Plenty of smaller cities than Phoenix — San Diego, Dallas, Baltimore, Columbus, Ohio — have giant comic book conventions that draw thousands each year. So why doesn’t the Valley?
Matt Solberg wondered the same thing.
Instead of just thinking, he did something about it, and started the Phoenix Comicon soon after moving to the Valley in 2001, from Minnesota.
“I actually didn’t know if there were any comic book conventions in town to go to, so I started looking around, and there hadn’t been in seven years or so,” says Solberg, 31, director of Phoenix Comicon and owner of Planet Neo, an anime, manga and comic book shop in Tempe.
The show started slow its first couple of years, and was held on the west side of town — which discouraged even myself, a staunch comic book fan who leaves the state at least twice a year for comic conventions.
“You’re not alone in not wanting to head out to Glendale, that’s part of the reason we moved,” Solberg tells me.
So this year the Phoenix Comicon is in our neck of the woods — specifically, the Mesa Convention Center. It’s also stretched across two days (and a “preview night” on Friday) for the first time, which all means that, it’s by far the highest-profile year for the event.
“When you make that leap, it’s not just doubling your expenses, it’s really an exponential increase in the cost of the budget,” Solberg shares.
So far, it seems to be paying off for him and his large staff of volunteers. They were able to find a major sponsor with Borders, which is featuring end cap displays showcasing comic book creators at every store in the state. The convention has nearly every Valley comic book store participating as an exhibitor on the main floor.
Solberg was also able to get the most impressive guest list yet, which includes several Valley writers and artists, including “Lady Death” creator Brian Pulido and many out-of-towners, like current “Amazing Spider-Man” artist Ron Garney.
“We look at the guest list and I’m blown away just by who we have and the amount of talent we have coming,” says Solberg, although he adds, “But if you look at the number of people we’ve invited overall, it’s a much smaller percentage.”
For the future, Solberg looks to the model of San Diego’s Comic-Con International and how it’s become a more general “pop culture” convention.
>> The Phoenix Comicon runs 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, at Mesa Convention Center, 263 N. Center St. $30-$35. (602) 697-4007.
There are several educational panels and events planned for the Phoenix Comicon that range from “Huh, that sounds pretty cool” to “Wow, that sounds sort of weird but also possibly fun.” Here’s where to be and when.
3:30 p.m. Saturday: “Gothic Lolita Tea Party,” a string of words you probably didn’t expect to see, is an outdoor event with people dressed up in the Japanese “exotic gothic lolita” fashion.
8 p.m. Saturday: Johnny Yong Bosch, who’s the voice of main character Vash on the “Trigun” anime, will perform with his band, Eyeshine.
10:30 p.m. Saturday: A dance at a comic book convention? It sounds, let’s be honest, potentially very awkward, but could also be a good time.
5 p.m. Sunday: The con ends with a judged “masquerade” costume contest, where you can dress up as anyone from Wonder Woman to one of the Smurfs.
Comicon guest list
Comic book writers and artists can move undetected through society most of the year, but at comic conventions they’re treated like rock stars. Here’s a few of the more than three dozen pros who will be in attendance.
Steve Niles: Horror comics scribe recently started production company Raw Entertainment with actor Thomas Jane.
M. Alice LeGrow: American who writes and draws the series “Bizenghast” is one of manga's few non-Japanese artists.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Has inked and co-written several Marvel and DC comics along with his writing partner Justin Gray.
Joshua Blaylock: Indie comic book creator started Devil’s Due Publishing and landed the rights to “G.I. Joe” and “Family Guy.”