Phoenix Comicon took place on Thursday, May 28 through Sunday, May 31. Apparently, preview night and Sunday were the best days. Honestly, I felt like I was going to Emerald City or San Diego Comic-Con, but I can park near the venue. The parking fees raised, but they’re fairly reasonable considering the location. Downtown Phoenix is designed for volumes of people because of the U.S. Airways Center—home to the Phoenix Suns and the venue for major touring acts— is walking distance from the convention center. You can also see the Arizona Diamondback’s ballpark from the con. There are things to do, places to nosh, and hotels up the wazoo. All the hotels in downtown Phoenix were booked far in advance, so lots of friends that were commuting from Tucson had to stay on the outskirts or in various boroughs like Scottsdale and central Phoenix.
The downtown Phoenix culinary and bar scene has exploded. The Tilted Kilt bar is one of those bars where a lot of the locals and creators meet up after the show. There’s a great smoking/drinking patio, and the wait time for your favorite typical bar food doesn’t take long to hit the table. The Copper Blues Club is connected to the best comedy club in Arizona: The Stand-Up Live Comedy Theatre. Craig Robinson headlined that weekend. Duce is a great bar for craft cocktails and karaoke. The locals were excited for Valley Bar, the new “speakeasy” known for their notable drink items like The Janet Napolotini and The McCain. The bar had that hush-hush, tight overpriced New York vibe. This is a trend that’s becoming more popular in gentrified areas. But Phoenix has a commercial culture, so it doesn’t really bother anyone.
The bar takes itself very seriously:
Valley Bar is located in a notable downtown building constructed in 1949 on Central Avenue just north of Adams which was once the home The Hub art galleries, famed Bickoff’s Deli and the Theater Triad.
Our interior decor by Patch & Clark Design is made up in a color palette full of soft yellows, cool grays, and bright whites which serves to remind you that this is sunlit Arizona. Valley Bar is something that chooses to celebrate what Phoenix life was and is by bringing this space a unique Arizona feel.”
The lines for food near the convention were ridiculous. The price for an Uber was worth it to skip the convention food. I saw a kid walking around eating Velveeta with macaroni in a Styrofoam bowl. I think walking around Downtown Phoenix to admire the architecture, rent a bike, and use the very accessible public transportation would have been much more enjoyable if it weren’t 100 degrees out. The Phoenix Comicon’s worst enemy is the hot summers, but it’s not so bad if your hotel has a pool.
Erick Biez, a local comedian, suggested that I try Mother Brunch; luckily, it was only a mile away. There were no lines or “Con” people (except for me), so it was the perfect distance from the Con to sit down and enjoy your choice of 21 beers on tap. Mother Bunch’s Sriracha macaroni and cheese was my favorite part of the Phoenix Con.
There were countless novelist, Buffy The Vampire Slayer actors, painters, cosplay models, comic book legends, and pop culture icons made famous by geeks. This Con is made for the people by the people. Phoenix Comicon has always been a comic book convention, and this year proved it in spades. Some of the guests included Arthur Adams, Gabriel Moon & Fabio Bà, Arigon Starr, Brett Booth, Brian Augustyn, Darick Robertson, Don Rosa, Jae Lee, Jim Steranko, Shannon Denton, Christian & Rianna Vilaire, John Layman, Joyce Chin, Max Brooks, Paul Cornell, Rafael Albuqurque, Renee Witterstaetter, and so many more.
There were fewer panels this time around. “We decided to focus on quality vs. quantity,” Shawn Demumbrum said. Demumbrum is a former comic book retailer turned comic book publisher, and now the manager of comic book programming for Phoenix Comicon. “We wanted to reduce AV costs, so we got bigger panel rooms, fewer panel rooms, and hopefully that translates into a better experience for the attendees.” Consequently, I hardly went to panels because of the times and there were so many panels where the fans were just showing off their cosplay. I have to say that 80% of the attendees are there to cosplay. You will see some of the most random, well done costumes at this event.
Creators and exhibitors alike were inconvenienced by the State of Arizona Department of Revenue. The state didn’t warn the convention until a week before the start that they were coming to collect from exhibitors. The problem is that not all of the comic book guests were prepared because this doesn’t really happen. I talked to many creators that were hassled and questioned by a group of alleged agents. The veterans that have a business didn’t have anything to sweat. Demumbrum said he and the con were trying their best to help guests in any way possible. This is one of those times where I’m ashamed of my home state, and I’m out voted.
California based comic book author, Sam Laggren, didn’t have proof that he paid for Phoenix Privilege (Sales) Tax License. He thought he purchased his license, but neither Laggren nor the agent at the convention hall had proof, so he had to go where the city was stationed at the Con to get to the bottom line. “I almost paid $12 I didn’t need to,” Laggren said. This could’ve been avoided if it weren’t for the City of Phoenix’s poor communication and outdated methods.
Dan Wickline, self proclaimed wordsmith and comic book blogger, documented his encounter on Bleeding Cool:
They came to me first and I told them what we were told by guest relations. The woman stated that the convention was wrong and that I would have to pay. When I suggested that I would like to hear that from someone from the convention, she went off on me. She claimed that she had the authority to access what my sales were and what tax I should be charged and that I could expect to receive a huge tax bill from the state. She stressed that in this case I would be considered guilty until proven innocent and that she would make an example of me. She then started taking photos of my booth as evidence… not sure what a single back drop and a few stacks of comics was going to prove… She gave me her card, showed me a lanyard that I guess was supposed to make her official. Then she noticed the form on my table under my iPad. She grabbed at it to take it, being this would have my information on it where she could then try to make good on her threats. I put my hand down on it, keeping her from taking it. She got even more angry and took off, threatening me with more financial penalties as she went.
Alex de Campi did the most punk rock thing: she refused to pay so she gave all her money to the Hero Initiative. Click here to read the full story.
I heard a rumor that 80,000 passes were sold as of Saturday. If you don’t mind the desert heat, looking to meet your favorite creators, hate long lines, love craft beer, world renowned pizza, eclectic nightlife, and don’t mind paying reasonable prices, then this should be on your Con bucket list.
UPDATE: The final attendance number was 75,501, according to the Phoenix Comicon Facebook page. This roughly 2,000 down from last year. Despite the dip, this is a considerable number and keeps the con in top 10 most attended shows in the country.
Henry Barajas is the co-creator, writer and letterer for El Loco and Captain Unikorn. He has also written and lettered short stories for two successful Kickstarter SpazDog Press projects: Unite and Take Over: Stories inspired by The Smiths and Break The Walls: Comic Stories inspired by The Pixies. He is the Newsroom Research Assistant for The Arizona Daily Star and was nominated for the Shel Dorf Blogger of the Year award for his work at The Beat. You can follow him on Twitter @HenryBarajas and Google+.