Looking like a ConThis might be the first year that Phoenix Comicon has felt like a real Con to me. The thick crowds were there, and the slow Exhibit Hall shuffle, and constantly getting bumped by backpacks and foam weapons; phone reception was terrible, some cosplay was stunning, and the celebrity wattage was noticeably more intense.
It's still small enough that a booming PA voice will call out announcements like "Attention attendees, John Berryman will be appearing in 5 minutes in Room 503." Small enough that people will rent booths to promote their Etsy stores and gothic cat art and handmade jewelry and self-pubbed comic books - people who usually can't afford floor space at San Diego. Small enough that the ventilation system actually keeps the room comfortably breezy and things aren't picked over by Saturday (and in fact I found a very rare, out-of-print, much-coveted CD on Sunday afternoon.) And it was small enough to be evacuated on Sunday due to a false fire alarm, which is something I hope never to experience at San Diego.
John Wayne Gacy redux
I talked to a few writers and artists on the differences between San Diego Comic-Con and smaller Cons. Rising star Chris Ness of Biker Mice From Mars said Phoenix offers emerging artists a unique opportunity for exposure, which is to be expected. But while it might seem that smaller Cons don't offer enough business to be worthwhile for many big-name creators, the opposite turned out to be true. Caleb Monroe, writer of Steed and Mrs. Peel, said that while San Diego does offers a larger crowd, as well as the opportunity to connect with more professionals in the industry, Phoenix offers the ability to connect more deeply with fans. "I also get to sleep more than three hours a night," he said.
Jamie S. Rich of You have Killed Me, Spell Checkers and It Girl and the Atomic echoed that sentiment, adding that the loudness of SDCC makes it difficult to talk to readers, while the growing emphasis on Hollywood can mean fewer sales for comic book writers and artists. "Even though 'comic' is there in the title, it's really not about that anymore," he said. He went to Emerald City in Seattle this year instead of San Diego: "Unless you're promoting something specific, San Diego isn't always worth it."
A lot of people mentioned Emerald City as their other West Coast Con of choice. There seems to be a growing demographic who've dismissed San Diego from their minds as a realistic possibility, and are focusing on smaller Cons. As far as I can tell, the main drawback to Phoenix at this point is the lack of big panels. If you're hardcore enough to stand in line for 12 hours to see 4 minutes of HBO footage, Phoenix can't offer that to you yet. But if you're okay with missing those mega panels, and you want a more social Con that offers lots of parties and activities, you might consider attending Phoenix Comicon next year. You won't have to go through a mind-splitting registration process to attend - yet.