Back at the end of May, I volunteered for Phoenix Comicon, as I have done for the past four years. I am a Photo Booth Coordinator which means I assist with ensuring the celebrity photo booths run smoothly during the convention. It’s hard at times and a bit stressful, but I love it. I’ve had many great experiences over the years.
You may be asking yourself, but that was over a month ago. Why are you only writing about it now? Excellent question. My excuse: Work. It’s been incredibly busy and demanding, to the point that most evenings I would be too mentally exhausted for much else than sinking into a vegetative state in front of the TV. I’ve been binge-watching so much Property Brothers, I’ve started adapting their lingo and pointing out design features in stores. Good knowledge to have, if I ever decide to renovate a house. But I digress…
Phoenix Comicon has in the past few years found itself on a list among the best comicons in the country. It’s grown in size dramatically since it’s inception with record shattering attendance year after year. Two years ago, we were around 55,000 attendees (possibly a bit more, I don’t recall the exact figure). Last year, we hit an amazing 77,000 attendees, by far the highest count in Phoenix Comicon history. This year, 75,501 attendees. While this was a bit of a drop in attendance, it has been named the most successful year by our leadership. This is of course a great thing to hear, knowing that I was a part of its success.
Phoenix Comicon takes place in the downtown Phoenix Convention Center and this year it took up all four levels of two buildings along with programming in a few surrounding hotels. It is usually held Memorial Day Weekend at the end of May, but it has flip flop a bit the last couple years, due to availability of the convention center. This year it was held the weekend after Memorial Day and next year we will be the first weekend in June. It’s already very hot at this time, so having most of the programming and entertainment indoors helps a great deal. There is a connection between the two buildings underground as well as a sky-walk connecting above. You add plenty of escalators and elevators and it makes for a layout that is easy to navigate.
We had a great group of actors that were invited out this year. Ron Perlman, Edward James Olmos, Jason Isaacs, Alison Hannigan, Alexis Denisoff, Charisma Carpenter, Christopher Lloyd, Jim Beaver, Karl Urban…to name some. There were a few I was excited to meet from the moment they were announced, then there were others that surprised me and left me glad to have met them afterwards.
Thursday (May 28th) was the official first day of the convention. But things started for me on Wednesday when I arrived at the convention center around midday to help with setup. We setup all the equipment, hung signage and prepared things for the weekend ahead, then finished up around 5-ish. I went home for the last time. On Thursday, we had our full blown dress rehearsal with the photographers and volunteers. No photos are scheduled on Thursday and it gives us additional time to test the equipment and the setup. This also included training for any of our volunteers that were able to attend. We finished up at around 6:00pm and I met up with some friends for a Comicon Kick-off Dinner at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant. A couple of my friends were Phoenix Comicon virgins and out-of-towners, so we discussed their first day and other things–topics that a large diverse group of fangirls are prone to discuss when gathered together.
After dinner, we took turns seated behind the wheel of a gorgeous ’67 Chevy Impala. If you are a fan of the CW TV show Supernatural, or just a fan of classic cars, you get it. An hour and a myriad of pictures later, after inhaling enough of that old exhaust smell, we finally parted ways. The Impala went back home to Vegas and the rest of us returned to our hotel rooms or home (I live about 10-15 minutes from downtown but it’s still so much more convenient to get a hotel room). I split a room with three friends and fellow Phoenix Comicon volunteers every year which makes three nights in a hotel downtown quite affordable. I always recommend to anyone to make a similar arrangement when attending the convention (or any convention for that matter). It’s cost saving and leaves you never more than a five minute walk from all the local goings-on.
Friday was Day One! The first official full day of Phoenix Comicon and quite a light day for us at the photo booth. This of course meant that this would be the day that we would actually be able to see some of the convention. Saturday and Sunday would prove to be incredibly busy and would leave no time to enjoy the con except for what was directly on our floor. We shared the third floor with all the costuming groups and the guests’ signing tables. So not bad company by no means. But our floor was just one spot and so very far from the Vendor Hall–shopping, food, and artists oh my!
This year I was slotted for the afternoon shift. But similar to previous years, I was there from early in the morning to late in the evening all days. What can I say? I’m a work horse (or a glutton for punishment), but it’s worth it. Friday, we only had one booth running and most of the guests hadn’t arrived yet. So once I finished helping with final preparations and stuck around to help train and place volunteers, I decided to wander. I left behind my radio and told one of my counterparts to text me if I was needed. Down I went, three different sets of escalators until I hit the Vendor Hall floor. I wasn’t there to shop, not that I didn’t want to, but when you decide to spend your money on photos, you tend to be frugal with what you have left. It was my goal to spend an hour, maybe two, finding and chatting with my comic book artist friends. I found all but two (one was wondering around and the other hadn’t arrived yet). Now, the Vendor Hall is massive, I mean seriously huge, you could spend hours wandering around looking at everything. Its where you’ll find all the comic book artists, authors, and vendors peddling their wares.
I sped-walked up and down the aisles, I was on a mission. My mission (there was no choosing necessary or exploding messages) was to locate my friends and acquaintances in the comic book field. I met most of them through my former manager from Barnes and Noble. He’s making his way through the world of comic book creation and has worked on a few projects. But also sells his artwork in addition to taking commissions. He currently lives in San Diego where his fiance goes to school. One of the comic book creators/artists I stopped to chat to was actually a former high school teacher of my sister’s. I bought his newest comic for her.
After that mission was complete I hunted down the Cazador Productions booth run by Mike Flores (the booth and the company). I met Mike at the Salute to Supernatural Convention in February, along with the hosts (Thomas Cowley and Ryan Denton) of the Supernatural the Crossroads radio show he produces. We discussed the season finale of Supernatural, as fans do and he asked me about my volunteer role at Phoenix Comicon. The Crossroads boys do a great show, I binge listened their entire back catalog (60+ hours of audio) in a little over a week. If you’re interested in episode reviews and interesting as well as entertaining discussions, check them out www.supernaturalthecrossroads.com.
When I returned to the booth, I got back to work but took a moment to have a photo with two friends (and SPNFamily) and Jim Beaver (Bobby from Supernatural). He was very nice and great with his fans. On Saturday, I had him in my booth and at the end of the photo op he gave us the greatest compliment, even though the beginning nearly gave me a heart attack. He started off, “I hate these things.” Cue holding my breath. “These things are usually so impersonal. This was quick, but I still had time to shake everyone’s hand and say hello. It didn’t feel rushed. This was great, good job.” I started breathing again. I thanked him and showed him out of the booth. That was super cool.
The rest of Saturday was madness. Yes…that’s all that need be said about Saturday. Just kidding…but there was a lot going on. I did not make it away from the photo booth and I was there from morning until night. I left exhausted, at the end, but not as exhausted as last year. I call that a win in my book. Saturday is the busiest day for obvious reasons: people don’t have work, big day for families, all the guests are there. There were some great experiences that day. I was surprised by a couple of the actors–really cool individuals. None of the actors that attended this year were returning guests, so I had not met any of them before and you never know what to expect. Great examples: Jason Isaacs and Edward James Olmos. Jason–who you might know from Harry Potter, The Patriot and Black Hawk Down–was great with his fans. He even set up his phone during his photo op to record a time lapse video of the entire thing, which he then shared with us and the photographer. I could kick myself for not getting a photo with him, but I didn’t have any money left to spend after the photos I had already paid for. Jason also complimented us on our photo booth.
Edward James Olmos was awesome, every time he showed up for his photo op, he would spend time taking photos with all of the staff. Normally, we’re required to politely decline photos with the guests, because it’s against our policy, but there was no refusing him. He would point at volunteers in a ‘hey you, come over here” fashion and pull them in for a photo. He didn’t leave until he had accomplished his task to have photos with everyone, including me. I let all my volunteers go first and then I was the last one, before he went on his way back to his signing table. On Sunday, I believe, we were running behind in one of the photo booths. Edward stood in the middle of the booths nearly in our printing area, playing with his grandson. It was adorable. We had asked him if he wouldn’t be more comfortable sitting inside one of the booths while he waited and he politely declined, he didn’t mind waiting right there.
Sunday was Back to the Future! Yes, I and a friend got our photo with Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd. Sunday in general, was not as crazy as Saturday and everything ran very smooth. It always winds up being the case on Sunday, all the kinks with the equipment have been worked out and we’re running like a well oiled machine. Speaking of machines, we also had the Delorian onsite for attendees to get photos with both Christopher Lloyd and his iconic time traveling car. It was a popular photo op, as was his solo op in our photo booth (both of his photo ops were in my booth). Another actor that was really cool to meet was Alexis Denisof, husband to Alyson Hannigan and most notably known for Angel, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and Grimm. At the end of his last photo op on Sunday, we had just sent through the last attendee and he was hanging out just in case there were any stragglers. He asked if any of us wanted a photo. I politely declined, and he asked if we were sure. I told him we were required to politely decline unless he insisted. He said he thought that was the case and then insisted that we all take photos with him. Great guy.
So, that’s a good chuck of what happened through out the entire weekend of Phoenix Comicon. It was crazy, but fun and awesome. I can hardly wait until next year. Meetings won’t start until January of 2016, which seems such a long time off. But at least, I have Fan Fest to hold me over. Fan Fest is a smaller convention that Phoenix Comicon premiered last year. We hold it at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. It’s much smaller than the main convention, more relaxed atmosphere and it’s held in December, so the weather is a stark contrast to what it is in the summer. We have guests that come out and vendors, but there will be just one photo booth running the entire weekend. I wasn’t able to attend last year, as it was the same weekend as my mom’s birthday, but this year I’m good as it’s the weekend before. I’m really looking forward to Fan Fest this year. Hope to see some of you local folks there!