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Phoenix Comicon 2016:
Good, Bad And Sweaty

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With The Con Hangover Just Receding, Pick Up The Bottle Of Fun One More Time And Relive Some Of The Highlights, Lowlights And Regular Lights From Phoenix Nerd Central

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By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

June 9, 2016 — Despite several days of treacherous, record breaking heat, Phoenix Comicon 2016 was by most accounts of anyone who attended a massive success. The event has continued to grow and is further cementing itself as a truly can’t miss pop culture event on par with the most notable conventions in the country. With attendance approaching 80,000 for the four day event and the con expanding even further outside the Phoenix Convention Center and out into downtown Phoenix, it is a good time to look at what went right, what went wrong and the future of what may be the single biggest annual event in Phoenix.

The Good
Nobody can blame the organizers of Phoenix Comicon for the weather (yet, see The Bad, below). It is Arizona in the summer. There is a strong implication that it is going to be hot and for the most part, everyone does their best to help everyone deal with it in a way that makes it manageable. The weather is worth noting because much of the good this year was overshadowed by the dramatic temperatures.

It isn’t totally fair to say the heat negated the otherwise very positive things about this year’s convention. In fact, between making sure the skyway was open between the North and West buildings of the Convention Center, having the air conditioner blasting, providing plenty of water and shade and keeping the outdoor programming to a minimal, the heat was as little a factor as could possibly be expected given the circumstances.

Sweating aside, there were a lot of things to get really excited about this year. Part of the charm of Phoenix Comicon is that, even though there are film screenings and Hollywood has a very gentle presence at the convention, it is still very much a “blue collar” comic book convention. It is nothing like San Diego Comic Con which has essentially become an unmanageable showcase for movie and TV studios with an exhibitor floor.

Though a huge event, Phoenix Comicon has a manageable feel to it and the programming is very much for true fans of comics, sci-fi, horror or those looking to break into some aspect of the industry. It is not isolating, alienating or daunting. Fans of any level or age should be able to feel welcomed. To that point, it is really impressive how family friendly Phoenix Comicon is, especially with their Sidekick badges really helping out on the cost side of things.

As usual, the exhibitor floor was well organized and there was lots of very cool stuff for us nerds to spend our hard earned money on. I myself bought some original Jurassic Park art, which honestly would have made the weekend a total success if nothing else at all had happened in my eyes. But lots of other stuff did happen.

One truly amazing thing is just how much programming that the organizers of the con actually manage to squeeze into the weekend, and what is perhaps more amazing is how many people in attendance don’t actually take advantage of it. With panels ranging from Q&As with voice actors to a cosplay masquerade and even a special screening of Jaws with screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, there was absolutely something for everyone.

What is truly shocking every year, especially this year, is just how amazing and abundant the cosplay was. Despite the heat, thousands of con goers were there to show off their elaborate, and one can only imagine very sweaty, cosplays. It makes even just walking around from panel to panel a real joy. All of the sweating meant everyone there needed something to drink, and what is nice is that you can absolutely bring in your own drink but if you had to buy a bottle of water or an energy drink, that was never very far out of reach.

Sure, they were a bit overpriced, but not nearly as ‘price gaugy’ as they could have been. The convention keeps expanding, learning and really doing everything it can to ensure that everyone has a good time. But there is always room for improvement.

The Bad
Nobody can change the weather in Phoenix. It is going to be hot and that is just something that we all need to contend with. And while the heat was generally handled well, there was one “solar flare” that led a lot of con goers to an immensely sweaty and nearly cooked start to the weekend.

The line for people who needed to pick up their badge in the North Ballroom was very long on Friday when temperatures hit a crazy 113 degrees. Unfortunately, many of those people had to wait for a very long time.

Outside.

They waited in that line for hours. This was a glaring issue and one that didn’t go unnoticed as Convention Director Matt Solberg took to Facebook to profusely apologize for the incident and attempted to explain it, but did say that there was “no excuse for it.”

I couldn’t agree more, Matt.

As a result, many people missed out on panels and photo ops with guests, which is one of the largest draws of the convention altogether, so it really was unfortunate and something that can’t happen again in the future. Granted, for as much as Solberg’s apology was obligatory, it did feel very sincere.

There was a lot of great programming over the weekend, so it is hard to make a fuss about certain aspects of it, but it wouldn’t be fair to not point out a few things. Most glaringly, there were quite a few notable cancellations this year. Perhaps most notably was the Animaniacs reunion panel that was planned but had to be dropped fairly late in the game.

Also, The Simpsons voice actress Tress Macneille had to cancel as well, which was a pretty big blow. Other guests such as comic book writer and Nerdist Writers Panel host Ben Blacker also had to cancel their appearances for Phoenix Comicon. Cancellations always happen. It's just part of having such a huge guest list, but this year felt particularly rough.

Lastly, and this is something that was a noticeable problem not only for attendees, but the guests who were brought to the convention for programming. There were abundant technical problems and very amateur-ish behavior at many panels over the weekend. Between not being able to get a DVD to simply play and to have it stop working several times, causing people to leave a movie screening or having literally nothing planned for a large section of one of the largest panels in the main ballroom, it was painful at times for those in attendance.

For an event this size, such mistakes are very off putting for everyone involved and it just feels like something that can easily be corrected, but for some reason isn’t.

I personally adore Phoenix Comicon and feel a little rotten nitpicking things like this, but as someone who wants to see this thing grow and continue to thrive, things like this can’t happen in the future. Granted, on the whole things tend to be great, but still. The things that were bad this weekend were really bad, and it would be an unfortunate misrepresentation of the event as a whole if these types of things wind up with the spotlight on them as opposed to all of the good that happens over the four day nerd fest.

The Future
Outside of a few issues, Phoenix Comicon has a bright future and remains a true highlight for thousands of people not only in Phoenix, but from around the country. Dates are already locked down for next year’s con, which will once again take place at the Phoenix Convention Center and take place in the dead heat of May on Memorial Day Weekend. It is very nice to have something to do in the summer time, but it is hard to not think “why not do this in March?”

Maybe Phoenix Comicon could become the premier fan destination for Spring Break? Just a thought from a fanboy who doesn’t love to sweat.

Either way, I will be there next year. Sweat or no sweat. And I will also be there for Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest, which has moved both its location and time to October 22 and 23 and will also be at the Phoenix Convention Center, as opposed to in December at Glendale Arena.

For more information, visit www.phoenixcomicon.com.
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