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Meet the woman behind LA's Comikaze Expo

Image from the Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles.
Image from the Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles.
Comikaze Expo
Image from the Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles.
Fans dressed as zombies at Comikaze 2012.
Al Pavangkanan/Flickr Creative Commons
Image from the Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles.
Comikaze fans dressed like G.I. Joe characters at Comikaze 2012.
ed_2917/Flickr Creative Commons
Image from the Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles.
A group of fans dressed as Ghostbusters at Comikaze 2012.
Al Pavangkanan/Flickr Creative Commons
Image from the Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Convention Center, all dressed up for Comikaze 2012.
Ken Fong/Flickr Creative Commons

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If you're wandering around downtown L.A. this weekend, don't be surprised if you bump into Darth Vader, or a zombie, or any number of anime characters.

Some 70,000 comic book, sci-fi and horror fans from around the country are expected for the third year of Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo. They'll be hanging out around L.A. Live and the convention center, pretending they're superheroes, getting celebrity autographs, and explaining themselves to other tourists.

It's not unlike big sister convention Comic-Con, held each summer in San Diego, but one big difference is in who's running the show. Tess Vigeland introduces us to the female chief executive of this heavily "fanboy" event.

It is not every CEO who invites you into her office and promptly shows off a new shipment of stickers. 

A new batch of Lisa Frank merchandise has arrived in Regina Carpinelli's Santa Monica workspace and it has sent her into a sticker swoon. In case you are woefully unaware of who Lisa Frank is, she is a millionaire designer of lunch boxes and trapper keepers bestrewed with rainbows and unicorns. 

"It is a new wave punk rock poodle on a skateboard with neon poodle hair. Look at the black widow, neon surfboard," said Carpinelli. 

It is not the only clue that 31-year-old Carpinelli is a chief executive of a different neon color. Her office boasts all manner of comic book characters, and horror/sci-fi knick knacks, all relevant of her childhood in Temecula. 

"I am the only girl out of five boys. Automatically I had to like everything they liked. So, I was reading and watching all the stuff they did so my life was playing Terminator and reading Spider-Man," said Carpinelli. "I wanted to be a pirate, I wanted to be a cowboy. I was always a different kid."

Maybe from the start she was meant to create and preside over one of the newest and most successful comic and horror convention in the country. 

Pick almost any week on the calendar and you can find comic convention somewhere in the country, or the world for that matter. But only a handful can boast the attendance of a Comic-Con, which attracts more than a 130,000 fans to San Diego, or now Comikaze, which expects a little more than half that in L.A. this weekend. 

It is an impressive number for a convention that sprang from Carpinelli's head just three years ago. And she is not fazed by questions about her high-profile role in a traditionally male dominated geek culture. 

"Yeah, I get all the time guys judging me, they do not think I am a real nerd. I never let anything get me down. If people say stuff like 'You are a woman, you can't do it.' Or they call me sweetheart or whatever," said Carpinelli.  "It is like, you don't know what I can do. You don't know my income. You haven't even seen my amazing rocket car."

Jonathan London, founder of the website Geekscape, says beyond any other factor, including her gender, what endears Carpinelli to the nerd world is that she is such an ardent fan of their culture, and that is why she founded Comikaze. 

"The female place in geek culture has grown astronomically," said London. "We are not territorial about having a women involved in our geekdom. No, welcome it. Bring on the ladies."

Carpinelli had been going to Comic-Cons since she was a teenager, but by 2010 the event had grown so large she could not get tickets. She also resented the expanding definition of a horror/sci-fi convention to include the likes of the musical TV show Glee, as well as the rising price of tickets to the event. 

She used $10,000 of her own money to book a room at the LA Convention Center and she started cold calling vendors she had met over the years at Comic-Con. But to get vendors, you have to have more than just a business plan. You have to have celebrities. For months, she pestered two superstars of geek culture, Marvel Comics icon, Stan Lee and character actress, Cassandra Peterson. 

Ultimately, both Peterson and Lee showed up at the inaugural 2011 Comikaze as did 35,000 fans. The two then became Carpinelli's business partners. 

For Peterson, the question was how yet another expo would draw the necessary crowds. Though she, too, would become frustrated with explosive growth of sister convention itself. 

"I have been going to Comic-Con for I don't know how many years. Maybe 30, I think. Since I became Elvira. I saw they kind of reached the saturation point where they just can't get any more people in that town so that is one of the main reasons I got on board, but there are many others," said Peterson. "Now this Regina Carpinelli who runs this, really knows her stuff. She is really smart. She is really a go-getter."

GeekSpace's Jonathan London says he wasn't expecting the first year of Comikaze to be such a hit. 

"That is just a testament to how excited Southern California fans are having something where you can just drive down the 10, down the 5 and have a convention in your backyard," said London. "It's what Los Angeles has been waiting for. And I think it surprised even Regina."

It did. She turned that surprise into a business machine that expects some 70,000 customers this weekend. All because her fans believe in brand Regina. 

"Comikaze is like my child," said Carpinelli. "Most conventions start and nobody knows who does the show, but everyone knows who Regina is. To them, I am a real person and I am real geek and I am a real fan. So, if there is no Regina there is no Comikaze."