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5 Things We Learned at Phoenix Comicon 2013

The Exhibitor Hall at Phoenix Comicon 2013.
The Exhibitor Hall at Phoenix Comicon 2013.
Photos and video by Benjamin Leatherman

If some of your geek friends have been a bit sluggish or down in the dumps the past couple days, it's only to be expected since they're probably suffering from a bout of post-Phoenix Comicon funk or still recovering from the event this past weekend. They'll probably recover from the affliction in short order, however, while going through all the photos they took or recalling all the things they saw, people they encountered, and sharing the experiences enjoyed during those four action-packed days. Maybe even a life lesson or two.

They ain't the only ones who discovered something about themselves or others during Comicon, as we also gained some insights while attending. And we're happy to share what we learned with you.

See Also: 13 Favorite Phoenix Comicon 2013 Costumes Phoenix Comicon 2013 in 26 Animated GIFs The Costumes and Cosplayers of Phoenix Comicon 2013 The Geek Girls, Booth Babes, and Sexy Super-heroines of Phoenix Comicon 2013

The Babylon 5 reunion on Saturday at Phoenix Comicon.
The Babylon 5 reunion on Saturday at Phoenix Comicon.

5. Reunions can be a blast Back in 1994 when Babylon 5 first premiered on the quasi-broadcast channel Prime Time Entertainment Network, there were some who labeled it a rip-off of the similarly space station-based series Star Trek: Deep Space 9. (It's been widely speculated over the years, however, that the reverse may have been true). Despite such claims, the J. Michael Straczynski-helmed sci-fi show was able to forge its own path over the course of five seasons, become a landmark television show in the process, and win over millions of fans.

Hundreds of those same B5 aficionados crowded into a ballroom on the Saturday afternoon of Comicon to watch a reunion of Straczynski and more than a dozen of the actors from the program (with the notable exception of Bruce Boxleitner, who dropped out at the last minute to film a Hallmark movie). It went on for close to two hours, but the time seemed to fly by as behind-the-scenes secrets were revealed and old memories of working together were unearthed.

Jerry Doyle causes J. Michael Straczynski to laugh while telling a story about Andreas Katsulas.
Jerry Doyle causes J. Michael Straczynski to laugh while telling a story about Andreas Katsulas.

Straczynski seemed to dominate the discussion at many points as he gushed, spinning often-funny yarns about his baby, including how he got back at Peter Jurasik (Londo Mollari) for embarrassing him by writing a love scene and possibly gender-bending moment between his character and Ambasador G'Kar (played by the late Andreas Katsulas) and what it was like giving fodder for such esteemed actors to work with, including the unforgettable moment when G'Kar and Londo are trapped in an elevator.

Other actors shared anecdotes about the eccentric and enormously talented Katsulas (like Jerry Doyle's story about how he would obsess over groceries when the two shared a residence) and other dearly departed actors who appeared on B5. A special "In Memoriam" clip was also screened.

Basically, it felt as though no time had passed since 1998 when Babylon 5 went off the air.

 

Tempe artist Matt Dickson sketches at Phoenix Comicon 2013.
Tempe artist Matt Dickson sketches at Phoenix Comicon 2013.

4. Local artists rule Big-name artists and special guests typically grab much of the spotlight at Comicon and cause people to beat a path to the front door of the Phoenix Convention Center every time the event rolls around. That said, one of other the big draws (no pun intended) is the overwhelming selection of creatives from throughout the Valley and Arizona that reserve booth space and put their work and wares on public display.

Between rushing off to learn the inside scoop and behind-the-scenes details on TV shows, movies, or other things in our wheelhouse, we had a chance to interact with Phoenix-based writers like Michael Stackpole (DragonCrown War, The Crown Colonies) and Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles), such comic book scribners as Russ Kazmierczak (Amazing Arizona Comics) and Alfred Trujillo (Project: Shadows), the crew behind the University of Advancing Technology's Mass Effect fan film Red Sand, and legendary artist/filmmaker Brian Pulido (Lady Death) -- and that was just on Thursday night alone.

Amazing Arizona Comics co-creator Russ Kazmierczak.
Amazing Arizona Comics co-creator Russ Kazmierczak.

The other three days were spent accumulating what felt like a metric ton of flyers, mix CDs, indie comic books, business cards, and other ephemera and promotional material for locally produced projects, which we'll gladly sort through in the coming weeks ahead to learn about the creative efforts of Arizona's collective geekdom.

 

A mini-Darth Vader unleashes his wrath in Comicon's Exhibitor Hall.
A mini-Darth Vader unleashes his wrath in Comicon's Exhibitor Hall.

3. Comicon is fun with (and for) kids Some geek friends of ours who recently became geek parents lamented the fact that they'd (understandably) have to scale back on their activities in order to focus on their children. Maybe so, but Phoenix Comicon will still be around when their progeny gets a few years older and chances are incredibly good that they'll have just as much of a good time as their parents, if not moreso. Also, admission is free for those under 12.

We guess Cobra recruits 'em young.
We guess Cobra recruits 'em young.

We lost count at the number of "sidekicks" (Comicon's official term for younglings) sitting atop shoulders or clutching their mom or dad's hands while trying to absorb everything in wide-eyed fashion. More often than not, kids were also seen in pint-sized garb and gear, including miniature versions of Wolverine, Thor, and Darth Vader. Even better, every single adult cosplayer was more than happy to kneel down and pose for pictures with awed youngsters.

There is also a surfeit of kid- and teen-friendly programming to partake in every year, ranging from more than 100 events like Lego-building competitions, family film screenings, tea parties, costuming workshops, scavenger hunts, and (natch) panels focused on their beloved cartoons and games.

 

The crowded scene outside the Phoenix Convention Center during Sunday's evactuation.
The crowded scene outside the Phoenix Convention Center during Sunday's evactuation.

2. Comicon attendees get wild, but stay calm in a crisis The final hour of Comicon on Sunday got a bit chaotic when a fire alarm went off throughout the Phoenix Convention Center, and both security and organizers began ordering everyone out of the building. According to an official statement from the event's braintrust, a third floor fire alarm was pulled at approximately 4:06 p.m., although we heard rumors of someone spotting smoke.

While the mass of attendees getting their last-minute fix were a bit shocked and shaken by the emergency situation, everyone generally kept calm as the throng slowly evacuated without incident. We witnessed plenty of craziness being perpetrated by Comicon patrons throughout the weekend, but when things suddenly got real, everyone kept it together. It was certainly a surreal site to see thousands upon thousands of cosplayers and geeks mobbing the streets and intersections surrounding the center.

There were a few jokes being cracked, however, including one person remarking on the way out, "If this is for some flash mob, I'm gonna be disappointed," while another stated, "There's all these superheroes here, so we should be safe."

Ultimately, this story has a happy ending as the Phoenix Fire Department eventually determined everything was safe, everyone was let back in, and Comicon's hours were extended as a result.

 

John Barrowman (a.k.a. Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who) during his entertaining Q&A on Sunday.
John Barrowman (a.k.a. Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who) during his entertaining Q&A on Sunday.

1. John Barrowman rules While it's safe to say that Sunday morning's Q&A session by energetic Doctor Who/Torchwood actor John Barrowman was one of the most anticipated events of the entire weekend, some folks didn't have to wait until the last day of Comicon to get an audience with the 46-year-old thespian. Friday night's Who-Lywood Squares panel put on by the local Whovian costume enthusiasts of AZ T.A.R.D.I.S. that was a parody version of the famous game show featured a surprise appearance by Barrowman, who playfully booted the group's Captain Jack Harkness recreator to give fans the real McCoy.

The memorable moment is just one of the reasons why we seriously grok the dude (most recently seen in Zero Dark Thirty and an episode of Scandal) and his Q&A only reinforced that fact. Barrowman didn't hold back, save for self-censoring some curse words or a few scandalous details. It was more akin to a Vaudevillian show as he showed off his glorious pipes while singing, left the crowd in stitches with his humorous shenanigans, and even dropped trou and gave everyone a peek at his Batman undies.

He also discussed the portrayal of gays and lesbians in TV shows and movies, dished on Desperate Housewives and Arrow, discussed the Kinsey Scale, and even flirted with one fan who happened to be a Marine. At one point, Barrowman stated that he'd gladly come back to the Valley if Comicon organizers would book him again. Make it happen.

Check out our complete coverage of Phoenix Comicon 2013.

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