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Tue May 28, 2013

Comikaze: Not Just The Other Comic Convention

Originally published on Wed May 29, 2013 6:43 am

You may be familiar with the San Diego Comic-Con, a constantly expanding convention for fans that started as a niche event for comic-book nerds and is now a sprawling pop-culture event.

You may not be familiar with Comikaze. The brainchild of Regina Carpinelli, a fan who was unhappy with the cost, ticket scarcity, and changing focus of Comic-Con, Comikaze is a smaller festival that costs $30 for the weekend, rather than Comic-Con's $150 four-day passes. On Tuesday's All Things Considered, Tess Vigeland reports on the growing Comikaze and speaks to Carpinelli and some of her peers about how she went from a dissatisfied fan of a huge convention to the proprietor of another.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

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.

(LAUGHTER)

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.

(LAUGHTER)

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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