Phoenix Comicon concluded this Memorial Day weekend, running Thursday through Sunday, May 25-28, 2017. 2017 marked the first year the convention was held on Memorial Day weekend, although the event usually takes place on a nice, hot weekend sometime in the summer. The heat usually doesn’t keep people away though, as the event had record attendance of 106,096 fans in 2016. This year however, some of the event was overshadowed by the poor choices of one disturbed individual and by Phoenix Convention Center personnel to implement new security standards.
Thursday, May 25 was the first day of the convention and this was the day of the “incident”. Around noon, Phoenix police “received a tip about a man who had allegedly posted pictures on social media of Phoenix police officers and threatened to kill them”. When police found the suspect inside the Convention Center, “he was allegedly wearing body armor and carrying three handguns, a shotgun, additional ammunition and a knife”. The man believed he was the Punisher, and intended to kill police officers as well as Comicon guest Jason David Frank aka the original Green Power Ranger. On that day, the cosplayers were dressed up with their prop weapons, as I would have expected, and the peace bonding stations were in place checking these items.
A couple of emails went out from Phoenix Convention Director Matthew Solberg late Thursday and again Friday morning, informing attendees that:
There would now be enhanced security procedures including magnetic wand and backpack checks;
Access points for entrance into the Convention Center had been reduced to three main areas;
For those needing to attend registration, there would only be ONE access point into the Convention Center;
Weapons of all types including Simulated Weapons would be prohibited for the entirety of Phoenix Comicon 2017.
The email also included instructions for obtaining a refund, although “it may take thirty days or longer to fully process all refund requests”.
Unfortunately for those attending on Friday, the enhanced security translated into long lines just waiting to get into the Con, even for those who already had their registration badges. I walked on over to the Convention Center around lunchtime Friday and found two lines that were blocks long: one for people with their badges and one for people still needing to pick them up; and that PCC personnel eventually combined into one line for reasons that were unclear to me. Inside the Con, attendance did seem to be lower than I would have expected, but those who made it in did not seem disappointed by it at all.
By Saturday the security personnel had a day under their belts and the lines seemed shorter and moved pretty quickly to get people into registration and into the Con. We arrived at 9am and made it into the building, pass in hand, by 9:30. Although prop weapons were not allowed throughout the duration of the Con, it did make some of us wonder, “Why haven’t they had this much security in the first place?”
Despite these events, Phoenix Comicon delivered on everything you would expect: the guests, the authors, the cosplayers (minus weapons!), the panels, and the exhibitors. As in past years, all levels of the Convention Center North Building were dedicated to Comicon, with the entire lower level for exhibitors; and the three upper floors for panels, classes, and the “Hall of Heroes” where the actor photo ops take place. The Phoenix Hyatt Regency Hotel, located across the street from the Convention Center, also had events taking place on three floors of their building dedicated to gaming and meetups.
Phoenix Comicon has always done a great job appealing to all ages and interests and 2017 was no exception. The special guest list and panels included Anthony Michael Hall, Curtis Armstrong, Danny Trejo (I went to his panel – great times, great guy!), Dick Van Dyke, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal, and Neal McDonough, just to name a few. And even though I wasn’t sure of everyone’s tie-in to comics, I still recognized some of these great names. The guest artist and author list topped over 120 people, including my personal favorite Bill Willingham, the author of Fables. I wasn’t able to get up close and personal though, because when I stopped by his table, he was off doing a panel!
For the cosplayers, 2017 might have been disappointing. Some of these individuals work months to obtain not only the perfect costume, but the perfect props, and those items were not allowed this year. As an attendee, I still thought many of the cosplay costumes were amazing. The Harley Quinn count was way down this year (thank goodness!) but there were high quality Spidermen, Deadpools, Reys from Star Wars, and Ricks from Rick & Morty. I saw one brave soul as Iron Fist. There were also some unique takes on Pokemon, and some impressive anime character groups. Steampunk is always popular at Phoenix Comicon also, and one gal dressed up her Chihuahua to the nines!
And if somehow the actor guests, the author guests, or the 500+ exhibitors aren’t enough for you, you can attend any of the programming classes that run from 10:30am to 11:00pm. Most are free and some charge a nominal fee ($5-$10). Options include Cosplay 101, Ethics of Journalism in Comic Books, Space Combat 2.0, and AZ Stars of Science. There is simply too much to do in one day if you want to see it all!
I think that if you survived the long lines and the security checks, Phoenix Comicon delivered everything as expected. It was fun to attend if only for the people watching, the guests, and the exhibitors. I do think there are a lot of areas for improvement as it relates to registration and entry into the building, but overall I am supportive of the additional security checks. I think Phoenix Comicon needs to take a look at some options for prop weapons though, as this will be important to the cosplayer community and it would be a shame for the city and the Con to lose travel revenue over this rule. 2017 was a learning experience for all of us, but one that hopefully will create a better experience for future events.
I want to thank the group at Droids Canada for allowing me and my husband to guest review at Phoenix Comicon this year! You guys rock!
- Stacey Tschilar