Well, it's taken me a week to sort through my thoughts, but here's a more detailed convention report on the Phoenix Comicon over Memorial Day weekend. (My apologies for the relative lack of pictures -- I'm very much an introvert when it comes to asking total strangers for the picture, despite how cool their costumes might be.)
To explain my perspective, I should probably point out that I'm a lifelong Californian with over a decade of exhibiting with CCAS at the San Diego Comic-Con, which tends to leave me jaded as far as conventions are concerned. I've never been to Arizona or the Phoenix Comicon prior to this one.
The travel from So.Cal. to Phoenix, Arizona was surprisingly easy. The logistics of traffic, the hotel, and navigating downtown Phoenix was much easier than my comparable experiences in San Diego. (And far more affordable too: the costs of the hotel and parking fees for our entire four-day Phoenix convention ended up costing less than one night at San Diego. Ouch.) The drive ended up much quicker and easier than the times I've driven north to the San Fransisco Wondercon. As the Bing Map site said, I just had to drive down my street to the freeway, turn right at the onramp, and then keep straight… for 300 miles or so. ;)
The main thing I had to get used to there was obviously the heat and lack of humidity, but I also had to get used to the friendliness of people at the convention and hotel. I'm definitely not used to strangers striking up conversations in parking lots or standing in line, asking how our day is going, how we're liking our trip, etc. It was hard to remind myself to respond with a smile, rather than with a typical paranoid Californian response of "Who are you? Why are you talking to me? What do you want? I don't have any money. Security! Security!"
We had a full booth in the exhibit hall this year, rather than just a small press table. The booth space was split between one corner highlighting the nonprofit evangelism of the Christian Comic Arts Society and one corner highlighting the independent publishing studio of New Creaton Now, a "co-sponsored" booth arrangement made easier by the fact that the team of volunteers for this year's show (myself, Ralph Miley and Don Ensign) are involved in both groups.
Our table was divided into three sections: a showcase of Christian comics from various publishers (including the fan favorites of the Action Bible, Buzz Dixon's Serenity, and Lisa Hutchinson's Shelter of Wings); a "freebie" section of evangelistic comics and tracts to be given away (including Eric Jansen's mini-comics from Foursquare Missions Press); and a "signing area" where the three of us from NCN could talk with fans and sign copies of Proverbs & Parables, New Crew, Ragged Capes, Faith-Walker, the New Visions Anthology, etc.
The convention center itself is obviously smaller than the one used in San Diego, but it was much better organized and easier to navigate. The exhibit hall was primarily retailers, fan groups, and independent creators; there were very few publishers or studios at the Phoenix show. It's not a show to go to if your primary goal is shopping or grabbing free promotional swag. The convention's appeal lies in the general atmosphere and mood of the show rather than the size of the exhibit hall. I saw something there all four days of the show that I very rarely see at the San Diego Con anymore: smiling faces and crowds of families, kids, and young teens. At the shows which have become multimedia extravaganzas, I can spend a whole day seeing nothing but densely packed crowds of short-tempered people wearing a permanent scowl as they elbow their way for a place in line. It was a relaxing breath of fresh air to come to a convention where people seem to have come just to have fun.
Despite the "comicon" name, it seems obvious that this show has roots deep in anime fandom, with the related worlds of comics, sci-fi and fantasy grafted on after the fact. There's a huge number of kids and teenagers in costume, and for every one fan dressed as Batman or Spiderman, there's at least a dozen dressed as characters from Naruto, Pokemon, or Kingdom Hearts. The programming at the show seems pretty evenly split between anime/manga, sci-fi fantasy, and traditional comics -- and I thought it interesting that the focus of the panels seems more geared towards workshops for aspiring creators rather than just press releases of news about comics or anime.
We had a lot of great interaction with folks at the table, and did our best to be helpful and friendly to our neighboring exhibitors. As for attendees, we had a couple non-Christians stop by who were interested to find out what we were all about; there were also a few mockers who just laughed at the concept of Christian comics as they passed by, but nobody actually came forward pick a fight with us, which was good. (There was one lengthy theological argument Ralph had before the show opened while he was talking with another exhibitor, but I was back at our table then and missed the details.)
We met several Christians at the Con who were already fellow members of the CCAS website. It was great to meet people face to face who up until now were only names on a screen. We also with many Christians who stopped by to express surprise to discover "they're not the only ones".
A number of Christian families were there at the show, and included shellshocked parents with zero prior exposure to comics or conventions. We did our best to reassure them that there was more to their Christian spouse's or child's interest in the art of comics and animation than the extremes of zombie gore or hentai smut on display on other corners of the convention. We also met with lots of young aspiring artists there; we gave them information about CCAS and the online sites, so (Lord willing) we can continue to keep in touch and help encourage and train one another.
Don, Ralph and myself hosted a panel discussion talking about Christian comics in general and our work at New Creation Now in particular. It was a sparsely-attended panel, I think in large part because the write-up describing us in the convention programming guide was very vague. However, we still had a good discussion, with lots of good questions and answers with the audience. I was able to record the audio of the panel, and I’ll share a link to the MP3 file when it’s finally prepped and posted.
Most of my time was spent in ministry at the table; my few "fan" moments at the convention were in attending workshops for sci-fi/fantasy authors, and purchasing some rare Golden Age comics from the vendor across the aisle from us. All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable show, with some great moments of fellowship and ministry; it's a convention I definitely plan to return to in the years ahead.