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Stan Lee's Comikaze

My day at Stan Lee's Comikaze included a Grand Theft Auto 5 cast panel discussion, meeting gifted artist John Chalfant, gawking at Stan Lee's Mega Museum and sightseeing the many vendor booths and cosplayers.

I'm surprised I found out about this fast growing show only two weeks prior to its third annual convention in my own backyard of Los Angeles. It appears to be attracting 10,000 more attendees every year, including an anticipated 50,000 for the three-day event this past weekend. 

The show packs the Convention Center's South Hall with hundreds of vendors and programming that fills each day with panel discussions, all focused on the genres of science fiction and fantasy portrayed through mediums like comic books, graphic novels, manga, anime, TV, film and the Internet.

It began a few years ago as the brainchild of a fan who envisioned such a pop culture event for the City of Angels. Marvel's Stan Lee and iconic TV personality Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) became involved last year, lending their names and expertise to the burgeoning enterprise.

Stan Lee's Mega Museum (including props from Marvel Studios films)

Admission is $25 per day for adults and free for children under 12. Since I never attended Comic-Con to the south, this was well worth it plus I was able to take my eldest daughter as she shares my interests in these genres/mediums.

Thor's Heimdall

The Avengers' Hulk

Iron Man suits from the Marvel series

Stan Lee's Mega Museum was my first stop and, although "mega" more in the sense of quality than quantity, the movie props didn't disappoint. Fans of Marvel Studios films were able to see some of the iconic creations for its popular films. None were operational but at least the Iron Man suits lit up.

Stan Winston School (the above demonstration was helpfully projected in close up -- see upper left)

Adjacent to the museum display was the Stan Winston School's booth, which included a lifesize mech and a T-Rex head. But the real draw was a live demonstration of the mech (that regrettably I was unable to attend) and FX artists who exhibited their skills.

Galactus, the Destroyer of Worlds, and his one-time herald, the Silver Surfer

Display cases showed off scores of Marvel miniatures in tremendous detail. The collection would be the envy of any superhero fan.

The Wall-E Builders Club and R2 Builders showed off their considerable skills with working life-size models of the iconic droids.

The Ghostbusters car

John Chalfant

A treat for me was spending a few minutes with artist John Chalfant. Although his booth displayed some familiar art (above), it was prints for his Steamblades (or Legend of the Steamblades) that drew me to his display.

Fans of the Warner Bros./Rocksteady Studios' video game Batman: Arkham City will immediately recognize his work. He not only created the box art for the game but also designed the respective Game Informer magazine covers.

Currently he is creating artwork for Bethesda Softworks/MachineGames' Wolfenstein: The New Order video game.

The iconic melding of Steampunk design with samurai armor created alluring imagery, whether prints of his "good" samurai (above), "bad" samurai or related machinery or world map. All of these creations are in service of a graphic novel he is working on that I, for one, can't wait to see.

If I remember correctly, this world features continents revolving around a sun, with some existing in light and others in darkness. Good and bad samurais from these respective lands battle over the stones/crystals that power their Steamblades. To judge by the artwork, it's a fantastic vision.

Visit jchalfant.com or legendofthesteamblades.com for more information.

Alejandro Lee

Likewise, I was drawn (no pun intended) to the artwork of Alejandro Lee. The compelling duo in The Ballad of Sally Sprocket & Piston Pete comic book series, plus the artful marriage of Steampunk with Wild West, was all that was needed to pull me in.

That said, related artwork was also imaginative and impressive. See his portfolio at 47ness.deviantart.com.

Meet the Actors From Grand Theft Auto V panel discussion (L-R: Machinima's host, Stephen Ogg/"Trevor Philips," Ned Luke/"Michael de Santa," Shawn "Solo" Fonteno/"Franklin Clinton," Danny Tamberelli/"Jimmy de Santa," Gerald "Slink" Johnson/"Lamar Davis")

The highlight of my day at the show was sitting in on the panel discussion involving principal cast members of Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 5 video game. The lively discussion lived up to its billing with an often hilarious exchange between the five participants who, at times, joked in character.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Q&A kicked off with comments on motion-capture suits and their reflective ball sensors that turned into maybe 10 minutes of ball jokes. But there was also serious discussion.

Shawn "Solo" Fonteno (Franklin Clinton) and Gerald "Slink" Johnson (Lamar Davis) talked about their backgrounds and the hiring process. Solo related how they wanted to cast "two dudes who can relate to the hood factor," and Slink suggested when from South LA, if you weren't a Lamar, you knew a Lamar.

Then Slink joked that instead he was from the "Oxfordshire School for Acting." Danny Tamberelli (Jimmy de Santa) said he based his character on "upper middle class kids I went to high school with," but insisted with a grin that was "Not me. I was acting the whole time."

Asked if they heard of GTA, Stephen Ogg (Trevor Philips) said he'd heard of the franchise but didn't really have any idea what it was about, to which Danny asked if they even had video games in Canada? Eventually Stephen indicated he was not a gamer, and had not played GTA 5.

Solo joked that the game made $3 billion off him alone. He said he was told the job was something else at first, but when he found out it was for GTA, he joked that he renegotiated. Solo indicated that his cousin had played CJ in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. He also said he could relate to the part of Franklin.

Ned Luke (Michael de Santa) had been a guest star on TV's Law & Order and had acted mostly in commercials. He suggested they were all actors who just got lucky. Solo then added "I think I did 100 commercial robberies."

Discussion then turned to the script, which the actors joked was laced with British dialog. Slink said it amounted to, "Hey mate, let's go chat about ..." Though he and Danny indicated they did ad lib, they still lauded the writers as geniuses.

Stephen emphasized that the story didn't change, and Slink added, "The meat was there, we just put the seasoning on it."

Ned called the script "Unbelievably original, funny, pointed and ironic." Still, they had the freedom to improvise. The way he described the process, "At the beginning we had to find our characters, then [the writers] found us." Slink added, "It's Rockstar's creation, and we brought life to it."

When asked what moments from the game they remember most, Stephen said, "The relationships have been the best thing about shooting the game." Ned added, "For me, those were the best times -- when everybody was there working at the same time. Even in between takes."

"It all was an amazing experience for me," said Slink, who not only praised his fellow cast members but the crew as well. Ned also paid tribute to the female cast members of his game family.

They summed it up by acknowledging what an incredible ride it's been. Emphasizing what a life changing experience it's been, Solo added, "My enemies who play this game are my friends now. Seriously." Slink, in fact, paid tribute to the fans by standing repeatedly during the discussion to thank attendees and fans everywhere.

All in all, there's no question that these actors developed a special camaraderie during the three years they spent working on the game, and that all were humbled and appreciative for the entire experience.

Other panels that interested me that day (though I was unable to attend) included Star Trek Renegades, Wonder Woman -- Why Can't She Be Done Right, and What Can Be Done About It!, Bringing Superheroes to Life : The Art of Legacy Effects, Miniatures and Creature Effects in Motion Pictures, Icon: Levar Burton, Masters of Monsters & Horror, Writing Genre TV (with The Walking Dead, Justified & Once Upon a Time in Wonderland), and Zombies! Everything You Wanted to Know But Where Too Afraid to Ask!

Superman & Supermini

Cosplayers were out in force during the show and while I only caught a few with my camera, many had impressive wardrobes demonstrating a high degree of craftsmanship and care.

Steampunk Boba Fetts

Thor & Loki

Game of Thrones' Daenarys Targaryan & Ygritte

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag characters

X-Men's Mystique

Last but not least, the many vendors offered a variety of wares whether books, Blu-ray/DVDs, T-shirts, memorabilia, figurines, models, cosplay accouterments, artwork, etc.Although in my experience the benefit of such shows is the rare find, this show provided more than a few worthwhile discounts.

I was grateful to leave with graphic novels Anomaly & Shifter from Anomaly Productions (each about 50% off), Frank Miller's Robocop graphic novel from Boom! Studios (including Robocop: Last Stand issue No. 1), Iron Man 3 Blu-ray combo pack (50% off retail), Pacific Rim 3D Blu-ray combo pack (30% off retail), and a Steamblades samurai print (#75/100) by John Chalfant.

All in all, Stan Lee's Comikaze proved a fun, interesting and worthwhile event that I hope to visit again in upcoming years.

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