The four-day geek free-for-all, which ran from May 23 through 26, offered practically everything you could want in a con. A vast hive of activity was spread across the entirety of the Phoenix Convention Center, including thrilling performances, celebrity appearances, panels aplenty, a massive exhibitor hall, and hordes of colorful cosplay.
Phoenix New Times was in attendance all four days, braving the crowds and attempting to capture as much of the action and energy of Fan Fusion as was humanly possible. We came, we saw, and we geeked out.
Here's our report of the best and worst of what we encountered at Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019.
Best: All the Gorgeous WeatherThe heat has been a longtime foe of geeks attending springtime cons put on by Square Egg Entertainment, be it Phoenix Comicon or Phoenix Comic Fest (the predecessors of Phoenix Fan Fusion). Temperatures would typically be in triple digits while the event took place, essentially turning attendees to miserable puddles of EVA foam, sweat, and face paint.
An unseasonable spate of cooler weather this year offered a much different experience. Things were not only tolerable, but enjoyable all four days of Fan Fusion as temps were mostly in the 80s. (Hell, it practically seemed downright chilly at times.) Even Billy Dee Williams cracked a joke about the weather during his panel on Saturday, telling those in attendance “you should be outside.” Benjamin Leatherman
Worst: Technical Difficulties, Please Stand ByTechnical issues cropped up left and right at panels throughout the weekend. Projectors crapped out, mics produced feedback like they were covering the Jesus & Mary Chain, and even the exhibitor hall was subjected to bursts of way-too-loud music. On the bright side: The convention’s staff was very responsive, and it usually didn’t take long for whatever issue was bedeviling the panel to get cleared up. Ashley Naftule
Best: The Return of the High-Five GuyWe gave Jaime Corado some love last year and will gladly do so again because, well, he’s just that awesome. Just like in 2018, the jubilant security guard, who was stationed at the Third Street entrance to the convention center’s north building, served up high-fives to pretty much everyone who came through the doors. And he did so with a big smile, not to mention some words of encouragement (“All right!” “Have a good time!”). It was an instance of pure, unadulterated positivity at an event that frequently features its fair share of negativity. BL
Worst: Security’s Temporary Issue with FoodAs you might’ve read on social media, security staff working the screening areas outside of the convention on Thursday were reportedly forbidding Fan Fusion attendees from bringing in snacks or small amounts of food (like Lunchables and other single-serving eats). Many folks were also miffed at the fact they were asked to dump preopened beverages or unsealed bottles of water.
Thankfully, Fan Fusion organizers and convention center management corrected the food issue before the end of the day. The open container ban stayed in place, much to the chagrin of some attendees who thought they could roll through with a Big Gulp in hand. (Empty water bottles and Camelbak-style water bladders were allowed in, however.) BL
Best: Laugh It Up, Fuzzball
Some of the best events at Fan Fusion were the comedy shows. A big part of this is the “hot” audiences: Unlike bar shows where audiences can be drunk and surly, nerds at Fan Fusion were eager to laugh their asses off. Give comedians a room full of people who want to be on the floor laughing, and they’ll bring their A game.
Whether it was the Saturday night stand-up showcase hosted by Steve Marek, the deranged RPG antics of the ComeDy&D crew, the heated (and occasionally nonsensical) arguments at the Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown, or the hilarious (and brilliantly written) fan fiction scripts performed at Legible Scrawl’s live readings, there were plenty of opportunities at this year’s Fan Fusion for nerds to get their funny bones cracked open. AN
Worst: This Is Not the Schedule You’re Looking For
People crack jokes about “Phoenix Time,” but the celebrities for this year’s big Q&A panels had our local procrastinators beat. It wasn’t uncommon for panels to start 15 to 25 minutes later than their scheduled start time. While last-minute curveballs do happen at an event of this size and scope, it was a bit of a letdown that those late panels still ended according to schedule and didn’t run a little longer to make up for that lost time. AN
Best: A Drama-Free Con (More or Less)Other than the aforementioned issues with time, technology, and food, Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 was largely free of incident. And that’s a welcome change. The event has been marred by various unfortunate situations in recent years, ranging from mildly inconvenient to potentially catastrophic.
There was the computer snafu in 2016 that hindered registration and caused people to bake in the heat while waiting in enormous lines outside. A year later, an attendee was arrested with a small arsenal he brought into the convention center (allegedly with the intent of murdering celebrity guest Jason David Frank). And last year, a fire alarm that short-circuited caused the event to be evacuated during the busiest night of the weekend.
Thanks to a drama-free con this year (more or less), that’s all in the past. BL
Worst: People Suddenly Stopping While MovingSeriously. Move. Get out of the way. You're part of a moving crowd. You know you're part of a moving crowd. Pointing at a vending machine or breaking out your program and becoming suddenly stationary is rude as hell. Step out of yourself and recognize the rest of us. Michael Palladino
Best: Cosplayers Leveling Up Their Video Game CostumesPart of the joy of attending a con is the people-watching – seeing all the amazing and inventive costumes that attendees come up with for this geektastic weekend.
For this year’s Fan Fusion, old school video games inspired some of the best costumes: A squad of Power Ranger-style Links; a Gogo from Final Fantasy 6 who looked so dead-on it was like a walking Yoshitaka Amano drawing come to life; pint-size Sub Zeros; a tall, mini-skirt wearing Shy Guy; and the “It’s dangerous to go alone” old man from The Legend of Zelda (who handed out stickers of potions and heart containers to heroes in need).
The only thing missing? Someone going as the “oh god my eyes, MY EYES!” version of Sonic from the original movie trailer. AN
Worst: All the Harley Quinn CosplayersDon't get us wrong, we appreciate you getting into the spirit of the event. But, honestly, did you have to go with such a played-out outfit? Suicide Squad came out three years ago, and we're all still trying to forget it. (Those of you who went as the Batman: The Animated Series incarnation are excluded from this group. That version is timeless.) Put down the bat and get with the times. Daddy's Little Monster needs to be put out to pasture. MP
Best: Guys Cosplaying Female CharactersThe beauty of cosplay is that it doesn't matter who you are or what you look like — with enough time and effort, you can transform yourself into whoever you want to be. So we noted with delight the large number of men we saw this year cosplaying female characters. We saw a Cersei, a Princess Leia, a Harley Quinn, and a Mary Poppins, although there certainly were others. It adds interest to the cavalcade of costumes at Fan Fusion, and we hope to see more of it in the future. Jennifer Goldberg
Best: The Sad DanysCosplay can be a harsh mistress. Imagine spending months putting together the perfect costume, hand-stitching your painstakingly accurate outfit, only to realize you’re unwittingly going to con as Lady Genocide, First of Her Name.
Daenerys Targaryen was a popular costume choice for the ladies (particularly in her Khaleesi mode), but judging by the doleful looks on many Dany cosplayer faces, they weren’t thrilled about her extra-crispy heel turn in the last season of Game of Thrones. It did add a bit of unintentional hilarity to the con, seeing dozens of Danys wandering the convention center with serious cases of buyer’s remorse etched on their faces.
They weren’t the only ones who were still smarting from Daenerys getting her flame on: You could feel the temperature in the room hosting the Drink & Know Things GOT trivia event drop to White Walker-friendly levels when one of the moderators introduced the Targaryen team as Team Genocide. Too soon, y’all, too soon. AN
Best: A Hive of Programming Scum and VillainyAt past cons, a lot of the programming leaned pretty heavily on anime. While there were still lots of events for otakus at this year’s Fan Fusion, it felt like there was a much broader range of programming to scope out. From science lectures to trivia events, nerd poetry slams to history lessons, there was a lil’ something for everyone. AN
Worst: There Was A Panel About Farting
No joke. It happened on Thursday and was titled “Sci-lent But Deadly: The Science of Farts and Other Gross Biology” and featured researchers from Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University. We bet it was a gas. BL
Best: No Quarters, Just GameplayProps to Cobra Arcade Bar for bringing back the free play arcade to con this year. After spending hours wandering the downstairs exhibitor hall and hopping from one panel to another, it’s nice being able to zone out and bash out some Mortal Kombat II or Simpsons side-scrollers without having to spend all your laundromat money in the process. AN
Best: That One Lando CosplayerLike with every other celebrity at Fan Fusion, Billy Dee Williams fielded questions from a number of fans during his panel on Saturday, many of which were about his role as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars. Some questions were tedious, others were tepid. Then came Derek Jeremiah Reid, the L.A.-based writer, director, and star of the comedy musical La La Lando, which had a performance at Fan Fusion.
Reid, who was (presumably) wearing his costume from the show, patiently waited his turn in line before stepping up to the mic. And then he asked a two-part question that floored the audience.
"Is there any truth to the Star Wars fan theory that Princess Leia was secretly in love with Lando and that Kylo Ren is their love child?” After a pause, he continued. “The second part of my question: Is there any truth to the fan theory that Han Solo was secretly in love with Lando and Kylo Ren is their love child?"
And with a debonair swish of his blue cape, Reid turned and strutted off without waiting for an answer from Williams. He may have left the microphone firmly attached to its stand, but the move was Reid’s equivalent of a mic drop as he walked away from the scene and straight into Fan Fusion legend. BL
Worst: You Had to Be That GuyI hung out at the Star Wars panels most of Saturday. There was one fan who attended them, too. The reason why he stood out was that he told Billy Dee Williams that The Last Jedi sucked. He has the right to his opinion, but Williams never asked for it.
He also showed up at a panel about Rian Johnson's film, only to leave right as the panelists described how they admired the director's visual style (and before they laid into its faults, too). He was even one of the few people who managed to ask Ray Park a question, and he managed to get a subtle dig in the 2017 film. It felt like a waste of time for this young man to direct so much anger at a movie whose time has already passed, but to troll Lando with his opinion was unforgivable. Jason Keil
Best: That Jeff Goldblum PanelIf you were one of the lucky 3,000 or so people who packed into Jeff Goldblum's session at Fan Fusion, boy, were you in for a treat. In a 30-minute conversation with a moderator, the actor talked about his jazz band (and invited everyone to a show), reminisced about David Bowie, revealed his idea for a new Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor, promised to take photos with fans with his shirt off, shared his philosophy of life, and declared a mass wedding between himself and everyone in the audience, because this was Fan Fusion and we were all fusing together like candle wax ... or something like that. And he still found time to autograph a pillowcase printed with a photo of himself and toss it into the crowd. Whew. JG
Best: Amy Jo Johnson’s Biggest FanFriday’s panel starring AJJ (as in Amy Jo Johnson and not the band formerly known as Andrew Jackson Jihad) was a little rough at times. The lion's share of questions was about the Power Rangers, of course, and the questions could be redundant, and at times a little inappropriate. (Example: the guy who asked where her former Power Rangers co-star Thuy Trang is buried. Seriously, dude?)
But a little girl's declaration was a welcome change of pace. This adorable little kid got on the mic and told AJJ that she is the reason why she got into gymnastics. (AJJ was an accomplished gymnast in her early days.) Definitely one of those "awwwww" moments. Thanks, kid. MP
Worst: Ray Park Describes His Bowel MovementsRay Park, who is best known for playing Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, showed up more than 20 minutes late to his panel. Instead of jumping into questions, he cues up his iPod and starts playing The Prodigy song "Firestarter." It was amusing at first, especially since the song tied into how he prepped to play his iconic character, but then he would ramble off long answers to the few questions he took.
Fans left in droves as he would get into lightsaber duels with the audience. At one point, he even described his evening after eating a burrito the night before. His moderator, seeing the line of people who patiently waited to ask a question, reminded people that they could ask him questions at his autograph table later that day. It was pretty disappointing, even coming from a Sith Lord. JK
Best: Billy Dee's ModeratorAs I waited for Billy Dee Williams to take the stage, you could hear the fans groaning as they shuffled in from Jeff Goldblum's 30-minute panel. The moderator let the man who played Dr. Ian Malcolm ramble on for most of his brief visit. Williams' moderator, on the other hand, was a professional throughout.
After he acknowledged some technical errors and introduced his guest, he let Lando get down to business. There was the occasional plug and assist here and there (Williams is 82, after all) but he mostly kept things moving along, much to the delight of the many fans in attendance. JK
Best: That Sweet Issue of Married ... With Children No. 1
Who knew that the Bundys were once in comic book form? We certainly didn't until we encountered it being sold in the exhibitor hall. To the lucky buyer who purchased the issue, we say hold on to it, preserve it, cherish it, and pass it on to your grandchildren. You now own an artifact of pop culture history. Such a steal at $75. MP
Best: Let's Put on an Exhibition
I found myself going to the exhibitor hall throughout the day to visit with the artists and see what was new in the world of comic books. As someone who hasn’t opened an actual issue in over two decades, I was amazed where the medium has gone since Marvel and DC were practically the only publishers in the industry.
Local publisher Tapestry Comics creates beautiful and historically accurate graphic novels about Joan of Arc and the Norman invasion of England. There was even a commemorative comic on U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Comic books used to tell epic stories of extraordinary heroes. Now they can share memorable stories of ordinary but heroic people. JK
Worst: All the People Who Didn’t Make It to Artist Alley
The downstairs exhibitor hall at Fan Fusion was big. As in huge, enormous, and/or gigantic. And all 40,000 square feet of it was filled with row after row of color, activity, and noise as thousands of vendors, both commercial or those of a more mom-and-pop nature, hawked their wares and services. So it’s no surprise that some folks were suffering from fatigue and sensory overload after running this gauntlet of geeky merch.
It might also explain why many tapped out before making it over to the Artist Alley section of the hall, which was located on the far end and features a slew of comic book creatives, authors, and artists. Social media was filled with complaints from artists claiming to have experienced a decrease in turnout at their tables this year. It’s definitely a shame, considering the quality of their work. Consider making the journey over to their corner of the con next year, okay? You won't regret it. BL
Best: Dragstravaganza Brings Drag Queens to Con
Saturday night's Queen Lantern Corps Dragstravaganza was a landmark occasion. The performance, which starred Phi Phi O'Hara of RuPaul's Drag Race and a number of local female illusionists, was the first time a drag show had ever been staged at Phoenix Fan Fusion or any of its predecessor events.
Emcee and local drag queen legend Barbra Seville summed up the significance of the affair at the beginning of the show. “It's our first time being here, and it’s about time,” she said. “We have drag queens on TV, we have drag queens in movies, we have drag queens at libraries, and now we have drag queens at Fan Fusion.”
And it was a grand and geeky spectacle. Each of the drag queens dressed as a variety of nerdy characters. Seville opened the evening with a number about Wonder Woman while other performs transformed into Doctor Strange, Zelda and Link, and Rogue from The X-Men. O'Hara pulled double duty, portraying Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers villainess Rita Repulsa and Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter film series.
“It's great to see an event celebrating the community and exposing it to different people and giving them a chance to be a part of something that maybe they've never experienced before,” Seville told Phoenix New Times. Amen, sister. BL
Worst: The Name GameNumber of panels I attended where someone didn’t make a joke about how much they hate Fan Fusion as a name: 0. Granted, Fan Fusion is slightly catchier than “Please Don’t Sue Us, San Diego Comic-Con” (but only slightly). But old habits die hard, and it wasn’t very often that people called the con by its proper name unless they were dunking on it. It’s probably going to be another year and another con before Fan Fusion finally gets enough traction as a name that people stop calling the event “Comicon,” accidentally or otherwise. AN
Best: Phoenix Comicon Is Dead. Long Live Phoenix Fan Fusion
Heard any jokes about the name Phoenix Fan Fusion? Yeah, so have we. A lot of 'em in fact, both over the last year (dating back to when the change was announced) and all throughout this year’s event. (Someone even made T-shirts poking fun at the situation.) So much so that it's kind of become tiresome.
Is Phoenix Fan Fusion an unusual moniker? Absolutely, but that isn’t a bad thing. The world is filled with various cons, expos, and fests. As far as we know, there’s only one event with “fusion” in the name, and many of you just attended it. And that helps our hometown con stand apart in the geek scene.
Yes, we all loved the name Phoenix Comicon. But that’s in the past and Square Egg apparently has no intentions of bringing it back, even if it were possible. Look, it's okay if you keep saying “Phoenix Comicon” on accident (even the organizers have done it and I wrote it in headlines before my editors caught it). And we’re not stopping y’all from cracking wise about the name (even Jeff Goldblum got in on the fun). It's all part of the process of adapting to change, which, ultimately, is for the best. BL