Nerd Culture

Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest 2015: A Field Guide to This Weekend's Event in Glendale

Matt Solberg admits that the inaugural Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest last December was a bit of a gamble. It’s quite understandable, considering the circumstances of the event.

“The whole thing was kind of a risk,” Solberg says. “And we had doubts last year whether or not it was actually going to do well.”

A wintertime spinoff of the ultra-popular Phoenix Comicon held every spring, Fan Fest was an attempt by organizers to double down on their success at holding big geek events. The odds, however, weren’t necessarily in their favor.

First off, Fan Fest was announced only a few months in advance and would be taking place at the far reaches of the Valley at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, a venue that’s not exactly known for geekdom (save for football fanaticism). It also featured a fraction of the big-name guests of its sister event and was scheduled for the middle of the holiday rush.

There was also the possibility that adding another major convention to the calendar could cause burnout with either the event’s staff or, more importantly, its fanbase. According to Solberg, who serves as Comicon’s executive director, there was no certainty of success when they launched Fan Fest last December.

“You think about it and it seems pretty nuts: announcing a convention only four months beforehand and doing it in a completely new facility on the opposite side of town — and in a stadium, of all places — two weeks before Christmas. I mean, none of that screamed success,” he says. “We looked to other places that have two comicons of different sizes and those markets support the theory that a city can sustain multiple conventions, so we felt we could take the risk.”

And it paid off. Fan Fest attracted approximately 9,200 to the stadium, turned a profit for its organizers, and proved to be a big enough hit to bring it back for a sequel. 

They’re planning to up the ante for this year’s event, including bringing in a bigger lineup of guests and beefing up the number and types of activities offered outside (such as adding a geek car show and cosplay stage). Changes have also been to improve the event, Solberg says, such rearranging the layout of the exhibitor area, which is located in the heart of stadium, in order to spread out foot-traffic amongst vendors and booths. Ticket prices have also been lowered to help increase turnout. 

Changes have also been implemented to improve the event, Solberg says, such as rearranging the layout of the exhibitor area, which is located in the heart of stadium, in order to spread out foot-traffic amongst vendors and booths. Ticket prices have also been lowered to help increase turnout and a few activities (such as a Q&A session with Doctor Who actress Karen Gillan on Sunday) will happen at the Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa nearby.

“We've made adjustments for this year,” he says. “It’s more affordable and it’s earlier in December, which we feel will make it easier to attend.”

Even though Fan Fest shares many similarities with its sister event – including getting to meet and interact with geek icons and famed artists, attend a wealth of panels and programming, engage in cosplay, and getting to fly your nerd flag high – the event is by no means a facsimile of Phoenix Comicon.

Solberg says Fan Fest differs in its size and scope and is geared more toward families and kids with more of a focus on artists, cosplay, and fans, as well as a vibe all its own.

“I think people initially thought last year that since we were doing another [event], it was automatically going to be Phoenix Comicon II,” he says. “It was never going to be that but is going to be its own cool, unique event that also takes place.”

That said, however, if you’ve ever attended Phoenix Comicon before, many of the same rules on how to get the most out of the event apply. For example, Solberg recommends perusing the programming guide or Fan Fest website beforehand to figure out what you’d like to experience.

“Check the schedules to determine if there are some must-attend events you want to go to and sort of make a plan for that,” he says. “Have a rough sketch of what you want to do [and] have some flexibility, because you might change your mind and there’s so much going on.”

To say the least. In fact, so much activity will happen in and around the stadium during Fan Fest weekend that it might all seem a bit confusing. That’s why we’ve put together the following guide containing everything you might need to know before you go.

Dates & Locations:
Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest will take place from Friday, December 4, until Sunday, December 6, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Certain events and panels will happen at the nearby Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa.

Hours: Fan Fest will run from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Nighttime and after-hours events on Friday and Saturday will go until midnight.

Prices: Daily admission is $10 on Friday, $20 on Saturday, and $15 for Sunday. If you’re up for attending all three days, full event admission is $30. Children ages 3 to 12, referred to as “sidekicks” by Fan Fest’s organizers, can get in for $5 per day. Admission is free for kids 2 and under. Speaking of which…

Age Limits: As we mentioned, Fan Fest is geared more towards families and kids and is open to all ages. Children up to 12 years of age, however, are required to be accompanied by an adult at the event.

Getting There: University of Phoenix Stadium is located near 95th Avenue and Bethany Home Road in Glendale. Since the light rail (sadly) doesn’t reach that far, you’ll be driving to get there. Head for Loop 101 over on the Westside and take the Maryland Avenue exit, which is a block away from the stadium.

Parking: There’s going to be a ton of it. Thousands of free parking spots will be available in two lots on the stadium’s northeast side, which is accessible off Maryland Avenue.

Weather: Temperatures are going to be in the mid-70s during the daytime before things get almost Hoth-like at night and plummet into the 40s. In other words, bring a jacket or hoodie if you aren’t wearing costuming with plenty of layers.

Food and Drink: Game day-style eats (burgers, hot dogs, nachos, etc.) will be available at concession stands on the northeast end of the exhibitor area and along the stadium's concourse. Meanwhile, five different food trucks will be parked near the outdoor events area. There are also the various bars and restaurants of the Westgate Entertainment District, which is within a reasonable walking distance, and a Carl’s Jr. located just across the street if you’re in the mood for fast food.

Water: You should be drinking lots of it, even though we’re in cooler climes these days. Like many Fan Fest attendees, you’ll likely be engaged in a busy day filled with tons of walking, probably while toting shwag bags or costuming items. And if you’re rocking heavy duty costuming, you’re probably going to sweat.

“Just because it's going to be a little colder, you may think you're not going to get as dehydrated,” Solberg says. “But you will.” In other words, you’re going to want to hit up the stadium’s various concession stands or drinking fountains to stay hydrated.

Outdoor Events: There’s likely to be just as much activity taking place outside of University of Phoenix Stadium as inside, as the eight-acre Sportsman Park and the area surrounding the facility will feature a wide variety of action and distractions throughout the weekend, and all of it will be nerdy by nature. For instance, local members of the Society of Creative Anachronisms will clash during armed combat demonstrations, while the Department of Zombie Defense will train you how to annihilate the undead and the sirens of the Moon Mermaid troupe frolic about in a wading pool. There will also be a showcase of geeky vehicles, the chance to escape from zombies, play games of quidditch, or watch parkour demonstrations.

Star Wars fans also have the opportunity to pilot a remote-controlled BB8 droid from The Force Awakens through an obstacle course, watch choreographed battles between Sith Lords and Jedi Knights by the Phoenix Lightsaber Academy, or learn how to wield one of the elegant weapons themselves.

Special Guests: As with most aspects of Fan Fest, its array of special guests has gotten bigger and better since its inaugural edition. (Check out our rundown of who we're eager to see.) The list of actors and actresses scheduled to appear includes Karen Gillan, Sean Maher, Julian Richings, Gareth David-Lloyd, Alaina Huffman, Dirk Benedict, Denise Crosby, Kevin Sorbo, W. Morgan Sheppard, Melendy Britt, Alan Oppenheimer, and Tom Lenk.

On the comic book side of things, this year’s Fan Fest will feature such artists and authors as Tim Seely, Aaron Lopresti, Mike Maclean, Livid Ramondelli, Don Rosa, Eric Mengel, Sklii Paroline, Braden Lamb, Brian Augustyn, Val Hochberg, Raven Gregory, Larry Hama, and Gene Ha.

Costumes: As you’d expect, cosplayers will be found pretty much everywhere at Fan Fest, whether it's local groups like the Dune Sea Garrison and AZ T.A.R.D.I.S. at their respective booths in the exhibitor hall to costuming enthusiasts offering tips, tricks, and tutorials at various panels. An entire stage in the outdoor events area will be devoted to cosplay and host meetups and dance-offs, fashion shows, and costume contests. As with Phoenix Comion, you'll want to keep things tasteful with costuming. Also, before taking photos of anyone in costume, be sure to ask permission.

Exhibitors: More than 250 different artists, vendors, and retailers will be offering their selection of geek-related wares and creations for sale at Fan Fest underneath along any the domed roof of University of Phoenix Stadium. Almost anything and everything of a nerdy bent will available, including comics, gaming good, toys, costuming items, props, art pieces, jewelry, apparel, and a vast selection of other merch. Numerous comic book creatives, including several special guests, will also populate an “Artist’s Alley,” as is the norm at most conventions.

Given the fact that Fan Fest is a few weeks shy of the Christmas means there’s a lot of holiday shopping going on, explains Solberg. “One thing we really saw our attendees do last year was to use Fan Fest for holiday gift buying for friends and family,” he says. “And we think it will happen again this year.”

Crowd Etiquette: While Fan Fest won’t have the vast hordes of geekdom that its sister event boasts, it's going to be pretty darn busy at certain points. As a result, crowds are inevitable and lines for certain programming and panels (mostly likely when some of the higher-profiles guests are involved) are likely. Just be patient or as Solberg says, take to opportunity to get to know some of your fellow attendees. “Those could be great times to talk to other people, converse with them, bond a little bit over shared interests, and maybe make a new friend,” he says.

Bring: If you’ve got comfortable shoes that will allow you to be on your feet all day, wear ‘em. (Extra points if they’re of a geeky nature). A programming guide will also come in handy to keep abreast of what’s happening and when, and be sure to bring a backpack or bag to hold all the shwag, merch, or other treasures you’ll acquire over the course of the weekend. On that note, most vendors and artists have Squares or similar card-scanning devices, but having a little cash wouldn’t hurt (especially since the ATMs on site charge a bit of a fee).

Props and faux weaponry is allowed at Fan Fest, but will be checked out by security upon entry and peace-bonded for safety. 

Don't Bring: Real weaponry, scandalous or super-revealing costuming, mind-altering substances, a bad attitude, creeper tendencies, or anything else potentially dangerous, disruptive, destructive, disgusting, or debaucherous. (For more specific details on what is or isn’t allowed can be found here.)

After-Party: If you somehow have energy left after geeking out on Saturday, December 5, some nightlife adventures can be had over at the Renaissance Glendale. The members of the Phoenix Comicon Blue Ribbon Army will put on Fan Fest After Dark, a wintertime-themed party benefiting the Kids Need to Read charity, in the hotel’s Solana Ballroom. It’s an 18-and-over event that kicks off at 9 p.m. and will include DJs and dancing, libations, and other fun. Admission is $10. 

Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest 2015 takes place Friday, December 4, to Sunday, December 6, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Tickets are $30 for the full event or $10 to $20 per day.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.

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