any one of the six or so other booths that bore his name, you would stop thinking of him as a comic book guy too. What is popular culture anyway? A better question would be, what isn’t popular culture. For contrast, here is the mission statement on the front page of the Comic-Con International website:

Comic-Con International: San Diego is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.

 

Wow, that’s a beautiful mission statement!

 

• Promises

Big promises, big disappointments.

 Here’s where things get really dicey. When I decided to write this review, it wasn’t just because of my experiences at the show. It was because of the consistently terrible stories I was hearing from exhibitor after exhibitor. There is a core group of comic and toy guys who are at almost every show I do. Some of these guys have been doing conventions for ten years or more. So, as Levar Burton would say, “Don’t take my word for it!”

 

I personally was promised a corner booth, which I sort of got. You can see the picture below under Floor Layout. But one exhibitor I talked to was promised, and paid for, a double corner booth, and then arrived to see no booth set aside for him. He was also promised a gaming area to do demos, only to arrive to see the entire gaming area had been scrapped. There are a couple veteran exhibitors I know who experienced this the first year of the show and said they would never do this show again. At first I thought, well, I live nearby, so I’ll try it a couple more times to see if those were just growing pains. Unfortunately, in a convention’s third year, if you promise someone a panel or a booth or anything and can’t deliver, then it’s not just growing pains, that’s how you run your show.

 

• Booth Prices and Sales

High cost, low returns.

 Now here’s the section where I might get some exhibitors with different opinions. But part of that difference is because I have never been to a show where exhibitors paid such varying prices for their booths. I, however, paid full price. But even those who got a steep discount were not happy with their price-to-profit ratio.

 Below is a chart that shows my six biggest comic conventions of the year. They are listed in chronological order. Emerald City just happens to be my most profitable show of the year and is also first on the calendar. I’ve placed percentages on all the other shows so you can get an idea of how profitable each show is compared to Emerald City. If Emerald City is the 100% mark for show sales, then at Wondercon I make 70 percent of that total. As you can see, at Comikaze, I made only 29% of my Emerald City total but the booth price was 40% more. Comikaze pushes the fact that their booth prices are competitive with similar sized shows, but the fact is, they don’t compare at all.

Comikaze2013Booth

Every other show on this list has had years to cultivate a comic book audience and grow their floor/days along with that audience growth. Comikaze has tried to become the biggest show they can be with any audience they can find. They make wild promises they won’t keep  to exhibitors to get them to commit. They grew to a very unnecessary third day this year, and their attendance growth over last year looks to be pretty minimal. So a growth in exhibitors and an expansion of days with only a minimal growth in attendance equals lower profits. And indeed, Comikaze 2013 was my first show where I made less than I had the previous year. In fact, it’s the first show that I didn’t experience at least a 30% increase in sales. According to my spreadsheets, the lowest increase from 2012 to 2013 was 33% at a show that was too small to even include on this chart. My largest sales growths for the year were 54% at LA Book Festival and 52% at Phoenix. Both of those are well-run shows with a great respect for comic books, and neither one of them makes a habit of making promises they don’t deliver.

My largest complaint about Comikaze’s administration is the huge variation in booth prices among exhibitors. I wasn’t privy to the negotiations that surely went on between Comikaze and other exhibitors, but I can’t imagine how they can justify charging some people full price and others only 30% for a booth.  At every show there is some sort of negotiation going on in regards to booth prices and there are always larger publishing companies and big name creators getting free booth space as an enticement for them to come. The prices at Comikaze were beyond the usual booth price fluctuation. Convention organizers should be aware that their exhibitors make the show for them and accordingly treat us well. Without us, they don’t have an attraction to promote. I think charging exhibitors similar prices and then honoring those deals is a simple but necessary part of doing business, and Comikaze just doesn’t have that down yet.

 You could be saying at this point, “So what, the Comikaze crowd didn’t dig your stuff.”

I would be thinking that too. Trust me, I’m my own toughest critic.  But everyone I talked to had terrible sales. Not a single vendor said they did well. I have never done a show where every vendor did terribly. Never. And with 50 thousand plus people walking around, there was no reason for that. Of course there was one exception: a charming artist selling officially licensed prints from one of the most mainstream pop culture companies in the world. (Who, by the way, received two inline 10×10 booths and a 10×10 corner booth for less than the price I paid for my one 10×10 corner booth.)

 

Convention

Emerald
City Seattle
(3 days)

Wondercon
Anaheim
(3 days)

LA Festival of Books
(2 days)

Phoenix Comicon
(4 days)

San Diego Comic Con
(5 days)

Comikaze Los Angeles

(3 days)

Attendance

60k+

50k+

100k+

55k+

120k+

50k+

Booth Cost
(all 10×10 booths)

$850
1 corner booth

$1100
1 corner booth

$1150
1 corner booth

$597

1 Corner Booth

$1750
1 Inline booth

$1200

1 corner booth

Booth Cost Percentage

100%

129%

135%

70%

206%

140%

Gross Sales Percentage

100%

70%

65%

76%

88%

29%

 

 

• Floor Layout

Looks good on paper; in reality, it’s a mess.

The biggest problem I have with the floor is the stage at one end of it. As a fan going to the show, it’s probably really fun to see Stan Lee up on stage talking with five people you’ve never heard of about a project you’ll probably never see that he guarantees will be the next biggest thing ever. He is the King of Hyperbole. But as an exhibitor, I watched as people in the aisles cleared out to rush to see who was on stage. And they may rush to the stage from wherever they’re at, but they don’t rush back to the booth they were just visiting. So the main stage sponsored by Hot Topic got a lot of attention at the expense of the show floor that was sponsored by exhibitors who weren’t just trying to promote their brand but trying to make enough money to pay their bills and keep producing comic books. Another problem I had personally was my corner booth. While still technically a corner, at all the other large shows I do, a corner booth is on an intersection between two aisles. At Comikaze, my corner booth was in the middle of a row so I didn’t even get the full benefit of full corner booth traffic even though I paid full corner booth prices. And I even talked to exhibitors near the crowded stage. None of them reported a sales benefit from being within sneezing distance of the great, Stanley Lieber.

 

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 8.24.44 AM

My booth, number 732

Closing

Comikaze made a lot of noise when they came on the scene and, during their talks with exhibitors, they’ve contributed to the myth that San Diego Comic Con is no longer about comics. At the same time, they’ve tried to become exactly those worst, most obvious parts of Comic Con that seem to be all the mainstream media reports on. But that noise is just hype. Comikaze is not a comic book convention. It is a pop culture convention. Do not exhibit at this convention if you create comic books. At least not for the prices they are charging for booths. This convention should be a third to half the price they currently charge for booths. That’s something they can easily fix by lowering prices. As far as not keeping promises and other shady business dealings, that may not be something they can fix. It’s just part of doing business with Comikaze.

 

 

Good luck exhibiting, and remember, your mileage may vary!

-Paul Roman Martinez

 

I highly recommend these conventions in California instead of Comikaze.

Wondercon Anaheim (run by Comic-Con International, the same folks behind San Diego Comic-Con. They never make a promise they can’t keep!)

LA Festival of Books (run and promoted heavily by the Los Angeles Times. If you are a small publisher, I recommend splitting a booth with one or two other people. There are no small press or artist alley tables here. But I did recommend something along those lines to the organizers last year when they asked how to get more comic folks to exhibit.)

San Diego Comic-Con (Yes it’s hard to get into, but not impossible for small press folks. Every year they look at all their small press applicants and decide who gets a booth. The price for this section is very reasonable for the chance to pitch your book to 100k+ people. This is not the same process they use to get on the main floor.)

 

Sources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/markhughes/2013/11/02/comikaze-sees-big-growth-stan-lee-predicts-west-coast-dominance/

 

http://www.comic-con.org/frontpage

 

http://comikazeexpo.com

 

http://www.emeraldcitycomicon.com