Phoenix Fan Fusion returns this weekend to to the Phoenix Convention Center. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Fan Fusion)
Phoenix Fan Fusion may get a boost from ‘Avengers,’ ‘Games of Thrones’
What better lead-in can this year’s Phoenix Fan Fusion than a $1.2 billion opening weekend for Avengers: Endgame? The movie is on track to be, not only the biggest film this year, but the highest grossing movie of all time. Phoenicians can look forward to thousands of Spidermen and Black Widows infesting downtown. It is not winter; it is Phoenix Fan Fusion which is coming May 23-26, 2019 to the Phoenix Convention Center! Americans’ obsession with Avengers, Games of Thrones, Us and other fantasies is among several reasons that, after two years of declining attendance from its high of 106,000 in 2016, Phoenix Fan Fusion should rebound in 2019.
This convention that started out as a one-day networking event for a few hundred comic book fans in 2002 in Ahwatukee, Arizona, may just be going through normal growing pains. It has undergone management, location, name and format changes in 18 years. Square Egg Entertainment is the 16-year-old event management company that oversees the event here and in Minnesota. Facing infringement lawsuits from the largest comic book convention—San Diego Comic Con—the original, popular name of “Phoenix Comicon” was changed to “Phoenix Comic Fest” and then, this year’s Phoenix Fan Fusion. The cancellation of the smaller, annual November Phoenix Comic Fest in 2018 disappointed some fans.
The growing crowd necessitated venue changes through the years. The convention now occupies the entire Phoenix Convention Center and several of the downtown hotels. Arrest of an armed attendee in 2017 and fire marshal concerns have led to disruptions, unpopular dress code restrictions, and massive evacuations in the past. Changes in number of entrances, entry procedures and times have facilitated getting fans into the buildings. Sending out credentials in advance this year should also make entry to Fan Fusion less stressful than in the past.
This conference has been stressing inclusion in many ways. It touts strong no-harassment and cosplay policies, promotes LBGTQ-oriented events, and makes accommodations for people with disabilities. But, aside from having a few celebrities for photo and autograph opportunities, Phoenix Fan Fusion had never been very ethnically diverse. Progress was made in 2018, when the opening of Black Panther led to the inclusion of panels and activities featuring more African-Americans. With the continued success of Black Panther (seven Oscar nominations and three wins), the hinted-at ascension of Don Cheadle’s character—James Rhodes—from Avengers, the success of Jonathan Peele’s horror movies, along with the return live appearance of fan favorites like Billy Dee Williams Jr. to Fan Fusion, the crowds should be more diverse this year.
Phoenix Fan Fusion is an important boon to hotels, restaurants and the local economy on Memorial Day weekend, after the snowbirds and spring training fans have gone home. It is, also, great entertainment value for attendees, with only $85 for adults and $10 for kids under 12 (a reduction from last year) providing access to four days of exhibits, panel discussions, souvenir shopping, autograph and book signings, and workshops satisfying 20 tracks of fandom from anime to Harry Potter to table top games.
Baby boomers may get a kick out of meeting nostalgic stars like Pee Wee Herman and Star Trek’s Sulu. Meanwhile their grandkids can learn how to saber fight or play Pokémon Pictionary. Millennials can geek out over the first-time appearance of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (a.k.a. Jamie Lassiter in Game of Thrones).
Square Egg has made serious efforts to survey and respond to fans’ feedback, and this year, a streamlined registration process and lower prices should be attractive to fans and families, especially compared to prices of such conventions in other cities. All Arizonans and visitors, who shied away last year, should try it again this year; they might like it!