The new deal between Diamond Comic Distributors and Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo is just the latest in a series of agreements that changed a bootstrapping start-up into a regional force that’s running neck and neck with Wondercon, run by the granddaddy of them all, Comic-Con International.  The strategic partnership announced this week gives the show Diamond’s support in attracting attendees and exhibitors in exchange for a share of the benefits, according to ComiKaze CEO Regina Carpinelli.  Although it’s late for the 2013 show, which is coming up in early November, she has big hopes for Diamond’s impact in future years and on shows in new locations. 

The show in November will be Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo’s third show in the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the numbers are impressive.  The show’s first year in 2011 was the fastest convention start-up ever, with 35,000 attendees.  In 2012, the show attracted 45,000 fans, topping Comic-Con International’s Wondercon, at the Anaheim Convention Center, by 5,000 attendees that year.

The 2011 show was organized with a $10,000 investment, Carpinelli told us, and was powered by social media and relentless on-the-ground promotion.  And her deal-making started then.  "If you’ve got a convention, you need celebrities," she said.  "I wanted people I like, so the biggest people I could think of were Stan Lee and Elvira."  She eventually convinced them to appear.  On the day of the show they had sold 5,000 tickets in advance and it was raining (which in Los Angeles is an apocalyptic event).  But 35,000 people showed up.  "It ended up going really well," Carpinelli said. 

After the show, Stan Lee called and asked to get involved, including putting his name on the show.  "It’s all about the fans, just like I used to run Marvel," Stan told Carpinelli, who quickly accepted.  Lee’s association with the show prompted Elvira to come in as an investor. 

With a new brand (Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo) and two celebrities tied to the event, Carpinelli was ready for big things, and the next step came with an association with Advanstar, one of the biggest event companies in the world, with 134 events including Licensing Expo.  Carpinelli attracted the attention of an Advanstar EVP while trying to talk her way onto the floor of Licensing Expo (he took mercy and told staff to "...just give this crazy girl a ticket," Carpinelli said).  After attending Comikaze, he helped lead Advanstar to a partnership with the show, whereby Carpinelli and her team "...put the flavor together, and they do the back end and at the end we split the profits," she said.          
Advanstar and Carpinelli have major expansion plans, including other shows in the U.S. and around the world, she told us.  "After this year, we want to move into an international space and add a couple of national shows." 

And now Carpinelli has the benefit of weekly television exposure for the convention as well, via the Syfy reality series Fangasm, which she described as Real World meets the Apprentice plus Big Bang Theory, and in which she stars.  From the producer of Jersey Shore, the reality show follows seven fans living together and working at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo (the interns).  The six episode season will end just before this year’s convention, which should give it an even bigger send-off.     

The convention landscape is changing rapidly, and with a second major event company in the field (Advanstar joins Reed Exhibitions, which organizes New York Comic Con, C2E2, and others), it appears to be poised for continued growth.  Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo, led by the formidable Ms. Carpinelli, seems likely to be a significant part of that growth.