And Phoenix Comicon is over

31 MAY 2015

It's Sunday night. By now most of you have returned home from Phoenix Comicon, showered off your liquid latex body paint and settled in for Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful. Did you have a positive Con experience? Was it worth the travel, if you traveled? Will you go back next year?

I'm stuck on that final question myself. But one thing is undeniable - Phoenix Comicon is getting enough media attention that it's almost guaranteed more out-of-towners will flock to it next year. So let's break down how this Con went and who it's good for.

What kind of Con did we all just have?

A good one. Whether you went for the celebrities, the cosplay or the many events - the parties, the speed dating, the burlesque, the science competition, the comedy shows, etc. - you most likely found something that appealed to you.

The only exceptions to that I might see: attendees who were there for high-powered industry networking (the mid-level networking was good but this can't match SDCC in terms of serious yet accessible influencers) and those who were there for Hollywood trailers and previews. Yeah, you'll have to hotfoot it over to San Diego for that.

But in some ways, Phoenix Comicon offers a better Hollywood experience for some fans. Yes, really. If you like the special guests here - and there was enough of a range this weekend that I think most people found someone to get excited over - you might get a more personal and interesting panel here than at bigger Cons. Often at SDCC or NYCC you'll see your favorite actor sitting at a table and answering one or two questions at the end of a panel that mostly featured footage and a few producers talking. At PCC, it's usually just an open dialogue between that same actor and his or her fans for an entire hour. The panels are more relaxed and often they're more fun.

In terms of infrastructure, I think the organizers continue to do a great job of putting on a big show in a way that feels spacious and smooth. By adding the third floor of the convention center and utilizing more hotel space, the Con made it easy to travel to wherever you needed to be. There were a few areas for improvement that I spotted but overall the PCC team has shown how committed they are to constant refinement - something they told me a few years ago that has proven true.

Who belongs here?
I'm going to say a cautious "almost everyone." I've always found this Con to be very young (as in a teeming mass of adolescents) but this year I saw a greater mix of ages. One 60something person told me bluntly that SDCC is too much at his age - by which I think he meant the walking, the waiting in line, the sheer exertion involved - and that he likes PCC because it's just more accessible with fewer lines. My friends who took young children had an easy time getting out of there or getting some space when their kids had a meltdown, and it was easier for them to quickly get food and generally control their environment. Conclusion: anyone with mobility issues, physical constraints or other challenges may find PCC (or other smaller Cons) a more manageable experience.
I'd say this Con is going to appeal the most to young locals because it provides a ton of fun events in an otherwise somewhat boring city. (Sorry, Phoenix.) Cosplayers will like it here. Social nerds will too. Someone who's never been to a bigger Con will probably enjoy the spectacle of the Exhibit Hall and some of the niche panels.
But hardcore comic fans and seasoned Con attendees? I'd only advise they attend if they're within a few hours' drive and have an open weekend. I would not recommend anyone get on a plane for this - especially if they're hoping to find San Diego Comic-Con circa 20006 or New York Comic Con circa 2012. The experiences just aren't comparable in terms of the talent present and offerings available.
Or to put it another way; I ran into three high school kids tonight (still in their cosplay) who were thrilled because they got to hug some famous person. It wasn't even a name I recognized but it was like Zeus himself came down from the heavens and showered gifts upon them. Then I got a grumpy email from a 3-time SDCC attendee who was utterly disgusted with the panels he attended, calling them a joke and a waste of time. I could see the merit of both reactions - it all depends on your expectations and background.
As I said the first day of the Con, I think the guest and talent caliber will continue to rise. (It's already pretty impressive.) But I see this as settling into a celebrity-and-cosplay Con, with the fine arts represented mostly by the local community. That's not bad; given the relative proximity of Salt Lake Comic Con, Denver Comic Con and WonderCon, there are enough options that any out-of-town attendee should be able to find the right Con for them. That's the great thing about the growth of the comic convention scene; each show is taking on its own distinct personality. And I'd say Phoenix Comicon's personality is appealing for a huge number of people.
Until next year, Phoenix nerds.


  1. I'm actually a local resident but how's Phoenix boring? There's a vibrant local arts community, tons of outdoor activities, 3 hours from snow and 4 from the ocean and Vegas. Every major sports league has a team here, Scottsdale nightlife for club kids and downtown for hipsters. Spring training for baseball and the Phoenix Open in February. The only downside is the weather for some depending on your view of heat.

    1. Bear in mind I'm from NY and Boston, so my perspective is skewed - but I have always found the Phoenix nightlife to be very limited. I hate Scottsdale clubs, the downtown hipster scene moves at a zombie pace, and Saturday night in Phoenix is like Monday night in a big city. My friends who are raising kids love Phoenix but my bachelor friends who want to have adventures generally struggle to find something unique to do at night.

      But all of the activities you mentioned are definitely true. I actually like the heat and the hiking is incredible - the Superstitions are my favorite hikes in the world. I'm just used to cities that go fast, and Phoenix tends to drift.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it though my buddy was the MC for Momoa and said he's a super nice guy and his panel went well (my buddy's but momoas obviously too).

    1. That panel did go well. All of the big room panels I went to had a more relaxed feel that I think fans like - they can ask any questions they want and the celebrities can talk about anything they want rather than having to promote a specific show or movie. Everyone got a better feel for their actual personalities.

  3. As a resident of the Phoenix area, I myself am often at a loss when Californians say there is "nothing to do" here in Phoenix. I've been all over California, and except for easy access to the ocean and celebrity hunting, one can find everything in Phoenix by looking for it.

    Anyway... I have to agree that the panels - particularly the smaller panels without celebrity speakers - are of ridiculously low quality. I have walked out on several because the speakers were clearly unprepared or just wanted to talk about themselves. Would it kill people to put together a decent PowerPoint that follows some kind of logical progression? Do we REALLY need to know the 1,000 year old history of costume or armor or whatever before we get to the topic in the title of the panel?
    I have never gone to SDCC, and there is virtually no chance that I will. I have no idea what the various parties are like there. I can tell you that in years past, my family enjoyed going to parties every night, and most were, frankly, free. This year most were gone, and what was left were paid events. Now, I'm OK with raising money for charity. Maybe they could do that by taking donations and raffles and such? Someone will pay $1 for a chance to win a photo with whatever celebs are there. From the parties we did attend (and pay for), they seemed MUCH smaller than in years past and in no way better for it. The Galifreyan Prom, for example, was a major disappointment in attendance and music selection. AZ T.A.R.D.I.S. did their usual great job with making things run along despite what looked like a lot of confusion about how the contests were to be run.
    The local cosplayers are great here and of high quality. While Make Magazine may not choose to spend $$$$$$ on a giant robot to unveil here, I think we can live without them.
    Overall, this year the costumes were great and the con itself was not as fun as the last 3 years, but that's just one opinion.

    1. Sorry you didn't have as good a time this year. As far as the panels - on the one hand, I think it's great that average people can still get their own panel and those discussions can be a way for local people to meet and get active in specific activities. On the other - panelists have got to rise to the occasion and prepare. I saw panelists who treated the hour like their own comedy show or ad for their business and offered nothing of value to their audience. The organizers should consider passing out guidelines (maybe they do) on running a successful panel. Too many are dominated by people who clearly love attention but don't have any presentation skills.

      As far as there being nothing to do in Phoenix - I think it depends on what you're looking for. Compared to the cities I'm from (NY and Boston, now partially LA) Phoenix just doesn't have the nightlife scene of most cities. People who want to get out and do something different at night besides going to a club don't always have a lot of options, so I think people (especially youngsters who can't get into a bar) especially look forward to the blaze of activity they get with PCC.

      You're the third person to tell me the parties seemed smaller and less spectacular. Hopefully the organizers look at that.