2018 Phoenix Comic Fest
Each year, Phoenix Comicon comes to the Phoenix Convention Center in May. The convention dates usually include Memorial Day weekend. Starting with this year, Phoenix Comicon changed its name to Phoenix Comic Fest. And next year they are changing their name to Phoenix Fan Fusion. No word yet on what the name will be the following year :) The convention's name changed this year because San Diego Comicon has the word "Comicon" trademarked and is suing other conventions that use that word. So, the era of the nerd community referring to all of these types of conventions as Comicons is sadly over.
This article is for peoples who are relatively new to Phoenix Comic Fest and Comicons in general. My goal is to cover the basics what you would have seen if you attended the 2018 Phoenix Comicon - I mean the 2018 Comic Fest. And what you will likely see if you attend the 2019 Phoenix Comic Fest - I mean the 2019 Phoenix Fan Fusion. You can also watch the video at the end of the article to see a broad sampling of what the convention had to offer in 2018. I attend all four days of the convention and filmed a lot of it, but I didn't capture it all. There is a lot to see there!
Clickable Table of Contents
- It's Not Just Comics Anymore
- A Pinch of Chaos
- Exhibitor Hall
- Hall of Heroes
- Event Tickets
- Food Options
- Getting There
It's Not Just Comics Anymore
Despite the name, Phoenix Comic Fest (now Phoenix Fan Fusion ), was not just about comic books. In fact, I heard a couple of hard core comic book fans say that they were a little disappointed that there were so few comic book dealers there. The nerd community is becoming more mainstream in our culture so TV, movies and online streaming are now more common. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that the shift to modern mediums has grown the community? I'm not sure. I just think it's awesome.
These days, Phoenix Comic Fest and other similar conventions feature all things nerdy or geeky such as comics, science fiction, anime, cartoons, fiction, fantasy, Legos, board games, video games and a whole lot more that the nerd community is consuming. I tend to pay attention to nerdy and geeky things and there were a number of things at the convention that were new to me.
And here's the really exciting part: the scope of these conventions keeps growing to include more and more fandoms! I think that's why Square Egg Entertainment , the company that produced the Phoenix Comic Fest is changing the name of the convention to Fan Fusion. Here's the description on the Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 website as of June 2018:
Some of the fandoms I noticed well represented this year were Marvel, DC Comics, Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Disney, Dr. Who, Rick and Morty as well as lots of anime that I'm not very familiar with so I can't call out the specifics. And wow, was there a lot of Deadpool cosplay!
The convention provides a number of different ways for fans to experience their favorite fandoms. It seems to me that the main categories of events and activities at comic and fan based conventions include panels, performances, vendors, celebrities and cosplay. I'll share my thoughts on each of these categories in the sections below.
A Pinch of Chaos
Oh, I suppose there's one other category for Phoenix comic conventions: Chaos! There have been a surprising number of disruptions at this particular convention over the years. In 2013, the convention center fire alarm system went off causing thousands of people to be evacuated from the building. It was a false alarm.
Then, in 2017 the lines to get into the convention were so long that they wrapped around the building and people had to wait for long periods of time outside in the desert sun. The long lines were due to the increased security after someone brought real guns and a knife into the convention center. I remember seeing those long lines on the news the morning that I was planning to attend the convention and deciding to stay home.
This year, the lines to enter the convention were short and security was handled well, but late Saturday afternoon, the convention center's fire alarm system went off (another false alarm) and once again everyone had to evacuate building.
The evacuation lasted the rest of the night causing a few panels and events to be cancelled. The event organizers rescheduled most of the activities for Sunday and allowed people with Saturday tickets to enter the convention on Sunday. I think the event organizers did a good job at handling a situation that was out of their control.Over the years, I've been to a lot of conventions for work or for fun and I've not seen any other convention have disruptions like this. For some reason, there seems to be a little more chaos happening at the conventions in Phoenix. Hopefully, the facilities people at the convention center can fix the fire alarm system so we don't have these false alarms in the future.
A panel is basically multiple people in front of the room presenting or otherwise talking about a topic. An important thing to know about panels at Comic Fest is that anyone can submit a panel for consideration at the convention. No really, anyone. So for the most part, panels are presented by fans to fans. And the underlying passion that drives panelists to volunteer their time to prepare and present a topic always shines through... even if some folks have no idea what they're doing up there in front of everyone :)
What I liked about panels is that they can look at topics from different angles. Some panels are an opportunity for fans to recount, rejoice and ponder the future together while other panels will provide information on how to reach your own fandom goals such as creating your own costume, props, streaming media, or book.
Most of the panels encourage audience participation so come prepared with questions or theories that you just must talk about with your peeps!
Parent should be aware that language and discussion in panels is not always appropriate for kids. Some of these panels are marked "18+" and other aren't.
There were a variety of performances at the Phoenix Comic Fest. If you're a cosplayer then you might want to watch - or participate in - one of the many costume and fashion shows for the different fandoms. And of course, there is the signature event of the convention: The Masquerade Costume Contest in the big room, which showcases the best cosplay at the convention. Considering the time and effort that it took to get on stage, this event can be inspiring to watch as all ages and levels show off their costumes!
Click the image to watch the Cosplay Clowns performance. Best in Show.
There are also comedy shows and cosplayers performing in character scattered throughout the day. I saw a local Star Wars fan group perform a theater-like presentation for the little Padawans at the convention.
And on the completely other end of the spectrum of performances - and I really mean completely - a local theater group performed the Rocky Horror Picture Show late one evening. This show is decidedly not for kids or even some adults :) As is the case with some panels, some of the performances are not appropriate for kids. Some are tagged "18+" and others are not. A number of the comedy sessions that were not marked "18+" were not suitable for kids.
For many people, the biggest draw for the convention is to see and interact with the celebrities of their favorite movies, TV shows, streaming content and books. Celebrities, sometimes referred to as convention guests, can include actors, writers, artists, crafts people and just about anyone who has a following in the nerd or geek community.
Some of the celebrities participate in panels and some get up on the big stage for an interview. They all sign autographs and take pictures with their adoring fans for a fee.
Autographs and pictures were in the Hall of Heroes area of the convention center and the lines didn't seem to be too long whenever I walked by. I heard a lot of people talking about stopping in to see Jason David Frank in the autograph area who played the green Power Ranger back in the day. I'll have to read up on why that is.
There were two sections for the celebrities. One section was for autographs and the other was a photo booth for pictures. The photobooth area was shrouded in a sea of curtains to prevent convention goers from snapping a picture without paying the fee.Celebrities are here to meet the fans, but the reality is that they're also here to make some money. Some of the fees being charged by the actors and creators seemed like a lot to me but I suppose that's the going rate for that kind of thing these days? Most were in the $40 to $100 range for signatures, pictures or both. Celebrities are not at the top of my list of reasons for going to Phoenix Comic Fest, but I saw a lot of people who were really happy to get an autograph or a photo.
Cosplay is a huge part of Phoenix Comic Fest or similar types of conventions and this is what makes these conventions so amazing. When you go to a convention like this, you'll be surrounded by people from kids to adult who are passionate about their fandom and have often spent considerable time and money on their costume.
The cosplay at the convention was amazing and I saw characters from many of the movies, TV shows and online series that I ever enjoyed watching going back to when I was a kid. Some of the costumes that people were wearing were indistinguishable from those that were actual worn in the original production.
It seems to me that as little as ten years ago, Hollywood special effects people could not do any better than many of the costumes and props that I saw.
Cosplay is about being seen, so go ahead and ask if it's OK to take a selfie with the cosplayers. I don't think I saw a single cosplayer say no. And if you think a costume looks awesome then at go over and tell them! You'll probably make their day.
There are a number of truly amazing costumes in the video at the end of this article. Be sure to watch the end of the video for a cavalcade of 140 cosplayers on stage. I don't do cosplay, but I'm in awe of those who do. I think they make these conventions special and it's one of the main reasons that I go.
Wow, there were a lot of vendors in the Exhibitor Hall! There were surely hundreds, possibly millions of them. You could walk around for hours and still not see everything. I know this to be true, because I did just that.
Comicons - darn it, I mean Fan Fests! - are one of the few venues that fans can find so many vendors in one place that cater to what they are passionate about so the Vendor Hall is always filled with people looking to spend their money. If you find yourself amongst the crowd of shoppers at a future convention, one thing to remember is that vendors and artists don't like to take merchandise home with them so there are often some great deals on the last day of the convention.
Even if your money is not burning a hole in your pocket, it can be interesting to just walk around a look at all the merchandise. The artwork on display was amazing. There were some artists who were making custom drawings for people who walked up to their booths and asked. And there were a number of booths giving away some nice swag.
The Exhibitor Hall was also where the gaming companies were located. Convention goers could walk from area to area and play all types of classic and modern games including some full on Virtual Reality (VR) stations. Sony rolled an 18-wheeler truck onto the exhibition hall floor with a full-size trailer filled with PSP game stations.
Hall of Heroes
This year, the fan groups were not in the Exhibitor Hall. Rather, they were in a new hall called the Hall of Heroes. Groups representing fandoms like Star Wars, Dr. Who, Ghostbusters and Legos had interactive booths setup. A number of the booths offered great photo opportunities like the cantina in Star Wars or the TARDIS from Dr. Who.
The local cosplay groups were here too with members showing off their costumes and offering information to prospective new recruits. Cosplayers in general tended to gravitate to the Hall of Heroes, so it was also a great place to get pictures with them. Although, at a convention like this, you can't take two steps in any direction anywhere throughout the convention center without running into a great cosplay!
The cost of a ticket depends on three things: (1) how early you make your purchase, (2) how many days you plan to be at the event and (3) what kind of ticket you buy. Square Egg Entertainment, the company that produced Phoenix Comic Fest, has tiered pricing similar to the travel industry. Just like flight or hotel prices, the closer your purchase date is to the event date, the more expensive tickets get.
It never occurred to me that I should write down the 2018 ticket prices for this article so we'll need to talk about pricing for next year. Advanced sales for next year's convention range from $30 to $45 for a single day general admission ticket. Each day is a different price with Saturday being the most expensive day. Tickets for kids ages 3 through 12 are $10 for any day and admission for kids 2 years old and under are free.
As of the time that I'm writing this article, the tiered pricing schedule was not yet published for the 2019 Fan Fusion convention in Phoenix, but the pricing schedule for the 2018 Fan Fusion convention in Las Vegas (also produced by Square Egg) shows that purchasing a single day ticket just prior to the convention start date is about 50% more than the advanced sales price. VIP and full event ticket price increases are about 30%. In addition, onsite ticket sales will cost an additional $10. Note to self: save a whole lot of money by purchasing tickets early.
How long you attend the event will also affect the ticket price. You can buy one or more single day tickets or you can buy a ticket for the entire event. At $55, the full event ticket for the 2019 convention is $10 more than a Saturday ticket so at this point (advanced sales) buying a full event ticket is cheaper if you'll be attending for more than a day. Using the 2018 Las Vegas Fan Fusion event pricing schedule as a guide for Phoenix tickets closer to the event date, expect the full event ticket to be a better deal if attending the convention three or more days.
The ticket prices discussed above are for general admission which allows entry to the event and the programming for the day(s) that you attend. For the folks that take their comicon-like conventions seriously, a full event VIP ticket is also available. The VIP ticket includes extras such as express lines for autographs and celebrity panels, a VIP lounge and some merchandise. This ticket will drain $350 from your wallet or purse. And that's the current advanced sales ticket price.
But wait! There's more... costs :) Sales tax and a facility fee will be added on to the ticket price (about $7 to a full event general admission ticket) and the cost of autographs and photos with celebrities and creators is extra (see the Celebrities section above).
For the 2018 Phoenix Comic Fest, I bought my ticket about a month before the convention and paid $110 for a full event general admission ticket (4 days) plus $17 for taxes and service fees for a total of $127. Was it worth the cost? I'm more interested than the average person in what the convention has to offer so my answer is that it was absolutely worth it. But, the cost of next year's convention will be even more worth it because after I finish writing this article, I'm going to purchase my full event ticket at these cheaper advanced sales prices :)
The food inside the convention was convenient, but more expensive than what you would pay at a restaurant. There was a fair amount of variety, but nothing to write home about. And during peak times, it could get busy.
There was also a food and beverage area outside on the convention center grounds between the two buildings that housed the Comic Fest. There were a number of local food trucks and a covered beer garden that wasn't as hot as you'd imagine on a sunny day during May in the desert southwest.
You could also step outside the convention center grounds and eat at a number of restaurants that were close by. From what I could see, the line to get back into the convention center wasn't too bad, so I think that's a good option for people who are looking for more than what the convention had to offer.
I'm local to the Phoenix area, so I didn't look into flights or hotels. I can tell people who are planning to drive to the convention center that it will cost you at least $20/day to park near the convention center. Unless, I suppose, you know a guy who knows a guy who can hook you up. I don't know any of those guys, so I would have had to pay the regular parking rate.
Luckily, it's free to park in a Metro Valley Park and Ride parking lot where you can then take the light rail to the convention center. A day pass for the light rail is $4 as of the time I'm writing this article. The light rail station that's next to the Phoenix Convention Center at 3rd and Washington is closed during the event, but the next station in either direction is about a block or two from the Convention Center.
I rode the light rail Thursday through Sunday and found the trip to be convenient and safe. The one possible exception was the trip home late on Friday night when the actions of a couple of passengers made people on the train feel uncomfortable. Nothing happened that night, but it's probably a good idea to ride the light rail with a group at night.
If you enjoy the nerd or geek community than this is the premiere event in Phoenix for you each year. And with the scope of content growing every year to include more and more pop culture, a day or more at Phoenix Comicon or Phoenix Comic Fest or Phoenix Fan Fusion can be a fun time for a lot of people. Take a look at the Phoenix Fan Fusion website to see if any of the guests or activities at next year's event look interesting.
You'll also have a good time if you just like to dress up for the day as one of your favorite characters even if that character isn't in the geek universe. It's like Halloween in May! And with tens of thousands of people attending, this is a great place for some serious people watching! The outdoor beer garden and food trucks provide a great environment to enjoy a local brew while watching for your favorite characters.
There is content geared for young kids, teens and adults. Parents, keep in mind that there is "18+" content at the convention that's not all marked as such in the Program Guide and it's not all presented late at night. Unsupervised kids and teens will likely be exposed to language and topics that may not be appropriate for them.
Can't wait until May of 2019 for the next Phoenix Fan Fusion? You have a couple of other options that are not too far from Phoenix. Las Vegas Fan Fusion is coming up in late September 2018.
And Tucson Comicon is in early November 2018.
If you're planning to go to any of these great conventions then be sure to purchase your tickets sooner than later. Ticket prices go up as the event date get closer. Plus, the sooner you have your tickets, the sooner you can start planning your cosplay :) I'll be looking for you!
Watch the Video
There were a lot of things going on at the 2018 Phoenix Comic Fest convention. I was there for four days and still wasn't able to capture everything. But this video is a good sampling of the panels, performances, cosplay, Exhibitor Hall, Hall of Heroes, food, Masquerade Contest and other things that you might have experienced at the convention. As far as I can tell, it's also a good indication of what you might see if you attend the Phoenix Fan Fest in 2019.
One of the most memorable things at Phoenix Comic Fest was the cosplay. It was amazing - and in some instances inspiring - to see the results of the considerable time and effort that people put into their costumes. The last portion of the video shows a cavalcade of 140 cosplayers walking across the stage at the end of the Masquerade Costume Contest on Sunday.
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I didn't go into the history of the Phoenix Comic Fest convention. You can learn more about how the convention has grown over time in this article on Wikipedia.