Nerd Culture

Phoenix Comicon 2016 from A to Z: A Guide to the Downtown Phoenix Event

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.

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