Background image by Sam Howzit and used under a Creative Commons license. Logo retrieved from the Phoenix Comicon website.
Now That The Southwest’s Pop Culture Event Has Wrapped, It’s Time For Some Constructive Criticism Of The Event As Well As Some Laurels For The Best Cosplay Attendees
By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine
June 10, 2014 — The premier pop culture event of the Southwest has come and gone and the event is continuing its tradition of growing by leaps and bounds. The convention grew by more than 20,000 attendees betwen 2012 (32,000) and 2013 (55,000) and while no official numbers are out yet for 2014, judging by the amount of panels that were filled to capacity and walking spaces jammed up with shoulder to shoulder traffic, that number was easily eclipsed.
The added draw to this years con was the obvious step up they took in both guests and programing, as well a concerted advertising effort far wider reaching than anything they've done before. The beefed-up group of guests included iconic figures like Bruce Campbell, Stan Lee, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Julie Newmar, Burt Ward, and Adam West, among a slew of others. While some of the new programing included things like the zombie obstacle course, the outdoor pavillion hosting concerts and exhibitions, and the Peter Pan themed pool party at the Sheraton.
The showroom floor also had more exhibitors than ever before which added both to the overall ambiance of the showroom, as well as the traffic. Some of the areas seemed a bit smaller than last year such as the area inhabited by Arizona’s Star Wars fan club the Dune Sea Garrison 501st Legion. They brought out all the photo backdrops, and gadgets and even their mock up of the Cantina, but it all seemed to be shoved into a more condensed area. The royal court of the Arizona Renaissance Festival’s area also seemed to be a little bit smaller than last con.
But while some areas had to shrink a tad, other completely new areas with completely new set pieces sprung up. Like the huge demon that 13th Floor Entertainment brought with them, the Delorean and City Hall set up from Back to the Future, the clock tower and Bat Symbol that the Arizona Justice League brought in, as well as a few video game areas among other new things. It was definitely worth having some areas shrink to make space for new things.
The con really made great strides towards catching up with its chief competition in San Diego, and it’s clear that the broad strokes are in place for the convention to break free of its reputation as a regional event. But if Phoenix Comicon hopes to take that next step, there are still a few kinks that need to be worked out.
First and foremost the website is full of glitches. Searching through the programing is too hard of a process, the schedule building application on the website does not always work and if it does, there does not seem to be a way to stop, and then pick up later where a visitor left off. The iPhone app worked far better, but there was no way to continue building a schedule after Thursday’s events so that was kind of useless after day one.
Of course, running an event with thousands of moving parts is extremely difficult, but what separates the premier national events from the premier regional events is the details. In the same vein, the programming guide is also very confusing and difficult to navigate. They attempted to break everything down by time and category, such as “anime,” or “Sci-Fi,” but it became confusing with panels pertaining to things like Harry Potter which could have fit in “Books and Authors,” or “Films” but ended up in “misc.”
However, those two issues pale in comparison to what was most likely their biggest weak point: the quality of the panels. The panels with seasoned celebrities — mainly those in the large ballrooms — went on just fine, with witty banter, quips, and iconic lines. But many of the fan-run panels quickly denigrated into questions to the audience like, “who was your favorite character?” Or, “what was your favorite moment?”
While I realize allowing the attendees to share their experiences with a subject is an important part of the convention, I still feel as though panelists should be capable of providing new insight on the topics they are discussing which would keep the panel engaging. Glitches, of course, will happen but far too many panels relied on fairly unimpressive Powerpoint slide shows, and not enough interaction and insight.
Moving forward, the convention is going to need to act the part of a major national pop culture event, which might mean cutting some less than apt, long-time panelists and replacing them with more engaging personalities. I know nearly everyone is a volunteer, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a good excuse.
Where is it and how you get it? Similar events like San Diego Comicon and Penny Arcade Expo send everyone who goes home with bunches of souvenirs, some from the con, and some from the vendors. But at Phoenix Comicon, the decent free stuff seemed too few and far between, besides the table of free movie posters of films that flopped in theaters.
None of these weak points stopped the convention from being an absolutely excellent time, but they are the holes which need to be patched for Phoenix Comicon to be all it can be.
Jeff Moses a senior contributor at Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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