Nerd Culture

Phoenix Comicon 2017: Here's Everything You Need to Know About This Year's Event

The event you've been waiting for all year is finally upon us.
The event you've been waiting for all year is finally upon us. Benjamin Leatherman

It's the most wonderful time of year for local geeks.

Phoenix Comicon, arguably the biggest event of the year for many in the geek scene, is mere days – if not hours – away. And the anticipation’s building as zero-hour approaches.

As a matter of fact, if you listen close enough, you just might hear the sounds of many artists, cosplayers, comics creators, and dozens of other geeks hurriedly finishing up their stuff for the 2017 edition of Phoenix Comicon, which runs from Thursday, May 25, to Sunday, May 28, at the Phoenix Convention Center and Hyatt Regency.

They aren’t the only ones who are busy right now, as Comicon organizers are currently putting the finishing touches on this year’s event. Just ask Phoenix Comicon spokesperson Kristin Rowan, who says that prepping for the event is occupying most of their waking hours these days.

“Yeah, we’ve got a lot going on right now as we finish getting everything ready,” she says. “Everyone's obviously busy right now, we're less than a week out from the show, but there's also this excitement brewing.”

This last year has been particularly busy for Phoenix Comicon organizers. As you may have heard, they had to overhaul and reinvent its staffing system.

In January, Phoenix Comicon’s parent company, Square Egg Entertainment, chose to utilize an all-paid staff for its events, as opposed to relying on hundreds of volunteers to run the con. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, and it resulted in a clamor among local geeks. According to Phoenix Comicon director Matt Solberg, it was done to avoid conflict with state labor laws and to ensure the future of the event.

“We do believe this is the best decision long-term for our company and our conventions,” Solberg stated in January.

As a result, Phoenix Comicon wound up nixiing around 1,000 volunteer positions and took on more paid staff. And while the changeover has been a bit of a transition for organizers, Rowan says that it won’t affect the vibe of the con or patrons’ enjoyment.

“Even with everything, I don't think that Phoenix Comicon itself will change much from the attendee perspective,” she says.

The new staffing model wasn’t the only change to Phoenix Comicon, however. Organizers also implemented a new ticketing and registration system, which should help shorten the long lines seen at last year’s event, and expanded the number of vendors considerably, which essentially added a second Exhibitor Hall. There will also be reserved seating available for purchase at many of Q&A panels featuring high-profile media guests, such as actors and actresses.

“It has been a year of change and growth for Phoenix Comicon,” Rowan says. “Obviously, we've had some obstacles that have come up, but I think we've come through them really well. I think we've got a really well-trained staff, I think we've all learned a lot, I think it's just going to make the whole event better in the long run.”

She also thinks that this year’s event will be fun for attendees.

“First and foremost, we want to put on a great show for our attendees and we're doing the best we can to make that happen, despite all of the ups and downs that we have faced in the last year,” Rowan says. “I think it's going to be a great show.”

They’ve certainly got all the hallmarks of a memorable Comicon, such notable celebrity guests (including television icon Dick Van Dyke and geek favorites like Karen Gillan and Alan Tudyk) and a variety of panels, programming, and content devoted to comics, authors, gaming, and horror. There are also plenty of new attractions, like two “escape rooms” and the outdoor “Con on Third” that takes place in front of the convention center.

“It’s going to be big,” she says. “We've got people flying in from everywhere. This is it, this is the big event for us for the year for us and for them.”

And if you'd like to know what to expect at Phoenix Comicon 2017, we've put together a comprehensive guide featuring everything you'll need to know.

click to enlarge A Phoenix Comicon patron checks out the program guide. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
A Phoenix Comicon patron checks out the program guide.
Benjamin Leatherman
When and Where: Phoenix Comicon 2017 runs daily from Thursday, May 25, until Sunday, May 28, at the Phoenix Convention Center, 100 North Third Street, and Hyatt Regency, 122 North Second Street.

Hours: Things get going at 10 a.m. each day. Activities at the convention center will go until 11:30 p.m. on Thursday night, 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday when the con closes down. Programming at the Hyatt runs until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and until 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Admission: Prices depend on how long you’d like to hang out at the event. Daily admission to Phoenix Comicon is $20 on Thursday, $30 on Friday and Sunday, and $45 for Saturday (a.k.a. the biggest day of the con). A full event pass is $75. Kids ages 3 to 12 are eligible for a $10 “Sidekick” pass that covers all four days and tykes ages 2 years old and younger can get in for free.

A “Fast Pass” package is also available that includes a full event admission, better line access for guest photo ops and autograph sessions, a souvenir lanyard, tote bag, and collectible.

Registration: Attendees who didn’t get their badges by mail can pick 'em up in the North Ballroom (North 120AB). Ditto for anyone who’s buying admission in person at the event. Registration will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Location Info: A majority of activities at Phoenix Comicon 2017 – including registration, photo ops, autograph sessions, the Exhibitors Halls, and most of the programming and panels – will happen at the convention center. Meanwhile, the Hyatt will host gaming of the tabletop, board, and role-playing variety, as well as certain special event and the Starship Academy bridge simulator.

Age Limits: The con is all-ages and open to everyone. Certain panels and events, like the “Talk Nerdy to Me” burlesque show on Friday, are strictly for those 18 and over, however.

click to enlarge She'll make point five past lightspeed. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
She'll make point five past lightspeed.
Benjamin Leatherman
Getting There: Light rail stations are located near Third Street along Washington and Jefferson streets, both of which are a five-minute walk from the con. It’s your best option if you don’t have tons to carry or wear — and fares are $2 for single rides, $4 for all day. If you’ve gotta take your car, though ...

Around 1,800 street spaces are located around downtown and it’s $1 to $1.50 per hour, per day between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. (You can use the Pango service and app to pay remotely and make reservations.) Those will go fast, so if you wind up using one of the many downtown garages, it will run you between $15 to $50 per day to park, depending on the spot. More details, as well as a few deals, can be found on the Phoenix Comicon website.

Getting Around: You can take a pedicab for $5 to $15 per ride, a Grid bike for $5 an hour, or hit up either a taxi cab or ride-sharing service (fares vary) to get to and from your car, a hotel, or a nearby eatery or bar. You could also, you know, walk.

Getting Inside: If there’s a line (which is pretty much a given at any comicon), be patient. Security will be checking for badges, peace-bonding prop weapons, and filtering out the real ones. It might take a few minutes, but you’ll get inside soon enough.

Weather: It’s late May in Arizona, so, yeah, expect lots of sunshine and heat. Temperatures will be triple digits all four days, but relatively cooler after dark. During the daytime, you’ll want to pace yourself, rest often, wear sun protection, and seek shade. That goes double if you’re sporting a lot of costuming. Most importantly, you need to stay hydrated. On that note …

Water: You should drink a lot of it. And then drink some more after that before finishing things off with a chaser of H2O. Basically, we can’t stress the importance staying hydrated enough, and no less a source than convention director Matt Solberg agrees. “You just forget about the need to drink water since you're having a good time,” he told New Times in 2015. “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’ll thank us later.

Food and Drinks: Snacks, lunches, and other outside food and drinks are allowed at Phoenix Comicon, within reason. If you’d prefer to get something while you’re there, you’ve got no shortage of options. The North building features a food court on its first floor with a half-dozen or so fast-casual establishments and the West building features a sandwich spot and Starbucks. Meanwhile, both Exhibitor Halls have concessions stands available.

Several local food trucks will be set up at the Con on Third Street outside, including Pho King, Queso Good, Cheese Love and Happiness, and Mustache Pretzels. There will also have a massive "beer and barbecue" tent with hot dogs, hamburgers, turkey legs, corn on the cob, and both adult beverages and soft drinks. And downtown, of course, has a few dozen eateries and drinkeries within walking distance.

Special Guests: After mathing, we've determined there will be 164 special guests in attendance at Phoenix Comicon 2017. There are actors, actresses, geek icons, comics creators, artists, and dozens of authors, including such big names as Dick Van Dyke, Karen Gillan, Alan Tudyk, Jon Bernthal, Jim Shooter, Whilce Portacio, Terry Brooks, and Diana Gabaldon. For a full list of everyone who's coming, check out our complete rundown of special guests.

Reserved Seating: All panels, Q&As, and programming inside rooms 301A and 301BCD of the West building (where most of the big events take place) will offer reserved seating at the front of the house. Front row seating is $45 per person. Seats in the rows behind are $30 per person. Seating at Dick Van Dyke’s panel on Saturday, however, will be limited to only those who purchase reserved seating or enter a seating lottery.

Exhibitor Halls: This year, there will be two spaces devoted to vendors and exhibitors: the original on the convention center’s lower level and another inside the “Hall of Heroes” on the third floor of the North building. As a result, a total of 935 vendors and exhibitors will be featured, an upgrade from the 600-plus at last year’s con.

Both halls will contain pretty much anything and everything a geek could want, including all manner of toys, games, clothing, jewelry, books, collectibles, and props. There will also be an extensive “Artists Alley,” with several dozen comic book creators, authors, illustrators, and others involved with the industry.

The Exhibitor Halls are 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. 

Outdoor Events: The area in front of the convention center between Monroe and Washington streets will be taken over by the “Con on Third,” an festival-like outdoor event. Several nerd-inspired vehicles (ranging from the Bluesmobile to Doc Brown’s DeLorean) will be displayed, a beer garden and food tent will be featured, and local radio stations will offer live remotes and music. Admission is free and the event runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday and until 6 p.m. on Sunday.

CityScape will also get into the Comicon spirit with two different events this weekend. On Friday, they'll have a variety of water slides and rides set up and even some mermaids onhand for "H2Oasis," which runs from 4 to 10 p.m. And from Thursday until Saturday, people can participate in the "Quest Fest," a competition where participants can collect five different "buttons" from its retailers, each of which are obtained after purchasing $2 deals, in exchange for a prize.

Getting in some video gaming at Phoenix Comicon. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Getting in some video gaming at Phoenix Comicon.
Benjamin Leatherman
Gaming: As always, there will be a ton of it at Phoenix Comicon. “We've got more gaming stuff than we've ever had: role-playing games, board games, video games, console games, arcade games ... pretty much anything you can imagine,” Rowan says. The folks from the Game On Expo will have consoles and systems both retro and modern in rooms 103AB and 104AB at the West building, with tournaments and competitions going all four days.

Game Co-Lab will also have a number of panels during Comicon, including one entitled “Play Arizona: The State of the Arizona Video Game Industry” on Thursday afternoon in North 127B. And, as we mentioned, the Hyatt will feature RPGs and other analog games and pursuits.

And, just like last year, Cobra Arcade Bar will have a selection of classic games and pinball machines available for play at the event. Cobra co-owner Ariel Bracamonte says they'll bring 20-25 games out to its booth in the "Hall or Heroes," including several comics-inspired titles like X-Men, Superman, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

New Attractions: Comicon attendees can test their brain power while attempting to get out of either of the two escape rooms ("X-Child" and "The Cell") that will be in rooms 121A and 121B of the North building, respectively. It costs $14.50 per person and is one of several new attractions and events happening this year.

Here's another: Z-Tag, a "live zombie infection game" where players use RFID badges and try to avoid becoming a virtual zombie while walking around. “If you get close to other players who are undead, you'll become one yourself and then you have to seek out a doctor to heal you,” Rowan says. “So it’s sort of like you’re trying to survive a zombie apocalypse while attending Comicon at the same time.” There will also run a zombie laser tag/obstacle course in North 123 that coincides with the game. Badges are $12 per person or $20 for two.

click to enlarge A Hawkgirl cosplayer at last year's Phoenix Comicon. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
A Hawkgirl cosplayer at last year's Phoenix Comicon.
Benjamin Leatherman
Costuming and Cosplay: It’s something that a majority of attendees will indulge in, even if it’s made from cardboard. As Matt Solberg told us in 2015, cosplay is one of the hallmarks of any geek event, particularly Phoenix Comicon. “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."

So it goes without saying that anyone can cosplay, whether it’s an intricate ensemble you’ve taken months to create or simply something thrown together at the last minute. The best get-ups will be shown off and honored during any of the multiple fashion shows and costume contests, the most prominent of which is the annual Phoenix Comicon Masquerade from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday in West 301BCD.

Don’t have a costume? Several dozen of cosplay-related events will take place throughout the weekend, including multiple panels, workshops, tutorials, and events focused on sharing costuming knowledge.

Nightlife: If you’ve still got plenty of energy after spending the day geeking out, several after-parties and nightlife events will be happening on Friday and Saturday evenings. The Blue Ribbon Army fan group, for instance, is putting its “Dork Knight Rises” party on Saturday, the same night that the Marvel vs. Capcom Lounge will be running in the Hyatt Regency’s ballroom. Friday, however, will feature the “Talk Nerdy to Me” burlesque show, the “Drinks with Authors and Creators” mixer, and the “Monster Beach Party.” All events are 21-and-over.

Bring: Both credit cards and cash (in case some vendors can’t take plastic), bottled water, a fully charged cellphone, a digital camera, comfortable footwear (since you'll be doing a lot of walking), some snacks, and a bag or backpack for carrying everything. Prop weaponry is cool, but, like we said, it will have to be inspected and possibly bound by security.

Don't Bring: Bonafide weapons, drugs or any intoxicants, a bad or disruptive attitude, impatience, Infinity stones, giant mechs, laser pointers, non-service animals, xenomorphs, or anything else forbidden by Phoenix Comicon organizers. A full list of what’s not allowed can be found here.

Also Important: Rowan recommends patrons download the Phoenix Comicon app to help manage your time. "There's a scheduling feature that will remind you where you're supposed to be and when so you don't miss anything,” she says. “There's much more to see and do that you can possibly do in four days.”

And don’t be afraid to ask Comicon staff for assistance. “With all the staffing changes that have happened, some people are worried that there won't be as much organization and help going on,” Rowan says. “But we'll have a full staff that will be on-site all day and are there to help. Look for the ‘crew’ badges and don't be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.”

Lastly, don’t be a bully, hothead, or creeper, since that ruins things for everyone. Ask permission before taking photos of any cosplayers, don't neg anyone, and remain patient when any changes occur. Basically, stay chill, be respectful, and keep your head on a swivel.

And be sure to have fun, too. After all, you've been waiting all year for this weekend.

Editor's note: This guide has been updated since its initial publication with additional 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.