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It had been a couple of years since I had made it to the hometown show, but this year I was able to take a few hours and bounce over to Mesa and check out how they were doing. And happily, the show has grown and thrived quite nicely, into something the community can be proud of. I wasn’t always sure this would wind up being the case.

I remember the first one (that I went to- if there was another prior to that, I never heard about it), which was held a few years ago up in Glendale. It was a one day even, opening at 10am and closing at 5pm. I was there helping a retailer friend, and it was quite astonishing to see the rabid nature of the fans walking through the door. This was a community that was hungry for an event of this nature. My friend made damned good money for seven hours of set-up, and the place was constantly packed. But the location was lousy. Something would have to change.

Soon, the show moved to the Mesa convention center, which was a distinct improvement, space-wise. There were more rooms for programming, more spaces for retailers, and the show expanded to two days, allowing the event to breathe a bit. But the timing on it was weird- it was in the fall, surrounded by a couple of other cons, which I think cut into the ability to bring professional guests in. Something would have to change- and it did. The show’s date was shift to late January. Just about perfect. It would be the first con of the year, and pros living on the east coast would flock out here to avoid the weather and enjoy Arizona sunshine. But on the downside, Mesa started looking worse and worse as a location. Many kids going to the show use public transportation to get there. And Mesa has steadily dropped funding for public transport because the snowbird population doesn’t use it and doesn’t care for it- they pretty much associate it with the working poor, a class of people the rich old farts regularly sneer at. So the buses run once an hour at best. Very tough on people trying to get to and from the show.

So I skipped a couple of shows. But this year, I found my way back to the Mesa convention center again and took in the sights and sounds. The con is now three days long, which I thought might be stretching it a bit, but I spoke to a retailer there whom I know well and he told me that he had sold like gangbusters in the Friday hours. How did I spend my time?

I talked to people, mostly. I did interviews with Josh Medors, Adam Beechen, and Jeff Mariotte. I did some leg work to set up interviews with a couple of other folks down the road. I shopped the indy publishers; there were some interesting looking small press folks whom you’ll never see in PREVIEWS (especially now!) there and I spoke with them and picked up their books. I chatted with BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol) about the beard he was sporting. I chatted with Steve and Jaynelle Rude about their upcoming plans involving NEXUS reprints. I spent a little time catching up with folks like local art star Ryan Cody. And I listened and watched.

I heard one artist’s spouse talking to a table-mate about how this was the best organized show they’d ever been to. I heard one person talk about how much it meant to them that someone from the con met them outside security at the airport and helped them with baggage claim. Another was astonished that a con volunteer offered to bring him a sandwich so he didn’t have to leave his table (as you can imagine, that will never happen in San Diego). I checked Twitter, and the tweets coming from guests and attendees alike were all running with the same theme: this was a GREAT show. And they’d be back again.

Hometown pride swelled, frankly.

I wound up having to lave early due to a personal matter, but I saw and heard exactly what I was curious to know about, which was whether or not the show had evolved into a first class event, and it has. I’m thrilled for the organizers and volunteers- they’ve really done something amazing in a very short amount of time. Congratulations to them all. That said… the show has one more final hurdle to deal with.

Next year, the show is moving to downtown Phoenix, where it will be accessible to everybody via the Valley’s light rail system (much as SDCC is via the trolley). But they changed the date to late May. Ohhhhhh boy.

Fans aren’t exactly known as the most hygienic people as it is. It’ll be close to triple digit temperatures at that point in the year. Throw in the costumes, and the potential for overwhelming pass-out-from-the-smell funk looms large. I think that the Phoenix Comicon folks may come to regret that one. But if I had to guess now, I’d say I’ll be there to see (and smell) it. 

Marc Mason  




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