by Merideth Jenson-Benjamin

This Memorial Day weekend, downtown Phoenix was invaded by the nerdy, as the 10th Phoenix ComiCon was held. This con, which saw more than 30,000 people over four days, has grown exponentially over the last several years. It, like most “comic book” conventions, has become a celebration of all things geeky, and featured programming tracks for comics and superheroes, anime and manga, science fiction. It is the highlight of the year for many in the geek community in Arizona.

I had not attended Phoenix Comic Con for several years, and for the first time I attended with my daughter. Mari, age 10, is a veteran of San Diego Comic Con, but had never experienced a smaller, local convention. Although she’s been reading comics since she was old enough to know what a book is, she is just starting to explore the comics landscape on her own, getting a feel for the different types of comic art and stories. What follows is a conversation we had about our Phoenix Comicon experience.

Mom: So, Let’s talk about Phoenix Comic-Con. This was your first local con, and my first one in a long time. How did you feel about it?

Mari: It was fun! I had a really good time.

Mom: I thought it was fun too, but I had a few issues.

Mari: Me too.

Mom: What did you think was the best thing about the con?

Mari: The exhibit floor. Because there were a lot of vendors and artists that I had never seen before, and it wasn’t too expensive.

Mom: You bought a lot of art prints. Why did you choose to do that?

Mari: I want to be an artist, so I bought a lot of art that I liked and thought was interesting.

Mom: Did you have a favorite artist there?

Mari: I really liked Freddie Williams II and April Reyna. I bought prints from both of them. A Wonder Woman and a Harley Quinn. They were both really nice and talked to me for a while.

Mom: I liked Artist Alley too. I had really nice conversations with Stuart and Kathryn Immonen, and with Randy Millholland from Something Positive.

Mari: When can I read Something Positive?

Mom: When you’re in high school.

Mari: You said the same thing about Sin City!

Mom: Exactly. Did anything bother you about the exhibit floor?

Mari: There were a lot of erotic pictures and artists. It bothers me that artists draw girls, even the heroes, as such hootchies. I mean what they do is none of my business but, there were lots of little kids there. And the Events guide had Lady Death on the front of it, and she barely has any clothes on.

Mom: You know I’ve been to so many cons that I don’t even see the cheesecake art anymore, so it’s interesting that it bothers you. Do you think that the sexy art is why a lot of girls don’t like comics?

Mari: Yes, I would agree to that, I mean, there are lots of sexy girls in anime, even shojo, but it’s cute and kind of safe feeling. It’s made for girls, and the sexy comics’ art doesn’t feel like it is.

Mom: I think we should mention that there wasn’t a lot of “comics” in our comic con. We spent a lot of time in Artists Alley, but, we didn’t go to any of the big comics panels.

Mari: Yeah, why not?

Mom: Well, because I think a lot of the featured artists and writers like Garth Ennis and Brian Pulido make comics that I am not comfortable with you reading, because you’re 10. And, you weren’t interested in the DC panels on the New 52 and Flashpoint, mostly because I don’t think you know what they are.

Mari: The New 52 is where they put Wonder Woman in stretch pants, right?

Mom: Yes, among other things.

Mari: Nope, not interested.

Mom: If I had one complaint to make about the con, it would be about the panels.

Mari: Me too! Nothing we went to started on time.

Mom: I know. That was really frustrating.

Mari: And, a lot of people on the panels seemed really unprepared or just brought what they had done before. For example, the panel about Drawing Out the Dragons with James A. Owen? He gave that exact same talk at my school last year.

Mom: I have heard him give that speech before also.

Mari: And he didn’t even teach us how to draw dragons, until the very, very end!

Mom: I did notice that a lot of panelists seemed unprepared.

Mari: And it seemed really unorganized. Like, people needed laptops that weren’t there, or they couldn’t get the video to work right, or the sound was wonky.

Mom: Now, we should mention that the people we talked to who went to the big panels – William Shatner, the Star Trek: The Next Generation Panels, Jon Berenthal — were very impressed. And I know they were very popular.

Mari: I don’t know who any of those people are.

Mom: Which is why we didn’t go to them. What was your favorite panel?

Mari: The Steampunk Fashion show, but that started late too.

Mom: That was very cool. Steampunk was very popular at the con.

Mari: Because it’s awesome. Although, it gets boring trying to explain what it is to people.

Mom: Anime and Manga were also very popular. We didn’t go to a lot of those panels because you are not really into manga.

Mari: Anime and manga seem a little cutesy to me.

Mom: I think you’re at a weird age for manga and anime. Not really old enough for the teen focused stuff and you’re too old for the titles for younger kids.

Mari: That’s probably true. And I don’t like romance, and anime and manga is FULL of it.

Mom: Some of it is. Now, did anything else bother you about the con?

Mari: Well, yeah, but it didn’t really have much to do with the con. More with you.

Mom: Me?! What did I do?

Mari: Nothing, but teenagers kept screaming your name and coming up to hug you.

Mom: Well, they’re kids I know from the library.

Mari: I know that, but they would yell across the convention center or attack you in the hallway! It was a little embarrassing.

Mom: There were a lot of kids I know there, and I think that is the best thing about a local convention like this. It gives a people who are really enthusiastic about comics, or anime, or zombie killing a place to go to share their enthusiasm. All of the kids I talked to were having the best time ever, just hanging out, wearing costumes, hugging strangers. It was very cool to see all that nerd-dom in one place.

Mari: Yes it is. And I totally want to go back next year.

Mom: You got it.

[Photo from the Phoenix Comicon Flickr set.]

Merideth Jenson-Benjamin is a Teen Services Librarian in Glendale, Arizona. She is the co-author of Collections for Teens: Manga and Graphic Novels from Neal-Schuman Publishers/VOYA Press.She also reviews for Voice of Youth Advocates and natters on her blog, Merideth Says (http://meridethsays.blogspot.com)

Mari Benjamin is the child of geeks. She wants to be a cross between Jill Thompson and Nick Fury. Her goals in life are to win an Eisner Award and boss people around. And wear cool black leather clothes.


  1. RE: drawings of scantily clad women. I keep saying this is turning away a really viable audience, but nobody will listen to me.

  2. This is a wonderful article. Mari’s perspective is both innocent and astute. I love her comment about Wonder Woman.

  3. This girl has it figured out. I hope she sticks to her artistic dreams. I’d love to see her name on a comic or even work with her on a comic in ten years or so. Bravo!

  4. The BEAT’s now doing local Comic Con commentary and critcisms by proxy now?


    And mom better keep Mari from J. Scott Campbell’s art as faaaar away as possible…

  5. As an FYI, on the James Owen “Drawing Out the Dragons” panel. That is something James does on a regular basis and is always a popular panel. Since he did the recent e-book based on the talk, he was scheduled to do it again this year. He did do several other panels, solo and with other authors, during the weekend, that were new and unique. As the Books and Authors Manager for Phoenix Comicon, I’d like to make sure people knew that our literary programming was more than just the one James Owen panel with many of our local authors (Aprilynne Pike, Diana Gabaldon, Kevin Hearne, Gini Koch, Sam Sykes, Janni Lee Simner, Weston Ochse, Joe Nassise, and many others) participating as well as non-locals like Peter Beagle, Joe R. Lansdale, Greg van Eeekhout and P. C. Cast. Our lit programming is more low key than the actors and media oriented stuff, but we had good attendance for this area and the authors and attendees seemed to be pleased with how it turned out.

    Lee Whiteside
    Books and Authors Manager, Phoenix Comicon

  6. Speaking of scantily clad women, April Reyna’s FB banner picture currently includes several and some NSFW DC superhuman nipples.