Last Friday, the kids and I drove the two hours south to Phoenix on a seasonably hot day (98 degrees F), leaving the comfort of our 76 degree F weather behind. We were to check out the Phoenix Comicon as geeks, as fans and as a family.
When we first went to the Phoenix Comicon two years ago, it was advertised as a very family friendly event. It felt like it then, too. It was held in a smaller venue than this year, there were more kids around and there were more activities for people of all ages. This year, there were only a handful of kids and the majority of people there were between 15 and 30. But at least half the crowd was in costume or otherwise decked out in some way, so at least we were able to do plenty of people watching.
I knew my kids’ patience would wear thin pretty quickly, so I made sure to do the important stuff first. We naturally headed directly to meet Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day. Wil wasn’t there yet, but we got in line to see Felicia. What looked like a very short line was deceiving, though. Because of fire codes, so they said, the copious security personnel didn’t want more than two or three people waiting in front of the tables at a time. So everyone else was shuffled outside to wait in the heat. The line was in the shade, fortunately, but it was still really hot. After a 20 or 30 minute wait, we got to go back inside. We had been outside long enough for Wil to show up, so we got to see both Wil and Felicia without waiting in line again. Felicia was very nice to me and my kids, and we talked a bit about her experience being homeschooled.
Next we went over to see Wil. It was neat to see him again, and I was much less nervous than I was the first time I met him. He said he loved GeekDad. I had made him a wee ninja amigurumi (see above photo) as a “Thank You For Being Awesome” gift. He was so excited! He said that he’d seen it in my hand when I was talking to Felicia and was wondering where he could get one. I also managed to get his autograph in my book of super awesome people with whom I have had personal encounters. He was more than willing to sign it, perhaps because of the ninja thing. One thing I like about Wil Wheaton is that he truly appreciates his fans. Plus he escaped the curse of childhood stars, I think partly due to his love of gaming and other geeky pursuits.
We next waded our way through the sea of people in the vendor hall to meet Dave Beaty, whom I interviewed for GeekDad two months ago. He lives in the next town over from me, and we’ve had a fair number of dealings over email, so it was nice to finally meet him in person. He was very friendly, and he knew me right away. It was probably the GeekDad shirt I was wearing!
Comicon was much more crowded than the last time I went. It had moved from the Mesa Convention Center to the Phoenix Convention Center, so the layout was better and there was much more to see in one place. But it also meant you had to pay for parking. Last time Comicon seemed to have a wide variety of things to do inside and outside (it was in January when I went before). This one had a few rooms for things like tabletop games, console games and a drawing/coloring contest, but it all seemed more streamlined, lacking in fun extras.
There was an amazing collection of stars and artists there, however, including Wil and Felicia and Dave Beaty, plus Levar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Stan Lee, Aaron Douglas, John Scalzi, Ray Park and many many more. But to fully enjoy the experience, one must be prepared for large crowds, a lot of waiting and spending quite a bit of money. It is also increasingly hard to navigate the place in groups or with kids in tow.
I’m really glad that I had been able to see Wil previously in the smaller venue. The small room in which he spoke made every seat a good seat. This year he was in the huge ballroom, so I made sure to see the talk before his (Genie Francis, who looked great) to get a front row seat for his talk. Of course Wil warrants a very large room, but it makes for a much less personal experience, even sitting in the front row. But his Awesome Hour was awesome. He never fails to entertain and inspire me.
My kids know very well who Wil and Felicia are, and a few other people at the con, but mostly they were being politely patient while I did my thing. They drew pictures in the drawing contest room, and kept busy with our Etch-a-Sketch, the DS and my iPod Touch. My daughter was so inspired by Jonathan Liu’s Etch-a-Sketch art at Maker Faire that she drew a school bus and even a GeekDad robot!
It was too easy for me to keep comparing the Phoenix Comicon to Maker Faire, since the latter is so fresh in my mind. But it was such a different experience. Maker Faire was much less about famous people and merchandising and much more about learning new things and having a positive, rewarding experience.
The more notable people I meet, especially in a role representing GeekDad, the more I realize that famous people are just people. They work hard at what they do. They put on a happy, friendly face for hours on end hoping to sign enough autographs and sell enough books/DVDs/comic books to pay the bills.
Despite being crowded, the Phoenix Comicon is still probably smaller and more intimate than the San Diego Comic-Con (watch for GeekDad coverage of that this summer). But it is still small enough to get to see all the talks you want, and it is definitely worth a visit. I talked to a couple of attendees at length: a Star Trek fan from Texas and a just-graduated art student from Tucson. Both were just thrilled to meet people like Wil Wheaton in person. It just made their day. As it made mine. And that’s what people should and do take away from an experience like this.
Note: I was furnished with a press pass to gain entry to the Phoenix Comicon. My kids were free as are all kids under 12.