As the name implies, Phoenix Fan Fest is geared toward fandom — meaning a love of anything having to do with comic books, costumes, cartoons, collectibles, and characters.
All this geeky subject matter will be celebrated at the two-day event, which takes place on Saturday, November 11, and Sunday, November 12, at the Phoenix Convention Center.
It will also feature celebrities, cosplayers, and comic artists alike, not to mention a seriously nerdy vibe.
In short, it’s a massive geek-fest, very much in the same spirit as its sister event, Phoenix Comicon.
Fan Fest is put on by local company Square Egg Entertainment, the folks who also produce Comicon each year. But according to spokesperson Kristin Rowan, Fan Fest is a different sort of animal.
“It's going to have a more intimate feel to it. And much more of a local feel with more local creators and authors,” she says. “It's also more of a nostalgic show, a collectibles show, a geekier show.”
Organizers have attempted to differentiate Fan Fest from its big sister since launching in 2014. The first two years were at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, for instance, while last year’s event included more of a focus on professional wrestling fandom.
“We’re always trying new things with Fan Fest,” Rowan says. “It’s always evolving and changing.”
And this year's Fan Fest will include plenty of nostalgia, as illustrated by many of its celebrity guests. “If you look at our guest list, we've got the kids from [Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory], Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters, Mara Wilson from Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire,” Rowan says. “So it really is about the classics.”
Other special guests include voice actors from cartoons like Steven Universe and Bravest Warrior, as well as a few sci-fi/fantasy character actors.
Fan Fest 2017 will also include a local focus, particularly when it comes to the artists and vendors in the exhibitor hall.
“We've got all these local artists, creators, and companies with their works for sale and on display,” Rowan says. “It's got a little something for everything.”
Square Egg will employ a new wristband system at Fan Fest as opposed to the badges used at previous event. Each wristband will contain a RFID (or radio frequency identification) chip, which will be scanned upon entry.
“If you pass it over a reader, it gives off a sound that the RFID wristband band is legitimate, that it has been activated, and it's good for that show,” Rowan says.
This year’s Fan Fest will also be contained within one area: the lower level exhibitor hall of the Phoenix Convention Center’s North Building. All activities, events, and attractions will be located in the enormous L-shaped room that normally houses just the vendors at Phoenix Comicon every year.
Rowan says organizers felt it would make things easier for attendees to have everything in one specific spot, as opposed to spread out across the entire building.
“We wanted to make it really easy for people to get in,” she says. “Everything is in there: all of the programming, the exhibit hall, all of the guests, everything.”
Security also played a role in the decision, Rowan says.
As a matter of fact, it’s become a factor for many of Square Egg’s decisions after a gunman was arrested with a large cache of weapons at this year’s Phoenix Comicon in May. As a result of the incident, every Fan Fest attendee will undergo security screenings before entering, including the use of metal detectors and bag checks.
Having everything in one area, Rowan says, will help organizers and security keep the event safe while limiting some of the hassle.
“Once they're through security, the entire area is secure,” she says. “So they can go from programming to the exhibit hall, sit down and take a break, get something to eat, all without leaving the secure area and won't have to go through security multiple times.”
Another consequence of the incident in May was a ban on many prop weapons, including replica or faux firearms, at Square Egg events.
However, Rowan says that organizers will loosen up the restrictions to a degree for Fan Fest.
“When we first put out the prop policy, it was fairly restrictive,” she says. “We've spent a lot of time between Comicon and now working with the convention center to make sure that our security updates are in place and that everything is set so that we can allow more props.”
So what will and won’t be allowed? We’ve included all the details in the following comprehensive guide to Phoenix Fan Fest 2017, which also features a rundown of everything else you need to know about the event.
When and Where: Phoenix Fan Fest 2017 is on Saturday, November 11, and Sunday, November 12, in the North Building of the Phoenix Convention Center, 100 North Third Street. Everything will take place within the exhibitor hall on the lowel level of the building.
Hours of Operation: Activities and events will run from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. The exhibitor hall will open at 10 a.m. both days.
Age Limits: The event is open to all ages and will be family friendly. Children up to age 12 are free.
Weather: Expect partly cloudy skies throughout the weekend and temperatures in the mid-80s during the day.
Getting There: As with any event in downtown Phoenix, we recommend taking the light rail. There are stations within walking distance from the convention center – including one just around the corner at Third and Washington streets – and fares are inexpensive ($2 for one ride, $4 for an all-day ticket).
If you’re coming by car, take Interstate 17 or Interstate 10 to Seventh Street and head either north or south until you get to Washington. You’ll find signs directing you to both nearby parking or drop-off areas outside the convention center.
Parking: Street parking, if you can find an open space, is $1 to $1.50 per hour between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. If you’d like to park at a garage, that’ll run you anywhere from $5 to $30 for the entire day, depending on the location. (Fan Fest organizers have a special page featuring many different parking options and a few specials.)
Of course, you could also use one of the 11 different park-and-ride lots around the Valley and use the light rail.
Getting Around: Pedicabs will be available in downtown, just in case you’d like to save some walking to and from the car. They typically run on tips and will cost you $10 to $30, depending on the distance traveled. Some might be able to take plastic.
There are also taxis and ride-sharing services, of course, as well as a few Grid Bike Share hubs nearby.
Registration and Wristbands: Attendees can purchase admission onsite or pick up their RFID wristbands from the registration area on the North Building’s lower level. It's open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Wristbands will be secured with one of those unbreakable plastic fasteners and must be worn at all times during the event.
Organizers recommend registering your wristbands online, which will link it to whatever photo ops, autographs, and other items or services you’ve pre-purchased. (It will make the process of getting ‘em easier.) Note: Only those who register will be allowed to obtain a replacement wristband in case they lose it.
Getting Inside and Dealing With Security: Rowan says that every attendee must have a wristband scanned and go through a security screening to enter the event. Metal detectors will be used and bag checks will be conducted. Pat downs will only happen in certain cases, like patrons who have metal implants or prostheses.
Rowan says that bringing a clear bag “will help speed up the process.” There will also be a separate line for those without bags.
“For the most part, it's just going [to be] the wandings and bag checks,” she says.
There will also be a prop-check station before each security checkpoint where local law enforcement and event staff will determine if your items can be brought inside. Speaking of which …
Props: As we mentioned, Fan Fest organizers have loosened up restrictions on certain props and prop weapons. Slightly.
“I feel like we've opened up the possibilities for a lot of people to be able to bring in the props that they've wanted,” Rowan says. “There are just some thing we're not going to be able to change.”
So what’s allowed? Lightsabers are cool, as are sonic screwdrivers, wands, or even your Pip-Boy. Arrows are also okay – provided they don’t have tips or can’t be removed from your quiver – as are bows, but only if unstrung or completely inoperable.
Bats, clubs, and giant mallets (like Harley Quinn’s hammer) will be permitted, but only if such items are made from lightweight materials, like foam or softer plastics. If you want to turn your bat into Negan’s “Lucille” with some barbed wire or Stranger Things’ Demogorgon Killer with nails and bolts, make sure those aren’t real and are made of similarly lightweight materials.
Shields and armor are also okay, provided each is made from foam, plastic, fiberglass, cardboard, and resin or similar material. It’s also cool if they’re made from metal, as long as there are no sharp edges. Just keep in mind that it will likely slow down security and staff during they’re screenings, earning you the scorn of those behind you.
All other props, with the exceptions of replica firearms, will be allowed if created with plastic, resin, craft foams, cardboard, thermoplastics, paper, and other stuff that’s lightweight. Anything inflatable is good, too.
Items like swords, axes, and Wolverine claws can be brought to Fan Fest, but only if they don’t have sharp edges or are made from wood, metal, or hard plastic.
What else is banned? Anything that looks like a firearm, gun, cannon, or bazooka, even if it's clearly a prop or cartoonish as all get out. Period. That goes double for actual firearms.
Real or simulated explosives or ammunition (including cartoon bombs, bullets, grenades, mine, dynamite, or fireworks) are all verboten. Ditto for pepper spray, mace, airhorns, whistles, noisemakers, tasers, airhorns, glass and stone props, slingshots, and brass knucks.
By the way, security and law enforcement will have the final call on whether any item is acceptable.
What Else to Bring: Some cash, your ID, good walking shoes, a fully charged cellphone, a couple of bottles of water, a clear bag, camera, programming guide, and a costume of some sort.
Food and Drink: Fan Fest attendees can bring a certain amount of food and beverages into the event. Beyond that, the convention center features a nine-restaurant food court on the main floor of the North Building and a handful of concession stands in the exhibitor’s hall. Plus, downtown has a diverse selection of restaurants, cafes, and bars within walking distance.
Water: Drink some beforehand. Have more when you get to the event and have a bottle with you while checking everything out.
Basically, you’ll want to have water at regular intervals throughout the day, especially if you’re walking around. True, it ain’t the summer and temperatures might be more reasonable right now, but dehydration can strike year-round. Vendors and concession stands will have water for sale and drinking fountains dot the convention center.
Exhibitor Hall: According to the Fan Fest website, more than 300 vendors (many of them local) will be at the event. And they’ll be selling and showing off everything from comics, toys, and gaming items to jewelry, apparel, and costuming. Photo ops and autograph sessions will also take place at one end of the exhibitor hall and an “Artist’s Alley” will be teeming with creatives from around the Valley and across Arizona.
Costuming and Cosplay: Fan Fest will have a lot of both. In fact, it’s one of the bigger draws of the event. If you’ve got one, by all means wear it. If you’d like some costuming-related tips or assistance, several panels devoted to the art of cosplay are planned.
Cosplay meetups and photo ops will be in abundance, and six professional cosplayers – including AmberSkies, Courtney Leigh, and Aime and Lance Jaze – will be around to answer your questions.
The Fan Fest costume contest will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday in Panel Area 1.
Programming and Activities: Yes, there will be programming throughout the weekend at Phoenix Fan Fest. And according to Rowan, much of it will take place in six different panel areas located on one side of the exhibitor hall.
“There will be walled-off sections of the hall where each of the panels will happen,” she says. That includes any of the Q&A spotlight sessions with special guests happening both days.
Rowan says there will be events you can either watch as a spectator (such as discussions and panels) or join in as a participant, like the many game show-like competitions and contests. “It’s like trivia battles and Family Feud-type stuff,” she says. “One is called ‘Umm, Actually,’ where geeks get to show how much they know when we give them false trivia information and they have to correct it.”
Some of it will be inspired by some of the special guests. For instance, the Ghostbusters Monster Parade or a presentation about haunted objects and artifacts in honor of Ernie Hudson. There will also be a roast of Captain Jack Sparrow and pirate storytelling sessions, both inspired by the fact Kevin McNally from Pirates of the Caribbean will be at the event.
The full Fan Fest schedule can be found here.
Special Guests: A total of 47 special guests are scheduled to appear at this year’s Fan Fest and will range from actors and actresses to comic book creators and authors.
Notable names include Matilda star Mara Willson, Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters, Mallory Jansen of Galavant, Galaxy Quest’s Jed Rees, and Kevin McNally of Pirates of the Caribbean. The child stars of 1973’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory will be in attendance, as will a few voice actors from Steven Universe and a variety of local pro cosplayers.
Check out our complete rundown of every single special guest at Fan Fest 2017 here.
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Also Keep in Mind: It’s going to be a busy weekend, and Rowan recommends checking out the programming schedule and planning ahead. “Some of the panels overlap with the celebrity [appearances] and photo ops, so it’s good to plan where you want to be,” she says. “And just plan to come and spend a day really exploring everything.”
As is the norm for any big geek event, lines can and will inevitably happen. So be sure to have plenty of patience when waiting for vendors or lining up for panels.
And please avoid being creepy or rude to cosplayers, ask before taking their photos, and afford them plenty of respect.
Oh, and don't forget to have fun while you're at it.