Once again, I made the trek to Phoenix, Arizona for the annual Amazing Arizona Comic Convention (AACC). After having a great time there in 2012, I had very high hopes for this show.
These hopes were made even greater by the announcement that AACC was making the move from the small confines of Mesa, AZ to the much more spacious accommodations of the Phoenix Convention Center.
Although I really enjoyed the setting of Mesa, it was obvious that the show had quickly outgrown that setting. In fact, it was right here, a year ago, that I wrote the following:
…it will be interesting to see what happens with location and AACC. The convention center floor was packed this year and it seems like the show could grow into a larger site already. AACC will have some major choices to make in 2013 and2014, as they continue to grow, yet fight to keep that family feel.
A major challenge that growing cons face is the adjustment of growing the show, while not losing the intimacy that often made the show successful in the first place. I’m happy to report that AACC was able to walk the line quite well and kept a great energy on the floor while, at the same time, increasing the scope of the show to include over 300 vendors. That being said, the facilities still seemed to have difficulty keeping up with the crowds. There were few food options and far too few seating areas in the show. Now that the show has grown into its new home I am sure that we’ll see these addressed next year. One thing that AACC is known for is taking into consideration the fan experience on all fronts.
As expected from a “Jimmy Jay Show,” there was an extreme focus on keeping comics at the front. The highlight of the show was, once again, the amount and quality of comic creators on-hand. Over the weekend I was able to see and converse with favorite writers and artists such as Brian Buccellato, Josh Fialkov, Kyle Higgins, John Layman and Scott Lobdell. Each of them were amazingly kind and all participated in panels. There was also a surprise appearance via Skype of Scott Snyder to discuss all the details of his work on Batman. Last year Robert Kirkman was the headliner and this year AACC brought one of the few comic creators that could rival such star power-Jim Lee.
Jim Lee’s presence brought about some extremes of emotions. To frame the changes from last year, I’ll include a small piece from the best signing experience I’ve ever had at a comic convention:
“Whereas a Kirkman line at SDCC takes hours (and doesn’t always guarantee an actual encounter), we waited only 15 minutes at AACC. Part of this was because of the smaller show and part of this was because the show organizers were smart to group the attendees into different intervals of time. In the end, we barely waited any time at all for him AND we got his autograph on a ton of comics (they didn’t impose any limit on the number of autographs) AND we got photos AND we had time to speak with him about his panel at the Paley Center last year.”
The experience this year was far different with Jim Lee. Although Lee was very kind to supply sketches to some fans, this lead to some really difficult situations. At out particular signing, we waited four hours and never were able to get in front of Lee. What made this more difficult is the fact that there were no more than 30 regular attendees in line in front of us. Unfortunately, in front of that line was what appeared to be around 60 VIP attendees (people that paid a higher price for the benefits). Lee spent so long with the VIPs that there was little time left for regular attendees. There was an offer made to allow us to come back after his panel to get to the front of the line for a later signing, but at this point we couldn’t invest another two hours into this process. We ended up handing our books over to a volunteer to have signed for us. What made this even more disappointing is that there were several attendees that cut the line. In the end we would have never made it to the front within the four hours because of the great number of VIPs, but it was bothersome nonetheless. The problems with Lee continued as we were later cleared out of a panel at its end to make room for those waiting to see Jim Lee. We couldn’t find it written anywhere that rooms would be cleared in-between panels and there were many that were upset about being asked to leave the room. The important thing to note here is not some of the logistical problems that were apparent, but rather the fact that all growing shows have challenges in these areas. The most common complaints I here from con attendees are related to dealing with large masses of attendees that caught the show by surprise. Shows need time to grow and when they grow at such quick rates there will be complications. Similar to Stan Lee’s Comikaze in late 2012, the magnitude of guests was a bit overwhelming. This tells me that there are some very exciting days ahead for both of these cons. Despite the problems with Lee, I have no doubt that next year we’ll see these concerns addressed. AACC is organized by smart people that have a nose for cons. The process for Kirkman in 2012 was brilliant and I’m sure we’ll see something similar in the future. It was clear that this year there was too much focus placed on the VIP experience and although they pay a pretty penny they are not the lifeblood of a con. I’m sure AACC 2014 will walk the line to give all attendees the best experience possible.
Although last year’s AACC had an awesome amount of creativity, this year it was taken to another level of prominence. Although there were comics everywhere, there was also a large amount of original work. Handmade buttons, purses and murals were in great abundance. Of course the art wasn’t limited to items that could be purchased. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been to a show that had such a strong cosplay element. Costumes ranged from the sexy to the funny (and with lots in-between) which offered attendees non-stop opportunities for photos.
For those thinking about making the trip next year, make it a priority. The show is filled with fun opportunities from open to close. In fact, the normal dull of Sunday afternoon was nowhere to be found. In fact, it was quite the opposite as there was a longer line to get in to the show at 2 PM than many shows have at open Friday night. I know there were a lot of happy vendors that were reaping profits from Saturday morning on because of the strong turnout. Simply put, if you are a comic or art fan this is a great show for you. As for me, I’ll be watching www.amazingarizonacomiccon.com for info on the 2014 show. This show is on the precipice of making a move to become a major player on the con-scene. The combination of the strong comic community in Phoenix and the smart organizers of this show spell a very bright future for AACC. If you are interested in learning more about this show or others, feel free to tweet me: @The_Con_Fluence.