Longform

The Nerds Are Avenged: Phoenix's 13 Biggest Super-Geeks Will Star at Fan Fusion

Super-geeks of Phoenix, assemble!
Super-geeks of Phoenix, assemble! Photo illustration by Lindsey Kelly
click to enlarge Super-geeks of Phoenix, assemble! - PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY LINDSEY KELLY
Super-geeks of Phoenix, assemble!
Photo illustration by Lindsey Kelly
It’s crunch time for Ashley Maul. Phoenix Fan Fusion is only days away, and the geeky artist and “fandom seamstress” has a lot to accomplish to get ready for the event.

There are comic book-themed purses and dresses to finish sewing, supplies to gather for her booth, municipal tax licenses to verify, and myriad other tasks she needs to get done — like yesterday. The 33-year-old also has a few shifts at her day job as a sales associate at Drawn to Comics in Glendale, and there are a couple of Maul’s personal costumes she’d like to have ready for the convention if she can find the time.

“I have this to-do list in my head that feels like it’s miles long,” Maul says. “But I’m the type of person who isn’t happy unless I’ve got 20 things going on all at once. I kind of thrive in that sense of chaos.”

It’s sort of chaotic at the moment inside the living room of the north Phoenix home she shares with her husband, Jake, and their two children. As an uproarious Rabbids Invasion cartoon plays on their television, Maul takes care of a few things while her son, Xander, plays with a toy version of Mjolnir. Meanwhile, a rambunctious pit bull named Daisy bounds around looking for attention, dodging a metal basket and pushcart filled with fabric printed with comic book characters.


Like Maul herself, who sports numerous geeky tattoos on her 4-foot-11 frame set off by her electric pink hair, the room is awash in colorful geekiness. A bookcase filled with Funko Pop! figures sits next to an array of posters for movies like Watchmen, Galaxy Quest, and V for Vendetta lining the walls, as do a few art prints and rare comic books.

click to enlarge Ashley Maul, Captain America nerd and "fandom seamstress." - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Ashley Maul, Captain America nerd and "fandom seamstress."
Benjamin Leatherman
There’s also a 6-foot-tall cardboard cutout of Chris Evans as Captain America, one of many collectibles devoted to the Marvel Comics character dotting the room. Maul has a thing for Cap, to put it mildly.

“He’s always been my favorite Avenger,” Maul says. “But I don’t think I really fell in love with him until the first Civil War in the comic books. I was absolutely on Team Cap.”

Hence the corset dress she’s currently wearing, which Maul patterned off of Cap’s iconic red, white, and blue uniform. It’s one of many nerd-themed costumes and accessories she’s made over the last four years.

Maul is one of the most popular seamstresses in the Valley’s geek scene. She estimates she does between $3,000 to $5,000 or more in sales every year at local conventions and through her Sew Ashtastic store on Etsy. “It’s kind of a side gig that’s turned into a growing career,” Maul says.

And she’s on the cusp of what she hopes will be her biggest weekend of the year. Maul will be selling her creations at Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019, which runs from Thursday, May 23, to Sunday, May 26, at the Phoenix Convention Center. It’s the first time she’ll have a table at the annual event (formerly known as Phoenix Comicon) at booth A410 in the lower-level exhibitor hall.

She plans on wearing her “Rockin’ Robin” (a 1950s take on Batman’s famed sidekick) and Captain America dresses, and might also be wearing one of her newest costumes, a disco version of Nightwing.

“It’s a huge moment. I feel equally excited as I do nervous, but there’s a level of confidence I don’t think I would have had in years prior,” Maul says. “It’s a big show, so I don’t know what to expect, so I’m going crazy overanalyzing everything and making as much as possible.”

Maul is not the only local enterprising or artistic geek in the midst of zero hour while prepping for Fan Fusion. Fellow artists like Steam Crow’s Daniel and Dawna Davis, comic book creator Jay Fotos, and others are all gearing up for the biggest pop culture event of the year.

Each of these geeks has taken their particular passions to do something greater than just spectate. They’ve reinvented their lives and careers, brought unique businesses to the Valley, filled a void in the geek community, or even tried to affect social change.

Along with Maul, they make up Phoenix’s super-geeks.

click to enlarge Ashten Fizer, also known as DJ ASH10. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Ashten Fizer, also known as DJ ASH10.
Benjamin Leatherman

Ashten Fizer

DJ ASH10


By day, Ashten Fizer works as a talent attraction specialist for GoDaddy. On various nights and weekends, she becomes ASH10, the ultra-nerdy DJ for renowned video game rapper Mega Ran. Armed with a laptop and a red “Proto Buster” prop arm cannon, Fizer backs up the local hip-hop artist at his gigs, selecting tracks and dropping sound clips from old-school video games. (She’s essentially the DJ Jazzy Jeff to his Fresh Prince).

“I incorporate a lot of Final Fantasy VII, a lot of Mega Man 2, a lot of Mario, ’cause that’s my favorite, and a lot of [Sonic the Hedgehog], ’cause I’m a huge fan,” Fizer says. “Just all these video game sounds and sound effects that I use to make things more awesome.”

Fizer has been a DJ for a decade, dating back to a stint working at the campus radio station at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She’s been a die-hard gamer for even longer, starting off in her childhood days playing Sonic on the Sega Genesis nonstop at age 10. It led to the Super Nintendo and games like Super Mario World and then the first Sony PlayStation. These days, she owns four gaming consoles (including the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One S) and plays about 30 hours a week.

Fizer says her gaming obsession has definitely helped prep her for her adventures with Mega Ran.

“You can’t imagine how many people will tell you when you’re playing video games all night that it’s not going to amount to anything,” she says. “So, it’s really great that it did and I could prove them all wrong.”

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 Plans: Fizer plans to attend all four days and will compete in the Super Smash Bros. double-elimination tournament on Thursday and also cosplay as Proto Man from the Mega Man series.

click to enlarge Tyler Bain is strong in the ways of lightsaber combat. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Tyler Bain is strong in the ways of lightsaber combat.
Benjamin Leatherman

Tyler Bain

Syndicate Saber United


Tyler Bain has been handling lightsabers since he was a young Padawan. As a grade-schooler, he’d steal the tubes from gift-wrapping rolls with his siblings to stage some cardboard combat around their house (“They’d last for about one or two hits before falling apart,” Bain says.) Later, their parents gave them toy versions of the iconic Star Wars weapons, which proved a bit more durable during duels.

In 2013, Bain graduated to a high-tech prop lightsaber, which he bought as Christmas gift to himself. He eventually realized, however, that it’d be nice to know how to use it beyond just goofing around.

“I took it out of the box and swung it around a bit and thought, ‘I bought a $400 lightsaber that I can just look at,’” he says. “So, I started looking around to see if there’s somewhere I could learn to use it rather than playing with it in my house.”

Enter Syndicate Saber United, the local Star Wars-themed cosplay and theatrical combat group which had launched around that time. Bain attended their first-ever meetings and was trained in choreography, swordsmanship, and martial arts; he’s shown off his skills during the epic performances that Syndicate Saber has staged at local geek and charity events over the last five years.

The student has also become the teacher, as Bain is now a master-level member of the group, as well as one of the group’s organizers. He passes on what he’s learned to new recruits. May the Force be with him.

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 Plans: Syndicate Saber will present three performances in West 105ABC during the weekend. “Masters of the Seven Styles” will take place on Friday, followed by “Another Twist of the Knife” on Saturday, and “The Lost Hope to Save the Galaxy” on Sunday. Each runs from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

click to enlarge The members of Very Awesome Girls' Phoenix chapter. - DREAM PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
The members of Very Awesome Girls' Phoenix chapter.
Dream Photography Studio

Margaret Paris-Vogt

Very Awesome Girls Into Nerdy Activities


t hasn’t been easy being a girl geek these days. Between gatekeeping, misogyny, and the toxic behavior inherent to the nerd world, it can be difficult for females to get into fandom. That’s where Very Awesome Girls Into Nerdy Activities, a women’s-only social group with chapters around the U.S., comes in. (And, yes, the acronym spells out what you think it does.)

Mesa resident Margaret Paris-Vogt, who’s been with the Very Awesome Girls’ Phoenix chapter since shortly after it formed in 2013, describes the group as somewhere  “women can to be as nerdy as they want to be” without fear of being judged or having their geek cred questioned.

“It’s a place where you can embrace your nerdy side while trying to do some good in the world while doing so,” she says.

The group can be found at geek events like the Tempe Library Con or Free Comic Book Day. Members also do volunteer work, pack boxes for food banks, or put on charity fundraisers and clothing drives. They even adopted an Arizona highway. “There’s so much nastiness and negativity in geek communities now,” Paris-Vogt says. “We’re counteracting that by doing something positive and trying to effect change.”

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 Plans: Very Awesome Girls booth will be at A203 in the lower-level exhibitors hall. Members will also participate in several panels throughout the weekend, including the “Wandmaking for Muggles” workshop at 6 p.m. on Friday in West 101ABC and the "Swish and Flick! Hogwarts Wizards in Training” session on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in North 126ABC. You can also catch them at the “Disney Divas Wanted! A Disney Sing-A-Long” on Sunday at 6 p.m. in North 122ABC.

click to enlarge Comics creator Jay Fotos with some friends. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Comics creator Jay Fotos with some friends.
Benjamin Leatherman

Jay Fotos

Jay Fotos Studios


Local artist Jay Fotos has a yen for all things creepy and scary. For proof, look no further than his, um, body of work, which includes stints on such comic books as Spawn, the vampire-themed 30 Days of Night, and the Lovecraftian horror title Locke & Key. The Tempe resident also co-created the Vietnam War-themed zombie comic ’68 (think Platoon meets Night of the Living Dead) along with Mark Kidwell.

His latest efforts are just as spooky. Fotos is currently creating concept designs for the hit Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House and working on the IDW comic book George A. Romero’s Road of the Dead. Last year, he began publishing the independent series Rising Rebels, a love letter of sorts to the campy horror films of the ’80s that Fotos was weaned on as a kid.

It wasn’t the only early influence that shaped his aesthetic. Fotos recalls sneaking into the attic of his family’s New Jersey home to check out his dad’s issues of Heavy Metal, the renowned sci-fi/fantasy comics magazine. “My dad got mad when I did that,” Fotos says. “But I loved Heavy Metal and especially the art of Frank Frazetta.” (He later co-created several titles showcasing the late painter’s works.)

A job with Todd MacFarlane brought Fotos to the Valley in the late ’90s to work for the Spawn creator (and local resident) during the height of his popularity. Fotos learned the ins and outs of the comics biz from the gig, including how to give readers a good scare.

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 Plans: Fotos’ space will be at 779-781 and 878-880 in the downstairs exhibitor hall. (Look for the ghoulish creatures decorating the booth). He’ll be selling exclusives like a Rising Rebels “Grow Your Own Ghoul” action figure kit and a Haunting of Hill House “Bent-Neck Lady” concept collection print.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.