Comikaze: Not Just The Other Comic Convention : Monkey See Dissatisfied with the scope and costs of the biggest fan convention in the country, one fan started a new gathering of her own, and she quickly brought some big names in to help out.
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Comikaze: Not Just The Other Comic Convention

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Comikaze: Not Just The Other Comic Convention

Comikaze: Not Just The Other Comic Convention

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You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Pick any weekend on the calendar and you're likely to find a geek culture convention somewhere in the U.S. The grandfather of them all is in the San Diego area. It's the San Diego Comic-Con. Each fall, it draws more than 130,000 comic book, sci-fi and horror fans. A relative newcomer to this convention scene is happening further up the California coast.

From Los Angeles, Tess Vigeland has this story about the event known as Stan Lee's Comikaze and its founder.

TESS VIGELAND, BYLINE: Regina Carpinelli grew up the only girl in a family with five boys. Suffice it to say, her childhood was not all rainbows and unicorns.

REGINA CARPINELLI: I automatically liked everything that the boys liked, so my life was playing Terminator and reading "Spiderman."

VIGELAND: So it shouldn't be surprising that she now runs one of the most successful pop culture conventions in the country, except that she's all of 31 years old and her convention experience consisted entirely of being a fan.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That's right. Give it up. Give it up.

VIGELAND: The first Comikaze convention debuted in November 2011, just one year after Carpinelli decided San Diego's Comic-Con had outgrown itself. She'd been going since she was 12. But in 2010, she couldn't get tickets. Not only that. But she felt Comic-Con had strayed too far from its horror-sci-fi roots and that the organizers no longer understood their audience.

CARPINELLI: I meet the owners. They're not fans. Yeah. They know what Superman is and Wonder Woman, but they can't name all the My Little Ponies and all their personality traits.

VIGELAND: She certainly can. So in 2011, Carpinelli and a staff of five managed to get a hall at the L.A. Convention Center and spent months trying to get some big stars to take part.

CARPINELLI: Waterboarding tactics.


VIGELAND: Among them, comic book icon Stan Lee and character actress Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Both signed on. And Peterson was thrilled with the access she had to fans.

CASSANDRA PETERSON: Last year, I did a big Elvira museum. I brought my Macabremobile in and my original red couch where I hosted horror movies from, you know, fun stuff where I'm not just sitting at a table, just signing autographs and a lot of, you know, moving along real quick.

VIGELAND: Peterson and Stan Lee became Carpinelli's business partners and investors after 35,000 fans showed up that first year. "Star Wars'" Mark Hamill has attended, as did TV Batman Adam West, hosting a panel with the director Kevin Smith.

ADAM WEST: What's left for you? What do you still want to do?

KEVIN SMITH: Oh, lordy, Kevin, that's such a great question. I mean, just send the check.


VIGELAND: One attraction of Comikaze is the admission price. Carpinelli was determined to keep it low so that fans could spend their money instead on merchandise and autographs. A weekend pass is just $30. A four-day pass to Comic-Con is 150.

The immediate and huge success of Comikaze creates a challenge for Carpinelli as she tries to maintain intimacy and access for fans and not become another frenzied, bursting-at-the-seams Comic-Con. Nearly 50,000 people attended last year's convention. Analyst and self-described fanboy Jonathan London, the founder of Geekscape, isn't worried.

JONATHAN LONDON: She is a fan herself. So whenever Comikaze grows and as it grows and you know it's growing like a weed, she's going to keep reassessing the convention from a fan's perspective.

VIGELAND: Something Regina Carpinelli hopes to do with fans around the globe, as Comikaze makes plans to set up shop in Brazil, London and China.

CARPINELLI: I want us to take over the world. I want to inspire kids to write, to draw, to create.

VIGELAND: And even to know that it's OK to be 40 years old and dress like a storm trooper. For NPR News, I'm Tess Vigeland in Los Angeles.

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