Spilling Ink: Phoenix Fan Fusion Review 2019

Fantasy Conventions come in all shapes and sizes, offering everything from: panels, workshops, celebrity appearances, vendors, performances, and so much more!

For me, summer is convention season. I know conventions happen all year long, but being a mom, my life tends to revolve around the free schedule time of school break. From that moment until the kids return in August, I do my best to pack in as many events as I can, sometimes employing the minions to help sell some books. So when I attend these events, it’s usually as press, vendor, and occasionally (when the stars align) as an official guest. Keep that in mind as I post further reviews of summer 2019 convention season.

The official convention, for me, that opens the summer season is, Phoenix Fan Fusion, formerly Phoenix Comic Con and Phoenix Fan Fest. (I know…. Too many names. You can thank SDCC for that.) This 4-day convention is held annually at the Phoenix Convention Center on Memorial Day Weekend. It’s the largest pop culture convention in Arizona (to my knowledge) and does what it says on the tin: Fuse together members of all fandoms.

What impresses me, as an attending author and vendor, about this convention is the fact it goes beyond catering to comic and movie fandoms. PhxFF also includes a healthy dose of writers in its stable of creative celebrities. From panels on craft and storytelling to special meet and greet, signing opportunities for writers, there is a definite appreciation for fantasy writers. And that’s one of the reasons I’ve made sure to keep this event on my “must go” list every year.

It’s not without its issues, however. Square Egg, the company that runs this event has had shakeups in the last few years, and the ripple effects are still being felt, not just from a vendor standpoint, con-goers have also reported more than a few issues over the last couple of years.

It started in 2017 when a gunman made it past security, intending to target one of the guests. He was, thankfully caught before anything bad happened, but as someone who was there, I can tell you that is exactly where the trouble began. Tightened security led to fans being left out in the Arizona heat for hours waiting in security lines to get in. Props were universally banned for attendees as well as vendors, causing more than one to pack up and leave along with many of those attendees standing in the summer heat. As a guest that year I was busy with a full panel schedule and didn’t have much time to sell my books, but I was very well aware of the rumbling from other vendors about flat-lining sales and questions on whether the event would be worth returning to the following year. 2018 should have made for a great comeback for Square Egg, but they failed to account for the previous year’s issues causing con-goers to loose faith. That combined with higher prices and continuing issues with security meant they just couldn’t regain the momentum they needed to fully recover. Following their lackluster showing in 2018 Square Egg was forced to cancel other shows they’d planned in Las Vegas, as well as their Fall appearance at the Phx convention center. Many employees at Square Egg were laid off as a result, some of whom I had come to call friend, and had been my contact for the annual summer event. I’ll be honest, I had serious questions about whether 2019 Fan Fusion was going to be worthwhile to booth. As a vendor, no matter how much I love the event, the first thing I have to consider is whether I will make my table fee.

The people at Square Egg seemed to understand that point and brilliantly held back their traditional price increases, keeping their booth fees down at previous year’s levels, which helped to entice my group, The League of Fantasy Authors, to return.

After suffering through two years of security issues, that was my first concern when arriving at load in. Being a vendor, I have a lot of material to bring in, not just books to sell, but materials to build my booth. I try to get everything in during that first loading day, but occasionally I need to bring things in each day (especially when I cosplay at the booth). The security area this year was noticeably beefed up, as it had been the year before including: bag checks (every pocket, every zipper), metal detectors, and a security guard to wand you after walking through the metal detector. For those who got in early (before the show floor opened), and didn’t leave at all during the day, it was manageable. But, if you attempted to get through during any active show time… can we say bottleneck?

Thankfully the weather was on our side this year. I can’t fault Square Egg too much for this as they have to follow local law as well as Phoenix Convention Center rules for covering entrances and exits. That said, this is the only event where I, as a vendor, have had to go through more security than TSA before entering a convention I paid to sell my wares at.

Beyond that little annoyance, there was another questionable change to the convention. Admittedly, I probably felt this one more than most. I’m an author, have I mentioned that? Sometimes I get to attend this convention as a guest author, but most times I’m a vendor who participates in creative writing panels. I’m happy to do either, it’s all excellent exposure. Typically on the vendor floor, there is an area designated as Authors’ Alley. It’s an offshoot of Artist Alley and houses the guest author booths as well as booths like Changing Hands bookstore, and various Big5 publisher booths. It’s a great place to meet and greet, or hang out with some of the wonderful people who write (many of them, local talent). This year, the authors were shifted to the third floor along with Changing Hands (no publisher booths this year) and while it made room for a longer Artist Alley, it further divided the sales floor from what draws most people to the convention, the guests.

Every convention has vendors. We’re not that special. I mean, we are the lifeblood of the convention, but we’re not why people pay VIP ticket prices. Having your “draws” in a variety of areas keeps traffic flowing. This year there was a noticeable change in traffic patterns. With all the guests, cosplayers, photo ops, and celebrities on the 3rd floor, the event felt lopsided. Yes, people still came down to the basement level vendor hall, but they had much more reason to linger upstairs. Something I hope Square Egg addresses in the future.

To use a phrase I wish I could claim as my own, (credit goes to another vendor I spoke with), “We don’t want Walmart-ization at Comicon.” I agree wholeheartedly. You need to spread your points of interest far and wide so you encourage people to wander. You want them to spend as much time as possible exploring every inch of the event, eager to see what’s around the next corner. When you create specific departments you eliminate that need to explore and create bottlenecks and barren wastelands. Third time’s the charm? Something else for Square Egg to address.

I don’t want to come off as a Debby Downer, other than those two issues, PhxFF was a lot of fun. As always, Arizona knows how to do cosplay right. The people that attend these events are true fans who love to show off their passion for all things fantasy. As for myself, it’s what I like to call, my working vacation. The place where I can geek out with the best of them and share my creativity as well as my fandom spirit. I spoke on panels about Star Trek, Writing Apocalyptic fiction, and debated on how much Science is needed in Sci-Fi. The after hours events were a treat, as always, my favorite being Drinks with Creators, hosted by the wonderful people of Kids Need to Read. And as a vendor, I can confidently say I made back my table fees, so it was worth having a booth, and the League of Fantasy Authors plan to return again for 2020. I have faith that Square Egg truly wants to make this event the best and that they are working toward that goal.

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