Phoenix Comic Con 2015
It’s difficult to define what the modern geek is. In the past the geek, or those that could be defined as such, were fringe characters. The preoccupations and passions of the geeky, nerdy sorts of people did not seep into the mainstream, and many of those who indulge in the nerdy side of life could find themselves maligned, insulted, and left out in the cold. A strange culture shift has taken place over the last ten years thats put the spotlight on the realm of geekdom, and nowhere else is this more evident than at Comic Conventions around the country. Thousands of fans flock to these gatherings to revel in their shared interests and passions and pop culture at large has taken notice. No longer are comic conventions merely gathering places for superhero lovers. Movies, television, books, video games and more take center stage at this comic cons with the definition of what it means to be a geek widening with each passing year.
Phoenix Comic Con is a four day event normally taking place at the tail end of May, or early June. A long weekend full of excitement and entertainment awaits those who dare to brave the thick crowds of enthusiastic pop culture junkies. Movie and television stars come to share stories and answer question, along with photo opportunities and autographs. Writers, artists and craftsmen and women bring their art and works to share with eager attendants. Vendors and exhibitors fill the lower hall as far as the eye can see, an endless supply of all kinds of pop culture memorabilia and collectibles. It’s really easy to overdose on the sheer number of exciting things there is to see and do. Or, at least, it used to be.
Having been to Phoenix Comic Con in the past, as well as speaking to people who have been going to the convention since it’s inception, it’s clear that this years event was lacking something. What could it be lacking, though? It had celebrities, writers, artists, vendors and more. How could an event with so much feel like it had so little? Quantity seemed to rule over quality this year. There was a ton of stuff there, but how much of it was worthwhile? The panels were shallow and little more than hour long pats on the back for those who enjoy a particular intellectual property. A video game room was advertised as a great place to come and play with other fans and have a great time, but even that was lacking. A dark room in the back of a hotel lobby filled with broken controllers and loitering children made the gaming environment feel unwelcome. Normally the convention has parties on Friday and Saturday nights, but those were conspicuously missing. The city of Phoenix closed down an entire street for the convention, but this wasn’t used to hold any kind of nighttime block party to give people something do once the exhibitor hall closed. Indeed, at seven o’clock the exhibitor hall was emptied and thousands of fans with nothing to do wandered two and fro like a herd of zombies.
Among the other events was the Masquerade Costume Contest. Cosplay enthusiasts of every skill level and variety entered with a shot at cash prizes and trophies. It was a light hearted, fun event hosted by a wise cracking, sarcastic old gent dressed as a Storm Trooper. As costumer after costumer took the stage I, along with the crowd, found myself dazzled and disappointed. Though, I suppose, if it’s the thought that counts then everyone who entered left a winner. The actual winners though, I’m sad to say, did not have the best costumes, but rather the best showmanship. I’m not at all discounting the winners, but it was a shame to see a costume with animatronics in the build lose to a group that simply dressed up and lip synced to a scene from the animated Disney film Mulan. Though great, I did not think that performance should have overshadowed a true craftsman.
As mentioned earlier geekdom is now a major part of pop culture at large. No longer can the tiny IP’s we held in so near and dear in our hearts fit neatly in our back pockets. With the likes of The Avengers and Batman bringing in billions at the box office, and The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Dr. Who ruling the television arena nerds can no longer lay claim to such geek fare as ours and ours alone. With a larger audience comes a need to make things as accessible as possible, and I think that is Phoenix Comics Con greatest strength and weakness. I saw more events geared for very young children this year than ever before, and in fact many of the panels I attended worked extra hard and making sure all the subject matter was as family friendly as possible. I saw just as many strollers as I did grown men dressed up like Spider-Man this year. To see throngs of people that otherwise wouldn’t identify as a nerd, or dare be caught in a comic book store of any variety attend a large comic book convention speaks volumes.
I would say that for the Phoenix Comic Con this years festivities were a great success. Attendance was through the roof, exhibitors were plentiful, and the celebrities and artists had fans truly happy and excited. A deeper view, and perhaps that of a cynical geek such as myself, still can’t help but be disappointed. It was, ultimately a great place to spend a lot of money. Next year I’d like to see more activities, more events. A nighttime block party with live music on Saturday night seems like an absolute must. A more robust gaming area (with working equipment) and panels led by hosts with greater credibility and credentials would be nice to see as well. Hopefully next year the convention will add less to buy and more to do. A nerd can dream.