Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo, a pop culture celebration that spotlights sci-fi/fantasy comic books, manga, anime and TV/film, returned for its fourth annual convention in Los Angeles. To judge by Saturday's crowds, attendance should top last year's roughly 50,000 over three days. No surprise considering its growing content.

Marvel Comics' Stan Lee himself kicked off the weekend's festivities with an appearance on the Hot Topic Main Stage at 9 a.m., prompting a stampede of fans across the convention hall floor. He was characteristically funny, personable and enthusiastic as he fielded questions from the interviewer.

Marvel superheroes was a popular topic of discussion, including the planned Black Panther movie, the new Indian superhero Chakra, and the introduction of a new Latino superhero. For this lifelong Marvel fan, such news is music to my ears!

The Hollywood Sci-Fi Museum again had an impressive roster of life-size Marvel characters on display. This year, it took the form of a red carpet lineup of Avengers also including Spider-Man and Rocket (the full contingent of Guardians of the Galaxy would have been appreciated, but that will have to wait for the eventual movie mash-up).

By chance, I happened to be present when Stan Lee approached the table where renowned Marvel comic artist Jim Lee was signing autographs for a line of eager attendees that ran the length of the show floor. The two were all smiles as they exchanged a warm greeting and a few words before parting ways.

Stan Lee's Mega Museum returned with its wide variety of Marvel Comics figurines, with Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy receiving special attention, including an impressive collection of busts, helmets and related gear (see below). As always, there were several rows of display cases filled with decorative art.

Many sketches were likewise on display this year, showing off the artistry of Marvel's illustrators.

I was eager to attend the Battlestar Galactica 10th Anniversary panel discussion on the main stage at 11 a.m. Edward James Olmos (Admiral William Adama) took center stage, having impressively reprised the role made famous by Lorne Greene in the original 1970s series, otherwise known as Bonanza in Space.

He was flanked by Jamie Bamber (Capt. Lee "Apollo" Adama) and Michael Trucco (Samuel Anders). The former was late but made up for the delay by surprising the latter as he tackled him to the ground. From that point on, the camaraderie they shared was clear and illustrated what helped make the reprisal so successful.

Comikaze also welcomed cast reunions of My Little Pony and Mad TV. Others who graced the Hot Topic Main Stage were the cast of True Blood, Howie Mandel and Rob Liefeld (creator of Deadpool).

The panel discussion I was most interested in was also the one I likely would have to spend the least time attending in order to avoid Season 4 spoilers. Still, I did watch the beginning of the Game of Thrones event at 1 p.m. on the main stage. Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy/Reek), Esme Bianco (Ros) and Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) formed an impressive trio.

Theon and Brienne were among my favorite characters of Season 3 so I was grateful to attend even for a limited time. The actors spoke of memorable moments (spoiler alert), such as Theon's castration (Allen didn't have much experience to draw upon, thankfully) and Brienne's battle with the Hound (Christie's fave moment). The latter was a spoiler, but didn't give away too much.

Christie, Allen and Olmos were among the celebrities signing autographs, which also included Adam West, Barbara Eden, Comic Book Men, Elvira, Eric Roberts, Howie Mandel, James Hong, Jewel Staite (Kaylee Frye in Firefly/Serenity, a personal fave), Jim Lee, John Romita, Julie Newmar and Stan Lee himself.

Crowds did seem larger than last year, whether the throngs lined up prior to opening or the multitudes jostling for position in the cramped aisles, especially in the afternoon. Hopefully this meant more patronage for the exhibitors selling their wares, who filled the South Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center (familiar to my fellow Electronic Entertainment Expo attendees).

The variety of products on display was similar to last year, including T-shirts, cosplay garments and accessories, plushies, dolls, figurines, character and vehicle models, comic books, graphic novels, manga, anime and other TV/film Blu-rays/DVDs, books, myriad collectibles, video games, etc. Some booths included services. The Spider-Man sculpture above was a welcome addition.

Artists, including comic book illustrators and writers, were well represented among the exhibitors at Comikaze. While many focused on graphic arts, some also featured sculpture or crafts. Whatever their medium, legendary artists mixed with relative newcomers to showcase a wide variety of skills and tastes.

One of the booths to catch my eye this year was HexComix, thanks in part to the enthusiastic welcome of producer Lynly Forrest. The label just published their first issue of Hex11, a comic book chronicling a world where people are discovering their magic abilities in the shadow of forces seeking to control them.

Writer Kelly Sue Milano and illustrator Lisa K. Weber (L-R, above) are the creative force behind the fledgling series. Regrettably I have yet to read my first edition copy, but the concept and artwork are solid so I can't wait to dive in.

Besides the comic book, my daughter and I also bought a print (above) that we both liked, and Dragon Kitty buttons for both my girls (yes, Dragon Kitties!). More info can be found at the HexComix website.

The spectacle of a talent like Marc Silvestri sketching at the Top Cow table ought to be enough to stop anyone in their tracks. But the prospect of also getting his autograph was too good to pass up. However, he was busy illustrating prepaid sketches and it appeared he would have no time to sign.

My daughter was desperate to leave, we both were thoroughly exhausted, but I didn't want to pass up such a rare opportunity. Imagine my delight when he not only graciously agreed to sign my copy of The Darkness Origins Vol. 1 but smiled and asked me how I was doing? As tired and stressed as I was, it was an especially kind and welcome gesture from such a gifted and busy artist.

I was familiar with The Darkness via comiXology, but my introduction to it was through the last gen video game of the same name. The excellent game, with a powerful story, is a credit to the source material, and the imagination and creativity of Silvestri. More on Top Cow and the artist can be found at the website of the same name.

Gary Montalbano is one of those artists, like Milano and Weber, that I likely wouldn't have been exposed to if not for venues like Comikaze. His sci-fi/fantasy creations caught my attention on the show floor, no doubt the same way that his illustration above captivated a Warner Bros. executive.

As he explains it, the former Marvel artist met the executive at a convention, I believe, and the executive indicated that he'd been trying to track him down since first seeing this image. Montalbano went on to work for Warner and other studios. This image is included in his art book (top), which is filled with sketches, illustrations and descriptions of his creative process.

We bought a print of the above artwork, which typifies his unique vision. For me, it was a stylized tiger as well as elements of ancient Egypt, combined with a futuristic veneer, that set his portfolio apart. It didn't hurt that the gifted artist is also humble and personable! Visit garymontalbano for more info.

Speaking of future settings, I've been a fan of the Ghost in the Shell universe since first watching the film, and my library now includes the manga and the first season of GitS: Stand Alone Complex. So I was excited to see that FUNimation had Ghost in the Shell: Arise (Border 1 & 2), a prequel to all things GitS that I was unaware even existed, available for purchase.

We found a vinyl figure of Frozen's Elsa among Funko's popular line of pop culture figurines. I've always debated getting one whenever I see them and this year was no different with an exclusive unmasked figure of Steve Rogers (Captain America). But what was a must buy for me was Robocop (above). There was never any question about whether I would own that.

Other purchases included The Ballad of Sally Sprocket & Piston Pete by Alejandro Lee, Dark Horse Comics' The Star Wars and Marvel's own Ms. Marvel (2014) #1.

Cosplayers were out in force at this year's gathering and none captivated me like the above creation of the very talented Dennis Aiken. Not only was the self-described "wooden Steampunk" design awe-inspiring in its simplicity and craftsmanship, but to see him walk onto the show floor in full regalia was an impressive sight to behold.

The costume is made of bendable plywood -- two-layer for most parts, one-layer for others. That's an impressive feat in and of itself, but add to that the modular design to facilitate switching out components like the helmet for other styles and you have a serviceable creation. The real achievement, however, is the large hands with workable fingers that correspond to his own movements.

Despite not having leg components or a stained, finished exterior, the overall appearance was a visual treat. I even think the nonstained wood had its own allure, emphasizing its wooden origins. Regardless of its perceived shortcomings, Aiken achieved quite an accomplishment in my opinion.


I also have to note the interactivity of these Ghostbusters costumes (above). Their gear had the appearance of being operational, whether flashing lights or, unless I remember incorrectly or was seduced by optical illusion, moving parts. A very cool design all in all.

Cosplay is an important element of Comikaze and this year again included a Cosplay Contest at 6 p.m. If I'm not mistaken, the Cosplay Ball at 8 p.m. at Club Nokia was new this year, an acknowledgement of the growing popularity of cosplay especially related to this expo in particular.

The Back to the Future DeLorean, Knight Rider KITT car and Star Trek original series captain's chair all graced the show floor during this year's Comikaze expo, inviting attendees to take a seat behind the wheel or at the controls.

Excelsior! The man behind the wheels and controls of Comikaze gave his trademark salute at the beginning of Saturday's festivities.

Stan Lee's Comikaze is a must see show for me. The past two years has seen growing participation by celebrities and attendees, with panel discussions that are timely and compelling, other guest contributions that are informative and entertaining, and attendee involvement that is inspiring whether cosplay or interaction with guests and exhibitors.

I've enjoyed the variety of products and artwork, as well as the opportunity to speak at length with exhibitors whose work impresses me. It has the feeling of community and shared love for the subject. And it's an experience I can share with my daughter. I look forward every year, and can't wait till 2015.