On the much delayed SDCC badge sale

21 FEBRUARY 2017

Let me get this out of the way: I don't know when Return Registration will be.

SDCC attendees have had a tense month. After being told that Returning Registration - itself a change from the label Pre-Registration - would be held in "early 2017," we've been in suspension ever since. Your definition of early 2017 could vary but I think most of us expected it would be in the February timeframe. WonderCon is at the end of March, and a logical mind would assume CCI might want to get both badge sales out of the way before then.

As a reminder, here's the timeline ahead of us - if things go the way they always have:
  • Return Registration will happen.
  • Open Registration will follow.
  • Early Bird Hotel Sale will open up. Usually it's open for a few weeks before shutting down for...
  • Hotel Day, where we all plunge into the hellish hotel room lottery.

Based on that timeline, most of us thought Returning Reg would happen around early-mid February - this Saturday, the 25th, at the latest. So far we haven't heard a peep, and that's freaking people out because....

We know registration will be at least a little different this year. 

This makes people nervous because CCI's silence signals that they are struggling to perfect the new system - and that we may be in for a new round of crashes and bizarre tech glitches that unfairly kick people out of the sale. If you're new to SDCC world, you missed the years when entire badge sales would have to be rescheduled - sometimes twice - because of site crashes.

The fact that the system is changing has led many of us to expect some kind of instructional video or other advance preparation, as CCI has done in the past. It seems unlikely they'll send out an email 2 days before the sale saying "Oh, hey, it's all different this year but you'll figure it out." So people who hoped the sale would be this weekend are already getting gloomy over the lack of an email.

(Again, I recommend investigating how WonderCon badges are being sold through the site just to give you an idea of what our sale might look like - even though it won't be identical.)

The delays are forcing people to delay buying airfare and finding hotel rooms on their own.

If you're somewhere in the lower West Coast, this may not be a big deal - but people who need to fly to San Diego or LA want to get their tickets now, before the summer vacation crowd starts buying them all up. And for those of us who are gambling on the hotel sale - a prospect that grows increasingly dire each year - we want to know as soon as possible if we need to make arrangements on our own.

People are succumbing to paranoid theories that Return Registration will be absorbed into Open Registration.

Did I say "paranoid?" That's probably unfair, given that this is a game that changes constantly and it often feels like CCI is capable of stunning us in so many ways - but they did say Returning Registration would happen. It would be a supremely unethical move to cancel it. I think if they were willing to do that, they already would have announced it.

And from a commercial standpoint, it behooves their vendors (and the whole show really) to give the edge to returning attendees. We're the superfans who buy up everything on the floor and blog/post incessantly about all the trailers we saw.  First-timers can be superfans too but they're an untested commodity. Returning Reg stacks the deck with zealots, while Open Reg opens the door to fresh faces. It's a good system in my opinion.

At any rate, there's no point in losing your mind over this horrible scenario until and if it happens.

It's already the season to buy tickets and badges for other Cons - and attendees need to make decisions.

I'm always begging people to look beyond SDCC and find other Cons, because the idea that San Diego Comic-Con is the one and only is just hogwash. Lots of great Cons out there; I'm heading to one next week. In recent weeks, I've been hearing from people who've pretty much had it with SDCC and want to know what I recommend. They'll still try for a badge, but with March around the corner, they're looking at New York Comic Con, Gen Con, DragonCon, Silicon Valley, Denver, Salt Lake and others. This is a smart move.

People are frustrated by CCI's silence and lack of transparency, AGAIN.

"I'm so sick of their crap," someone said to me yesterday. He was referring to CCI, and he was referring to an ingrained pattern of failing to provide basic status updates to attendees. (Again, if you're new - this used to be so much worse.) I know you CCI loyalists will say they're working hard and they want what's best for us and we don't have a right to demand more - but pretty much every other organization values transparency and communication in the interest of good customer relationships.

When CCI launched their Toucan blog, I really hoped they would use it for dialogues (no such luck) or to at least be more candid about this kind of development. All they have to do is put up a post saying a new system is coming, it's taking longer than they thought because they want it to be perfect, and right now the sale might be in March. Instead we get... silence. And it feels like a slap.

Those of you headed to Emerald City Comicon with me next week: I think we can agree a 4 March sale is a nightmare scenario. I dread the idea of being away from my elaborate command center during a sale, but we'll make it work. See me if you need a place/computer to navigate the sale in Seattle that day, should it happen. I'll try to put something together.

And in the meantime, we'll keep waiting. Maybe we'll get an email tomorrow. Maybe next week. Tighten up your game plan, make sure your credit cards have room on them, and keep your Saturdays open. It's all we can do.

How do your ECCC plans look?

15 FEBRUARY 2017

Topic for discussion: do you like it when a Con dribbles out pieces of information regarding guests and programming, or do you prefer a massive information drop all at once? I think I like a mix, sort of the way SDCC does it: announcing their special guests in waves each week, but announcing their ginormous panel line-up by day 2 weeks before the Con.

Emerald City subscribes more to the newsletter/piecemeal approach, which means that almost every day brings a new announcement. Such as...

  • If you want a "classic" ECCC shirt, they're back for only a limited time: as in, this week. So buy by the 17th if you want one. 

  • Tom Felton, who you know better as Draco Malfoy, will join the guests. How are we feeling about the guests so far? I spoke to one first-timer who (unfairly in my opinion) compared the talent lineup to NYCC. Here's the tradeoff: while the quantity of guests won't match SDCC or NYCC, the quality will and the access is often better. You are more likely to get a great seat at their panel, a photo with them or even run into them on the street (see below) than you are at a bigger Con. (Obviously this refers to the Hollywood guests, but the comic guests are also indisputably killer.)

  • Speaking of first-timers: ECCC thoughtfully put together a guide for you.

  • Have you been checking out all the panels posted? You can learn about AI, play Cards Against Humanity, or stretch your physical and storytelling muscles at the YogaQuest panel; you can pick up dating advice from Dr. Nerdlove on Sunday (shouldn't that be on Friday to help attendees get some action over the weekend?) or find out how to create, pitch and promote your brilliant self; you can also watch Barb from Stranger Things/Ethel From Riverdale kick ass with a controller on the Twitch stage, attend some live nerd comedy and soak up the ingenious presence of Todd McFarlane. You can also find about scary comics, smutty comics, science-fiction comics and anything else your geek heart pines for. Start putting your schedule together; just be warned, you'll have to make some hard choices.

  • And if you can't wait till then? There are a few ECCC events you can join now: tomorrow night's Gameworks event and the 25 Feb Cosplay Fun Run.

  • Now, about gaming. You may or may not be a gamer in the traditional sense - video, tabletop, RPG. But I'd advise checking out ECCC's gaming page anyhow because the options are appetizing. I'll post more about this later.

Oh, and if you still haven't gotten your tickets yet: only Thursday and Friday are left.

Kicking off SDCC season - with or without a badge


When your annual calendar is shaped as much by Comic-Con events as it is by the seasons and holidays, it's easy to develop an internal clock. Badge sales, hotel reservations, cosplay preparation countdowns; you start to develop a rhythm as sure as the moon and tides. Then someone delays a badge sale by months and you find yourself thrown wildly off kilter.

We are less than six months from San Diego Comic-Con - and none of us know yet if we're going. We don't even know when we'll know if we're going. If you've been before, you know that taking care of arrangements is an incremental, often exhausting process. There are the badge sales - two if you went the previous year; there's the initial hotel room sale and then the day the reservations open back up after a respite; there's the parking sale, there are numerous event sales and tickets for events like Conan O'Brien and Nerd HQ, and all in all you're in Comic-Con season for months before you even get close to the convention center.

The Returning Reg badge sale could be announced any day. But rather than wait around for that announcement, you can take a few other actions to stake your claim.

  • Join a buying group or at least organize with your friends. You don't have to join a ginormous group, but you should at least ensure you and your friends have a strategy as for who's buying for who. If you're utterly alone in your badge buying endeavors - it happens - then ask around. I might be able to help if you can't find someone.

  • Scout for your safety hotel. If you don't want to do the Early Bird sale, which is truly the safest option, go ahead and gamble on the big hotel sale - but remember that last year, many of us got shut out in the cold. Looking for hotel rooms on your own can be a pain, but it does feel nice to have that reservation confirmation sitting in your inbox. Yes, this is harder (and more expensive) than it used to be. You can also ask your friends who has an aunt in San Diego you can crash with if need be, or check around on Airbnb, apps that sell off unused timeshares, and sites like Wimdu, Homeaway, Tripping, etc.

  • Talking seriously to those people who say they want to go but haven't even created a Member ID yet. We all know these people. Most of them will never get any closer to SDCC than their sofa. But some of them just need an organized, motivated friend (that's you!) to make it happen, so check in with them one last time. If they respond with anything other than, "Sorry, I'll make my account right now" tell them they've forfeited the right to ever complain about not going.

  • Request the vacation days off from work. I know that many of you have snow on the ground and late July seems like a distant dream. But you never know when your coworker will have some massive wedding or surgery that your boss thinks is more urgent than you going to Comic-Con, and deny your request if you wait. July 19-23: make it happen.

  • Think about your cosplay. Lately I've been running into so many shy or self-conscious people who think their cosplay skill could never match up to the real superstars, so why bother. That's a terrible attitude! If you want to cosplay, do it. Even if you're going as an obscure character. (Someone will recognize you, I guarantee it.) Or even if you'd still like to drop 20 pounds before slithering around in spandex. Seeing all the impressive photo galleries from SDCC, Dragon Con and other cosplay hotspots can make you think you're the only beginner, but it's not true. Have fun with it.

  • Join the Comic-Con community. Especially if you're a first-timer, but even if you're not. You'll find SDCC attendees are a very friendly bunch and will give you all kinds of advice and helpful tips, tell you about events and opportunities you might not discover otherwise, and generally make your experience so much better. 

23 weeks, friends. Let's hope that first badge sale comes soon.

Submit your work for the Souvenir Book


Much like Punxsutawney Phil, I'm going to make a prediction: I think this year's San Diego Comic-Con is going to be great. I just have a feeling. That doesn't mean we'll all get rooms at the Marriott Marquis, or be carried to the front row of Hall H on a palanquin, but I do feel like the programming, the guests, the surprises, the overall experience, will be exciting and satisfying for most attendees.

Yet one place this year falls oddly short is the anniversaries being celebrated. Each year CCI notes important dates - a famous artist's birthday, the anniversary of a character or comic book - and those themes guide art and narrative work submitted for the Souvenir Book. That's the thick, pretty journal full of articles and artwork you receive at SDCC. Some years are just ripe with these anniversaries. Last year was an abundance of riches.

This year, though, is slim pickings. That isn't to cast shade on anyone or anything being celebrated. It's just a smaller number of opportunities around which to center your work:

The 100th birthdays of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner. Obviously there's a wealth of their characters and achievements to be inspired by. In addition, CCI wants you to share any memories or personal encounters you may have had with these gentlemen. You could be featured in their "Close Encounters of the Kirby/Eisner Kind" series.

Weirdly, CCI says, "This year's book will also salute a number of other comic creators with milestone anniversaries in articles." Um... like who? Tell us so we can write/draw/paint about it, CCI.

Then there's the 50th Anniversary of Batgirl. If last summer's Killing Joke gargoyle-dominated sex scene left you deeply unsettled, this is your chance to reimagine our Barbara in happier surroundings. There's a lot of creative potential for this one, I'd say.

And finally we have the 25th Anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series. Again, this should be a fun basis for creating something - but the trick will be to rise above the pack of Joker and Harley Quinn art submissions. The Ventriloquist or the Clock King would be my choice, but I'm sure you creatives will come up with something novel.

As always, you do not need to be a pro in any sense of the word to submit for the Souvenir Book. Give it a shot. You do need to follow specific formats and requirements, so review this carefully. Then submit your work by 14 April. Who knows - maybe everyone at Comic-Con will be admiring your genius this July.

SDCC registration hangs tantalizingly in our future


We know Returning Reg is almost here because CCI was thoughtful enough to tweet at all of us lovesick, desperate nerds today. They're working "diligently" on registration and they want you to make sure your Member ID is up to date.

Anything to get paranoid about or analyze obsessively over? I'm going to say no, even though the general mention of "registration" and not "Returning Reg" (what used to be Pre-reg) gave me slight pause. But that's my dark mind at work. I did appreciate the "diligently" until I wondered what exactly they have to work on so ardently. Is the process that different from before? I know a few things have changed behind the scenes and registration is going to be a tad different - but they're not going to throw a whammy at us, right?

Right, CCI?

Today's tweet, and our excited surge of response, proved that SDCC is like that unrequited crush who only texts you once in a while, and only then after midnight to ask if they can come over. You pretend to be casual about it, because you know you can't take a badge for granted, but your heart pounds whenever you hear from them. There are months of silence, there are crushing disappointments, but then against all odds it happens - and you're finally there in the San Diego Convention Center, luxuriating in a beautiful pop culture heaven.

Anyhow. So it sounds like Returning Reg will be upon us soon enough. Hopefully after Valentine's Day (because a badge sale fail a few days before could sour your plans) but before March. My worst fear, shared by many other Emerald City Comicon attendees, is that it would happen the morning of March 4 during ECCC. Hopefully CCI won't be that cruel - either with Returning Reg or Open Reg.

So spiff up your Member ID account (though I'm guessing it's already well-maintained) and contact any friends who aren't eligible for Returning Registration but planning on Open Reg. If the two badge sales are reasonably close together, there's no telling when CCI may shut down the possibility of new accounts - they do that before Open Reg, remember - so make sure your friends are in the system well in advance.

I'm already nervous. Are you nervous?

Today is the ECCC mailed ticket deadline

27 JANUARY 2017

If you're one of those strange people who plan on going to Emerald City Comicon but haven't yet bought their tickets - get on it! Specifically by midnight PST if you want your tickets mailed to you.

And if you're still on the fence? Take a look at the guests, think about how nice it would be to attend an energetic Comic Con that's got great comic and entertainment talent without spending hours in line or hundreds a night on hotel rooms - and then buy your tickets. Saturday is sold out but so what. It's still worth going.

The exact deadline is 11:59 pm PST. Buy tickets after that and you'll be picking them up at the Con. I don't think that will be any kind of terrible hardship, but you may as well make it easy on yourself.

So how are you spending your ECCC nights?

26 JANUARY 2017

You know - sort of - how you're spending your days at Emerald City Comicon. You will spend too much money on the show floor, you will exult over various autographs and photo ops, you will revel in the magnetic presence of Jon Bernthal, Jason Momoa, Vincent D'Onofrio and Anna Silk. You'll admire the talent of Gail Simone, Jim Mahfood, Lea Hernandez and Jeff Lemire. You'll get lost, maybe, if you're a first-timer, or you'll learn how to use a light saber in Family HQ.  Or you'll hang out with your favorite podcasters in the Podcast Zone.

But how will you spend your nights? So far you have several options.

Thursday starts off the weekend with the Sandman Erotic Fanfiction Contest. You have your choice of an early show and a late show; the entries, penned by various famed nerd scribes, will be read aloud for your voting discernment - and only then will you find out who wrote what.

Friday brings the official ECCC after-party: The Knitting Factory Presents the Power-Up Party, Featuring Saved by the 90's, DJ Elliott and MC Chris. It's an all-ages event, 21+ to drink obviously, and there's a VIP package which gets you into the "exclusive after-party." The show is listed as starting at 7:30 so you could theoretically hit this and go to a real party after and still be up in time for your first Saturday panel.

On Friday and Saturday: Guardians of the Sexy vol. 2: A Geeky Celebration in Burlesque. 2 shows each night will explore what happens when "fandom and burlesque collide live on stage." 18+.

These are ticketed events - so don't wait too long to claim your seat.

Remember, Phoenix Comicon is hiring

25 JANUARY 2017

So in the angry buzzings and mutterings over the Phoenix Comicon decision to adopt a paid volunteer model, this opportunity has been forgotten: new paid jobs. PHXCC sent out a message reminding everyone they're officially hiring, and that jobs will be posted on their site. Right now there's only an "integrated marketing specialist" position advertised, but that will surely change.

Do you want to work for Phoenix Comicon? Better stay on top of their site; they say postings will expire after a week, so be quick about responding.

Phoenix Comicon adopts paid volunteer model

24 JANUARY 2017

After weeks of controversy regarding changes to its volunteer model, Phoenix Comicon has arrived at a surprising decision: they are going to pay their (reduced) volunteer force.

Actual statement: "After much deliberation, we have decided to shift to an all paid staff in the operation of Phoenix Comicon and all events associated with Square Egg Entertainment, including Phoenix Fan Fest, Minnesota Fan Fest and Keen Halloween."

The email didn't discuss numbers but I'm hearing the plan is to reduce from 1300 volunteers to 400. (Emphasis on "hear".) A colossal reduction in volunteers seems inevitable, along with these questions:

  • How do you drastically reduce the number of volunteers for a rapidly growing Con? Remember, PHXCC joined the 6-figure attendee club last year. One proposed answer is that one paid volunteer can do the work of several unpaid volunteers. That suggests they won't have time to enjoy the Con, always a selling point of volunteering, but these paid volunteers may be more like the security guards and other staff we see at Cons: procured as labor and nothing more. Given the number of volunteer hopefuls, though, it's impossible to discount their enthusiasm for PHXCC.

  • Will badge prices go up? We don't know yet - but I would guess any increase would be moderate. And the money would be unlikely to come only from badge sales, since Cons have other revenue streams such as sponsorships and booth fees. But I'm only speculating here.

  • What about the former volunteers who now won't be picked? This we have an answer for: each 2016 volunteer will receive 2 free full event tickets for 2017 if they're not selected to volunteer.

  • Will this turn the tide of ill will that's been mounting in the Phoenix nerd community? This is subjective, but I'd wager... not so much. I can't say this enough: the free badge aspect is not the chief draw for most volunteers. (Though sheer access may be for sold-out Cons like SDCC.) Passionate fans love to feel involved with Comic Cons. Some genuinely enjoy helping attendees, others love the small amount of authority they have, many look forward to the social opportunities that come with joining a fun community, and so on. While it's laudable that the organizers want to compensate their volunteers fairly and stay on the right side of the law, anticipating their own exclusion has left many people feeling sad or resentful today. (On the positive side, I'm sure some of them will be inspired to host an event or participate in the Con another way.)

The decision is being justified as as a move that "avoids further controversies as this industry changes, keeps us compliant with changing laws and increases the professionalism and effectiveness of our team." Everyone's free to dissect that wording however they like - but it can't be denied that the burgeoning Con sphere is introducing complex questions around volunteering and compensation, and even the definition of non-profit vs. for-profit. So don't think this conversation is over - we'll be having it at other Cons, in other years, with many possible outcomes in play.

The pre-ECCC events waiting for you

22 JANUARY 2017

39 days until Emerald City - are you ready? Are you going to make it through these final weeks??

If not, you have options.

Fremont Brewing has again crafted the chosen beer of ECCC, Dark Heron - and you can go to its launch party on Thursday, 2 February at the Fremont Brewing Urban Beer Garden at 1050 N. 34th Street in Seatle.

On 6 February you can go to a night of "Comicprov" featuring comedy, cosplay, giveaways and photo ops. At Unexpected Productions - 1428 Post Alley, Seattle.

Or you can run your little heart out at the Cosplay 5K Fun Run on Monday, 25 February at Green Lake. This is a race you can run in your cosplay - so make sure yours is comfortable.

Most of the emails I've gotten have asked me about nighttime Con events, though - film screenings, parties and such. I'll cover those as we get closer. Don't worry about having nothing to do at night; there will be plenty going on.

ECCC kid tickets are running low

18 JANUARY 2017

If you're taking a youngster to Emerald City Comicon and they're between 6 and 12, get their ticket right now - ECCC has sent out an official warning that child tickets are running low.

Interestingly, Friday is still available with only 6 weeks to go. That's quite a span between the 4-days and Saturdays going so fast, and then Friday hanging on to almost the bitter end. Why is that? Are people having a hard time getting it off from work?

More Outlander VIP tix will go on sale at noon PST

13 FRIDAY 2017

If you missed the chance to buy ECCC's Outlander tickets - which includes a special VIP meet and greet, autographs and photo ops - more tickets will go on sale at noon today. The Rob Liefield package is currently available too.

To be clear, this doesn't waive your need to buy a regular Emerald City Comicon ticket - you'll need a Friday, Saturday or 4-day ticket. Friday tickets are still available, so you have a shot.

Now - I know some of you are mildly resentful, because you wonder how many more of these special packages are going to be offered, and will they sell out while you're trapped at a job or stuck in a DMV line or some other imposition. All I can say is that as I noted below, we are officially in Emerald City season and you'll need to pay close attention to announcements. That's Comic Con life.

And yes, there will be more guests and events announced in the coming weeks. The ECCC hype is just getting started.

Your ECCC To Do List

13 JANUARY 2017

Happy Friday the 13th! Are you making a San Diego Comic-Con badge sale conjure bag right now? Writing PREVIEW NIGHT in dragon's blood ink on a mandrake root?  Well, put SDCC aside and think ahead 7 weeks - specifically to the first week of March, when Emerald City Comicon lights up our lives.

There is a lot to plan if you're going, and it's possible you're so sick of their flying man loading screen that you're afraid to check their site. So to help you stay current, here are a few developments the ECCC team has sprung on us:

  • The ticket mailing deadline is 27 January. Not far away at all. You can still buy after that, but then you'll need to pick up your tickets on site. If you'd rather have them arrive in the mail, buy now.

  • In fact, I would recommend checking out the ever-growing guest lists, both comics and entertainment: I know we're all sad that Carrie Fisher won't be there, but ECCC has added some nice guests and will certainly add more over the coming weeks. 

  • You can also buy tickets to a Thursday night erotic fanfiction competition based on Sandman. No, this isn't a bunch of subway poets morosely identifying with Dream and Despair; the writers include ECCC fave Matt Fraction, Seanan McGuire, Scott Westerfield and a few others, and you'll vote on their work. I'll post more about this tomorrow.

  • But what if you're an attorney who wants to get schooled on the law as it pertains to the comic book industry? Emerald City is presenting two new classes, in association with the Washington State Bar Association and Thomas A. Crowell. This is for attorneys only; you can't pop in and ask a presenter if your publishing contract is on the up and up.

  • And if you want to learn art tricks from "the most knowledgeable and experienced artists in the industry," you can sign up for the Schoolism Live workshops. You don't need an ECCC badge for this.

We're just getting into the season where more outside events will get announced, as well as more guests and panels and exclusives. So I'll be posting more on Emerald City going forward - and if you still haven't decided if you're going, hopefully you'll jump off the fence and buy a ticket.

New Phoenix Comicon volunteer policy on hold

5 JANUARY 2017

Due to protests over the proposed Phoenix Comicon pay-to-volunteer plan, director Matt Solberg and the rest of the convention organizers have gone back to the drawing board. An email today stated that Solberg will not remain on the board of Blue Ribbon Army, the organization which prospective volunteers would pay to join, and will have no voting stake.

Meetings have already been planned with volunteers and staff; those meetings will discuss other options, such as a smaller but paid workforce and/or unpaid volunteers recruited through a nonprofit. While it sounds like Blue Ribbon Army will still be the nonprofit of choice, there will be an increased degree of separation between PHXCC and BRA. In theory.

I don't think there's going to be a perfect solution here that makes everyone happy - but the recognition of community feeling is a positive development, as is the solicitation of input. I'm sure the dialogue over the coming weeks and months will be an interesting one. Whether it's an effective one remains to be seen.

Interview: Phoenix Comicon volunteer speaks out

4 JANUARY 2017

Another day, another update in the controversy around the new Phoenix Comicon volunteer policy. If you've missed it so far, here's the deal: to volunteer at PHXCC, you'll need to join social club Blue Ribbon Army and pay $20 for that membership. Outrageous? Logical? Absurd? You decide.

Every Comic Con involves multiple factions - vendors, attendees, guests, volunteers, laborers - and some of those factions matter more than others from a business perspective. While there's a general nod to volunteers as the unsung heroes of any convention, they really don't get enough credit for all of the help they provide in presenting attendees with a great experience - and with helping for-profit event organizers stay successful.

To find out what actual volunteers think about the changes, I interviewed James Palestini, a Phoenix criminal defense attorney and long-term Phoenix Comicon volunteer who has moderated top panels.

James' responses are his opinions and nothing more - so please take them in that spirit, rather than a factual accounting of this issue.

How did you become a volunteer? What inspired you - are you a typical nerd?

4 years ago I answered a "casting call audition" to volunteer.  And no, I'm not. I love everything pop culture. One of the main reason I got involved with Phoenix Comicon was seeing how much it was helping Phoenix and the downtown, by bringing events of that magnitude to the area. I wanted to be part of it.

What kind of shifts did you work?

I'm a moderator, which means I was there 24/7. I've moderated every kind of panel - comic authors, graphic novelists, big movie stars like Jason Momoa.

Ah yes, I was at that panel. A fan offered up a candle for St. Momoa, Patron Saint of the Lustful. What kind of training did you have? I've been to some panels moderated expertly and some that were amateur hour.

The year I auditioned, it was an intense process. We had to submit headshots and they had us read over 3 scenarios. Then we had to get on stage in front of 10+ judges, who picked a scenario and had a coordinator serve as a mock guest. We were judged on intros, handling questions from the audience - they do that to avoid moderators who can't relate to the crowd and then they bomb and make Phoenix Comicon look bad.

It becomes a full-time job with the training and everything else.

When did the change in volunteering get announced?

PHXCC Director Matt Solberg came out with an email last week that sent the nerd community into a frenzy. He talked about decreasing the number of volunteers going forward.

Did he say why?

I don't recall reading why, but there's a professed issue of no oversight on top of these volunteers and making sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing.

So the official complaint is that some volunteers skipped out and left others holding the bag - which implies a shortage of labor, yet they're going to reduce the force. That doesn't make sense to me. Is there going to be a restructuring so the same amount of work can get done with fewer people?

Not that I know of. As attorney, my perspective is that this could be a smokescreen for avoiding certain volunteer caps and paying minimum wage, and was dressed up as a volunteer accountability thing.

Is your perspective shared by others?

I've spoken with quite a few volunteers - they know I'm an attorney and have asked me about the legal implications. I think it's legal, I think it would stand up to any lawsuit. I'm not saying ethically I support it, though.

Solberg is the director of PHXCC and sits on the board of the BRA. This may be legal, but from a PR perspective, it creates an image of a cabal running things behind the scenes, rather than being open to community input. Do volunteers feel they still have a voice, especially after giving blood, sweat and tears to the Con for years?

No - I don't think they don't feel that way at all. This came straight from Matt. It was an order, not a discussion, though apparently there are a few meetings set up to discuss it further. So maybe things will change. But I doubt it.

This doesn't go against 501(c)7 requirements, and the requirement from the IRS is to make information available to the public, so I don't think Matt would violate that or profit directly from it since he has to be up front.

There's the legality of the issue, but also the community fallout. Comic Cons are popular in part because they're a very accepting environment where outsiders feel at home. Do you think this issue has poisoned that perception locally?

You can see it on the BRA Facebook page. People are posting their dissatisfaction on how it's being handled, critics are trying to quash that and delete posts, people have called each other idiots - it's a terrible thing to see. You want to include everyone, create that feeling of "We're all in this together to have a good time and make friends." But the last week has eroded that pretty heavily.

Will there be difficulty in getting 1300 volunteers for PHXCC 2017?

Not at all. I think Matt knew there would be backlash, but he could take a risk like this because he'd still have enough volunteers.

You're an insider. You know what it's like to volunteer. Do you think there really is an issue with people abandoning their posts? Getting their badges, slipping off into the night never to be seen again yet still somehow enjoying the full Con?

I'm sure there's a small, very small, issue with this. But most people who volunteer do it because they love the Con, not for free tickets. I think this is a smokescreen. And why blame the volunteers? Go after the managers. Put the onus on them and make sure they're following up. Find these people and pull their badge. That might sound difficult but with how well everyone knows each other in the community, I guarantee that could be happening.

They do have oversight. And they do follow up, from what I've seen. So I don't think that's the issue. I think it's more about avoiding paying minimum wage - which is smart from a business perspective. But when you've got volunteers who poured their hearts into this, I think they feel betrayed.

I can see that. It's not just the volunteer shift, it's the meetings, the training. It can feel like a slap in the face to be told hey thanks for your years of free labor, but now you need to jump through more hoops and you still may not get picked.

It's insulting.

People keep telling me, "It's going to become about favorites." Nerds aren't always the most socially outgoing people and there are many shy people who volunteer to make new friends and feel more a part of things. If you now need to be a member of a club, some people may worry they need to go to certain events, schmooze, be part of the cool kids to get picked - whether that's actually the case or not.

That's already happening. Friends have told me BRA is full of cliques and some feel excluded. And with all the in-fighting now, I can see it getting worse.

What's your prediction for the future? I don't think people have soured on the event, but I do think this has become divisive enough to spark alternatives for the pop culture and nerd community in Phoenix.

There very well might be. I wouldn't be surprised if something like that came up. It might be necessary as a protest, a reminder that says, "You went about this the wrong way." Right now people think the protesters are going to drift off but I don't think that's the case.

On the other hand, PHXCC has instituted policies before where there was a backlash and Matt changed them. So that could happen. I don't know what's going to happen here.

And on that note of uncertainty, we'll conclude. There's an all-hands meeting this weekend to discuss this issue; I won't be there but some friends are going to report back to me. Stay tuned!

On the Phoenix Comicon volunteer drama

2 JANUARY 2017

A small controversy has been blowing around the Con sphere these last few days, picking up enough momentum to outrage attendees everywhere. I wanted to stay out of this because I know some of the people involved. But everyone has been asking me about it so here it is.

Phoenix Comicon is making its volunteers pay for the privilege - sort of.

Essentially, to volunteer at Phoenix going forward, you'll need to be a member of local organization Blue Ribbon Army, which costs a minimum of $20 a year. (PHXCC director Matt Solberg is on Blue Ribbon Army board, if you're wondering what the connection is. That's part of the debate.) Joining BRA doesn't guarantee you a volunteer position, either; it just makes you eligible to volunteer. Virtually 100% of the Phoenix attendees/past volunteers I've spoken to feel negatively about this.

So is this unfair and horrible or is it a reasonable solution to what PHXCC says is a real problem - people abandoning their volunteer posts and burdening their fellow volunteers? Here are the factors in play so you can judge for yourself.

  • Joining the Blue Ribbon Army doesn't mean you get to volunteer. It just puts you on the list. In fact, while there will be about 1300 volunteers for the 2017 Con, they are hoping to only need 950 for 2018. But joining BRA isn't just about volunteering. You pay to join a non-profit organization  (a fan organization turned social club) and enjoy benefits beyond just the eligibility to volunteer - early access to hotel reservations and the BRA lounge, entry to other events, for instance.

  • Much coverage of this kerfuffle has positioned Phoenix Comicon as a top Con. I'm going to say that it's not. The attendee numbers may be respectable (106K in 2016) but I feel that's because it's in a city where not much happens, especially for nerds; also it caters to a younger demographic (I've never seen so many high school attendees at any other Con) by offering tons of events while offering limited panels of substance. The numbers may be there but the offerings aren't, not in my book. I felt the same way about Alamo City Comic Con, as well as other Cons that manage to draw in half the city without offering the type of talent you'd see at SDCC or NYCC. I am not saying that's bad, because obviously these Cons are delivering something great for the people who love them; I am saying that you can't judge a Con in conventional ways by its attendance numbers. From instance, most of the artists, writers and retailers I've spoken to were vastly disappointed in their Phoenix Comicon sales - the attendees were not their typical fans and customers. I say this not to be mean, but to gently correct the recent suggestions that Phoenix is at par with NYCC and SDCC. You can see my past reviews here.

  • The struggle over volunteering and other past PHXCC challenges - like the badge system going down last year and thousands of people being kept outside in 117 degree heat, some of whom required medical attention - are typical of Cons that grow very quickly. Bigger Cons have had the luxury of learning over many years, or they got snapped up by organizations like ReedPOP that know how to handle logistics more smoothly. This Con has doubled in size in the last 3 years. They're going to make missteps and adopt strategies not everyone agrees with. However, the acrimony of this particular debacle suggests to me that we will see significant change over the next few years - either with a new organization/event, or a regime change. 

  • Much has been made of Phoenix being one of the poorest cities in the nation, with almost 1 out of 6 people beneath the poverty level. Say it isn't so! Oh wait, that actually lines up with much of America. People know that about 1 in 5 American children are beneath the poverty level, right? Forgive my bitterness, but I'm not sure why people who normally overlook real poverty issues - like going hungry or forgoing medical care - are suddenly concerned when it comes to spending $20 for a Con badge. Don't get me wrong; I want everyone to be able to afford to go to Comic-Con. But given that you'll spend that much on a parking garage each day for this Con, I have a hard time seeing this as a  massive financial burden. Of course, it's a bigger deal for broke attendees who count on volunteering to cover their badge, and now will have to shell out almost $100 for the whole shebang. Unfortunately, this is an issue at every Con: you can't count on volunteering for a free ride in most cases.

  • That said, I'm not sure that paying $20 is going to make a volunteer stick around. People don't volunteer at Cons just to save money. Some people like being behind the scenes, some are looking for a way to meet other people or chat up hot cosplayers, and some people feel a sense of contribution in putting on a great community event. And it's likely that a lot of the people who flake out on their shift are just bored, irresponsible, got invited to happy hour, have a panel they don't want to miss, etc. I understand the problem the Con is trying to solve - I just think there are better solutions, like compensating someone for their badge after they complete their volunteer shifts. Hardship cases can have their own process.

  • While the media attention around this has intensified in this last week, I'm told by BRA members that the policy itself is not a sudden decision and has been brewing for a while.

  • This isn't a one-off issue. Other Cons have struggled to compensate volunteers fairly - check out ECCC's class action lawsuit. I don't think this is an easy issue to resolve, unless Square Egg Entertainment (PHXCC's owner) wins the lottery and is flush enough to pay their volunteers - and monitor them closely. Even then, as Comic Con culture continues to swell, we'll see this arising in other convention and fan organizations.

I may interview some BRA members and volunteers for their take on this; as a non-volunteer my opinion isn't worth nearly as much as theirs. For now I will say that a few years ago my Phoenix Comicon badge fell off me 90 seconds after I got it (they didn't have lanyards so I had to pin it on my shirt) and they refused to replace it, so a volunteer named Felipe stepped up and gave me his volunteer badge. So I can tell you that some Phoenix Comicon volunteers are wonderful people and I hope they can still volunteer this year if they choose. (I still love you, Felipe.)

Stay tuned.

Let's talk about our SDCC 2017 resolutions

1 JANUARY 2017

Happy New Year! What did you do today? I'm guessing your day looked something like this:

1) You crawled out of your hangover - whether induced by alcohol or the miasma of misery that was 2016.
2) You made a list of New Year's resolutions that will utterly transform your life in 2017.
3) You thought about writing down "Go to San Diego Comic-Con" and decided....
           3a) Not to bother because you're brazenly confident OR you've never been and figure it's hopeless
           3b) To write it down because you understand the careful effort and attention going to SDCC requires.

 Hopefully you picked 3b! Everyone, this applies to you, whether you've hit 8 Comic-Cons a row, lost out in 5 badge sales in a row, or just wistfully dreamt of San Diego Comic-Con from afar. Registration - both Returning and Open - is right around the corner and it's time to get organized.

For First Timers

Sign up for a Member ID. Don't put this off; do it now. Today.

Talk to your friends and figure out who is serious about going. We all know those people who say they want to go and then back out when it comes to forking over money for hotel room deposits, plane tickets, etc. Don't bother with them, don't try to convince or badger them into going. SDCC is a demanding experience and you want your companions to be 200% on board.

Get educated. Read the SDCC blogs and forums and talk to experienced attendees about what it's really like to go to Comic-Con. Because it's a far cry from the glittery parties and accessible celebrities you see on the TV.

I recommend reading my advice on prepping for the first time as well as going to Comic-Con even if you're destitute.

 For The Unlucky

So you've gamely tried for a badge these last few years and each time you get left on the curb. It's the worst feeling, isn't it? I can't promise you a surefire method to get a badge, but I can make a few suggestions:

Team up with a buying group. You don't have to join one of the mammoth ones, or have 36 SDCC best friends, but if you can join forces with at least a few people, you will significantly better your chances. See me if you can't find anyone.

Look into other Comic-Cons. SDCC is not be all and end all of Con life, even if the E! network acts like it is. Look into New York, WonderCon, Emerald City, Silicon Valley, Gen Con, Dragon Con, Salt Lake and others.

For the Experienced

You've got it knocked, right? Well, maybe not. We all know how CCI likes to launch changes we never saw coming (while refusing to make changes we beg for) and there's always the crushing demand of those outsiders to compete with. Plus the sale process has changed a bit for WonderCon, so you might want to check that out just in case.

But you also might want to think about your Con strategy in general. Is 2017 the year, maybe, when you decide to swerve off course and try another big Con instead? Maybe you'll just swing by San Diego for 1 or 2 days instead of the whole enchilada? This isn't sacrilege; it's possibly opening up a new path.

Or maybe you want to have a different San Diego Comic-Con. Maybe you'll finally come out of the cosplayer closet in all your costumed glory. Maybe you'll submit a film for the IFF. Maybe you'll decide to shop your own comic around or spend more time with friends and less time networking. This isn't quite as urgent as actually getting a badge, but it does bear thinking about now as it could influence your choice of traveling companions and preparation.

All of which boils down to this: you want to go to San Diego Comic-Con or you wouldn't be reading this. And even though it might seem far away today, at the dawn of the year, it really isn't. First-timers, if you want 2017 to be your first SDCC, start preparing now. Luck does play a small role in your Comic-Con fate, but skill and tenacity play a much bigger role. If you get serious now about going this July, there's a good chance you'll make it happen.