For the last 4 years, I’ve had a blast attending the best comic convention nobody talks about.
Phoenix Comicon brought in over 70,000 visitors last year. Which is impressive seeing how that’s 70 thousand people willing to come to the heart of Phoenix at one of the hottest times of the year.
This growth is starting to take notice outside of just the hardcore “geeks and nerds” and more and more “normal” people are attending as a result. I’ve seen this increase in interest in my own personal circles regardless of any effort on my end to get the word out.
However, for a first timer the convention can seem a bit overwhelming, so I thought I’d share a few tips based on my experience over the years.
#1 Use Lightrail or Purchase Parking Online Ahead of Time
The convention is in downtown Phoenix so driving up and finding parking the day of is practically impossible. So you have a couple options. First, if you’re coming from the East Valley, the light rail is a great option for getting to the convention. There is an exit on 3rd St and Washington that takes you right up to the convention center.
Your second option is to pick up an all day parking pass online. The Phoenix Comicon website has a great selection of places to purchase parking from online ahead of time.
#2 Get a Hotel…It’s Worth It.
If you plan ahead, you can get a hotel room at the Hyatt, Shertaon or Renaissance which are all rather close to the convention center. These are very close to the convention center and add a ton more convenience if you have access to one.
Why is this such a highly recommended tip? Well, if you’re like me, you’re probably going to want to have a place to keep your stuff. Maybe you bought a couple books at the convention floor, or a neat poster, or some actual comics. You’re not going to like lugging everything around all day and it’s nice to have a place you can take a break as the day unfolds
Secondly, many of the best events of the convention occur in the evening. Most people miss them since they want to get home on the light rail and don’t want to be up till midnight, only to wake up early the next day to get back to the convention center.
Third, if you have kids or a wife, they’ll have a much better experience overall if they can have some place to rest when they get tired in the afternoon.
I know the hotel can seem pricey, but you can room up with some people and split the cost to make it rather affordable. Most of the rooms are around $125 a night.
These are very nice hotels you’ll be staying at and they don’t let you down. The atmosphere alone is amazing as you see cosplayers filling the halls and Star Wars themes playing in the lobbies. The Hyatt even has a decked out floor for tons of tabletop gaming that will be happening all throughout the convention this year.
#3 Budget for Food and Save by Tracking Down Phoenix Help Guides
Prepare to spend some money on food at the convention. There are plenty of options for eating, but the prices in the convention center itself are pretty expensive $10 plus.
If you want to save some money you can bring your own food…again another reason the hotel is worth the investment. Or you can look out for the Phoenix help guides in orange and see what coupons they have available. Most years we can find a great 2 for 1 coupon at Subway close by to help save some money.
Also, there are some amazing food trucks on the grounds now and the prices there are fair.
Prepare to drink a lot. The drinks in the convention center are expensive, so either plan on lots of refills from the convention center food courts or pack some water bottles and snacks in a backpack to bring with you.
#4 Plan Ahead What Panels You Want to Attend
I highly recommend you sit with your group and create a “Conquest” on Phoenix Comicon’s Website for what panels you want to attend.
It’s a quick process where you just set up a login then go to their programming page and select the panels that interest you. Plus if you do this, you can download the Phoenix Comicon App to pull up your “Conquest” on your phone at the convention center.
Here are a few of the events I highly recommend any first timer to try out.
Phoenix Ultimate Geek SmackDown: Thursday 7:30PM – 8:30pm and Friday 7:30pm-8:30Pm
This has always been a funny event and the competition is fierce. Plus, last time I went we sat three seats away from Wil Wheaton. You never know who will show up.
The contestants apply for the opportunity to compete so many of the weaker debaters have already been weeded out.
Masquerade: Saturday 8:30pm
This is the big event where the cosplayers compete for the prize of best costume. The host is entertaining and the costumes are quite impressive every time I’ve attended. The contestants often prepare a whole year for the five minutes they get to perform on stage.
Worth seeing if you’ve never been to this before.
Danielle Panabaker: Sunday 1:30 – 2:30pm
Flash has been one of my favorite pop culture shows this season and Danielle seems like a great guest to hear from. The panels are always entertaining even if you don’t really consider yourself a fan of their work.
Last year Nathan Fillion gave out 20 watches to people who asked him questions. Carey Elwes hugged like a billion people before convention security stopped it. Attend one of these panels and I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Alyson Hannigan: Saturday 3:00 – 4:00pm
Whether you know her from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or How I Met Your Mother, Alyson should be one of the more entertaining panels to attend this year. She doesn’t usually hit the convention circuit so take advantage of this opportunity to ask her questions and hear about her behind the scenes moments.
Christopher Lloyd: Sunday 10:30 AM
Other Notable Guests:
- Charisma Carpenter: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- David Morrissey: The Governor from The Walking Dead
- Edward James Olmos: Admiral Adama on Battlestar Galactica
- Jason Isaacs: Lucius Malfoy on Harry Potter
- Jason Mamoa: Nonon Dex on Stargate Atlantis, Game of Thrones, and upcoming Aquaman.
- Karl Urban: Hobbit and Judge Dredd
- Katee Sackhoff: Starbuck Battlestar Galactica
- Max Brooks: Author of World War Z
- Michael Shanks: Stargate SG-1
- Ron Perlman: Hellboy
- Summer Glau: River from Firefly
PBS Digital Studios D7D and Q&A: Saturday 6:00pm
You meet a group of travelers at the tavern in town, on the edge of the woods, in a land of great magic and adventure. The travelers are weary, having traveled from lands as distant as Austin, Texas. But they are no-less prepared for glory and honor! They are also the hosts and producers of PBS Digital Studios’ YouTube Shows! Join DM Mike Rugnetta of PBS Idea Channel and fellow PBS Digital Studios hosts Joe Hanson (It’s Okay to be Smart) and Jamin Warren (PBS Game/Show) on a quest to vanquish a knowledge-hating evil entity. As our intrepid party makes their way around town and into the murky depths of some enchanted Realm Which Has Been Forgotten, the audience will be invited to participate as townspeople, nosey kobols and other question-asking NPCs. There may or may not be funny hats involved.
Spotlight: Jim Steranko Saturday 12pm
It wouldn’t be appropriate not to list a comic panel for a comic convention. This year Stan Lee isn’t attending, but there still is a fascinating guest most nobody has heard about, but should. I first heard about Jim after reading Marvel Comics the Untold Story and was immediately blown away by how interesting this guy was. Go check out his Wikipedia to see what I mean.
First of all, as a teen he spent his summers working at circuses and carnivals as a magician, fire eater, and bed of nails performer. He was hired on at Marvel at a young age and grew through the company working closely with Stan Lee. He was most known for his work with Nick Fury and bringing pop art into comics.
Should be an entertaining panel.
#5 Bring Some Spending Money
I didn’t know what to expect the first time I brought my wife to Comicon. I was worried it would be “too out” there for her. But as soon as she saw all the awesome things you could shop for on the floor, she was sold.
The convention has tons of great things to check out and buy. You’ll find a wide variety of t-shirts, bags, board games, jewlery, art, toys, comics, books, and more. It’s a really fun experience just looking as well.
#6 Relax With Some Board Games
The second floor of the Hyatt is dedicated to table top gaming. My first year attending the convention I think I spent my whole Saturday just playing games. I also met Boyon, the producer of TableTop before it was created and totally snubbed his recommendation to try Ascension over Thunderstone. Woops, my bad.
But seriously, this is one of the highlights of the convention and worth checking out. You don’t have to schedule ahead of time, just go to the Hyatt and see what games are being demoed. Try something new with your friends, you never know what you might end up liking.
#7 Wear Comfortable Shoes…No Sandals
Nothing can kill your convention experience than destroying your feet with all the walking you’ll be doing. I’ve paid the price of wearing sandals my first night and feeling it the following couple of days.
Don’t make the same mistake.
#8 Miscellaneous Advice
The tips above should help immensely, but in case you’re still interested. Here are a few other tips I recommend.
- Find a piece of comic art you like then have it signed by the various creators attending the convention. (This is my main souvenir each year.)
- Go with a friend. The convention is fun solo, but way better with a friend. Also note, you don’t have to be a huge nerd to have fun at the convention. There are so many interesting things to buy, see, and hear at the panels that almost anyone these days would be shocked not to have fun.
- Bring some power sticks for your phone. With all the pictures you’ll want to take, coordinating through texts with the group, and entertaining yourself while you wait for a panel to begin – your phone battery will die quickly. Having an easy way to recharge your phone halfway through the day will make for a much happier experience.
- Bring a comfy bag. You’re going to want to have snacks, water, and entertainment with you as you explore the convention. Having a nice large bag that’s comfortable to carry will make your day easier.
- If you come back next year. Buy your passes in the winter. Usually around December or January the Comicon opens up registration for passes. If you buy then your passes will be about half as much as if you wait till the day of the convention to buy your pass. Same goes for hotel reservations. You’ll want to make those as soon as you find out the date for the following year’s comicon. The Hyatt fills up immediately.
Anything I Missed?
I’m sure others have their own advice to share. If I missed anything, feel free to add it in the comments below.