Nine Must-See Events at Phoenix Comicon 2012

There's a little over 146 hours left to go until this year's much-anticipated Phoenix Comicon officially opens its doors to geeks across Arizona on Thursday night, which means there's little time to dilly dally.

Costumes need to be finished, hotel arrangements need to be made, and - most importantly - a battle plan needs to be formulated regarding how you're gonna tackle everything you'd like to experience at the four-day geek freakfest.

That's because there's more than 200 different guests and in excess of 500 panels and discussions at Comicon that will cover a wealth of topics that matter to nerds, whether its how to get into the comic-creating game, an inside look at the world of anime, and numerous screenings of TV shows and movies.

Suffice it to say, you'll have to make some hard decisions about what to see and do, like choosing between a seminar on whether or not the apocalypse will dawn in December or a discussion about making friends at Comicon.

That's where we come in. Jackalope Ranch is kicking off its annual blitz of Phoenix Comicon coverage (which, over the next week, will include interviews with special guests, previews of the coolest parties, and coverage from the event itself) with a rundown of what we're eager to see. Read on and stay tuned for more Comicon-related content.

9. Jeremy Bulloch The 67-year-old British actor isn't necessarily famous for his face, but rather for the mask he wore over it. For those of you who've been living in a Sarlacc Pit for the last three decades or so, Bulloch is revered in geekdom for playing bounty hunter (and all-around intergalactic badass) Boba Fett in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which has pretty much secured his place in movie history.

He's also had a lengthy career on both the stage and screen in addition to his iconic role and is renowned for being friendly, courteous, and receptive towards fans of that galaxy far, far away (unlike the late Alec Guiness, who reportedly admonished a young Star Wars fan for "living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.") Given the fact that there's a minimum of at least two dozen cats sporting Fett's Mandalorian armor at Comicon each year, expect Bulloch's appearance to be packed to the rafters.

8. The Sketch Off Have you ever wanted to see the squeaky clean Captain America battle the ultra-vulgar Deadpool in an insult contest? How about a depiction of Poison Ivy as a sultry torch singer at a nightclub populated by members of the Legion of Doom? The artists participating in any of the "Sketch Off" sessions throughout Comicon weekend can make these nutty notions become a reality with a few swipes of pens across paper.

During what is essentially an artistic improv session, participants will shout out suggestions and the artists will make them happen. Each of their creations will be bid upon during the annual art auction. Four "Sketch Off" sessions will be held from Thursday, May 24, to Saturday, May 26. See the event page for times and dates.

7. The Exclusives As we reported earlier this week, the folks at Steam Crow will be selling scintillating limited-edition prints of an evil-looking jackalope during Comicon. They're not the only ones planning to offer up exclusive goodies. Numerous artists, publishers, and vendors sell or give away a variety of special posters, prints, toys, comics with variant covers and other schwag (each made in limited amounts, hence the appeal to collectors and geekazoids). Some are downright titillating and scandalous, like Zenescope Entertainment's series of alternate covers for The Walking, which featured scantily-clad strippers and zombies. Since there's more dudes into comics than dames, expect such items to get snatched up quickly. Comicon organizers also dole out choice exclusives to those who purchase "full event memberships" for all four days, although they haven't revealed what they're handing out as of this writing.

6. The Bleeding Cool Fan Awards Quick pop quiz geeks: Who's the best comic book writer thus far in 2012? And which costumed nemeses engaged in the coolest fight in the pages of your favorite title? Such questions are typical of the sort of online comic book-related banter that takes place every day. Thanks to the Bleeding Cool Fan Awards however, you can do more than endlessly debate said topics by casting a vote to determine who or what in the comic book world deserves to be honored.

Categories ranging from the usual ("Best Publisher," "Best Relaunched Title") to the unusual ("The Pro Who Should Really Stay Off the Internet") can be voted on via the Bleeding Cool website up until Thursday. The results will then be announced during the ceremony at the Comicon on Friday, May 25.

5. Costumes and Characters Phoenix Comicon is like Christmas, New Year's Eve, and Halloween all rolled into one for Valley cosplayers or anyone else who's got a getup inspired by sci-fi, comics, video games, or other areas of pop culture. Half the fun of going to the event is to see what sort of costumes that Comicon patrons are sporting and the characters they're portraying. Within the span of five minutes you can run into three Links, a couple of Darth Vaders, and practically the entire roster of The Avengers.

Outfits run the gamut from creative (a full platoon of predators from, uh...Predator) and clever (one dude last year was a walking version of the "Double Rainbow" meme) to the absolutely kooky (like a "robot" made from cardboard boxes that danced for quarters). One thing's for certain, it's guaranteed to be a memorable experience.

4. Garth Ennis As his work on Dark Horse's Judge Dredd, Vertigo's Hellblazer, and Marvel's The Punisher demonstrates, Garth Ennis is a very complicated man. Inside the mind of the Irish comics there likely exists a hot brew of angst, black humor, and tumult, which throughout his lengthy career has resulted in titles containing massive ultra-violence and profane dialogue that translate into gripping reads.

Ennis is fascinated with the effects of war, which has made Battlefields quite a page-turner. And Ennis' distinct distaste for religion was parlayed into his work on the otherworldly Preacher, which is arguably his magnum opus. In other words, his appearance on Saturday should be a unique experience.

3. George Pérez If you aren't familiar with this icon of the comic book world, here's a short list of the Puerto Rican illustrator's accomplishments: Pérez redefined the look of The Avengers (you know, the comic that inspired that movie everyone and their mother has seen) for Marvel in the '70s with his ultra-meticulous style, launched The New Teen Titans over at DC, and became a favorite of the masses with his work on Justice League of America. Plus, he was included in the 1985 comic book artist compilation Fifty Who Made DC Great.

Impressed yet? You should be, since he's considered a god amongst comic artists. Perez, whose drawings are famous for their incredibly nuanced and detailed nature, will be a part of the "Writers vs. Artists" panel on Saturday, May 26.

2. The Cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation A little less than 25 years ago, Gene Roddenberry took a chance that sci-fi nerds and fans of Star Trek would embrace his ambitious syndicated spin-off of the original series. His gamble paid off in spades and the adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise and its crew eclipsed its progenitor during seven hit seasons on TV. In honor of TNG's silver anniversary, five members of the show's cast -- Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Marina Sirtis, and LeVar Burton) will gather at Comicon on Sunday, May 27. Sadly, Stewart bailed out on his scheduled appearance, but at least you can still quiz Dorn about his makeup woes, ask Spiner if he remains "fully functional" at age 63, listen to Wheaton performing bits from his book Memories of the Future Volume 1 on Saturday, May 26, or just soak up some yarns from the final frontier.

1. Cute Geek Chicks C'mon, fess up. The chance to check our ladies wearing Slave Girl Leia outfits (or next to nothing at all) is one of the benefits of going to Phoenix Comicon each and every year.

Phoenix Comicon 2012 takes place from Thursday, May 24, to Sunday, May 27, at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Admission ranges from $25 for daily entry ($30 at the door) to $40 for all four days ($45 at the door). Certain events and photo ops with special guests require an additional fee. Visit the Comicon website for full details.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.