“I didn’t start the show to make money,” declares Regina Carpinelli, co-founder of Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo. “I started this show to do something good for my community and something good for the geek world.” Regina and her brothers Fabiano and Mario (pictured above) did something most comic book fans only dream of. They took their love of pop culture and created their own geek-friendly celebration — Comikaze. Regina recently spoke to ScreenCrave about the expo’s humble beginnings and her plans for its future, which she says will be filled with “shock and awesome.”
Regina, Fabiano and Mario Carpinelli were raised in Southern California, where they spent most of their time watching cartoons, reading comics and collecting Pokémon cards. According to Regina, her parents encouraged their love of comic books, sci-fi and fantasy. The trio were regular attendees at San Diego Comic-Con, a tradition that continued well into their adulthood. It was their love of the Con and an unfortunate turn of events that led to Comikaze’s inception.
One year we couldn’t get tickets, which was two years ago, and we were majorly bummed. My brother found this other convention, and it had the word Comic-Con in it, so we thought it would be the same thing. We were like, ‘Oh it’s cheaper. It’s just probably a smaller one.’ But we were mistaken. It was like 30 bucks to get into and it was really lackluster. I brought $200 cash with me and after buying my ticket, paying for parking, eating — I had like 100 bucks left.
To say Regina and her siblings didn’t get their money’s worth would be an understatement. But like the saying goes, “Everything happens for a reason.” In a couple years, their negative experience would yield a positive result.
So we were really bummed out, and I was like, ‘How do people afford this?’ I can understand paying $175 for San Diego but how do people afford these other shows? Times are tough. Me and my brothers were talking about it and we were really upset about the situation.
The Carpinellis did more than talk. They turned their frustration into a plan of action. They came up with their own convention, called it Comikaze and brought a few close friends on board to make it fun, cool and more importantly, affordable.
The L.A. Convention Center, somehow gave us a hall, then we started promoting it. We went out and I was like, ‘We have to have Elvira [Mistress of the Dark]. We have to have Stan Lee.’ We begged Stan and Elvira to come to our show for months and finally they gave in. Hype just started building, because we would be everywhere talking about our show saying, ‘It’s going to be great. It’s really cheap. It’s going to be awesome.’ And the social media went nuts. The next thing you know we have 4,000 fans on Facebook and 3,000 on Twitter. We got to a point in the summertime where we had to get a bigger hall. We had this tiny little hall in the convention center and it was literally like that moment in Jaws when they’re like ‘We have to get a bigger boat.’ You have to get a bigger hall.
The last minute expansion came in handy on opening day. Comikaze made its highly anticipated debut on November 5, 2011 and was a huge success. The turnout surpassed everyone’s expectations including its founders.
We were so excited. We were sure that we’d get 1,000 people and it all of sudden grew from 50,000 square feet to needing 175,000 square feet. We were expecting 5,000 attendees, which would be really good for a first-year show. The day of the show happens, we ended up getting 40,000 attendees! We ran out of programs. We ran out of T-shirts. We only had [for staff] 10 people working for us. Everyone ended up having fun. Everyone had a blast. We ended up putting on this really badass big show that was a larger scale show but for $12 a ticket.
Comikaze’s explosive premiere didn’t go unnoticed. After its run, Regina received a phone call that would change the face of the expo forever.
A couple weeks after the show I get a phone call from Stan Lee. He’s like ‘I want to congratulate you. You did a good job kid.’ He was really happy with what we did. He said he’d never seen anything like it before. To hear that from Stan is a huge honor. And he goes, ‘You think I could come on board as one of your investors and be a part of this?’ And you don’t say no to Stan Lee. So we said ‘Of course!’ ‘You think you could call the show Stan Lee’s Comikaze?’ Of course! So now it’s Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo.
The Carpinelli’s good fortune didn’t stop there. Another pop culture icon wanted in on their new venture. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (also known as Cassandra Peterson) heard about their partnership with Stan and wanted to throw her hat into the ring.
Elvira calls and she says, ‘I heard Stan’s invested, I want to invest. Can I be a partner?’ Of course I love you. I spent two months harassing your manager for you to be a guest. So it’s really funny for me. Me and my brothers and my friends we were just big fans. We were just going to put on this small show and it turned out to be one of the biggest shows in America. And as fans, we are now business partners with Stan Lee and Elvira. It’s a cool Hollywood dream come true.
The team behind Stan Lee’s Comikaze is well aware of their competition. In California alone there are three major conventions that dominate the geek culture market — San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon and the Anime Expo. But Regina believes Comikaze’s high quality at a low price sets it apart from the pack.
All those shows you just mentioned, they charge a lot of money. They charge you over 20 bucks — sometimes over 100 bucks to get in. Right now, we have presale tickets for $12, it goes up to $15 in May and the day of the show it will be $20. We’ll always do the cheapest show and on top of it, kids 12 and under will always be free. If you’re a family of four — mom, dad and two kids under the age of 12, for $24 right now, they could have a badass weekend at the Comikaze Expo. That’s cheaper than a movie. The show’s for everyone. It’s for the city. It’s for L.A. It’s for our community. So everyone should be able to get into it, despite how rich or poor they are.
One of the primary complaints from fans of the larger conventions is the looming “Hollywood” presence. The emphasis is moving away from sci-fi and fantasy to broad dramas and comedies. TV and film have become a major part of these shows. And they’ve had both a positive and negative effect.
I don’t mind having the TV and film stuff come in, but I want everything to be relevant. I don’t want to have a Kate Hudson movie be shown at my show, unless it’s Kate Hudson fighting aliens. I don’t want any romantic comedies. Everything has to be relevant. We’re really strict with that. We’re pop culture and we’re comics but we’re geeky stuff. So I want stuff that’s relevant to the nerd culture.
The Carpinelli’s have a long-term vision for Stan Lee’s Comikaze, which is rooted in its strategic scheduling. This year, the show will run September 15-16, but will return to its November slot for 2013 and beyond.
My dream is to make Stan Lee’s Comikaze the Black Friday for nerds. San Diego Comic-Con previews all the big blockbusters for the summer, so why don’t we be like that for Christmas? That’s what we want to do. This is where you can demo, and play and buy the newest video games. See previews to the newest movies. Parents could do all their Christmas shopping at Stan Lee’s Comikaze.
Stan Lee’s Comikaze has a long road ahead, but it should easily find its footing. 40,000 first-year attendees is nothing to sneeze at and it’s all because of the hard work of three dedicated siblings. To go from fans of X-Men and Spider-Man to being business partners with their creator is straight out of a fairy tale, or better yet a comic book.
The Walt Disney of our generation has his name in front of our show and it’s such an honor. It’s so humbling. So many people supported us. And our fans, I love our fans on Facebook and we really interact with them. It brings a tear to my eye every time I think about all the support that we had. We had a dream to make this a cool affordable show. Apparently, other people felt that dream with us. And one of them happened to be Stan Lee.
Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo takes place September 15-16 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Tickets are available now at Comikazeexpo.com.