PHOENIX COMICON 2017: REVENGE OF THE LINES

Phoenix Comicon 2017

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During this Memorial Day weekend, lasting from Thursday May 25 to Sunday May 28, was Arizona’s premiere pop culture convention, Phoenix Comicon. When discussing Phoenix Comicon 2017, it's probably best to, right off the bat, address the elephant in the convention center. Thursday afternoon, as the earliest of birds were checking into hotels and registering for badges, a guy with a warped agenda and a grip of weapons trolled the convention floor.  The merchandise floor wasn’t even open yet, for crying out loud! The guy was able to slip in, unchecked, and was spotted casing the place with a camera. Allegedly, he was posting his ill intentions on social media and, fortunately for all, a quick thinking acquaintance called the police and told them there was a real villain afoot.

Phoenix PD responded quickly, apprehending the suspect without further incident. Naturally, the folks in charge (of the con AND general public safety) had to whip up a whole new set of security protocols to ensure everyone’s safety going forward. Of course guests all know what that means: LINES ON LINES ON LINES!!!! Once again, 70,000 people started singing the blues because they had to wait for long periods of time to gain entry into the Phoenix  Convention Center. Granted, anytime drones of people are corralled together in one spot, the words “wait” beam out like a beacon summoning boredom and disdain; then add enhanced security to make sure nobody gets shot and you have a mass of grumpy cosplayers on day one.

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Still, it wasn’t exactly the lines to get inside that had people ruffled most of all. It was the prop ban. Originally, all props were banned, from wands to weapons, shields to sabers. Wizards and warriors alike were forlorn without these essential pieces that completed their look. But Saturday, the list was refined to exclude wands and certain simple props from the ban. Still, the pop culture community is nothing, if not resourceful. These Macgyver skills led to some incredibly inventive alternatives. My favorite was an Edward Scissorhands who had replaced his signature shears for America’s favorite culinary utensil: the humble spork. 

Even without the enhanced security, lines galore were inevitable. To begin with, literally anywhere where food was being served, one could expect to wait in line. The options are always scarce inside the hall. The unaffiliated may wonder why nobody ventures out in town for food.  With the nearly two (sometimes pushing three) hour wait to get back inside, most people didn’t feel inclined to leave. Newbies and families are the largest offender of this crime, while the savvy con-goer brings snacks and sandwiches.

Secondly, there were quite a few extra merch booths this year. The overflow spread through the Hall of Heroes, which is where the autographs and photo ops have been for the past few years. With several badge holders only able to attend a single day or two, the lines inside on Saturday proved to rival even the Great Bruce Campbell Debacle of 2014 - line mess so dramatic, the convention center finally expanded to a whole third floor the following year.

The biggest contributing factor to lines was Saturday’s special guest, Dick Van Dyke! He has never attended such an event and drew fans, young and old, from all over the country. I met a couple in his autograph line who had come out from Ohio, clutching original My Fair Lady vinyl pressings to have signed. His panel was so anticipated that the Powers That Be decided early on to charge an extra 45 smackers for those who wanted good seats. Whatever seats were left were tossed in a proverbial hat and doled out at random to the interested general masses. This decision caused a commotion as attendees short on cash were forced to miss his panel.

Once the real life Dick Van Dyke Show finished, things got worse. His autograph session was pushed back almost an hour and his first photo op ran so late, they had to cut it short and move it into the second tier’s time slot. Panic ensued once con-goers realized that both Alan Tudyk and Jon Bernthal had ops around the same time. 

I was forced to miss my Alan Tudyk op in order to ensure I would make my Dick Van Dyke op. To combat the snarling throngs of fans, the volunteers eventually formed four open space pens in which to herd us. Like farm animals on the way to slaughter. It proved fairly effective, but the lack of loudspeakers, or any other kind of voice propulsion equipment resulted in increased tension as volunteers’ instructions fell on deaf ears. Personally, going forward I need PHXCC to get a grip on this problem or I’m not likely to go again. My idea of a fun time does not include a Saturday stuck in line, pressed up against strangers, triggering a mild claustrophobic reaction. The convention even had the audacity to stop complimentary photo protection sleeves. This year, the only way to ensure safe passage of your photo from con to hotel was to purchase one for 5 dollars. Wasn’t a fan of that at all. 

Nevertheless, by the end of the day, I had a photo of my darling niece in her Mary Poppins Halloween costume signed by Dick Van Dyke for my mom (who made the costume), and a wonderful photo of me standing next to one of the greatest comedic legends of the modern age. Truthfully, I would not have suffered such conditions for anyone else. It’s these rare opportunities to meet our living heroes that have all attendees willingly undergo insufferable and agonizing hours of anticipation. 

Lines aside, everything went pretty well, considering last minute security measures, that were understandably forced to happen. The floor was full of tried and true stands, as well as many new contenders. The panels were entertaining and well attended, with new friends made and laughter shared. Fan created evening parties were a blast, while determined table top gamers were seated inside the Hyatt well into the night.

Each year of surviving convention teaches all of us a new lessons. This year taught me patience and sacrifice. Expanded lines and longer wait times can really cause someone to snap, but instead it allowed me to get to know my fellow attendees. Choosing who on your wishlist to meet means accepting dropping those that time will not permit. As for the convention, here’s to hoping the lessons they learned were bullhorns and line organization. 

Follow Erin R. on Twitter: @bbmcg78

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