Phoenix Comicon 2015: A Field Guide to This Weekend's Event

Cosplayers from last year's Phoenix Comicon.
Cosplayers from last year's Phoenix Comicon.
Benjamin Leatherman

Phoenix Comicon is going to be big this year — really big. In fact, we've heard rumors that it will be the biggest year to date for the much-beloved geek bonanza and pop culture convention.

Not only are there going to be more guests (read: actors, actresses, comic book creators, and other geek celebrities) than ever before at Phoenix Comicon 2015 — which takes place from Thursday, May 28, to Sunday, May 31, at the Phoenix Convention Center and nearby hotels — it probably will experience its biggest turnout to date, even shattering last year's record of record-setting total of 77,818 people in attendance.

And Phoenix Comicon's staff is going to be prepared. As you may have heard by now, organizers have made a few changes to the event's setup to help with crowd management and to keep things flowing. That includes moving Q&A panels with big guests like Back to the Future star Christopher Lloyd and Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Alyson Hannigan (both of whom are scheduled to appear this year) up to the third floor of the convention center's West Building.

It will be located just across the convention center's Skybridge walkway from the “Hall of Heroes,” a space on the third floor of the North Building that's dedicated to autograph sessions and photo ops with the aforementioned celebs, as well as booths for local cosplay groups like the Arizona Avengers, the Arizona Autobots, and the Star Wars-centric Dune Sea Garrison and Rebel Legion.

Matt Solberg, director of Phoenix Comicon, told New Times recently that organizers have also improved their line management, expanded space for waiting queues, introduced "custom restroom passes" for those who might need to duck out of a panel when nature calls, and better trained its staff to answer questions from attendees.

The goal, Solberg says, is to help improve the overall experience of attending Comicon and making it more fun to attend, which is the whole point of the four-day event.

He also offered us a few tips about how to both survive and thrive at Comicon, including picking up a official program guide and planning out what you'd like to see and do.

“Take 10 or 15 minutes to read through it, familiarize yourself with the maps and where everything's at, take a quick glance at the schedule to see what might be going on, figure out where different guests are at, and make a plan of key things you want to do and where things are at,” Solberg says. “Comicon is big enough that you can really just wander and have a great time, but you'll have an even better time if you can incorporate a little bit of that free wandering and discovering things with specific plans.”

The Exhibitors Hall at last year's Phoenix Comicon.
The Exhibitors Hall at last year's Phoenix Comicon.

He also recommends being flexible as changes sometimes happen with both guests and events at Comicon.

“It happens that sometimes guests cancel or get sick or they have to adjust their signings and appearances. You may not get to meet every actor that you want. You may not get to attend every panel that you want, so be flexible to try new things,” he says. “Sometimes it can even be as simple as walking down the hall, where we've got monitors boards [listing] what's going on in each room and you might just see something that catches your eye. And it might be more interesting.”

In other words, be a bit open to trying new things. And above all else, Solberg says, be patient whether it's with dealing with crowds or waiting in lines, which is something you'll definitely be doing at Comicon.

“Understand that there are lines at Phoenix Comicon and in some ways, be patient. The days of being able to walk into the main ballroom five minutes before a panel, those are no more,” he says. “You may have to plan things in advance.”

That said, waiting in line gives you the opportunity to meet new people, Solberg adds.

“It's really a great opportunity just to talk with the people around you. Everybody's there to have a good time. And, for the most part, everybody's definitely willing to talk about their interests and passions.”

There's plenty of other things to keep in mind before donning cape and cowl and heading out to Phoenix Comicon, which is why we've assembled a rundown of vital information and a variety of tips that should help you get the most out of the experience.

Phoenix Comicon 2015: A Field Guide to This Weekend's Event
Benjamin Leatherman

Time & Dates: Phoenix Comicon 2015 will take place daily from Thursday, May 28, until Sunday, May 31.

Hours: The exhibition hall is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Programming and events at the convention center will run until 11:30 p.m. every day, expect Sunday, which wraps up at 5:30 p.m.

Locations: Most of the programming, special guest appearances, and the actual exhibition hall are located within the Phoenix Convention Center with additional programming and events taking place at the Hyatt Regency, Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, and Sheraton Valley of the Sun.

Registration: This year, registration will be situated on the ground level of the North Building of the convention center and will take place from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. When picking up your badge, try coming as early in the day as possible. Otherwise, be prepared to wait.

Admission: If you want to be there the entire weekend, full event memberships are now $80 per person. Daily prices vary and currently will run you $35 for Friday, $45 for Saturday, and $35 for Sunday. Children 12 and under, however, get in for $10 each while kids up to 2 years of age are free. Oh, and don’t bother trying to pass yourself off as either a pre-teen or toddler, since Comicon’s staff, while harried, aren’t gullible.

Age Limits: Phoenix Comicon is open to everyone, young or old. That said, keep in mind that there will be a few adult-oriented events (such as comedy or burlesque shows) that are strictly for the 18-and-over crowd only.

Getting There: The Third Street light rail station is located just outside the convention center and there are at least three other stops within a short walking distance. However, if you’re traveling by car…

Parking: It’s estimated that there are more than 25,000 parking spaces are located around downtown and you’re going to have to pay for the privilege of parking your ride. If you want to stow your ride in one of the 1,850 street spaces, be prepared to dish out anywhere from $1-$1.50 per hour anytime between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day. (Note: a service called Pango Mobile Parking offers the option of pre-selecting and pre-paying for certain metered spots via its mobile app, as well as the chance to get your first hour for free. More info can be found via its website.)

A wiser option is to go for either a lot or parking garage, which are also available around downtown. Some are even offering special deals for Comicon attendees. For instance, the APPL parking lot next to US Airways Center at Second and Jackson streets will have a $6.60 daily rate or $19.80 for all four days, while a $2 discount is also available at the Jefferson Street Garage across from Chase Field via the ParkWhiz website. Rates for other parking garages will vary, ranging from $10.96 per day at the Chase Tower and $13-$18 at the convention center's north and east garages to upwards of $40 at the Collier Center. While that might seem a little stiff, it certainly beats having to run a few blocks in costume to feed a meter every couple of hours.

A mural adorning the Hyatt in downtown Phoenix during last year's Comicon.
A mural adorning the Hyatt in downtown Phoenix during last year's Comicon.
Benjamin Leatherman

Upcoming Events

Getting Around: Dozens of pedicabs will be working the downtown area, and many drivers will even be sporting costumes and blasting nerd-friendly music (like The Avengers soundtrack or Darth Vader’s theme). Most work for gratuities only and, depending on the distance, a $5-$15 is standard.

There are also several Grid Bike Share stations are near the convention center and offer the chance to pedal around downtown and between Comicon events for $5 an hour.

Taxis are also everywhere, but stick with established companies like Discount, VIP, or Yellow Cab and avoid the shabbier looking “gypsy cabs,” which often don’t have meters and are known to people off (we learned that lesson the hard way).

Weather: It's gonna be hotter than Malebolgia’s spit, bub. The forecast calls for nothing but sunshine and temperatures between 94 and 106 degrees during the daytime. Things will be a bit cooler at night, however, with temps dipping into the 70s. Mercifully, the A/C will be keeping things chilly inside the convention center, exhibition halls, and the various hotels.

That said, be sure to pace yourself and know your limits. Whether you’re rocking a full set of armor and other heavy duty costuming or merely some spandex, be sure to avoid overexerting yourself. Find shade outside or seating inside wherever you can, and drink plenty of fluids. Speaking of which…

Cosplayers from last year's Comicon.
Cosplayers from last year's Comicon.
Benjamin Leatherman

Water: According to the event director Matt Solberg, it’s of utmost importance to stay well-hydrated during the event. In fact, drinking plenty of water is his number one tip for getting the most out of attending Comicon. “The number one medical call we get is due to dehydration and it has been like that for years,” he says. “Our show is in May, it's hot, [we're] in the desert. Even when you're in the air conditioning and you're having fun, you can just forget to drink.” And that means water and not beverages like soda, tea, or coffee, which (while refreshing) can end up making things worse.”

Naturally, all this goes double for anyone sporting a costume, which can cause them to sweat more and ultimately need more water. “You just forget about th need to drink water since you're having a good time. So to have a really great experience, just be sure you're drinking plenty of water throughout the day. And if you're with a group of friends and your friends are in costume, be sort of the designated friend to remind them, 'Hey, be sure you're drinking water,' because you're going to get more dehydrated in costume than not."

Fortunately, the convention center is teeming with more than three-dozen water fountains, bottled water and other beverages are for sale via concessions stands and cafes, and there’s also likely to be vendors outside slinging drinks.

Food and Drink: There are the aforementioned concession stands at the rear of the exhibition hall, five fast-casual cafes on the first floor of the convention center, and several food trucks (including Emerson Fry Bread, Waffley Good, and Rock-A-Belly) located outside. Plus, all of downtown’s various eateries and drinkeries. 

Phoenix Comicon patrons watch a spotlight panel at 2014's event.
Phoenix Comicon patrons watch a spotlight panel at 2014's event.
Benjamin Leatherman

Special Guest Sessions: As we mentioned, the spotlight panels and Q&A sessions featuring big-name special guests will be happening in Room 301 on the third floor of the West Building. If you'd like to score some great seats, a good rule of thumb is to arrive at least 30 to 45 minutes beforehand for most guests and upwards of 90 minutes or more for the higher-profile celebs. (Oh, and expect to wait in line outside a particular room until the staff opens the doors and gives you a nod to enter.) And if you're worried that you'll miss out on something from the back rows, don’t fret. You'll still have a good view the large overhead screens. By the way, the practice of "seat-saving" (i.e. dibsing a bunch of spots for your friends) is verboten, so don't consider it. 

Outdoor Events: Like with last year's event, the portion of Third Street in between the West and North Buildings will be cordoned off and feature a number of food trucks and geeky vehichles (read: a DeLorean-style time machine straight out of Back to the Future or the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters), as well as a variety of activities and live music from local bands. A complete schedule of outdoor events — including the annual Zombie Walk on Friday and an enormous street party on Saturday night — can be found on the Comicon website.  

Crowds: Saturday is traditionally the biggest day of Phoenix Comicon, as most of the biggest guests will appear then, as will approximately half the population of Arizona. As such, the exhibition hall will be swamped with people, so be sure to keep your head on a swivel, expect to wait in line for certain booths and vendors, and — above all — have a good deal of patience.

Bring: Both credit cards and some cash (just in case some vendors can’t take plastic or their Squares go on the fritz), some sealed bottled water, a fully-charged cell phone, a digital camera to get snapshots of anything memorable, and (of course) some comfortable footwear since you'll be doing a lot of walking.

Don't Bring: Bonafide weapons, drugs or any intoxicants, a bad or disruptive attitude, impatience, mutant powers, Cosmic Cubes, laser pointers, non-service animals, or anything else forbidden by Phoenix Comicon organizers. See a full list of what’s verboten here.

However, if you’re wielding a weapon of either the faux variety or actual steel — like rapiers, dirks, or daggers — as a part of your getup, be sure to consult with security at any of the convention center’s entrances to ensure it's “peace bonded” (a.k.a. tied up) or otherwise rendered safe.

And in case you get tired of lugging things around altogether, most downtown hotels — including the Hyatt, Palomar, and Sheraton — offer a coat check service either for free or a nominal charge and tip (read: $5-$10).

Cosplayers from last year's Comicon.
Cosplayers from last year's Comicon.
Benjamin Leatherman

Costumes: Flaunt ‘em if you got ‘em, particularly ones that are impressive, imaginative, or inspiring. There are multiple contests throughout the weekend, some offering big cash prizes (including the annual Phoenix Comicon masquerade from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday night).

Make sure you’re able to both see and stroll freely while in costume, however, and step carefully if you’ve got spikes or pointy edges involved with your gear, lest you trip and injure your fellow ‘con attendee. Also, don’t be a creeper and attempt to feel up any cosplayers who might be wearing revealing ensembles. As the Comicon website states, “cosplay is not consent.”

Conversely, be sure to stay a little modest or keep all your naughty bits covered with your costume, since it’s a family friendly event after all. And a wee bit of modesty might be recommended as well. 

Above all, stay safe and have fun.

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