Don’t be alarmed if your geek friends haven’t been returning your calls or Facebook messages lately. They’re just fine, of course, other than the fact they’re probably really busy right now.
That’s because Phoenix Comicon kicks off a day from now, and it's crunch time for many of the 70,000-plus people who will be attending the four-day event in downtown Phoenix.
There are costumes to be prepped, artwork to finish, photo ops to purchase, schedules to arrange, and countless other tasks to accomplish between now and then. And a lot of people are likely pulling some all-nighters or pulling out the stops to make sure they're prepared for the event.
Even if you aren't as geeky as these folks, it helps to be prepared for Phoenix Comicon every year. As such, we've put together a guide to this year's event — which takes place from Thursday, June 2, to Sunday, June 5, at the Phoenix Convention Center and other locations in downtown — that covers everything you need to know from A to Z.
Admission: The cost of Phoenix Comicon depends on what days you’d like to attend. Single-day passes are $15 on Thursday, June 2; $20 on Friday, June 3; $40 on Saturday, June 4; and $25 on Sunday, June 5. If you’d like to spend the entire weekend at the event, a “full-access membership” is $70.
A “fast pass membership” – which includes entry for all four days, access to quicker lines at photo ops and autograph sessions, a commemorative tote bag, and other perks – is $249. Children ages 3 to 12 (aka “sidekicks”) can get in for $5 each per day, and kids up to 2 years of age get in free.
Badges: Attendees can pick 'em up in Ballroom 120 in the convention center's North Building 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 4 p.m. on Sunday. To save time, register online and bring the printed receipt to be scanned.
Costumes and Cosplay: It’s something that a majority of attendees will indulge in – even it’s only a mask and cape. As Phoenix Comicon director Matt Solberg told us last year, cosplay is so big at the event that it rivals sci-fi, fantasy, authors, and even comic books in popularity. “It's one of the most significant parts of Phoenix Comicon," Solberg says. "Visually, you can tell that cosplay is huge because so many dressed-up people are downtown."
Needless to say, you’re definitely encouraged to wear a costume of some sort, whether it’s a full-on ensemble you’ve taken months to create or simply something thrown together at the last minute. The best getups will be shown off and honored during any of the multiple fashion shows and costume contests, the most prominent of which is the official Phoenix Comicon Masquerade at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Don’t have a costume? More than 220 different panels, workshops, tutorials, and events focusing on cosplay are scheduled to take place throughout the weekend.
Deadpool: He'll be everywhere. In fact, you won’t be able to swing a bag of chimichangas without hitting a Deadpool cosplayer at Comicon, as we expect the character (or his doppelgangers, at least) to be quite prevalent, owing to the popularity of the hit movie.
In addition to all the Wade Wilson wanna-bes, there's a few events devoted to the infamous “merc with a mouth," like the Deadpool Sketchoff and Deadpool Beauty and Talent Pageant on Thursday evening and a panel entitled “Cancer and Immortality: The Science of Captain Deadpool” on Saturday.
Exhibitor Hall: Practically anything and everything a geek could possibly want is available for purchase within Comicon’s gargantuan exhibitor hall on the lower level of the convention center. More than 500 different vendors, companies, retailers, and publishers will offer their wares inside the 312,000-square-foot space, including all manner of toys, games, clothing, jewelry, books, collectibles, and props.
The hall is also home to a busy “Artists Alley,” which is situated on the eastern end and features hundreds of comic book creators, authors, illustrators, and creative types.
The exhibitor hall will be open from 4 to 9 p.m. on Thursday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Food and Drink: You’re gonna need to eat at some point during the weekend. Guaranteed. So it's a good thing there are plenty of options to get your eat on. The convention center itself has a half-dozen reasonably priced fast-casual spots on the first floor, four concession stands in the exhibitor’s hall, and several vendors selling snack foods like popcorn and ice cream in the hallways.
Meanwhile, multiple food trucks will be set up at the outdoor pavilion near Adams and Second streets (aka “The Con on Adams”); the Hyatt will have an outdoor barbecue with burgers and brats; and downtown contains a wealth of restaurants and eateries.
Comicon attendees can also bring their own supply of food and drinks into the event (within reason, of course) in order to save time and money.
Gaming: Much like it has during previous Comicons, the Hyatt Regency will be a haven for every sort of gaming imaginable, be it lo-fi, high-tech, tabletop, card-based, or joystick-powered. Sessions will run all four days on both the first and second floors of the hotel.
It’s not the only place to partake in some game-related fun, however, as the members of Game CoLab will highlight local indie projects and developers during the Arizona Video Games Showcase in the convention center’s west building. Meanwhile, the game gurus of Cobra Arcade Bar will also operate a “Classic Video Game Lounge” a few doors down and will conduct various tournaments. Game on.
Hydration: Drinking more water than normal is extremely important for any attendee, especially since temperatures will top 110 degrees this weekend. You'll also be doing tons of walking. Thus, you need water. A lot of it. “You just forget about the need to drink water since you're having a good time,” Solberg told us last year. “So to have a really great experience, just be sure you're drinking plenty of water throughout the day.” To that end, bring a bottle of water or two with you or hit up any of the dozens of drinking fountains located around the convention center. You can thank us later.
Info Desks: Need directions to that impossible-to-find panel room? Can’t remember when the steampunk fashion show starts? Hit up any of the six different information desks located around the convention center, typically near the entrances to popular areas like the Hall or Heroes or Exhibitor’s Hall. They've got answers to any ‘con-related question you might have and copies of the programming guide.
J-Culture: While Phoenix Comicon is by no means an anime-specific event, it offers a wealth of content devoted to the art form, including meetups, movie screenings, quiz games, voice actor panels, and drawing tutorials. Ditto for manga, doujinshi, eroge, and other aspects of Japanese and otaku culture. There are samurai armor workshops, for instance, as well as karaoke sessions, J-fashion meetups, and import game demos. And that’s just on Thursday.
Karate Kid: Three of the stars from the ultimate ‘80s underdog flick — Martin Kove, William Zabka, and Ralph Macchio – will be special guests this year, and are scheduled to appear together at an hour-long Q&A panel. Just don’t ask ‘em to pull off any crane kicks, since all three are eligble for their AARP cards.
Light rail: It’s arguably the most convenient and hassle-free method of getting to and from Phoenix Comicon and pretty darn cheap to boot. There are at least four different stations located within a short distance of the convention center, participating hotels, and the outdoor events. One-way fares are $2, an all-day pass is $4, and trains run until 2 a.m. on weekend nights.
Money: While most vendors or artists are able to take plastic, it’s always a good idea to have cash in case they can’t. It also makes for faster transactions, which the people behind you will appreciate. Get it beforehand, however, since the ATMs at the convention center charge a fee.
Nightlife: The geeky action doesn’t end when Exhibitor Hall closes down each evening. Several after-parties, nightlife events, and costume balls will take place at downtown venues on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. To wit: There’s a Labyrinth-inspired masquerade ball hosted by Jareth the Goblin King on Friday night, followed by the fantasy-themed “One Party to Rule Them All” on Saturday night being put on by the Phoenix Comicon Blue Ribbon Army.
Outdoor Activities: If all the indoor happenings weren’t enough to keep you busy, outdoor events will take place in two separate areas. A portion of Third Street in front of the convention center will feature nerdy vehicles on display, vendor booths, Quidditch games, choreographed lightsaber fights, roller-derby demos, and other fun.
Meanwhile, a one-block stretch of Adams Street between First and Second streets will host the “Con on Adams” party pavilion with a live music stage, beer garden, photo booth, and such activities as “Dungeons & Dragons with Drunken Dwarves” and “Pub Trivia: Super Nerd.” It opens daily at 10 a.m. from Friday through Sunday.
Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown: Nerd-on-nerd battles will ensue during this popular event, which takes place on Thursday and Friday night in Room 232ABC of the North Building. It involves pairs of geeks debating such nerdy topics as “Luke Skywalker or Bruce Wayne: Who’s Got Bigger Daddy Issues?” or “Doc Brown vs. Doctor Who” in a two-night battle for intellectual supremacy, bragging rights, and an amazing-looking trophy.
Q&A Sessions: If you’re eager to hear what all of Comicon’s high-profile special guests – including Billie Piper, Alex Kingston, and Sean Astin — have to say, expect to spend some time up on the third floor of the convention center. Most of the actors and celebrities scheduled to appear this year will conduct their hour-long spotlight panels in either of the two adjacent halls (301A and 301BCD, specifically) on the top floor of the West Building. You’ll want to arrive at least 30 to 45 minutes beforehand, since seating is first come, first served.
Respect: It goes a long way at Comicon and comes into play when dealing with fellow attendees. In other words, don’t cut in line, take up extra space, harass others, monopolize the time of guests, steal the spotlight in Q&As, or basically act like a major jerkface.
If you’re a cosplayer, don’t wear anything that’s shocking, scandalous, or too revealing. Conversely, if you’re interacting with cosplayers, ask permission before taking photos, don’t denigrate their costuming efforts, and don’t be a creeper.
Star Wars: The Force has always been strong with Phoenix Comicon. So much so that Star Wars-related fandom has always been a big part of the event. It’s at an absolute apex this year, however, due to The Force Awakens, as illustrated by the large amount of programming (28 events in total) devoted to a galaxy far, far away. Besides interacting with all the Rebel and Imperial forces stationed in the Hall of Heroes, fans can explore the philosophy and theology of the Force, get a tidbit or two about upcoming movies, or hang with Jedi and Sith alike during the inaugural “Saber Walk” on Friday night.
Time Management: Let's face it, you won’t be able to see and do everything you want at Comicon. Given that there’s more than 1,000 hours of programming and events happening and only four days in which to experience it all. (Plus, you gotta sleep at some point.) Our advice is to consult the official guide or Conquest app beforehand, prioritize what’s most important, and manage your time wisely. It’s certainly better than running around and trying to cram in as much of the ‘con as possible.
United Blood Services: Vampires won’t be the only people at who’d like to tap into your veins for a pint during Comicon weekend. The phlebotomists of United Blood Services will take donations in Room 123 of the North Building daily from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday and on Friday through Sunday starting at 10 a.m. Snacks, drinks, and movies will be available during the donation process. Consider it a chance to get away from the hullabaloo for an hour, relax, and do some good at the same time.
Villains: Admit it, you sometimes prefer the villain to the hero. It isn’t that strange of an idea, especially with such compelling and complex characters as Loki, Magneto, Darth Vader, or The Joker. It’s one of the reasons why you’ll encounter a lot of bad guys being cosplayed at Comicon or being analyzed in detail during any of the programming devoted to villains. There are at least a dozen such panels this year, including a discussion on Thursday about sympathizing with villainy entitled “Evil as Heck,” and even a “Villain of the Year” award ceremony on Saturday highlighting the best baddies of 2015.
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Weapons: Real weapons like actual handguns or those shooting projectiles are strictly forbidden at Phoenix Comicon. Period. Prop weapons, on the other hand, are allowed, as long as you’ve had ‘em cleared by security and “peace bonded” (aka tied up) or otherwise rendered safe. Steel or bladed armaments like swords must be sheathed at all time.
X-Men: Mutants have taken over the box office these days, thanks to the recent success of X-Men: Apocalypse, and they’ll be a major part of Comicon. Besides scoping out cosplayers portraying such famed mutants as Wolverine and Magneto, you can also check out appearances by a few renowned X-Men artists (including Arthur Adams, Tom Raney, and Whilce Portacio), attend a confab with local scientists about how mutations may grant us superpowers, or bitch about how the latest flick pales in comparison to the source material.
YouTube Poop: To further illustrate that Phoenix Comicon covers pretty much any sort of geeky fascination imaginable, we’d like to mention there’s an entire panel devoted to YouTube Poop. Never heard of it? We don’t blame you. For the uninitiated, YouTube Poops are bizarre video mashups and remixes of cartoons, video game cutscenes, and pop-culture tidbits that are equally shocking, strange, and downright silly. You can learn all about ‘em during the "YTP Power Hour" panel on Sunday morning, which will explore the art form, as well as Internet video culture, in detail.
Zombies: As you may have heard, the annual Friday night zombie walk (sadly) won’t be happening this year. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any zombie-related content happening at Comicon 2016, however. The Umbrella Corporation of Arizona and the Department of Zombie Defense will both have booths in the Hall of Heroes, a discussion on The CW show iZombie is planned, and you can meet up with zombie cosplayers or attend a panel about how the survive the impending apocalypse with your brains intact.