Phoenix Comicon 2014 RECAP: a Geeky Desert Oasis - Guest Blog by Susan Richmond

I try to cover as many conventions as I can in the Chicago area.  When I leave the state, I consider it vacation time and do no work for the blog.  My best friend Susan, however, lives in Arizona.  She was planning a trip to Phoenix Comicon, 6/5-6/8, 2014 in the Phoenix Convention Center.  She offered to do some long-distance coverage of the weekend for Geek Girl Chicago.  Rad!

So, is Phoenix Comicon hot enough for a trip to the desert?  (Ugh, sorry, I'm awful.) Take it away, Susan!

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Alright, so I know that this is Geek Girl Chicago, and the Valley of the Sun is far, far away from the Windy City.  But I also know that some of Lauren’s readers out there are avid attendees of fan conventions far and wide, so hear me out on why Phoenix Comicon might be worth adding to your rotation!

I’m told that the first Phoenix Comicon, held in 2002, was a relatively tiny one-day affair at a suburban hotel.  By the first year I went (2009), attendance had blossomed to around 7,000.  This year, attendance was just announced on the con’s official Facebook: 77,818.

Let’s just let that sink in for a moment.  Over just the few years I’ve been going, attendance has jumped over 1100%!  There are quite a few good reasons for it.

Phoenix Comicon is consistently drawing high-caliber guests.  This year’s schedule boasted fan favorites like Stan Lee, John Barrowman, Cary Elwes, Nathan Fillion, Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar, among many others.  There was official and attendee-led programming for a wide variety of fannish activities and genres, including anime, video gaming, horror, sci-fi, popular film/TV, steampunk, writing workshops, costuming and reenacting, and of course, comics.

In addition to Celebrity Spotlight panels in the main ballroom, I saw presentations by industry professionals Fon Davis (master miniatures builder) and John Eaves (prolific concept artist), a tutorial on pin-up style hair and makeup, and a thought-provoking discussion on LGBT representation in comics.  I also participated in a Cosplay Fashion Show.  That doesn’t even scratch the surface of what was available!

From a practical standpoint, the modern Phoenix Convention Center is more than equipped to handle an event of this size and type.  Parking in the area is plentiful, but the facility and the three official hotels are also accessible by the Phoenix Metro Light Rail.  The train also services Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, so there’s no need to rent a car.  There’s ample space and A/V equipment, a huge exhibit hall, air conditioning that easily keeps up with the Phoenix summer heat, and restrooms that all have counter space and lighted mirrors separate from the sinks.  ...If this seems unimportant to you, you’re probably not a cosplayer.

I’ve been to some other events where facility staff was at best indifferent and at worst hostile toward us “weird” attendees.  The Phoenix Convention Center staff (and the workers of the awesome food trucks parked outside all weekend) provided efficient, friendly service- many of them in superhero t-shirts themselves.  Way to know your audience, guys!

Of course, Phoenix Comicon is not a flawless event; nothing this big ever is.  I’m sure that its astronomical growth has been crazy for the staff to keep up with.  One notable glitch resulted in the main ballroom being mistakenly emptied between celebrity panels.  However, a smart hand-stamp system was implemented, ensuring that folks who attended a panel immediately before a bigger draw wouldn’t be penalized by losing their seat.  Also, there is one major intersection in the Convention Center that tends to clog up, but security staff did what they can to keep it flowing.  With few exceptions, the staff and volunteers I interacted with appeared to have the best interests of the event and its attendees at heart.

On that note, Phoenix Comicon does seem to actively work towards a safe and accessible environment.  This year, I noticed a “Cosplay Is Not Consent” policy in the programming guide, ASL interpretation of the Celebrity Spotlights, and reserved seating and special badges for attendees in need of mobility accommodations.  Phoenix Comicon also supports a number of charitable causes, providing space and resources for an American Red Cross blood drive, registration for the National Marrow Donor Program (I signed up!), and fundraising for literacy charities.

I know when people think of destination conventions, Dragon*Con and San Diego Comic-Con are usually the first ones to come up.  I’d also like to make it to both of those events someday.  But, if you want to kick off next year’s summer vacation with a destination con that’s relatively easy on the wallet (my pre-registration for this year’s four-day pass was a very reasonable $60), with big-name guests, great panels, and a lot of heart, join me in Phoenix on May 28-31, 2015!  

You’ll want to pack a water bottle and sunscreen--but don’t worry, it’s a dry heat. ;)

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Well, it looks like I have another reason to get down to Arizona- aside from visiting my friend, of course!  Thank you, Susan (and Mike) for all of the stories and images from Phoenix Comicon.

If you'd like to see more coverage from out-of-state cons, let me know on Facebook or Twitter.  As always, don't forget to subscribe. Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

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