This weekend’s Ace Comic Con is nothing if not ambitious.
The three-day event in Glendale boasts a roster of big-name celebrities, pro wrestling legends, and dozens of prominent comic book artists and writers. It also features a unique setup for a geek event, as it takes place inside a cavernous sports arena with programming broadcast on screens throughout the venue.
And its co-founders, Gareb Shamus and Stephen Shamus, are confident it will be a success.
“We have high hopes for Ace Comic Con,” Gareb says. “We wanted to reinvent and reimagine what a comic con is like for people. And we think it has everything they could want.”
It’s not an empty boast, considering their track record.
Gareb founded the legendary comics-focused publication Wizard magazine back in the ‘80s, and it became an industry bible and cultural touchstone for geeks everywhere. And both he and Stephen formerly operated Wizard Entertainment, the multimillion-dollar company that organizes several Wizard World cons throughout North America each year.
The pair left the company in 2015, but they had dreams of launching another series of comics conventions.
“My brother and I have been in the industry for a long time. And we pioneered, back in the day, that whole concept of a modern comic-con when we first started [Wizard World]," Gareb says. "It used to be just comic books on tabletops and all that. Cut to over 20 years later, we wanted to get back into the business again, but we didn’t just want to replicate what other people were doing or replicating what we had done before.”
Last year, the pair launched their newest company, Ace Universe, which is producing Ace Comic Cons in cities across the country. The first one took place in December 2017 in New York.
Arizona has the honor of hosting the second Ace Comic Con, which will run from Saturday, January 13, to Monday, January 15, at Gila River Arena in Glendale.
And it’s a bit different than other cons that local geeks are used to attending, starting with the location.
“Instead of doing them convention centers, we wanted to be in arenas because we wanted to create this aesthetic that people are going to an exciting event,” Gareb says. “When you go to an arena, typically you're seeing a sporting event or a concert, you're really psyched to go there with your friends or your family. And we want people to have that similar feeling when they're coming to a comic-con. We want people feel like they're coming to something really extraordinary.”
Gareb says that they wanted to feature as many big-name celebrities and movie stars as possible at Ace.
“We decided to do the company, we said, ‘We’re going to get the talent first, we're going to try to secure the biggest names in the celebrity world that we can and then build events around them,'” Gareb says.
And in the geek world, some of the biggest celebrities are usually playing superheroes.
“All the celebrities that have gotten into the superhero world have become these global rock stars,” Gareb says. "And we have people coming from dozens and dozens of different countries to the con to meet their heroes."
The first Ace Comic Con in December featured Justice League stars like Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot. For Arizona's version, they've tapped a variety of actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Captain America's Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan, Spider-Man: Homecoming's Tom Holland, The Punisher's Jon Bernthal, and Thor: Ragnarok's Karl Urban.
Additionally, the three-day event will also include appearances by the comic book artists and creators who helped made superheroes famous, including Todd MacFarlane, John Romita Jr., Bob Layton, and others.
“It's pretty incredible to have guys like John Cassaday, John Romita Jr., and Todd MacFarlane together in one room," Gareb says. "Even the most ardent comic book fans are freaking out over the opportunity to be there.”
Ace Comic Con in Glendale will also feature a few wrestling legends from the WWE, including Hulk Hogan and Sting.
"I grew up with three brothers in New York, which means we had every major wrestling event," Gareb says. "So for us, comic books and wrestling went hand-in-hand growing up. So we've always loved that aspect. And if you look at the talent that the WWE has, they're like real-life superheroes."
So why did the Shamus brothers choose the Valley to host the second-ever Ace Comic Con? Gareb says the warm winters definitely played a role.
“We knew the event was going to be in January, and we were going to try and pick a place where the weather would be the most cooperative,” Gareb says. “Just look at what's been going on in the eastern part of the U.S. right now with the weather. That’s what we were trying to avoid.”
Another factor was the Valley’s rampant geek scene.
“Phoenix and Arizona in general have been a very vibrant community for people in the comic book world. I've been in the comic book business for virtually my entire professional life and have catered to that marketplace since the early '90s. We've had so many fans there over the years that we wanted to bring an event of this stature to people there. We definitely love the market.”
So what can local geeks expect at Ace Comic Con this weekend? We've put together a rundown of everything you need to know about the event in the following guide.
When and Where: Ace Comic Con takes place from Saturday, January 13, to Monday, January 15, at Gila River Arena, 9400 West Maryland Avenue in Glendale.
Hours: The event runs from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday.
Tickets: As with most cons, the ticket prices vary per day. Daily general admission is $55 for Saturday and Sunday, and $45 for Monday. If you’d like to spend the entire weekend at Ace, it’s $95.
VIP Access: If you’re interested in attending as a VIP, a three-day package will run you $150. It includes an exclusive badge and lanyard, early entry 30 minutes prior to opening on Saturday and Sunday, exclusive comic books, and other perks.
Age Limits: Ace Comic Con is open to all ages, and families are encouraged to attend. “We definitely recommend people bring their kids,” Gareb says. “We try to create a very fun, family-friendly environment, and we've found that people who bring their kids have a phenomenal experience.”
Up to two children ages 10 and younger can get in free with a paid adult. A “Kids Comic Con” area will be available with various age-appropriate activities.
Getting There: Gila River Arena is located near Glendale and 91st avenues. If you’re coming by car, take the Loop 101 to Maryland Avenue. Valley Metro offers bus service to the arena.
Parking: Ace Comic Con attendees can park in “Lot G” just east of the arena for $5 per day. Passes are available here.
Weather: It will be warm and sunny all weekend long, with temperatures in the mid-70s each day. Dress appropriately.
Special Guests: Ace Comic Con’s list of special guests includes 10 different celebrities from the MCU and four professional wrestling legends, as well as a few dozen artists, comics creators, and authors. Check out our complete list of every guest for a full rundown of everyone scheduled to appear at the event.
Q&A Panels: Celebrity guests will star in a variety of panels on both Saturday and Sunday, including group panels featuring the casts of the Captain America films, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Netflix’s The Punisher. Pro wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Sting will be the focus of Q&A panels on Monday (which is sort of fitting, if you think about it).
According to the schedule, panels will begin 30 minutes after doors open each day and will be broadcast throughout the arena. For those who’d like to get an up-close view of the action, most panels will be accessible with general admission. The Captain America, Spider-Man, and Punisher panels require an additional admission to attend. More info can be found here.
Autographs and Photo Ops: Like with most other cons, you’ll have to pay an additional price for autographs or to be photographed with a celebrity at Ace Comic Con. Neither includes admission to the event.
Autographs, for instance, will cost anywhere from $30 to $175, depending on the celebrity. You’re allowed to bring your own item or use one of the photos provided by the con.
Photo ops will be $50 to $800 per person and pics will be printed out immediately afterwards. There's a variety of combinations of celebrities available (such as a group photo with Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie). Up to two adults and two children are allowed per photo, and organizers say that photo ops will be a "rapidly moving process." In other words, you won’t get much time to chit-chat.
The full schedule of when celebrities will be doing photo ops and autograph sessions can be found here.
Vendors and Artists: A variety of both will be set up throughout the arena. Local companies will be selling all manner of toys, games, clothing, jewelry, books, collectibles, and props on the arena floor and on the lower concourse alongside an “Artists Alley.”
Programming: More than 30 hours of programming will be offered throughout the weekend, including discussions featuring various guests and creators. And, as you'd guess, they'll be discussing comic books.
Artists Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., and Adam Kubert will host a discussion called “Beyond the Page: Spider-Man,” for instance. And Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow producer Marc Guggenheim will be talking about what’s going on with the Arrowverse.
Other highlights include an “Artist Master Class” with inker Danny Miki, a discussion about the evolution of Black Panther with folks like Koi Turnbull and Afua Richardson, and analysis of the X-Men. The full programming schedule is here.
Water: Drink enough of it, particularly if you plan to walk around the event all day and especially if you’re in costume. Multiple drinking fountains are available throughout the arena’s concourse area. Concession stands will also sell bottles of water.
Food and Drinks: Gila River Arena also features a variety of eateries and food options, including concession stands selling barbecue, Vienna beef, poutine, and other fast-casual stuff. Papa John’s Pizza, Wetzels Pretzels, Rita’s Ice, and Dunkin’ Donuts locations will also be open during the con.
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Cosplay and Costuming: It's a con, so of course there will be costumes. And if you've got one, by all means bring it. There will be a cosplay competition on Saturday night at 6 p.m. on the Ace Comic Con main stage. Cash and prizes will be awarded to the best of the best.
Bring: Your ID, a fully charged cellphone, geeky clothing or a costume, a bag or backpack for swag, and comfy shoes.
Don’t Bring: Anything dangerous or disruptive, including real weapons or inappropriate costumes. When it comes to cosplay stuff, Ace Comic Con won’t allow gun-like objects or projectile weapons (either real or fake). Bladed objects like knives and swords made from wood or metal are also forbidden, as are hammers, spears, or clubs. (It’s cool if such objects are made from soft plastics, foam, or cardboard, however.)