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a dispatch from phoenix comicon 2015

This is the third and final installment in a series of articles about Ziggy’s experiences at Phoenix Comicon 2015, now six weeks a memory.  The accompanying pictures of convention cosplayers were all taken with consent to photograph and publish.  Heartfelt thanks to these wonderful people who are in so many ways the heart and soul of the con experience.

“These are the moments that make life worth living. The moments when memories are made.”

– Harley Quinn

I remember the first “comic book convention” I ever went to.  It was held in the reception hall of a dingy bowling alley and amounted to nothing more than a sketchy two-aisle dealers’ room that could be skimmed in just over five minutes if nothing caught the eye.  There were no guests, and there were no panels.  Just a bunch of unshaven dudes selling comic books and magazines, along with two toy dealers, one poster guy, and one autograph peddler of the “caveat emptor” sort in case anyone who’d paid the $3 entry fee might be up for a little variety.  I’m also pretty sure that anyone who’d try to walk in dressed in anything but “normal” street clothes would have been quickly shamed into leaving.

Needless to say, that was a long time ago in what now feels like it must have been a galaxy far, far away, for the times, they have definitely changed.

I’ve been to many other shows and conventions since the long-past days of that dingy bowling alley.  Several comic oriented events, of course.  A card tournament convention or two.  A plethora of Star Trek conventions, both franchised and independent.  Lots of others, including a little gathering of gamers-and-more that still calls itself Gencon (even though it had long since abandoned the city from which its name derives even when I attended).  But of all the cons I’ve ever been to, none has felt as utterly, completely “right” as Phoenix Comicon 2015, and no, that’s not the recency effect talking.

Rather, it’s the community talking.

That’s a powerful word: “community.”

It’s something stronger than mere commonality.  I’ve attended over a dozen Star Trek conventions, and even though in theory everyone there had come together to celebrate a common interest, not once did I ever feel as though I’d stepped into a community.  Indeed, I’m having trouble recalling more than one where I even felt comfortable talking to anyone who hadn’t walked in with me in the first place.  The comic shows of yore were even worse; I can’t think of any where the attendees weren’t insular and the dealers didn’t treat everyone who visited their tables like a potential thief.  And the card tournament cons?  Forget it.  People might have been there to play the same games, but they tended to see their fellow players as adversaries only, and those who played other games as downright inferior.  And the vendors?  They vibe I got there was a near-universal “predatory.”

GenCon was different.  Though it started specifically as a gamer con and retains respect for those roots, its emphasis had broadened by the time I got there to cover not just games, but all sorts of fantasy, science fiction, and so on.  And the people, I felt, were a friendlier bunch overall, but, at least the times I went, it didn’t quite hit the mark of community.  There just wasn’t enough breathing room for that.  Cliques, knots, sure; fandoms found their own and huddled in corners (if they could find any within the stunning lack of space), but mixing really wasn’t a thing, and once you left the building, that was it save for the hallways of one of the attached hotels, where cliques managed to re-form.

But Phoenix Comicon…

I’m not even from Phoenix, but the moment I even hit the neighborhood of the convention center, the feeling of community was apparent, and I was welcomed instantly.

Whether in the busy-but-breathable aisles of the convention center or out on the sidewalks or in hotel lobbies or at local bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, fans of every stripe mixed and mingled and shared a common bond without having to share the same square foot of floor space.  Furries drank with Imperial Stormtroopers.  Steampunks and Whovians and Harley Quinns who’d never met before came together and conversed easily.  DC and Marvel fans sat at the same lunch table having civil discussions about what might happen if the Hulk met Superman, with nary an eye rolled nor an insult hurled – including by the waitress.  (I found the area business community to be very respectful of the con crowd; not at all a given when set against my other experiences elsewhere.)  As I waited in line to buy a replica lightsaber in the dealers’ area (of course I bought a lightsaber), a pair of total strangers started a spontaneous discussion with my friend and I about what might happen if Captain America tried to block a lightsaber with his shield.  (If the your first thought here is along the lines of “yeah, well, you’re all nerds,” then I respectfully suggest that you don’t understand that it’s not necessarily normal for fandom camps to mix like anything other than oil and water.)  These were my people, and I was one of theirs.

It didn’t matter where I went or what day it was; the sense of community was always the same.  And I think there’s a reason for that, and that reason is not as simple as “someone put together a one stop shop for geeks.”  Lots of conventions do that, including another one that just concluded this past weekend whose lawyers get twitchy whenever they think that anyone outside of Southern California might be making money through any gathering that dares to include the root word “comic.”

But therein lies the difference.

Yes, that other gathering gets the worldwide media attention (enough that they tacked “International” onto the name), and it gets big, giant corporate exclusives that are the fodder for a zillion YouTube “leaks” about which studios pretend to be upset even though they just got a ton of priceless buzz from them.  But less than one in ten people who make an attempt to go there actually can; there’s a two-stage lottery that starts at 50/50 and ends up much worse, and those who do make it famously note that there is absolutely no room to breathe there.  Sure, big studio exclusives drop… for the few hundred out of those masses who have the luck/wherewithal to make it into the big room.  And at the end of the day, though lots and lots of people do go away happy, it’s abundantly clear that this other gathering is a studio-bought-and-paid-for marketing machine that’s less about fans than it is about wallets and legalese.

Whereas Phoenix Comicon is fan run and fan focused, and it shows.

Sure, there are celebrities galore, but they’re pretty much there as themselves, not as part of a giant studio drop, and the general atmosphere of the event clearly swings much more in the direction of “the celebrities are here for the fans” than it does the way of “the fans are here for the celebrities,” which is a huge difference.  Artists are engaging, and even the dealers tend more toward “chill” than “chilly.”  Sure, Phoenix Comicon is built to draw a huge crowd, and it does, but most people who want to go can, and the aisles aren’t overstuffed to the gills when they get there.  There’s room to walk and breathe and discover and admire, and to talk to strangers when the fancy arises.  And without a corporate “spend your cash and move along” mentality coming from above, the general feel of the event is relaxed and inviting, encouraging those who attend to enjoy each other’s company and to come together… as a community.

And given a choice between that community and a studio sponsored exclusive movie trailer… I’ll take the community, thanks.

At Phoenix Comicon, it’s all about that fan base, and that’s what makes it the best con experience I’ve ever had.

You bet I want to go again next year.


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The Ring
- Written by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2015

With thanks to the community of fans at Phoenix Comicon 2015, and to the organizers who made this wonderful event possible.

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


- copyright 2000-2016, Ziggy Berkeley and Cinema on the Rocks, all rights reserved.

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