Nerd Culture

The Best and Worst of Phoenix Comicon 2022

Spider-Man cosplayers reenacting that one meme at Phoenix Fan Fusion.
Spider-Man cosplayers reenacting that one meme at Phoenix Fan Fusion. Benjamin Leatherman
Phoenix Fan Fusion 2022 was a total geek paradise. After a three-year pause, the pop-culture convention picked up where it left off and offered Arizona residents the chance to meet celebrities like Chuck Norris and Patrick Warburton, see and be seen in costume, and celebrate their love of nerd-friendly fandoms.

The event, which ran from May 27 to 29, offered three days of geeky bliss. It also had its share of both highs and lows, including a few bumps as both organizers and attendees attempted to get back to normal.

Here’s a look at PhoenixFan Fusion 2022’s best and worst moments.

Best: Everyone’s Enthusiasm Level

Fan Fusion is typically the local geek scene’s biggest and most anticipated event of the year and its lengthy absence only amplified the fervor. After two years of delays and postponements, there was a celebratory atmosphere and an almost palpable sense of excitement at this year’s event as people felt got to reunite with friends, hang out, wear costumes, attend after-parties, make up for lost time, and just enjoy the moment. Benjamin Leatherman

Worst: The Lack of Razzle-Dazzle

There was also a sense that this year's Fan Fusion felt a little off. More specifically, there were conversations had about how the proceedings were "phoned in," or that it all felt a little rushed. Was part of it due to people acclimating to a three-year gap? Sure. But since the whole thing seemed smooth enough from a logistical standpoint, it makes it feel as if decisions were made just to finally get this event done and over, and that perspective stymied what could have been a much bigger celebration and a powerful moment of relief for the larger community. Enough folks had fun, but it was hard to shake that we're still clearly in that weird transitory place between COVID and the "new normal." Chris Coplan
click to enlarge Cosplaying friends in the exhibitor hall at Phoenix Fan Fusion. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Cosplaying friends in the exhibitor hall at Phoenix Fan Fusion.
Benjamin Leatherman

Best: The Diverse Crowd

Diversity is quite the buzzword these days, but to attend Fan Fusion is to be immersed in a truly diverse crowd. And we're not just talking about all the different costumes, although we love seeing Disney fans mingle with video gamers and superhero stans chat with die-hard otakus. No, we love that Fan Fusion is a place for young and old. For people of any race or gender. For people of any ability or sexuality or religion. Everyone can find something to do, and everyone is welcomed and respected there. In this day and age, that's pretty special. Jennifer Goldberg

Worst: Slow Walkers

It's probably futile to complain about slow walkers at an event specifically designed for people to see and be seen. But we're going to do it anyway. We're glad that thousands upon thousands of people attended Phoenix Fan Fusion, but with so much to look at, most of them didn't move very quickly. Whether they were checking out the merch in the exhibitor hall or ogling the cosplayers, they rarely walked above a shuffle. Heaven forbid you had somewhere specific to go, like a panel — or the restroom. All the lookie-loos made getting around the sprawling convention center an even lengthier ordeal. JG
click to enlarge Star Trek author, historian, and podcaster Larry Nemecek at his booth. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Star Trek author, historian, and podcaster Larry Nemecek at his booth.
Benjamin Leatherman

Best: The Variety of Guests

What Fan Fusion 2022 may have lacked in star power, it made up for to a degree with the sheer variety of special guests from all the diverse areas of fandom. Actors and actresses tend to get most of the spotlight each year, but Fan Fusion tries to bring in icons and luminaries from other fields as well. This year featured comic book legends like Jim Starlin (the creator of Thanos and Drax the Destroyer) and John Romita Jr., as well as famed authors ranging from sci-fi scribe Michael Stackpole to YA fantasy writer Marissa Meyer. Beyond that, there were voice actors and actresses, including Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid) and Linda Ballantyne of Sailor Moon fame. And if you roamed around the exhibitor hall, you’d discover a few under-the-radar guests, like Star Trek author, historian, and podcaster Larry Nemecek, who was involved with the franchise from the '80s through the 2000s. BL

The "Lack" of Star Power

Without discouraging the panelists, exhibitors, and the rest of the event staff, these events work best with more star power attached. Did we get beloved actors like Billy West and Patrick Warburton during this year? Sure, and they were funny and charming as heck. But someone like Christopher Eccleston dropped out, and that kind of "blow" does a lot to harm the perceived value of the con as a whole. Plus, other fests draw those kinds of stars and even shinier talent, and that's why other cities are able to build themselves as a kind of "destination" while generating some valuable national attention. Most fans likely didn't care that much, but hiccups in the lineup can have an influence that's hard to fully trace. CC
click to enlarge A local cosplayer shows off his "dwarf armor" during Fan Fusion's cosplay masquerade. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
A local cosplayer shows off his "dwarf armor" during Fan Fusion's cosplay masquerade.
Benjamin Leatherman

Best: The Sheer Quality and Range of Cosplay

Attending any kind of nerd-centric convention inevitably comes down to the cosplayers. They're great if they're either the creations of a devoted craftsperson or the homespun insanity of a socially awkward weirdo. This year's attendees landed firmly in the former category, with everything from a legion of immaculate Batmen and heaps of charming Obi-Wan Kenobis to some top-notch Pokémon and even a Doug Dimmadome with a nearly regulation-sized hat. It's a little thing, but proper cosplayers set the tone for the whole weekend, get everyone properly hyped, and help bump an event's overall sense of quality. And, of course, there were some deliciously terrible Moon Knight costumes, of course. CC

Best: There Were Cool Deadpools

During the Billy West panel on Saturday, the moderator remarked something to the effect of, "If you see a Deadpool, just run." That's generally a solid piece of advice, because anyone who dresses up as the Merc with a Mouth channels the antihero's weirdness, antisocial displays, and general appetite for peculiar displays of enthusiasm. (Everyone thinks they're Ryan Reynolds, but without the charm.) But this year's crop of Deadpools, and there were plenty, seemed happy enough to move around the con without making too much of a headache for everyone else, and they hardly resembled the pack of fiends they're often labeled. It's just more proof that Fan Fusion is for fans, and we can all be super weird as a community. CC
click to enlarge Artist and Steam Crow/Monster Rangers co-creator Dawna Davis. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Artist and Steam Crow/Monster Rangers co-creator Dawna Davis.
Benjamin Leatherman

Best: People Who Masked up

Fan Fusion didn’t require attendees to wear a mask or show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result to attend. As such, a majority of the people at the three-day event weren’t wearing face coverings, unless it was part of their costuming. Others in attendance, however, had N95 respirators or similar masks on to protect themselves or others. Despite COVID-19 case numbers staying relatively low at the moment, folks still have concerts about the coronavirus. “A lot of people act like the pandemic is over when it isn’t,” said artist and Steam Crow/Monster Rangers co-creator Dawna Davis. “I wore a mask [because] I wanted to be responsible.” BL

Best: The Ever-Helpful Event Staff

The unsung heroes of any event are always the employees, be it security, maintenance, or food court staff. If this were a concert, for instance, they'd only have to deal with drunken idiots and loud music. Here, though, it's loud nerds rocking magic boar costumes and running eagerly to browse for charms and mystery boxes. But the staff this year came through, directing traffic as needed, keeping lines moving semi-orderly, making sure folks didn't crowd common areas, and generally being cheery and helpful amid what's a generally bizarre scene even for hardcore fans. Sure, comic fans ain't your average crowd — they're as polite as they are intense — but the staff really made the big return feel as seamless as possible. CC
click to enlarge Voice actor Jim Cummings (right) during his 2022 Phoenix Fan Fusion panel. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Voice actor Jim Cummings (right) during his 2022 Phoenix Fan Fusion panel.
Benjamin Leatherman

Worst: Every Panel Ran an Hour

It's worth clarifying: The panels are a genuine highlight of Fan Fusion. That said, though, a distinction should be made in the future. For one, not every panel should be an hour long; that's only the territory for, say, big group trivia contests and not someone talking about the history of The Riddler. And while we're at it, let's overhaul celebrity panels in 2023. An hour spent with a Warburton or a West is great, but if it's an unguided Q&A populated with obtuse fans, a tight 45 minutes is more than enough. Could this time-saving function mean more panels? Sure. But if it only means less obscure queries about deep-cut Ren & Stimpy episodes, then the world will still be much better off. CC

Worst: Three Days Aren’t Enough to See and Do Everything

Seeing and doing everything you’d like to at Phoenix Fan Fusion has always been a challenge. With its wealth of events, activities, and panels happening within a short time frame, it’s an almost impossible feat to pull off. Even if you’re at the Phoenix Convention Center from open until close each day and are constantly on the move, you’ll ultimately miss something. This year, Fan Fusion downsized from four days to three (dropping Thursday from the schedule), which made it even tougher. Of all the things that didn’t happen at Fan Fusion in 2022, the extra day is what we missed the most. Square Egg Entertainment, the local company behind PFF, has announced next year’s edition will also only be three days. Here’s hoping they reconsider. BL
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.
Contact: Chris Coplan
Jennifer Goldberg is the culture editor and Best of Phoenix editor for Phoenix New Times.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.