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

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click to enlarge Daniel and Dawna Davis are the brains behind Steam Crow and Monster Rangers. - KAID DAVIS
Daniel and Dawna Davis are the brains behind Steam Crow and Monster Rangers.
Kaid Davis

Daniel and Dawna Davis

Steam Crow/Monster Rangers

Local couple Daniel and Dawna Davis’ passion for monsters not only transformed their lives, but it also made them into local geek icons. In 2008, Daniel, an artist and illustrator, used his frustrations about the daily grind of driving across the Valley to his office job to create the webcomic Monster Commute. The cutesy cartoon, which was inspired by steampunk and a lifelong love of kooky and creepy things, chronicled the adventures of two monsters traveling to work along the “Hellway.”

It proved to be a big hit online and led to the couple, both former punk rockers from the Pacific Northwest, creating a wide range of T-shirts, prints, books, and buttons, and other ephemera through their Steam Crow brand. Everything features Daniel’s atrocious-yet-adorable art style, which mashes up such influences as sci-fi and steampunk.

The same goes for Monster Rangers, a self-described “alt-scouting community centered on an imaginary world of monsters” they launched three years ago. The group is dedicated to “Believing, Studying, and Protecting our Monster Friends,” according to an interview with the couple last year with local website Voyage Phoenix. True to form, there’s an artsy element involved.

“We create badges that can be earned by going on missions. We host campouts across the western United States, where we have secret ceremonies, we do crafts projects, and we play games, and talk monsters,” Daniel says. “While adult campouts are a new trend out there, ours is different because it’s more about imagination and creativity, rather than nostalgically remembering the ’80s or getting drunk and hooking up.”

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 Plans: Steam Crow and Monster Rangers will have an enormous booth at 873-875 and 972-974 in the downstairs exhibitor hall.

click to enlarge Matthew and Sarah Stubbs find the intersection between nerd culture and foodies with Geeks Who Eat. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Matthew and Sarah Stubbs find the intersection between nerd culture and foodies with Geeks Who Eat.
Benjamin Leatherman

Sarah and Matthew Stubbs

Geeks Who Eat

Everyone needs to eat, even nerds. As a matter of fact, Scottsdale couple Sarah and Matthew Stubbs say that there’s a commonality between the foodie world and geekdom. Hence their website, Geeks Who Eat, where the two create themed food and drink recipes based off movies, television shows, video games, and other bits of pop culture.

“Believe it or not, the geek community actually are big foodies,” Sarah says. “Think about it: They get into certain things like movies or comic books the way that foodies really obsess about what they’re eating. So, we thought this could cater to both crowds.”

Sarah, whose mother taught her to cook as a child, has blogged about food since 2014, when she wrote for a Disney fan site and started creating recipes inspired by the company’s films and cartoons. In 2015, she launched and transitioned over to Geeks Who Eat, partly because she couldn’t discuss alcoholic beverages on the family-friendly Disney fan site. It’s now her full-time job.

The Stubbs post several new recipes a month — ranging from appetizers and main dishes to cocktails and desserts — most of which are timed with the release of newly released movies. (To wit: They whipped up Agrabah Baklava Bites in honor of the live-action remake of Aladdin.) Some of their most popular creations include the Star Wars-themed Thermal Detonator Spicy Meatballs and Xenomorph Egg Cups, which were created for Alien: Covenant.

They’ve amassed a significant fanbase over the last four years, including close 10,000 followers on Instagram. Movie studios like Disney and Sony Pictures have also commissioned the couple to craft recipes for their projects, which is pretty sweet.

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 Plans: Sarah and Matthew will take over the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel’s Instagram account during Fan Fusion weekend.

click to enlarge Cobra Arcade Bar co-owner Ariel Bracamonte and some of the many games he owns. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Cobra Arcade Bar co-owner Ariel Bracamonte and some of the many games he owns.
Benjamin Leatherman

Ariel Bracamonte

Cobra Arcade Bar

Ariel Bracamonte is a joystick junkie who’s always on the lookout for his next fix. As co-owner of Cobra Arcade Bar, he’s constantly searching for vintage games to buy, restore, and use at the game bar’s locations in downtown Phoenix and Tucson. And the 40-year-old’s addiction to arcade games started in his childhood.

In the mid-’80s, the Glendale native and his friends were constantly venturing to nearby arcades or other spots featuring quarter-powered distractions. “Back then, there were games at every 7-Eleven and Circle K,” Bracamonte says. “We used to ride our bikes over to the old Valley West Mall and checked out the arcade they had there.”

He fondly remembers being fascinated by the arcade titles of the era, including such classics as Space Harrier, Rolling Thunder, After Burner, and Rampage. “There were some really great games back then,” Bracamonte says. “I was hooked.”

The obsession stuck with him as an adult. In 2012, he began amassing a collection of games to restore and play, starting with a Pac-Man machine he bought off Craigslist on the cheap. It led to even more scores, including many from nearby states like Texas and California, and his stash swelled to over 100 games.

Four years later, he partnered with local entrepreneur Chuckie Duff and restaurateur Tucker Woodbury to open Cobra Arcade Bar off Roosevelt Row, putting his collection of more than 350 vintage arcade games to use. It’s been a smashing success, becoming an ultra-popular Valley nightspot and leading to a second location in Tucson.

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 Plans: Cobra will have a booth at space 410 in the downstairs exhibitor hall with dozens of arcade and pinball games available for play.

click to enlarge They've helped build a Blue Ribbon Army. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
They've helped build a Blue Ribbon Army.
Benjamin Leatherman

Matt & Jen Hinds

Blue Ribbon Army

It started as an informal group of friends and eventually became an army. Back in 2014, local couple Matt and Jen Hinds and 20 of their fellow geeks who were all into Phoenix Comicon began wearing blue ribbons on their lanyards to identify each other at local geek events. Others joined in the fun, and thus, the Blue Ribbon Army was born.

Since then, more people have enlisted in the army. A lot more. As a matter of fact, BRA’s main Facebook group currently boasts more than 14,000 people. Over the years, it has become a social club and community forum for locals to gush about their favorite topics, typically of a geeky variety. And anyone and everyone can join the group.

“It also allows people to connect with the local geek scene and find out about what’s going on,” Matt says. “People have told us they’ve had anxiety about going out to events and joining our group has helped them get over that.”

And it’s not just on the Blue Ribbon Army’s main Facebook account. More than 50 BRA-endorsed side groups have been created over the past few years. Each pertains on a specific interest, from discussions about the newest movies or traveling advice to others focusing on weight loss or crafting tips.

BRA’s gatherings go beyond connecting online, as there are meetups at local bars and outings to geeky events like the Arizona Renaissance Festival. And they don’t use ribbons any longer, as “BRA” stickers now adorn everyone’s cars to help spot members out in the wild. (It’s become somewhat of a popular pastime.)

“We’re everywhere,” Jen says.

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 Plans: Stop by the BRA booth at H443 in the third-floor exhibitor hall for some free swag. They’ll also host a panel on all its various interest-specific side groups at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night in North 129B, as well as the “Superhero Showdown” party from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday North 210CD. Tickets are $20 in addition to a paid Fan Fusion admission. Proceeds benefit the Kids Need to Read charity.

click to enlarge Matt Solberg, the co-founder of Phoenix Fan Fusion. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Matt Solberg, the co-founder of Phoenix Fan Fusion.
Benjamin Leatherman

Matt Solberg

Phoenix Fan Fusion

Long before he was the force behind Arizona’s biggest pop-cultural event, Phoenix Fan Fusion founder Matt Solberg was a teenage comic book fanatic who sold his excess titles at small conventions around the Minneapolis area.

“I had all these extra comics [and] I was dabbling in speculation, too,” he says. “We’d load up my mom’s station wagon with all my stuff. I had one six-foot or eight-foot table and a handful of long boxes that I’d put out.”

After moving to the Valley in 2001, Solberg upped his con game considerably. He launched Phoenix Cactus Comicon a year later at a Best Western Hotel in Ahwatukee. It was a six-hour event boasting 30-odd dealer tables and 432 people in attendance.

Needless to say, it got bigger from there. Nearly two decades later, it’s now Phoenix Fan Fusion, which features thousands of exhibitors and draws 60,000-plus people yearly. It’s also pretty much become the event that many local geeks center their entire year around.

“It’s not anything I thought would grow to the magnitude that it has,” Solberg says. “This is something that brings joy to thousands of people, and I feel fortunate to be a part of it.”

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019 Plans: Solberg will be on-site at the event from 8:30 a.m. up until 11 p.m. or later “making sure things go as smoothly as possible.”

Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019. Thursday, May 23, to Sunday, May 26, at the Phoenix Convention Center, 100 North Third Street; phoenixfanfusion.com. Daily admission is $25-$50 and a full event pass is $90 via the event website.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.