Phoenix ComicCon

So I am back from PHX Comicon. Stan Lee, McFarlane, lots of exhibitors, a thronging mass of people, lots of great costumes, Kirby Krackle, Will Wheaton, Felicia Day...
A lot of nerd goodness crammed into 3/4 days of convention. First impressions:
Let me rephrase that, 

Last year's Phoenix Comicon, for those that went, was at the Mesa convention center, and was about half the size of this one. Is it the biggest con in the world? No. Is it as big as SDCC? No.
But it's pretty obvious that Director Matt Solberg has his eyes on something bigger and better. The con has been growing exponentially and it really doesn't show any signs of quitting. But with growth comes growing pains and there were certainly a lot of those.
An overcrowded exhibitor hall, over filled events, poor planning for lines, the phoenix heat, a lack of competing programming, and back to back schedules in several rooms had attendees and staff running, sweating, swearing, and crying respectively. Lack of planning for things like water services and manpower made for some very sticky situations, no pun intended.

However, the convention wasn’t all bad. Regardless of grumbles from people in the line when answers weren’t forthcoming, the biggest events, the Stan Lee autograph and photo sessions, the McFarlane signings, and the Will Wheaton Rock Band went off with relatively minor hitches. Folks got in, everyone got their turn, and the convention staff were generally helpful and relatively well informed.

The programming was a good mix of things for folks to do whatever their interest in the fandom, whether it was the art itself, meeting the guests, playing games, or showing off their costumes. And boy howdy the costumes. I said it before but I’ll say it again, they were fantastic. Not only were the 501 Star Wars guys out, but the general attendees had some fantastic costumes, including some rarer characters.

Food service in phoenix was one of the biggest weak points for the convention. As many attendees complained, many of the restaurants within a reasonable walking distance of the convention center and Hyatt were closed at 7:00 pm or earlier. If you wanted to get food after your panel or event ended at 9:00 it was pretty much the hotel restaurant or subway. You get sick of subway after 4 days.

The parking was a mixed bag. There was plenty of parking and darn close to the convention. I myself parked at the Colliers center every day I was there and always got ground floor parking, less than 1 block from both the center and the Hyatt. However, a mixture of the Phoenix Suns game in town and the generally high price of parking downtown meant that folks were lucky to get away with $10/day for parking if they didn’t want to hike. I know some folks from other parts of the country go “Just $10 for parking, what a deal!” But trust me when I say, Arizona, that’s expensive. Valet is usually $5 out here and most garages are maybe $1/hr with a $10 maximum daily limit. I saw myself $12, $17, and $20 parking garages as well as some at $5/hr with no upward limit. Most of the metered parking was maximum 2 hours, which any attendee can tell you are not sufficient.

The convention really needs to address both issues with the Phoenix Chamber and try and negotiate to get some businesses to stay open late for food service and try and offer discounted parking to attendees. These two things, properly solved, would have resulted in a more pleasant, enjoyable, and affordable experience for all attendees.

The exhibitor hall had some great vendors, not just a couple of solid comic vendors, but some industry heavies, like a booth from Top Cow, and even some great local talent. There was some awesome other stuff for sale, busts, toys, lithos, prints, framed paintings, and some anime stuff too. Great vendors and truly a pleasure both to work and to shop with.   I especially liked a comic shop that came out from southern California called Comic Madness. They helped me fill a lot of my pull list for the con and were willing to hold purchases if I got called away to attend to something.

Music wise, we had some delicious and wonderful stuff to enjoy. Kirby Krackle, if you haven’t heard them are a fantastic band. They were not only selling their cds and talking to their fans. They even busted out one heck of a concert. Calabrese played a well attended set. Will Wheaton and his Rock Band brought down the house for a heck of a closer. Geek prom, anime rave, and even a zombie beauty pageant, plenty to look and more importantly listen to.

Stan Lee was a fantastic guest to work with and was of course a huge hit with the attendees. The guy is not only a legend in the industry and responsible for launching the art form, but he was friendly, approachable, and showcased incredible stamina considering he did 2 autograph sessions, a photo session, and a panel back to back to back. McFarlane just loved talking to the fans and when we went to help get him moved from one part of the convention to another found the time to stop and at least say hi or wave to folks on his way.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Benedict, you left out a whole lot of coverage.” Which is completely true. I was very very very busy working this particular convention in a number of different roles. Worked to exhaustion to be honest, so much to get done, but fun nonetheless. But because of that, my coverage will sadly be very brief for this year. I could cover the events I was working or that I had first hand reports from attendees or staff on, but I couldn’t be everywhere. Next year, I promise a more in depth coverage of the convention and of individual events.

Plenty of fun and certainly a recommendation for next year, but a cautious one at that. The convention is definitely suffering from growing pains but once it gets out of the gawky stage I think it’s going to develop into something truly wonderful down here in the Arizona sun.

That is if the director makes the right decisions and listens to the feedback from attendees and staff to improve upon this year’s con and strengthen next years. So truly, more than ever, the future of Phoenix Comicon is in Matt Solberg’s hands. Let’s see what he does with it.
I f you have anything to share, if you were there, if you have any questions, please feel free to post and I'll happily tackle it as I can!