Phoenix Fan Fest has changed a lot over the last three years.
Back in 2014, the spinoff event of Phoenix Comicon started out as a three-day geekfest at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale that happened smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season. Two years later, it moved to downtown Phoenix, took place in October, and featured a number of professional wrestlers.
This year, Fan Fest is transforming yet again.
According to Phoenix Comicon director Matt Solberg, the event is an ever-changing thing that’s constantly evolving. In an interview with local geek blog Legion of Sand from earlier this year, he says that Fan Fest will continue to grow each year.
“We have become more focused with the offerings at Phoenix Fan Fest for its attendees,” Solberg says. “Every show grows organically based on feedback from attendees.”
In the case of Fan Fest 2017, the two-day event – which takes place on Saturday, November 11, and Sunday, November 12, at the Phoenix Convention Center – will become a celebration of comics, creators, collectibles, and (of course) costumes.
There will be plenty of celebrities in attendance, too. So far, special guests include folks like Ghostbusters star Ernie Hudson, Mallory Jansen from Galavant, Kevin McNally of Pirates of the Caribbean, and a few voice actors from Steven Universe and other cartoons.
A variety of artists, writers, comic book creatives, and cosplayers are also scheduled to appear at this year’s Phoenix Fan Fest and will be available to interact with attendees.
Here’s a complete rundown of every special guest who has been announced so far.
Television and Movies
As is the norm at any geek event, actors and actress from sci-fi, fantasy, and horror projects will be at Phoenix Fan Fest.
This famed character actor has been a favorite of geekdom ever since he threw on a proton pack in the original Ghostbusters. His lengthy career, which spans more than four decades, includes genre roles (The Crow, Congo) and a few cult favorites (Airheads, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone). He was also excellent as Warden Leo Glynn on Oz.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory stars
In 1971, the now-classic family film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory made its debut and became a cultural touchstone for generations of kids.
Filled with color, wonder, and joy, the movie also served as a candy-coated parable about how wicked children will be punished for their bad behavior. Just ask any of the actors and actresses who played the kids in the film during their appearance at Fan Fest, including Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Paris Themmen (Mike Teevee), Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregarde), and Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket).
This English-born character actor chewed up the scenery as buccaneer Joshamee Gibbs in every single Pirates of the Caribbean film. He started out with a minor role in the Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, before embarking on a career that includes appearances in everything from the old-school Doctor Who to Supernatural. McNally's also been in a ton of quintessentially British shows and films such as Downton Abbey, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, Wuthering Heights, and the original Poldark.
On Galavant, Australian actress Mallory Jansen played the spiteful and vain Madalena. And on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., she’s played dual roles as the AIDA, an artificial intelligence construct, and Agnes Kitsworth (a.k.a. Madame Hydra).
Besides being a series regular on The Goldbergs, Michalka has also appeared on such shows as The Guardian, Birds of Prey, Hellcats, and Oliver Beene, as well as Super Sweet 16: The Movie and the Disney Channel film Cow Belles. She's also voices Stevonnie on Steven Universe and is one-half of the pop-rock duo Aly & AJ with her sister, Alyson Michalka.
Zach Callison not only voices Steven Universe on the cartoon of the same name, he's also played characters in such animated projects as Justice League: War, The Legend of Korra, and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. He’s also been involved with a few Disney shows, including portraying Prince James from Sofia the First and Billy from I’m in the Band.
Besides playing Connie Maheswaran on Steven Universe, actress Grace Rolek has voiced roles in such children’s films and videos as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Horton Hears a Who!, and Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch. She also can be heard in several video games, including a few Final Fantasy titles and Guild Wars 2.
A former child actor who played the titular character in Matilda, as well as roles in Mrs. Doubtfire and the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street. These days, Wilson is a writer who has penned articles for Reductress, McSweeney's, and Cracked. She also released an autobiography and memoir Where Am I Now? in 2016.
The Canadian-born actor who played Teb in Galaxy Quest and the insidious Mr. Flynn in the series finale of Castle. Rees is also appeared on any number of television shows over the years, including The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, The X-Files, The Outer Limits, Chuck, and Cold Case.
Comic book creators and artists from around Arizona and throughout the U.S. will populate the exhibitor hall and artist alley at Phoenix Fan Fest. They’ll also appear at any number of panels dedicated to the sequential art form both days of the event. Here's who coming:
Artist Marat Mychaels started out as Rob Liefeld’s assistant, which, if you’re familiar with the Deadpool creator’s colorful vocabulary, was probably a memorable experience for him.
That isn’t his only association with Liefeld, however, as Mychaels has gigged for Image Comics, drawn X-Force, and worked on a few Deadpool comics, including a 2012 mashup of Winnie the Pooh with the “merc with the mouth.”
Brian Augustyn has been working in the comics industry as a writer, editor, and artist since the mid-'80s and has had lengthy runs on The Flash and Justice League. He’s also written for several dozen notable books over the last few decades, ranging from Ash to Zombie Tales.
Tucson artist Adam Yeater has a particular yen for curious creatures, colorfully adorable monsters, and horrifically cute scenarios. You can spy all of these in many of the mini-comics he self-publishes, not to mention the various paintings, prints, custom-made toys, and other creations he sells online.
If you’ve attended Phoenix Comicon or other local geek events and cons in recent years, there's a good chance you’ve seen the work of artist Val Hochberg.
You’ve also worn it, flipped through it, or pinned it to your costume, as her colorful, cutesy, or cartoonish art has adorned comic books, T shirts, prints, badges, and other ephemera. You can also spy it in issues of her indie comic, Mystery Babylon, or on any of the prints, sketch cards, or posters that she sells.
Did you happen to purchase Upper Deck’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sketch card set? If so, you’ve encountered the work of Valley resident and artist April Reyna. It’s the latest in a series of geek-oriented projects that have featured her stuff in recent years.
Reyna’s also contributed art to children’s books like Worry Wave and Mysterious Monkey of the Monarch Apartments and such comic books as Mark of the Pterren and Mike Bowman’s mini-series Nine Months.
It's hard to miss the work of Jeff Pina, considering his style — which is influenced by both anime and super-deformed art — is both eye-catching and adorable.
It's been featured in any number of self-published titles he's created for more than a decade now (including Dr. Oblivion’s Guide to Teenage Dating and Bosco & Fleet: Detectives of the Occult Sciences) as well as projects for Hasbro Games, Valiant, and Moonstone Publishing. He's even contributed art to The Smiths-themed trade paperback, Unite and Take Over.
Raven Gregory’s first name is apropos, considering he’s made a killing writing hordes of spooky, monstrous, and macabre yarns for Zenescope’s Tales from Wonderland and Grimm Fairy Tales.
He tells personal stories, too. In 2011, he wrote Fly, a cautionary tale about teens who experiment with a designer drug that allows flight, which was based on Gregory’s own battle with crystal meth addiction.
This local comics creator, who resides in Mesa, has done artwork for IDW, Upper Deck, Arcana Studio, and Marvel. The thing we're really interested in checking out, however, is his current work on Pugly, a crowd-sourced indie title that's described as "a comic misadventure about a spoiled little pug's journey toward becoming a 'real dog.'" And from what we've seen so far, it looks doggone good.
Theo "Teddy" Tso
A self-taught artist, lifelong comics fan, and member of the Las Vegas Paiute, Theo Tso has been drawing superheroes since he was a kid.
After years of recreating the adventures of caped crusaders and super-powered beings, Tso came up with a hero of his own: Captain Paiute, the Indigenous Avenger of the Southwest. The character appeared in his own title in 2013, which was published by Indigenous Narratives Collective, the Native American-centric comics collective co-founded by Tso.
Local artist Jay Fotos has illustrated 30 Days of Night, Spawn, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a few different Godzilla comics, and the best-selling Locke & Key. Along with Mark Kidwell, he's also the co-creators of the popular Vietnam War-themed zombie comic ‘68 (think Platoon meets Night of the Living Dead).
Books & Literature
Word nerds rejoice! Fan Fest will appearances and panels by a curated collection of authors and scribes, including a number of scribes who specialize in YA, fantasy, and science fiction titles.
Yes, Aprilynne Pike is indeed working on a sequel to her latest YA novel Glitter, which involves decadent and aristocratic teens in a near-future version of Versailles becoming addicted to a drug-like lip gloss.
At Fan Fest, feel free to ask her about it or any other questions you might have about her previous hits like her best-selling "Wings" quadrilogy or the epic "Earthbound" trilogy.
Though local YA author Tom Leveen has penned a few horror novels, including the zombie-focused Sick and the recently published Hellworld, and written for the Spawn comic, the dude has a softer side, too.
He's also penned such novels as Zero, manicpixiedreamgirl, and Party, all of which are more concerned with the intricacies and angst of adolescence.
James A. Owen
Situations both fantastical and fabulous can be found in the works of Arizona’s James A. Owen. He authored the best-selling Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series, which involves younger, fictionalized versions of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and H.G. Wells traveling to fantasy worlds in search of dragons and adventure.
And his ongoing MythWorld tales are a slice of urban pulp fantasy involving “ancient manuscripts, zen illusionists, opera, murder, magic, and the alternate history of the world.”
Last year’s Fan Fest hosted appearances by a number of well-known pro wrestling superstars. A few grapplers will be at the event this year, too. You’ll want to resist the urge to challenge them to a throwdown, however, since that probably wouldn’t end well.
This Canadian-born grappler has been a star for both the WWE and its competitor, Impact Wrestling. She's also won gold during her 17-year career in the ring, including the WWE Women's Championship and Impact's Knockouts Championship. In 2012, Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked her as the best female performer in the world.
Lisa Marie Varon
Lisa Marie Varon has wrestled all over the world, won multiple world titles, and competed for multiple promotions and companies. In WWE, she started out as a valet for The Godfather before becoming the character Victoria and holding the women’s championship twice.
In TNA and Impact Wrestling, Varon was known as Tara (which was short for “Tarantula”) and carried an actual spider to the ring. She went on to win the Knockouts Championship on five separate occasions.
Cosplay & Costuming:
Much like at any geek gathering, costumes have been a big part of each and every Fan Fest. In addition to all the attendees dressing up in colorful and nerdy get-ups aplenty, this year's event will feature a number of cosplayers as special guests.
Local cosplayer AmberSkies does Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy and does it fantastically. So fantastically, in fact, that she's gotten kudos from Karen Gillan, the actress who portrays the character on the big screen.
Marvel Entertainment also took notice of AmberSkies and helped her update the costume to match Nebula’s look in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. She was also featured in their online video series, Marvel Becoming. And at Phoenix Comicon earlier this year, AmberSkies nabbed another honor because of the costume: first place in the "masters" category during the event's annual Masquerade.
A couple of years ago, Asta Young could be found serving cocktails at a local bar. Eventually, the 4-foot-5 Valley resident ditched slinging drinks in favor of following her muse, becoming an artist, gamer, and YouTube star. She also became a cosplayer, too, attending local cons dressed as such characters as Chun-Li from Street Fighter II, Mary Jane Watson, Wicket the Ewok, and Child’s Play villain Chucky.
Gabrielle Donathan/Maise Designs
A veteran of the local costuming scene, Gabrielle Donathan specializes in creating gear and getups inspired by both comics and gaming. She's created both for prominent cosplayers like Jessica Nigri and Amie Lynn, as well as numerous other geeks.
Aime & Lance Jaze
Cosplayer couple Aime and Lance Jaze of Scottsdale can be found at many big geek events around Arizona. And when it comes to their costumes, they bring their "A" game every time.
The couple’s portrayal of Evil-Lyn and Skeletor from Masters of the Universe is on point, as are their renditions of Wonder Woman and Batman and Xena and Autolycus. Lance also does a spot-on Captain Jack Sparrow while Aime, thanks to the fact she bears a resemblance to Angelina Jolie, is the spitting image of Maleficent from the character’s 2014 film.
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Courtney Leigh is a professional cosplayer and costume designer who’s transformed herself into numerous geek and gaming icons, such as Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, Fifth Element heroine Leeloo, and Mercy from Overwatch. (She’s also famous for playing a red-skinned Sith Twi'lek at local cons.)
Leigh designs all her gear and is, at least according to one of her Facebook friends, a “wizard with fabric, foams, and thermoplastic.” Plus, she also works as an FX makeup artist, creating some of the creepy creatures found at Fear Farm during the Halloween season.
Phoenix Fan Fest runs from Saturday, November 11, to Sunday, November 12, at the Phoenix Convention Center. Admission is $15 to $20 per day or $20 for a full event pass.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.