My Phoenix Comic Fest 2018

Now that the exhaustion of the weekend is starting to wear off, I can start to process my nerdcation.

This was my 8th year going to Phoenix Comic Fest, and every year I have had the opportunity to go as a panelist. I still remember going to Phoenix Comicon in 2010 (when it first took on the Comicon name) and performing a MST3K/RiffTrax style redub of Blood Orgy of the Damned at the Hyatt (it’s a thing. It’s documented. It’s available on Amazon. I don’t want to talk about it). I remember being so excited to hit the floor, and then realizing I’d seen everything in like an hour. I remember singing the Reading Rainbow theme song with LaVar Burton and a room full of nerds, geeks, and weirdoes like me. I have seen this convention grow so much each year, and I’ve seen all the good, bad, and just god-awful (mostly the heat – damn you Arizona for secretly being Tatooine) that this weekend has had to offer. For me, Phoenix Comic Fest 2018 was one of the best years yet. At the same time, there were definitely a few disappointments.

My Phoenix Comic Fest started back in February, when my co-host, Paul Broccolo (Read a [Comic] Book! podcast. You should totally give it a listen) and I were asked to come run some panels. I won’t go back that far because, well to be honest, aside from the mental breakdown I had due to frying my computer a week before the con (water and computers don’t mix well. Who knew?), it’s really not anything that anyone wants to read about. But, in the time leading up to Comic Fest, my excitement kept growing with every guest announced.

In past years, the comic creators that were announced were exciting (nerding out with Chris Bachalo about Doctor Strange last year will always stick out to me), but the announcements seemed a bit like an afterthought. This year, there were big announcements all over social media, and it’s great to see Comic Fest give a little more focus to comics and comic creators. For me, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson, Charles Soule, Mitch Gerads, and a rare appearance by Todd McFarlane sounded like comic nerd heaven, and it was. At its heart though, Comic Fest is a celebration of all fandoms, and Square Egg Productions always does a great job of booking guests to excite everyone. I loved seeing names like Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett, Star Wars), Charles Martinet (Mario, Super Mario), Jason David Frank (the Green Ranger, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers), and William Shatner (William Shatner). The other marquee name that Comic Fest announced was Tim Curry. While I love Tim Curry and his work (IT is a big reason why Anthony doesn’t do clowns), I just couldn’t get past not wanting to see him in such a frail state. That being said, it was still great to see that he would be there.

One of the disappointments I ran into was losing a large chunk of the convention floor to accommodate the gaming area, which included a massive Playstation trailer. To be clear, I loved that gaming was around, but having it on the floor seemed like a waste in many ways. In past years, table top gaming took place in the Hyatt and a few rooms throughout the convention. There was a whole room ran by Cobra Arcade, with old arcade games and beer, that stayed open after the floor closed, so Con-goers had more options of what to do aside from going panels. It just felt like a bit of a step backwards to put it all on the floor. Part of this decision seemed to be because all of the bigger events throughout the con were actually held at the convention center instead of the surrounding hotels and other venues, like they had been in past years. It did feel like Comic Fest went from being a weekend where we nerds would take over downtown Phoenix, to us staying confined to our area. At the end of the day, this was a mild disappointment. It was still a lot of fun and fascinating to take a break from irresponsibly spending money to watch the gamers be gamers.

Going into this year, a big question mark was what the security would be like. Last year, someone made his way into Phoenix Comicon with actual weapons with the intent to shoot Jason David Frank and hurt Con-goers. It was a very surreal experience when it was happening. It also made the rest of the weekend very frustrating. Just getting into the con took an hour or so of standing in a winding line in the Arizona heat. When you finally did get in, the restrictions on props became a huge pain point (I couldn’t even put together the lightsaber I bought until I got back outside). All I could think was how insane the security would be this year. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that it was the easiest time I’ve ever had getting into the convention. Pride Group did an amazing job making sure people got through the lines quickly. I think the longest it ever took me (usually carrying my back pack and a full laptop bag) was maybe 5 minutes. My wife, Becca, and I kept saying, “Just wait until Saturday, when everyone is here. It’s going to be insane,” but it never got too insane. Even when the, seemingly inevitable, “What the hell is going on at Con,” moment that came Saturday night, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but more on that later.

The best part of this Phoenix Comic Fest was (and always is) the people. In general, I’m not the biggest fan of people (not you reader. I like you). I will also admit, there are also some chaotic evil Con-goers (I mean you, guy who thought it wise to try and heckle a panel full of comedians), but on the whole, the nerds, geeks, and weirdoes that flock to downtown Phoenix for this weekend are my people. I got to spend the weekend meeting and nerding out with people as passionate about these things as I am. I got to meet people who had that same passion for fandoms I know nothing about. It’s the thing I most look forward to. There is also the cosplayers. Every year, I am amazed by the dedication, creativity, and talent that many of the cosplayers at Comic Fest have, as well as the wide range of fandoms represented. We saw everything from a Charlie Day (WHO IS PEPE SILVA?!?!) to Davros (Doctor Who). There were even Spice Girls! SPICE GIRLS! There is always a legion of Deadpools and Harley Quinns (we keep a tally every year. A lot more classic Harley than Margot Robbie Harley this year, so that was awesome), but the biggest shock to me was how many Jubilees I saw. It was a pleasant shock to say the least. The cosplays that stuck out the most to me were Gizmo Duck, Mysterio, the family of Rick and Morty characters (Mom was Unity, Dad was Rick, the kids were Morty, a Meeseeks, and a S2E1 Jerry), and the woman who used her wheel chair to become Oracle. Seriously, nerds are the best!

Overall, this was the most successful Con I have personally ever had, and it felt like the most organized Con I’ve ever been to. There is definitely still some areas where I’d love to see Comic Fest (now Phoenix Fan Fusion) improve, but Square Egg Entertainment is definitely making huge strides in the right direction for this convention. As a panelist, I was well taken care of by the Square Egg staff from the moment I signed on for panels.  As a nerd, I left Sunday afternoon with a heart full of joy and a mind full of incredible memories. I can’t wait for Phoenix Fan Fusion 2019!

Now, come with me as I take you through my personal experience day by day!

Phoenix Comic Fest 2018 was a very special one for me personally. In all the years I’ve gone and performed at Con, I’ve always gone as a cast member. This was the first year I got be the one in charge and create what I wanted to create. As I said, it ended up being the most successful Con I’ve ever had. It was also the best way to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of Read a (Comic) Book!

Thursday

Becca and I met up with Paul at his house, and after a little bit of suitcase Tetris, we were on our way! We got to the Hyatt (Con tip: spend money on a hotel room. Skipping the sardine can that the light rail become at the end of the night is worth the money) and were able to check in early! Unfortunately, while Paul was leaving to park his car, the battery died, and he had to wait for the tow truck to come get it. Luckily, it ended up not being a big deal.

We got to the redemption tent to grab our passes, and I can’t explain how shocked I was at how easy it was to get our wrist band. While I was sad to not be able to add this year’s badge to my collection, the music festival type wristband ended up proving to be a way easier method when it came time to enter Comic Fest. In past years, you would have to go through security, then to one of the big halls where you saw a sea of nerd waiting in long lines waiting to get their passes and hoping there wasn’t an issue with your badge (everyone leaves out the first ‘N’ in my last name. It was always annoying struggling to prove that I was me). This year was a simple scan of a QR code, and you were on your way.

We got to the floor and I made my first, and biggest mistake, of the weekend. Becca and I set a strict budget for this year (being an adult is the worst sometimes), and I came to Comic Fest knowing I would blow my budget in Artist Alley. With that knowledge, I thought it would be wise to hold off on going to Artist Alley until Friday so I could see the rest of the floor before being broke. I didn’t know that the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo line would end up being the longest line at Comic Fest (not counting Shatner and Curry photo op lines). I brought my copy of Dark Nights: The Forge for Snyder and James Tynion IV to sign, and my unopened Capullo Series Nightwing figure for Capullo to sign. Spoiler alert… I never got Snyder’s or Capullo’s autograph. We didn’t spend too much time on the floor on Thursday because our panel schedule started shortly after the floor opened.

Infinity War Beat Down

In the time leading up to our panels, I got very nervous seeing the tweets from Comic Fest about panels being cancelled (I assumed due to low or no attendance) and our room (the Comic room) was tucked away in the back of the second floor. Getting to the room, my nerves were quickly melted away. Our room was packed (for a Thursday) and it was all nerds looking to have some fun.

The Infinity War Beat Down panel had different heroes from the MCU facing off against each other. We had a panel full of guests from past episodes, plus a special guest, and Jake from our friends over at Couch Crunchers! We also asked the audience to join in on the debates. A few things that I learned during this panel were:

  • There was shocking amount of people attending Comic Fest that didn’t actually read comics.
  • The Iron Fist Netflix show overshadows the amazing work Ed Brisson has done with his Iron Fist run (again, not enough people read comics).
  • Regardless of how long ago it was, some nerds can’t see Ghost Rider (even the Robbie Reyes version) without thinking about Nick Cage.

This was such a fun panel and I was genuinely shocked at what matchups drew the most heated debates. We will be posting the recording of this panel on ReadaComicBook.com (and where ever you listen to podcasts) on Monday (6/4)!

Superhero Fantasy Draft

As sad as it is to say, the thing that was exciting me the most for this panel was the fact that I didn’t have to move at all between Infinity War Beatdown and this panel.

Superhero Fantasy Draft was exactly what it sounds like. We compiled a roster of 50 Marvel characters, and 50 DC characters for our panelist to form a 5 person team. The panel consisted of Paul, Jay (Couch Crushers), and myself. We also invited a member of the audience up to draft their own team. Once the team (and coaches) were chosen, it was up to the audience to decide who walked away with the awesome trophy Becca put together.

Dean, our audience volunteer, not only won best pick for 4 out of 5 rounds, but he absolutely decimated the rest of us when it came time to decide who had the best overall team. Due to the lesson I learned about Iron Fist in Infinity War Beatdown, I opted not to draft my favorite Marvel character, and instead drafted my favorite DC character, Wally West. It broke my heart to get a lot of confused (and judgmental) faces for not picking Barry if I was going to pick a Flash.

It was still such an incredibly fun panel that had us all laughing the entire time. We will be posting the recording of this panel on ReadaComicBook.com (and where ever you listen to podcasts) on Friday (6/8)!

PUGS

Paul and I were asked to be judges for one of the big events for Comic Fest, the Phoenix Ultimate Geek Showdown. This panel spans 2 days and invites 16 participants the opportunity to come up and debate (tournament style) ridiculously awesome matchup (Battle of the Blooms was the best. Orlando Bloom vs. Jeff Goldblum). Admittedly, Paul and I thought we were actually going to be debating these matchups, but it was still a blast. I mean anytime you can watch someone dressed as Maui (Moana) chase the moderator off stage is a pleasant experience and a pretty great way to end day 1.

Friday

Friday was Batman day for us! We had only had one panel for the day (aside from PUGS) and to get ready for our “Who’s the Best Batman?” panel, we had to go to Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and James Tynion IV’s panel, Cape, Cowl, and Batarang: Making the Modern Batman.

Cape, Cowl, and Batarang: Making the Modern Batman

This was the one and only panel I actually got to attend over the weekend. I had a feeling this year my time in other panels would have to be pretty limited so I could fully experience the floor and occasionally eat. Last year, I was only able to make it to 1 as well, but it was Kevin Conroy. I just had to make sure this year’s 1 panel was as good of a choice as last years, and holy yes it was.

We got to the panel early to make sure we had good seats, and then sat, feeling my anxious fan boy waiting to come out and play. While we were waiting for the panel to start, a familiar face came in and sat behind us. James Tynion snuck into the panel and asked one of our panelist, Roman Grisby, to see his program. I should mention that James and Roman went to high school together. My inner fan boy wanted to jump out and ask him question after question on how he thought of bringing Orphan and Clayface together and making me cry when Cass saw Basil die. But, Becca grabbed my hand and gave me a, “Sun’s going down” look, and I was able to enjoy the moment like a regular human. Paul, on the other hand, got no such look and exclaimed, “OH COOL!” James was cool about it though, just laughed it off and responded, “Aww, thanks man.”

The panel got started a tad late, so James sat at the panel table making small talk with the audience while we waited for Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo to arrive. Once the panel got started, the three realized they didn’t have a moderator, so they just did a Q/A with us! The thing that stuck out the most to me was seeing how much passion they have for what they do, and how big of fans of comics they were as well. In the first half of the panel, we had maybe 2 questions. That is in no way a complaint. They took a question and wanted to pick every piece of meat of those bones before they moved on. Tynion went into why he chose to bring Clayface into Detective and how Basil and Cass’s friendship just organically happened, and it ended being something he really loved. Snyder and Capullo even geeked out about Tynion’s take on Clayface’s origin story. Snyder and Capullo talked a lot about their final Batman together for Black Label. Capullo made fun of Snyder throughout the panel for giving up spoilers, but we were all so happy to hear what they had planned. From how the Batman Who Laughs will be utilized in the future to the first few panels of the Black Label title breaks down and what kind of story it will be. I won’t spoil any of it here for you, but know that it is so amazingly awesome, and I can’t wait to have it in my hands! Capullo also told a story about how he said he wanted to do a Swamp Thing book, but DC really wanted to see him on Wonder Woman (as would we all). Then DC saw some of the ideas he drew up for the Swamp Thing story to go, and they said they absolutely needed him to do a Swamp Thing book!

I loved every second of this panel. The only bad part about it was, across the hall was a room doing karaoke. I don’t terribly mind karaoke, but that was one event that would have benefited more by being in the Hyatt. They also had their doors wide open, so any chance of it being mildly muted was gone. That being said, it was fun to see Snyder occasionally bob his head to the songs.

Who’s the Best Batman?

Wow, what a fun panel this was. Also, there is no way to prepare for that level of passion and nerd rage directed at you. This panel featured 3 round of one Bat versus another (West v. Keaton / Kilmer v. Clooney / Bale v Batfleck), and then a battle royale between the three winners of the previous round. Things I learned during this panel:

  • If you do a Batman panel, you better say Conroy’s name once every few minutes, or the crowd will make sure to let you know.
  • Don’t be in Arizona and say no one saw the movie Tombstone.
  • Prince and Seal are big arguments for who the best Batman is.

Going to Cape, Cowl, and Batarang before was the best possible way for us to psych ourselves up, and we had a blast! We will be posting the recording of this panel on ReadaComicBook.com (and where ever you listen to podcasts) on Monday (6/11)!

Saturday

Superhero Interviews

Paul and I were asked to moderate this panel a few weeks before con, after the original moderator had to bail. We didn’t mind at all! In this panel, we were getting to interview cosplayers from the Justice League of Arizona. On the panel, we had Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Green Arrow, Arthur Curry (don’t call him Aquaman), and Captain Boomerang. If I’m being honest, this panel was the rockiest we had.

From the start, our cosplayers got heckled by one person. They piped up for every question until I had to go 3rd grade teacher on them (quietly and calmly asking them to stop. Sounds better the other way though). We did have a lot of fun though. It was odd to hear how many Marvel questions were asked (but you try telling adorable children dressed as Iron Man, Spidey, and Black Panther, to keep it to DC). Periodically, someone would chime in with a question like, “When were you first introduced,” or “Ollie, it’s big news that next season on Arrow, you’re growing a goatee”. The moment that stuck out to everyone though was a little kid, dressed as Venom, asked Arthur if he would be best friends with Venom. This prompted Arthur to come off stage and give Venom kid a big Atlantean bear hug.

This panel had it’s ups and downs for sure, but on the whole, it was so much fun.

Rick & Morty Beam into Star Trek

Right after Superhero Interviews, we had to run to our next panel. Truth be told, this was the panel I stressed most about. Our concept was to do a radio show style episode of Star Trek TNG, have Rick and Morty inserted as key characters, and have the audience make some of the choices for our characters. We initially were going to give the audience 3 episodes of TNG to choose from, but I ran out of time and had to make that choice for them, only writing 1 script. The script itself wasn’t even done until the Tuesday before Comic Fest, so we were also doing it cold.

This panel couldn’t have gone better. I regret not recording it. It started out with someone in the audience heckling me while I was getting suggestions. One thing the heckler was unaware of was that I’ve been doing comedy for 10 years and am very good at dealing with hecklers. After a quick back and forth, I got bored by him and moved on. The nice thing was, that because of the exchange, the audience was on our side. The episode started with Rick freaking out about how they were going to fill 70 episodes and being hyper aware of Justin Roiland’s existence. Rick created a special entertainment center (equipped with recliners, an mini bar, and a 99 inch screen) for Interdimensional Cable 3! He and Morty then get sucked into the Star Trek episode, The Game. Rick took on the body of Data (who is incapacitated most of the episode) and Morty took on the body of Wesley Crusher. We also improvised ads for commercial breaks.

I ended up stressing for nothing. Trekkies and Rick & Morty fans came up to the stage as we were quickly packing to run to our next (and final panel) to let us know how much fun they had and to confirm where our next panel was! It felt amazing.

Phoenix Comic Fest Ultimate Character Showdown

Another panel I deeply regret not recording. This was the best way to cap off our amazing weekend of panels. We pit characters from several different fandoms (Pennywise v. Joker, Rick Sanchez v. The Doctor, Beast v. Beast) and let the audience throw in their arguments as well (the best arguments got prizes). There was so much incredibly fun debates going on that we ended up having to skip 4-5 of the matchup! I did feel bad afterwards about a joke that I made during the panel though. The first winner of a prize was gifted a VHS copy of the X-Men movie (complete with an expired coupon book) and a $10 gift card for VRV. The second person, approaching the stage with so much joy in his eyes, got high 5’s from me and the other panelist. He walked away like sad Charlie Brown. It got a big laugh, but I did feel bad when Becca told me he wasn’t faking his disappointment. She ended up chasing him down after the panel to give him an actual prize.

Never in the 8 years of performing at Con, has one of my panels been mentioned in any sort of review of the weekend. This year, we ended up in AZCentral’s review of the weekend. I almost cried I was so happy when I saw it! Check it out (scroll down to Poor Pennywise).

I made one final attempt on Saturday to get signatures from Snyder and Capullo, but just couldn’t do the line without having some food. I ended up going to Joshua Williamson’s table, and that was way more than I could have ever asked for! We nerded out about our favorite Flashes, all of the Rebirth arcs to this point, and a little about Flash War. I bought a copy of Running Scared from him to sign, and he told me that the cover I was drooling over was actually his design. We both geeked out about how this was our favorite arc of the line yet. As I walked away, he told me to have faith that I will not be able to see what’s coming next in Flash War.

All the panelist went to grab some food, and on our way out, we couldn’t help but be annoyed by how loud the fire truck was as it sped by. Turns out, it was on it’s way to Comic Fest.

The Evacuation

I’ll keep this part brief. Even when we got back to the hotel, we didn’t know something had happened. In the bathroom I heard some kids talking about it being an active shooter. Note to nerds, and humans in general, don’t spread rumors like that. It’s never cool. That was a real thing last year and something we see far too much of this year in general. If you spread rumors like that just so people will pay attention to you, than you honestly have no reason to be at Comic Fest. The truth is, there was simply a malfunction with the alarms. No actual fire, no chaotic-evil Con-goer pulling the alarm and ruining it for everyone, nothing. Just a glitch. While I understand where frustration came in for a lot of Con-goers (The Masquerade was that night and had to be canceled/ rescheduled), I don’t understand the backlash Square Egg received. Square Egg quickly made an announcement that all those who had Saturday passes would get a full Sunday pass. This was an incredible gesture on Square Egg’s part, for something that was completely outside of their control. People missed out on a few hours of programming (the big panels were rescheduled for Sunday or in the future at another venue, like Squeefest at National Comedy Theatre in Mesa), and you get a full day because of it. It sucked to see some Con-goers who had full weekend passes complain about not getting anything. We got to spend another day with more of our people. We are not entitled to anything. I applaud Square Egg with how everything was handled.

We ended the night with Becca, Paul, and I having a few drinks in our room, while playing the card game Paul bought on the floor, Cyanide and Happiness: Joking Hazard. This game is incredibly fun and dark. Play it. We also watched an anime marathon on mute until 2 in the morning. If you have never watched a bunch of anime on mute before, do it. It is fascinating, and you find yourself repeatedly saying, “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?!”

Sunday was my last ditch effort to get to the Snyder/Capullo table, and even with the floor only being open for half an hour or so, the line was ridiculous. It made me happy to see so many comic nerds (where were you to help me defend Danny Rand?), but it saddened me to put Grayson back on my bookshelf at home without Capullo’s signature.

This was the first and last year for the name Comic Fest. Next year, it will be Fan Fusion. While I’m not a huge fan of the name (make me feel like I’m going to a Con at a Day’s Inn), I am so excited to see how Square Egg tops this weekend next year! I also can’t wait to get back to work building panels.

Before I end, I need to thank some key people. First and foremost, I need to thank my incredible wife Becca. She saw a lot of extreme’s in my emotional state, both leading up to Comic Fest and during, and helped me through it all. Without her, I don’t think this weekend would have been half as successful. She also put a lot of work into the trophy for Superhero Fantasy Draft, and it ended up being the most coveted prize we gave out. I need to thank our programmer Ashleigh and Square Egg as a whole for making this one of the smoothest years as a panelist and having faith in what our final product would be. Thank you to Paul and our amazing panelist (Andi, Shannon, and Roman) for making every panel as fun as it could be. Finally, thank you nerds. You all were the best part of this weekend, and I can’t put into words what you mean to me. You can see some of the picture we took at Phoenix Comic Fest on our twitter, @ReadaComicBook.

See you next year!

P.S. Now that you’re done reading this… go Read a (Comic) Book!