When die-hard comic book fan Regina Carpinelli and her brothers couldn’t get tickets to San Diego’s Comic-Con International two years ago, she decided to start her own show.

Carpinelli wanted to create a “champagne show for a beer price,” and set it in Los Angeles. Last year, the Comikaze Entertainment Inc. was born, and fans of comic, anime, gaming and sci-fi who were eager for a convention in their own city responded in force.

While Comic-Con is still the biggest and best-known comic book convention in the United States with more than 130,000 tickets sold annually, Carpinelli’s inaugural show made a mark with 40,000 tickets sold. She said she made a profit of $100,000. The company now has 30 employees at its Venice office.

Lower admission prices than Comic-Con and a promotional blizzard by Carpinelli contributed to that initial success. And it didn’t hurt to have comic book legend Stan Lee as the event’s guest of honor.

“We were the most unlikely people to have a comic convention,” said Carpinelli, 30, who co-founded the company with brothers Mario and Fabiano. “We’re just fans.”

For 15 years, Carpinelli and her brothers had caravanned south to attend Comic-Con, but in 2010, when the show sold out in the first 20 minutes, they instead went to a different convention and were disappointed with what they found. So the trio decided to craft their own convention, with lower ticket prices, and easier access to signings and meet-and-greets with celebs from the comic book world.

Carpinelli, who grew up reading comics – Batman was a favorite – on her family’s 3-acre spread in the wine country of Temecula, didn’t know anybody in the industry. She did, however, have some experience with marketing and events management, having worked for her parent’s Latin music promotional business. She parlayed that know-how and $10,000 of her savings to launch Comikaze.

Lee, who helped create some of Marvel Comics’ biggest superhero characters including Spider-Man, X-Men and the Hulk, was impressed by the newcomer’s success.

“Do you know how unbelievable it is for the first show to have over 40,000 attendees?” Lee asked. “In some big cities where they have comic-cons, it takes years for them to get up to 40,000, if they ever do. She did it with the first one.”

So when Carpinelli asked him if he wanted to become a permanent part of the convention, Lee signed on. His company Pow Entertainment came onboard with an undisclosed investment, and Stan Lee’s Comikaze was born. The partnership was announced this month.

“Years ago, somebody wanted to start a Stan Lee comic book convention but nothing ever came of that,” said Lee, who will give speeches, sign autographs and take pictures with fans at the show, which will be Sept. 15-16 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “It took someone like Regina who knows how to get things done.”

Carpinelli attributes her success to affordable prices. Tickets start at $12 and top out at $65 for VIP access, while Comic-Con tickets start at $150 and go up to $175 for access to preview night. (Kids 12 and under are free at both events.)

“That’s why we got such a big response,” she said. “More people are able to experience it, which makes vendors happy because consumers have more money to spend.”

Booths for vendors, who sell comic books and art, and exhibitors promoting video games, films and TV shows, start at $600.

What’s different than other conventions, Carpinelli said, are contests, gaming tournaments, and interaction with stars of the comic book industry.

A key point is that by staging Comikaze in Los Angeles, she’s close to the entertainment industry and hopes that will lead to partnerships with film studios and TV networks.

Lee, 89, said the venue is attractive because he can talk to fans about projects he’s working on and gauge their response in real time.

“We don’t even think of them as fans,” he said. “They’re friends.”

Convention attention

After the deal with Lee was made, Carpinelli turned down a $20 million offer to sell the convention.

“I get to hang out with Stan, I get to read comic books, talk to new creators, and I get to put up a show where thousands of kids are happy and smiling,” he said.

With Lee onboard, some of L.A.’s biggest comic book retailers have taken notice.

“Anytime Stan attaches his name to anything, it’s instant validation,” said Ryan Liebowitz, general manager of comics and memorabilia retailer Golden Apple Comics, which opened in 1979. “It’ll add higher visibility, more traffic, more clout and more attendance to the show, which ultimately, for myself as a retailer, would mean more revenue.”

Liebowitz couldn’t get a booth last year, but will consider participating this year.

But Gaston Dominguez-Letelier, who for 19 years has owned and operated Meltdown Comics in Hollywood, said San Diego’s Comic-Con will always be the pinnacle for such conventions.

However, he acknowledged that Carpinelli’s event will hold its own thanks to its association with Lee.

“Comikaze may pan out in the long run because it’s such a craftsmanship, L.A. lifestyle-based event,” Dominguez-Letelier said.

Other L.A. conventions include the monthly Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention, in operation since 1977, and the three-year-old Long Beach Comic Convention.

Comic-Con International’s portfolio includes Comic-Con, WonderCon and the Alternative Press Expo. But the 42-year-old company doesn’t view Comikaze as rivals, said David Glanzer, Comic-Con’s director of marketing and public relations.

“On any given month there are probably several comics conventions throughout the country,” Glanzer said. “I don’t know that we view any of them as competition.”

Carpinelli does.

“We have plans on making shows internationally,” she said, expanding to Hong Kong, London and Brazil. “I want to expand Stan’s legacy.”

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