Okay… so it’s about a week since Phoenix Comicon, and I’ve still been trying to grapple with the weird sheen that seemed to take over this year’s con. The Phoenix Con has gotten some negative press in these digital pages for actions by the con. Run of the mill… whatever. But this year, with the news that a crazed individual brought guns and knives (and shooting stars!) to an otherwise laid back convention shook the entire community in the Valley of the Sun to the core. Of all the things that could’ve happened this year, this was the most surprising and exasperating; the entire vibe of the con changed in an instant.
For my part, since I was only at the Con over the weekend rather than on Thursday or Friday, a lot of the actions that convention brass took didn’t affect me personally, though I did have some friends reach out to me to check to see how I was doing. I heard stories of people waiting hours to get into the convention hall. For those of you who don’t know Phoenix during this time of year, this is only the beginning of summer, where the highs only reached the low 100s F during the day. So the fact that there were lines of people waiting to get in—many of them in cosplay (sans props)—could definitely have been seen as a bad omen.
For the most part, though, after some trial and error, all the security kinks were fixed. Originally, there were lines for everyone regardless of what they were bringing into the convention center, but at some point on Saturday, there were separate lines for people with bags and people without bags. When I asked convention-goer Faby Rodriguez about the security situation during Friday at the con, she told me:
“Even with a badge I had to wait outside, only waited around 30 min, the line looked bigger than it was. I’m actually really thankful they are doing the bag checks and metal detectors: I feel safer and inside the experience hasn’t changed and I think is because of the security. I would’ve been nervous all day if I hadn’t seen how difficult would’ve been today to bring a gun inside the building.”
When I finally got to the con on Saturday, everything seemed to be back to working at a normal enough pace, though I felt that there weren’t as many people as there could be walking around the joint. I wondered if that had to do with the ban on prop weapons this year, based on the unfortunate events of Thursday’s opening night. Convention director Matthew Solberg sent a message all “Costume props will no longer be allowed on-site. All costume props should be left at home, in your car, or in your hotel room.” Personally, I knew a lot of friends who worked on their costumes for weeks, let alone months, and were supremely disappointed by this new rule.
The amount of Harley Quinns, Deadpools, and League of Legend cosplayers, however, were healthfully represented throughout, as were booths selling copious amounts of Funko’s POP vinyl figures; fidget spinners galore as well. All from what I saw, people were still checking out a diverse selection of booths and panels, chatting with the celebrities in attendance (although I did hear grumbling when Dick Van Dyke wasn’t exactly on time for a signing. The fact that the dude is
95 91(!) and doing conventions is a marvel!).
The questions from Phoenix, though, will persist throughout the upcoming conventions of the summer. The balance of security and accessibility—always more an afterthought—has to be reconsidered seriously now. What amount of vetting has to be in place so that certain vendors don’t have to stop selling their wares or be forced out, or how much security has to be placed at every entrance/exit of the convention center before people are freaked out enough to not show up? I think the hurdles to this balance are not as difficult as they could be at first glance. From everything I saw at Phoenix Con, once the overall shock of the incident subsided and people could think straight, almost everything went on without a hitch. While it was definitely disconcerting to see police officers with “Bomb Squad” patches nonchalantly walking through the rows (and the inevitable “Is that a costume or a real uniform?” questioning that naturally happens at these gatherings), the knowledge that there was a modicum of security in place was good to know.
Here’s lookin’ to a less chaotic scene for next year’s Phoenix Comicon!