Friday, June 2, 2017

2017 Phoenix Comicon!

by Guest Reviewer Shaun "Pyrat Wesly" Barnette
June 2, 2017

Over the Memorial Day weekend the long anticipated 2017 Phoenix Comicon made national news, but it wasn’t good news. It did, however, manage to retain a lot of the fun for which the event is known.

Going in the first day was very pleasant. Entering the convention center, I noticed there was a strong police and security presence but there were no tables to look at items being carried in and no searching was being done.  I was able to walk in and pick up my pass at registration without delay.  The lines appeared long spanning most of the way across the large ballroom but moved quickly.   It was not crowded and there was an absolutely great turn out of cosplayers.  I
Cap'n Jack and Friends
spotted my personal favorite, Captain Jack Sparrow, within 5 minutes of arriving!  There were plenty of Disney Princesses, too!  All areas appeared to be well managed. 

 My first impression was that this may be the best Phoenix Comicon yet.  About ten minutes after I picked up my pass two of the staff left the registration area in a great hurry. One had a look of concern on his face.  I speculated someone may have gotten hurt, but soon after they left I was told by another guest the police just arrested a man who had real guns on him.  They had a friend that was close by and saw it happen and, of course, immediately texted his friends about the incident.  No worries.  Initial reports were no one was hurt.  Sweet!  Things are being handled well for security and safety.  Not even twenty minutes in the building and an incident is in check with no one harmed.  
Mickey Storm Trooper

Next, I venture off to visit the “Hall of Heroes”, where there were large displays and many of the cosplayers could be found the year before.  I was really looking forward to seeing bigger and better.  Nope!  The hall didn’t open until 4:00 PM.  This was possibly due to the area being used for additional vendor space.  The wait officially begins at this point.  So, I wait and people watch.  While admiring more and more fun and expertly made costumes, the excited energy level is slowly increasing as the halls become more crowded. Hoping to get a photo of the calm before the storm, I go to the Lower Level Exhibitor Hall.  Unfortunately for me, I’m turned away by security staff who are wholly unimpressed with my media pass.  They politely inform me only exhibitors are allowed in before opening.  Disappointing, but I’m still looking forward to a great convention.  A few minutes later a FOX 10 news crew tries to enter the Exhibitor Hall and to my surprise they were denied access as well.  I feel better about being denied and find myself a little bit impressed at the consistent enforcement of the rule.  So far so good.  There was good crowd control when the doors to the Exhibitor Hall opened and people were polite, congenial, and respectful of others as they made their way in. 
Nebula Cosplay

While I’m waiting I notice a con-goer favorite is completely missing.  The beloved free photo booth is nowhere to be found. For many this was a great attraction of the Phoenix Comicon and always had a line of guests eager to document their attendance with their friends.  Everyone could stop in, costumed or not, with or without friends or family, and get a high quality photo with a cool back drop that could be downloaded and shared from the Phoenix Comicon official flickr page. Here is a link to Fanfest album for those who haven’t seen it before.  Phoenix Comicon Flickr 
The first photo in this album features three of the official photographers in a test shot.  Unfortunately for the tens of thousands who went this year, no free photo! 
Star Lord and baby Groot Cosplay

Also, noticeably missing was live music.  There wasn’t a stage anywhere with live bands playing.  The lack of bands resulting in my not spending much time outside, which is a real shame.  I have to question again why cut something so cool from the event?  The car show is small but great.  I love seeing the TV and movie cars and they are really fun photo ops for everyone.  There was a big tent in the street that had a sign stating Mos Eisley Cantina, but looking in I didn’t see anything or anyone Star Wars-themed inside when I went by. 

There has been a lot of controversy over staffing the 2017 convention since Fanfest ended.  If you’d like to learn more about it just search for articles about the entire volunteer staff being fired.  It began with a surprise announcement from the official Phoenix Comicon fan club “BRA” (Blue Ribbon Army) that listed among the benefits of being a paid member the opportunity to work as an official staff member of Phoenix Comicon.  Keep in mind there was no information about this staffing change sent to the more than 1000 volunteers who were already working for the convention, some of them for many years.  Many of those volunteers were involved in building Comicon to what it has become today through labor, love and dedication to the community of fans that support the event.  You might imagine the shocked and many times emotional reaction from hundreds of volunteers.  A reoccurring allegation among them was it was a money grab by the owner of Phoenix Comicon.  It was viewed by some as a way to monetize the volunteer labor force that runs the convention.  Pay to volunteer?  Ultimately, after tons of hurt feelings and heartbreak, the company Square Egg, which owns Phoenix Comicon, made the decision to use all paid staff.  A little surprising and ambitious since the big show was only months away.  Not only that, it meant a cost that would only allow 300 to 400 paid staff to replace over 1000 volunteers.  I can only speculate this was done for legal and liability reasons since I do not have any inside information other than past press releases on the subject.

How did this impact the convention this year?  Lines.  Social media posts about celebrity photo ops and autographs were heavily critical of being well behind schedule and not being able to complete all of the pre-sold photos and autographs.  Of course, there is the disclaimers and refunds about the “opportunity” to meet your favorite celebrities, but that wasn’t the first thought on people’s minds when they paid a lot of money.  Frustration of waiting in lines and simply missing out after days or even months of anticipation of that precious few seconds with fame was most disappointing. It should also be noted some fellow con-goers were happy with their experience and were able to get the photos and autographs as expected.  This was most likely what most experienced.  Criticism was placed on scheduling and lack of staff managing line access.  Keep an eye out for the next survey from Phoenix Comicon.  One thing they do like is feedback that can be used to improve the experience. 

Phoenix Comicon announced a complete ban of ALL costume props to begin on Friday. Some people voiced support for the change, happy to forego the detail added to costumes for increased safety. 
Moana and Maui

I personally don’t understand how the absence of costume props will prevent someone from breaking the law such as what happened that fateful Thursday. Seriously, I don’t get it.  As far as I know, no one has ever been killed by a light up plastic light saber or a sonic screw driver. I didn’t even take the time to search for the statistics on the subject.  For the last several years I have always been comfortable in the policy and practice of inspecting weapons and marking them as such. Even San Diego Comic Con doesn’t ban weapon props, much less ALL props. And that is in California!  That state is famous for weapons bans and restrictions. The announcements claim the decision for the ban was based on the Phoenix Police and convention center recommendations. Personally, I don’t buy it. Especially given the event was never set up for airport style security screening. I don’t believe for a second there is a police officer anywhere that is concerned about light sabers. Sure, there are incidents involving replica firearms but let’s face it, the man was arrested for real firearms and threatening to kill people. I could understand if he had fake guns when he was arrested and they were banned as a result, but that wasn’t the case. Instead there was a gross overreaction. I hope the once great Phoenix Comicon will dial it back and gain understanding about such incidents and not give in to fear. We all know what fear leads to (listen to the Yoda speaking in your mind). Sorry, enough of that, from the bottom of my heart, I am so very grateful to the person who reported the threat and to the officers who were able to make the arrest, keeping everyone safe. Great work everyone! 

Part of the enhanced security policy was to restrict entrance to three locations. Already, this means longer lines. However, I arrived late on Friday at 2:30 p.m. entering on the North-East corner I was pleasantly surprised by the short line to get in that only took three minutes. Nice. But…the guard there didn’t use complete sentences to explain what he needed to do. He only said, “bag”. To which I replied, “What?” Then he said it again, “bag”. I said, “Yes, that’s a bag. What do you want me to do?” There was no table or any indication of how he would be searching the bag. Behind him were guards searching, you guessed it, bags. Finally, he said he needed to check it. So, I held it out, opened the top, and with a one second glance inside, waved me through. The next guard was also not wasting words, but most of us know what to do for a metal detector.  My bag was a messenger style camera bag. Not big, but with the check that he did it could have contained anything. Why a check at all?

If I am to be honest, overall there wasn’t much that seemed different this year, which is a good thing. The entire event was very familiar. The biggest change was the feel of it with little staff around. I only remember seeing two information booths. Last year you didn’t have to go far if you needed one. The info booths were a great service. Directions, lost and found, but more importantly, quick radio communication for emergencies from known locations to which first responders could go straight to. They served as a safe place for anyone to go to for any reason. Less staff, but less safety. In past years, volunteer staff were virtually available at any room or hallway you entered. This year the entire place seemed to function on the good will of the people attending.  Thank goodness for the people that make up this geek community. 

Somewhere on Facebook a question was asked about what was missed at the con this year. 

One reply was complimentary of the marketing team’s photographers that no longer exist. Becca McCullough wrote, “I miss having official PCC photogs. I could guarantee at least ONE good pic of my cosplays.” Another stated, “No photo booth and no team of photographers capturing all of the events, panels and all over fun.” To be fair, there was one official photographer contracted to shoot the event. This event is huge, so I’m sure he was on an overwhelming schedule to photograph the big celebrities over the four-day event. Look at the official flickr page from one or two years ago and the photographs posted of the major panels and events. It was a glorious time. This year most panels didn’t even have moderators. 

Back to the Hall of Heroes. The guard checking everyone for their “membership” badges was fantastic. Upbeat demeanor, great voice and well spoken and he was as professional as a Disney cast member. I should have got his name, but if you passed him as you entered the hall you know who I’m talking about. A stroll around the hall brings me to the huge Lego display. As I admired the setup, I was informed by a lady that the Lego ships on the water were at battle. Each day the battle would progress and on the last day the battle would conclude. Unfortunately, I didn’t return to the exhibit frequently enough to follow the story. Next time look for the changes in the Lego display! They do something every year and the careful observer might see a story play out. 
Lego Civil War!

There were celebrity spotlight panels today as well as countless fan and educational panels. Seriously, look at the programming on the official Phoenix Comicon website. It’s as impressive as always. 

Back at the Lower Level Exhibitor Hall, I visited a few booths. Conman (Alan Tudyk’s crowd funded series), Sweet Midnight, The Fyne Art of David Lozeau and RUSH!

Being a rock guy, the Rush booth was a cool surprise for me. First thing I had to do was flip through the crate of LP vinyl records with, you guessed it, all Rush. There was no way I was walking away from there without the 200gram remastered 2112 with the hologram. I also bought a t-shirt and a set of Rush themed cereal boxes. If that sounds funny, it’s because it is. David Calcano was manning the booth and was kind enough to autograph the boxes, complete with a quick doodle of each band member’s face! As with many of the wonderful exhibitors at Phoenix Comicon, there is often an engaging story of the creative people at the booth. The Rush booth has its own talented artist as well. The booth is actually Fantoons LLC ( ) and Rush is one of the bands endorsing it. The connection to Rush is a comic/toon book that is inspired by the band and their works. It is seriously creative and funny. If you’re not familiar with Rush, probably less so. The writer sent the book to the band and they liked it so much it was endorsed by them and led to an animation being produced that opened a Rush tour! The writer, artist and animator is David Calcano. A very pleasant man originally from Venezuela, now living and working in California. Among his many accomplishments, he once created a short series of cartoons for the Disney Channel. 

Artist David Lozeau
I enjoyed a few minutes of watching an artist work on a painting commissioned by the big mouse company of a well-known attraction (vague due to a future, official unveiling).  
David Lozeau, with his wonderful works on display around him, was super cool and engaging. In the middle of his fantastic creation he was happy to chat and answer questions. 

Over at Sweet Midnight there is a fun shop full of mostly handmade creations on the “darker side of cute” by local artists based out of our very own Bisbee Arizona. The owner, “Nay”, has a bright beautiful style all her own. Don’t let her coffin at the booth scare you away. She’s a delight. Missed her at Phoenix Comicon? Fear not, she has a store online. Want a chance to meet her? She is a Ghost Hostess and can be found showing the way through the dark at the Old Bisbee Ghost Tours. 

These are just a few examples out of hundreds of the amazing people you could meet (some local and some from afar) and obtain their great art directly as you cruise through the huge Exhibition Hall. I had a great time there. 

Saturday morning, I arrived at 10:30 a.m. It’s the busiest day of the event and I expected to be in line a long time; however, that assumption was wrong. I was in a long line that stretched approximately halfway down the block on Jefferson. There was a staff member holding a “End of Line” sign (insert TRON reference here). Something I thought to be very helpful given the problems with the lines reported on social media Friday morning. With the line moving as fast as it was, I expected to breeze through a poorly performed search by speechless guards again. Nope! The team at the North-East Corner of 3rd Street and Jefferson was giving clear directions, performed a good search of my camera bag placed on a table, and then there was metal detector wand at a final stop. The lady actually moved the wand near my body on both sides and checked my belt buckle when the wand sounded. A decent and speedy security check.  It took about ten minutes to gain entrance. Finding myself surprisingly impressed, I headed straight for the Dick Van Dyke panel! 

Getting there early meant a very short wait in line for wrist bands to enter the panel. I’m so glad I get notifications from Phoenix Comicon because the hall they used was not nearly big enough for Dick Van Dyke. The panel had seating near
Dick Van Dyke
the front that was $50 per seat!  Those instantly sold out online. I was online ready to buy seats at the time they went on sale. They sold out the $50 seats so quickly I didn’t even see it as an option. Cheap seats it was. The entire room ended up being sold out. For some reason Phoenix Comicon held an email lottery and gave away some of the seats at the Dick Van Dyke panel. Countless people were showing up expecting to get in to see Dick Van Dyke. 

Burt aka Dick Van Dyke
I highly recommend monitoring Phoenix Comicon by email or social media so you know what is sold out or cancelled, and for any last-minute announcements. I had other people meeting me in the panel but I had all the passes. For some unknown reason, they weren’t being allowed to come up to the 3rd floor of the west building!  Security was not letting them leave the first floor without a pass in their hand for the panel. This is one more example of poorly planned scheduling and line access. That was such a mess that if Mr. Van Dyke had come out on time they would’ve missed the beginning (we also heard afterwards that many people did not get their pre-paid photo ops or autographs, as time had run out, and were told they’d get refunds).

Dick Van Dyke was greeted to the stage with a standing ovation and cheers that went on for quite some time. Although the segment began about fifteen minutes late, it was well worth wait. He walked out with a huge smile and looked happy and healthy. His first remark was that the crowd was bigger than Trump had received. He answered approximately twenty questions posed to him by the audience. He was charming, open and receptive. He shared that he started out in radio and when he got an acting job he was asked if he could sing and dance. His reply? SURE! He knew nothing about either. He spoke of the Dick Van Dyke TV show and his costars, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, and, of course, Marry Tyler Moore. The audience became very quiet when he spoke of Ms. Moore, obviously out of respect for her talent and the void the loss of her had left behind. He spoke of how some of the taping of the show had to be cut because sometimes the laughter from the live audience went on for so long. Mr. Van Dyke sang the words to the show’s theme song, which I had never heard before. He spoke of Walt Disney and how he called him Uncle Walt and they got along wonderfully. He shared that they had said they were children looking for their inner adult, which seemed more than an appropriate assessment of both gentlemen. One of his favorite songs was “You Two” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which he has sung to his children and grandchildren. He laughingly told the audience that now they put makeup on him to make an old man look like an old man. I hope this 91 year “child” is around for a long time to come.

Alan Tudyk and PJ Haarsma
Next up was the Con Man panel with PJ Haarsma and Alan Tudyk. They talk about the comedy series they created called Con Man. The series was made possible by fans through crowd funding. The audience was treated to clips from the show that featured many guest star roles including Alan’s Serenity co-star Nathan Fillion! I hadn’t seen Con Man before and attended the panel because I’m a fan of everything I’ve seen Alan Tudyk in or as a voice actor. This series I have to see; it looks hilarious, especially to those familiar with works the cast was in before. Now comes the coolest part of the panel; the fans that lined up to ask questions each received something signed by Alan! If it wasn’t something cool like a series related poster it was something hilarious. Among the impromptu autographed items were plastic ware wrapped in a paper napkin or even a plastic cup taken off the table and filled with water and presented to the fan by Alan himself with his recommendation he drink it before the condensation washes off the signature. 
Alan Tudyk 

After the Con Man panel, I enjoyed wandering the convention, shopping and photographing cosplayers for the remainder of the day. Later in the evening I met with friends and family for dinner at the Hard Rock CafĂ©. Sadly, the Hard Rock did not have a new special edition pin for this year’s Comicon.

Sunday morning, the last day of the con, came too quickly. There was still so many exhibitors to see and time had all but run out. There were still three panels I had to see: Alan Tudyk, Karen Gillan and last but not least Q himself, John De Lancie! 

Twenty minutes before Alan Tudyk’s panel, the room was nearly full. This again made me wonder why the larger Ball Room wasn’t used for this appearance. Alan Tudyk’s most recent huge hit movie had him playing the role of K-2SO in Star Wars Rogue One. He also played the part of the beloved character Wash in Serenity. 

His credited works are too numerous to list here but it’s worth looking at and being pleasantly surprised to see so many tv shows and movies you already loved but didn’t realize he was a part of. Alan may just have been the funniest and most entertaining panel of the weekend. The very first question asked of him was creepy (especially given the murder plot that just happened on opening day). Alan was asked since he has played parts of characters that are killed off, what would he write as his perfect death scene? In response, Alan stared silently for a moment and slowly slid his chair away from the table and cautiously walked over to the moderator, without looking away from the man who asked the question, and hid behind her, peering over her shoulder as if afraid to give any ideas as to how he would like to die. It was a fantastically funny start to a great panel! Again, he continued his antics of signing whatever he could find for fans that waited in line and asked a question. Today, however, one item he autographed and gave to a young fan was his Star Wars Celebration event badge! Another was a paper torn from a script he is using in a new production which of course was missing the dialog since it has yet to be released. 

Karen Gillan seemed like a genuinely sweet person who was
Karen Gillan Panel
very kind to her fans. I got the impression she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the love and praise her fans would show her. She answered questions in a way that showed her thoughtfulness as a person sharing who she would “fan girl” over. Gillian Anderson, who she’s been a fan of since X-Files. Ms. Gillan even treated us to her surprisingly cool impersonation of Britney Spears (seriously, it’s awesome; look up the videos on YouTube). The actress who played the intense and dangerous Nebula is someone you would like to be around all the time. She shared moments of her career by way of answering fans questions. One interesting fact she revealed was when she was developing her portrayal of Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, the director suggested she perform the dialog like Marilyn Monroe. The suggestion seemed strange at first but she developed it into the character she described as a “breathy” style of speaking, which we all know became a great performance in the hit movies. Besides starring in a Marvel movies, here is one more little Disney tie in: she would want to play Merida in Brave. 

John DeLancie
John De Lancie was as you would expect if you are familiar with his best known roles (as Q on Star Trek The Next Generation or Discord on My Little Pony), although less exaggerated. He seemed to be someone who wants to share his knowledge and point of view, but can sometimes seem a little bit condescending, which I loved. We learned he was called to audition for the role of Discord because the writers wanted Discord to be like Q from Star Trek; they went straight to the man himself, and the rest is Brony history. He was not an easy person to pose questions to and often didn’t answer the questions at all. He would steer around the “What is was you most….?”, questions entirely. Mr. De Lancie is most certainly his own man in character and thoughts. 
John DeLancie

The 2017 Phoenix Comicon was a success (in my opinion as a con-goer), despite the incident on Thursday. The event lacked some things fans had come to expect, like the photo booth, zombie walk, light saber walk, photographers, panel moderators and live music performances. 

The number of exhibitors increased a lot and the exhibitors had more space in the rows, but they skipped on the carpeting leaving almost the entire floor bare concrete. The convention seemed to cut a lot of corners compared to past years, but thankfully, it still brought a lot of fun and great talent.
Voice Actor Kevin Conroy - a.k.a. Batman!

I believe the fandoms, creatives and geeks that come together are the main reason the convention is still fun. If you’re interested in going next year, I recommend joining the email list and following on social media so you know the moment the “memberships” go on sale; buy them early to save money. Taking advantage of the early sales prices means committing before guest announcements, but there are always fun things to do and people to see. 

To see all of Shaun's 2017 Phoenix Comicon photos, visit his Flickr page at: Pyrat Wesly

Reviewer/Photographer Pyrat Wesley 

Shaun, more famously known as Pyrat Wesly, 46, is a lifelong fan of just about anything Disney and former Phoenix Comicon photographer from 2013 to 2016. 

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