Nerd Culture

20 Things You Need to Know About Phoenix Comicon's New Policies

Benjamin Leatherman
A local cosplayer at Phoenix Comicon 2015.
Phoenix Comicon fans have been in a bit of a tizzy lately, to say the least.

Last week, organizers of the annual pop culture geekfest announced a number of new policies and security measures limiting what prop weapons and cosplay items can be brought into the event.

And, as you’d expect, it caused a major uproar in the Arizona geek scene.

The new rules, which are being implemented due to the arrest of an armed man at this year’s Phoenix Comicon, will ban all replica, prop, and toy guns from the event, as well as clubs, bats, simulated explosives, any metal items, and bladed weapons like swords or knives.

Other restricted items include spikes, slingshots, power tools, ninja stars, glass and stone props, fully strung bows, and excessively noisy props like bullhorns.

All Comicon events, including the spin-off Phoenix Fan Fest in November, will also feature additional security measures, including metal detectors, bag searches, and an increased presence by the Phoenix Police Department.

It’s a major change to the event that comes as a result of an incident involving Matthew Sterling, the 30-year-old Mesa resident who was arrested on May 25 after bringing a cache of firearms and other weapons into the Phoenix Convention Center during the first day of Phoenix Comicon 2017.

The new rules are similar in many respects to a prop weapons ban that was put in place in the days following Sterling’s arrest. And according to Phoenix Comicon’s organizers, the policies are meant to ensure safety at the event and prevent a similar incident from occurring again.

Phoenix Comicon regulars have also been a bit confused about some of the new policies and what can or can’t be brought into the event. “We are doing this to make this a safe and fun event for everyone,” says Phoenix Comicon spokesperson Kristin Rowan. “We understand that it's a change and it's different from what they're used to and there's a lot of things they can't bring in. We get it. We also get that there are people that will try to get in with the intent to cause harm to the people, and that for us is a bigger concern.”

Besides reacting negatively to certain prop weapons being banned, numerous Phoenix Comicon regulars have also been a bit confused about some of the new policies and what can or can’t be brought into the event.

There have even been a few misconceptions, too.

Hence the reason for the following list, which breaks down a lot of important info regarding Phoenix Comicon’s rule changes in regards to security and prop weapons.

We’ve pored through the new policies, spoken with both Phoenix Comicon organizers and convention center staff regarding the matter, and seen the many questions (and protests) that have popped up on social media since last week.

click to enlarge A local cosplayer at this year's Phoenix Comicon. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
A local cosplayer at this year's Phoenix Comicon.
Benjamin Leatherman
The new rules were mandated by the Phoenix Convention Center.
Put simply, the changes to Phoenix Comicon’s prop weapons policies were required by the Phoenix Convention Center. And Kevin Mattingly, the deputy director of operations for the venue, says it’s meant to ensure safety at the event following the Matthew Sterling incident. That said, the folks at Phoenix Comicon’s parent company, Square Egg Entertainment, also had an influence in shaping the new rules.

“The original issue was raised by us. We were the ones that said the rules have to change,” Mattingly says. “No one at Square Egg disagreed, but it was us that started the ball rolling. It will be up to us what our policies say. And we hope to do that in a way that enables Square Egg to have a great event, that all the attendees will come and have a great time, and we can keep everybody safe.”

Everything is meant to ensure safety and aid law enforcement in case of another incident.
According to Kristin Rowan, the policies were designed with safety in mind and to prevent a Matthew Sterling-style incident from occurring. It also is meant to assist Phoenix Police with spotting real weapons, should it somehow happen again.

“People have been saying, ‘What's the problem? The police can't tell the difference between a fake gun and a real gun?’ And that's not really the issue,” she says. “In conversations with the convention center and the Phoenix Police Department, it’s not whether or not we can tell the difference between a fake gun and a real gun in the unlikely event it goes through security. The issue is if somebody is on-site posing a threat with something that could be a gun is 20 feet away, the officers on duty have to make a split-second decision if that's the person they're looking for or if it's somebody else. And we don't want people to be in that position.”

Mattingly agrees.

“We don't want the police or security that are here to be confronted with something that's unknown,” he says. “We don't want them to have to decide if a weapon is real or not. And we especially don't want that to happen in a critical situation.”

click to enlarge Grant Harper of Goodyear as a Motorized Patriot from BioShock Infinite at Phoenix Comicon 2015. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Grant Harper of Goodyear as a Motorized Patriot from BioShock Infinite at Phoenix Comicon 2015.
Benjamin Leatherman
The restrictions were originally going to be way more harsh.
If the Phoenix Convention Center staff had their way, pretty much every cosplay item and prop would've been banned, says Rowan. “The convention center originally wanted to eliminate everything and do one clear bag per person, no costumes, no props, nothing that could be hidden on somebody's person,” she says.

Thankfully, Square Egg was able to talk them into a compromise. “We had multiple meetings with the Phoenix Convention Center and there were a lot of things we had to fight for with the convention center for the cosplayers, so they could still have their props and costumes. But we can’t get them to budge on the firearms and we can't do anything about the bladed steel,” Rowan says. “We pushed as much as we could.”

The policies were announced now to allow people enough time to adapt.
It takes awhile to come up with a cool costume to wear to Phoenix Comicon, which may or may not be more complicated in light of the new rules. Hence the reason why organizers wanted to announce the news as early as possible, Rowan says. “We wanted to make sure that everyone had enough time to adjust and the use the next [10] months to come up with a cosplay that fits within the requirements,” she says.

Things aren’t completely set in stone.
According to Rowan, Comicon organizers are still in discussion with both the convention center staff and Phoenix Police regarding the new policies. As such, it's possible that certain aspects might change to a degree over the next several months.

“We are still making decisions about specific things. We are still evaluating the decisions that have been made. We're still talking to other conventions and other locations to find out what they're doing. We are talking to security experts. We are doing all of the things that people are saying that we should be doing,” Rowan says. “But a lot of the new policies are going to stay in place and anything that’s metal, anything that’s dangerous, and anything that looks like a firearm is not going to be allowed in.”

click to enlarge Stop. Hammer time. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Stop. Hammer time.
Benjamin Leatherman
The reason why metal items are banned is simple.
Organizers will have metal detectors set up at every entry point to Phoenix Comicon and everyone will be required to pass through ‘em. As such, any metal weaponry, armor, or other items that might set off the detectors is verboten. “If you don’t have any metal on you, you can walk through the metal detectors and straight into Comicon,” Rowan says.

Meanwhile, organizers will try to make getting in quicker and easier experience.
Metal detectors won’t be the only security measure in place at entrances to Phoenix Comicon events. There will also be bag checks, wandings, a greater police presence, prop-checking stations, and other enhanced security measures. Despite all this, however, Rowan says they’ll be streamlining things in order to make things go faster. “We will have separate no-bag lines, we will have separate [handicapped] lines, and we have additional entrances in 2018 so we that can get people in more quickly,” she says.

She admits, however, that attendees who aren’t in costume or don’t have bags will get in easier. “People also have to understand, if they are coming in costume, if they have props and they have bags, it's going to take longer,” Rowan says. “They're going to be in line longer and the best way to get through that line without standing outside is to not to have any of those things that are questionable.”

The policies don't extend to the Hyatt Regency Phoenix...yet.
As many Phoenix Comicon regulars can attest, activities aren’t just limited to the convention center. The Hyatt Regency Phoenix next door also hosts a number of events during Comicon weekend, including gaming, panels, and parties. And Rowan says that the policies don’t affect anything at the hotel. That may change at some point in the future, however. “The Hyatt obviously sets their own policies,” she says. “We have not yet begun talks with the Hyatt or any of the other hotels for any changes in policy that they may or may not implement.”

click to enlarge A local vendor at Phoenix Comicon with the Sword of Omens from Thundercats. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
A local vendor at Phoenix Comicon with the Sword of Omens from Thundercats.
Benjamin Leatherman

Vendors will be affected, including how they sell prop weapons at Phoenix Comicon.
Since the new policies were announced, many Comicon fans have been wondering if prop weapons vendors will be affected. Turns out they will, and it's going to change how business transactions are conducted at the event. Rowan says that vendors will be allowed to exhibit any of the stuff that’s on the prohibited list – such as bladed weapons, metal armor, and prop firearms – but only if the items are firmly secured at their booths, such as being tied to a rack.

Plus, sales may only take place online, whether it's via a laptop at the space or at a later date, and items will be shipped to customers. In other words, Comicon attendees won’t be able to physically purchase, or even handle, any of the banned props at the event.

“They can be exhibited as long as they're secured to the display and they can do online sales only as long as the execution of the sale happens off the premises,” Rowan says. “So, basically, you can see a blade or a sword and you can order it and it will be shipped to you.”

Vendors will be allowed to sell any of the allowed items, however, such as lightsabers, wands, unstrung bows. Ditto for any props made from plastic, urethane resin, cardboard, or foam.

Cosplay groups will also be affected.
Each year at Phoenix Comicon, a variety of cosplayer groups have booths in the Hall of Heroes, like the Umbrella Corporation Arizona Hive and Justice League of Arizona. And just like every other attendee, they’ll be affected by the new policies and won’t be able to utilize any of the banned items. That includes medieval recreationists from the Kingdom of Atenveldt, the regional chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, who put on armored combat demos at Comicon each year using tempered steel rapiers, solid rattan canes, and other period weaponry.

Andy Hoeffler, a baron in the SCA with the West Valley-based Barony of Sundragon, says that they’re bummed about the new policies but will adapt to the changes. “We're obviously somewhat disappointed that we aren't able to do the fighting demos at Comicon [events]. It's a huge draw for our booth and for our organization,” Hoeffler says. “However, we have been without fighting in the past. We'll do fine with it moving forward.”

click to enlarge Don't worry, outfits like these aren't going to be banned from Phoenix Comicon. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Don't worry, outfits like these aren't going to be banned from Phoenix Comicon.
Benjamin Leatherman
Those “modesty” policies aren’t anything new.
When Phoenix Comicon’s new policies were announced, a number of geeks seemed particularly miffed at rules requesting that cosplayers “exercise modesty” with their attire. In other words, refrain from costumes that show off more than a “swimsuit acceptable for public pools and beaches” or display sideboob, their complete buttocks, or other naughty bits. (Body paint is also verboten.)

As a result, some folks claimed the event was becoming more conservative, dubbing it “Convent Con” or “Christian Con.”

Thing is, these rules have been in effect at Comicon for a couple years now and weren’t part of the new policies that were announced. (For proof, you can check out the Comicon program guides going back to at least 2015, all of which feature the exact same “modesty” rules.)

"I think people latched on to the statement because it was included in the new policy page that covered the costume stuff,” Rowan says. “And, of course, everyone was interested in the costume policy. So they finally read the whole thing, but the modesty rules have been part of our convention policies for years. It's also the based off the state law for indecent exposure law and the definition of nudity, and all public venues are required to post them.”

And Phoenix Comicon isn’t turning into Footloose either.
A number of folks also took issue with regulations that supposedly forbid dancing at Phoenix Comicon, including making reference to a similar situation in ‘80s flick Footloose. Like the “modesty” thing, however, the rules have been around for awhile now. And, frankly, they only cover dancing in the exhibit hall, particularly instances that might block foot traffic.

“We're talking about impeding traffic or anything that prevents people being able to get in and out of the building,” Rowan says. “So if it's something that involves 25 or 30 people in a big group right inside a doorway or a hallway and they're doing a dance, the fire marshal might come in and break it up.”

Plenty of dancing takes place at Comicon each year, especially during annual events like the cosplay masquerade, “Talk Nerdy to Me” burlesque showcase, and nightlife events. Heck, there were multiple panels this year devoted to dance, including workshops focusing on social dancing.

click to enlarge There's good news for Harley Quinn cosplayers at Phoenix Comicon. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
There's good news for Harley Quinn cosplayers at Phoenix Comicon.
Benjamin Leatherman
Some prop weapons will be allowed, provided they’re made of certain materials.
As we said, any sort of gun or projectile weapon – including anything resembling a gun, even if it's in prop form – aren’t allowed. Period. Ditto for any real or simulated explosive devices (including cartoon bombs), bladed items of the metal or wood variety, anything glass or stone, and stuff with spikes, as well as clubs, hockey sticks, or any other melee weapon made from wood or metal. Oh yeah, brass knuckles and nunchucks, too.

All that said, certain weapons are permitted under the new policies, but only if particular things are used in their construction, such as plastic, craft foam, resin, cardboard, or foam rubber. That includes stuff like staffs (provided they’re under 6 feet in length), foam rubber swords, plastic shields, or cardboard armor. Unstrung bows, arrows secured in quivers, lightsabers, wands, and sonic screwdrivers are also all okay.

"You can have staffs, but they can't be made of heavy wood; they have to be a lighter material," Rowan says. "Shields cannot be steel or metal, but they can be plastic or fiberglass."

Oh, and you Harley Quinn cosplayers can bring your mallets, provided they meet the aforementioned requirements. "It still has to fit within the 6-foot requirement of a staff," Rowan says. "And it can't be made of heavy wood. If it's paper or foam or plastic, then it will be allowed."

The more realistic the prop weapon is, the less likely it will get in.
Rowan says that attendees will want to bring props that are more cartoonish and toy-like in appearance. In other words, something that’s easily distinguishable as fake. “The more it looks like a toy, the more likely it is that the Phoenix Police Department and the convention center [staff] will allow it,” she says.

Oversized costumes are okay, until things get crowded.
Some of the most eye-catching and impressive costumes at any Phoenix Comicon are typically towering armors or other enormous getups. And organizers are cool with attendees wearing ‘em, provided that things aren’t too jammed with people. (Saturdays, for instance, tend to be the busiest.)

Rowan says that during those periods, people will be asked to stow their oversize costumes or leave a packed area temporarily. “If you're in the way and you're making it so that people can't move around, then someone will tell you the costume needs to come off so that you can move through the exhibit hall or open areas,” she says. "When we reach capacity for a room, we have to take into consideration whether there are people taking up more room than they need to and might ask them to exit the hall or stow their props."

click to enlarge Kevin O'Connor, emcee of Phoenix Comicon's Masquerade, with a baguette instead of a rifle at this year's event. - NICKOLE RINDE
Kevin O'Connor, emcee of Phoenix Comicon's Masquerade, with a baguette instead of a rifle at this year's event.
Nickole Rinde
Baguettes and bananas are both acceptable alternatives for guns.
One of the highlights of this year’s Comicon was all the creative ways that cosplayers dealt with the prop weapons ban, including stormtroopers from the Dune Sea Originals using baguettes instead of blaster rifles or those with bananas for guns. Rowen says that those are both acceptable stand-ins for actual firearms. “Those are clearly props,” she says.

Ditto for finger guns and invisible weapons.
“Of course those are allowed,” Rowan says, laughing.

Ultimately, Phoenix Police and the convention center staff will make the final call.
Rowan says that things will be allowed at the discretion of the the cops and convention center employees stationed at each entrance. And they’ll have the final call about whether something can come in.

“People have asked about things like, ‘What about this material?’ or ‘What about that material?' And ultimately, we have to go back to it's the discretion of the police officers and staff who are at the doors,” she says. “What that means is that they’ll have different interpretations of what something looks like.”

Phoenix Comicon isn’t the only geek event banning certain prop weapons.
The prop weapons regulations aren’t exclusive to Phoenix Comicon. For instance, this year’s Denver Comicon enacted similar rules nixing all cosplay weapons several months before Matthew Sterling stepped into the convention center. Organizers of the event cited concerns over having “a hall full of prop firearms [that make] it difficult to discern threats from targets in the event of an actual shooting.”

“[Denver Comicon] actually had one in place prior to the incident at Phoenix Comicon,” Rowan says. “And then afterward, they updated it and prohibited more items then they had previously banned.”

Additionally, the New York Comic Con and Megacon Orlando both ban a variety of prop and realistic guns, as well as projectile weapons, sharpened blades, and various blunt instruments and melee items. Even selfie sticks.

“This is not something that's specific to Phoenix,” Rowan says. “It's something that people are doing all over the country and might eventually become standard because the comics convention scene has been hit with this near-tragedy.”

Captain Planet cosplayers at Phoenix Comicon 2017. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Captain Planet cosplayers at Phoenix Comicon 2017.
Benjamin Leatherman
Phoenix Comicon loves cosplay and cosplayers. Honest.
Despite what you may have read on social media recently, Rowan says that Phoenix Comicon’s organizers aren’t trying to ban fun at the event. Nor are they trying to spoil anyone’s good time or prevent cosplayers from coming in costume.

“The policy is not intended to target them, it's not intended to keep them from coming,” she says. “It's a huge part of our show and we love it when they're there. We love the atmosphere that it creates and all the added value that it creates for our attendees. The creativity that these folks have is just amazing. It's astounding to me what people come up with sometimes.”

And while Rowan and other organizers understand that the new policies will complicate matters for some attendees, they feel that people will come up with creative solutions.

"I know cosplayers can come up with stuff. I know they can. There are a lot of people who adapted to the situation and had a lot of fun with it," Rowan says. "Hopefully, with like [10] months to try and adapt to these policies and have more fun with it and be even more creative with it."

Phoenix Fan Fest 2017 will take place Saturday, November 11, and Sunday, November 12, at the Phoenix Convention Center.