Phoenix Comicon 14: Convention Report, Plus Deadpool
So Phoenix Comicon 14 happened last weekend! Despite the 105 degree heat and my air conditioner driven sinus issues, I had a really good time at PHXCC. It was my first time in Arizona, ever. I am so glad I braved the heat for this con.
Lots of things made PHXCC 14 a great experience : the hugs from John Barrowman and Manu Bennett, the great chat with Christian Beranek and Kelci Crawford, all the news from Dark Horse Comics, or discovering the Educating Geeks Podcast. If I had a “bucket list” a retweet from John Scalzi would be on it. And that happened too! PHXCC pushed all my geek buttons for sure.
One thing that I found refreshing at PHXCC was the floor size and attendance level. My local con, Emerald City Comicon, has doubled in size over the past few years. And, while I love ECCC, it is now a bit overwhelming and tough to see everything or get access to many of the creators or guests. But that is the lifecycle of pop culture conventions—soon everyone wants to go (because cons are awesome)! PHXCC programming is already spread throughout the convention center complex and into adjacent hotels. I expect if I return in a few years I will see an even bigger event than I attended last weekend. I loved the mix of vendors, artists, writers, local geek groups, and VIP guests at PHXCC.
Another thing I liked at PHXCC is the genre/interest area program tracks. Certain rooms are slated for interests: anime, horror, writers, comics, cosplay, etc. It was really handy for me to quickly find panels my areas of interest. The programming was also very diverse. It included your traditional geek panel discussions on geeky topics but also film screenings, tutorials and demos (from Krav Maga to costuming), spotlight panels, mixers, a wedding, haunted house, paintball, and after parties. There was Quidditch! There were awesome authors of novels, both big name and debut writers, not just comic writers. There was A LOT going on. And, it was AWESOME.
I had a few favorite panels. From here on out, this post gets pretty detailed. This list is a sampling of the programming offered and the only real common thread is my interest in all of them. Here’s my run down:
Is There Such a Person? Lovecraft’s Female Characters
Panelists: Alice Baker, Bri Valdivia, Cassandra Nicholson, and Philip Chang
This “Ladies of Lovecraft” panel with Educating Geeks was really fun and a great first panel selection for me. I had never heard of Educating Geeks before, but now that I know of them I kind of love what they do. Instead of feeling superior by playing a geek cred card, these geeks help us all explore those geek interests and passions we haven’t gotten around experiencing yet. This panel, recorded for their podcast, introduced Alice, Bri, and Cassie to the world of H.P. Lovecraft, which is Phil’s passion. Choosing to do this introduction through the female characters in The Dunwich Horror, Dreams in the Witch House, and The Thing on the Doorstep stories as well as the 1970 movie The Dunwich Horror (you know, I actually own this movie) and the Masters of Horror episode “Dreams in the Witch House” directed by Stuart Gordon was a brave choice. I mean, the works of Lovecraft lack the “strong” female characters or fair representations of minorities in general. However, Educating Geeks were up to the challenge. Being next to the haunted house with incessant screaming bleeding through the partition only added to the atmosphere!
I am a Lovecraft fan and am pretty familiar with his work. Listening to people just learning and a few very knowledgeable folks was really fun. Both novice and expert commentary provided me with new perspectives. I’m not sure the panelists will be reading more Lovecraft, but I think they had fun trying it on for a while. A podcast of this panel will be available on July 4th at the Educating Geeks site and you can hear all the discussion on your own. The panel closed with suggestions on making Lovecraft works into a drinking game! Suggestions included drinking at every hyphenated-adjective or when the world eldritch is used. Just those two rules are enough to get you tanked while reading Lovecraft.
Putting the Science in Science Fiction
Panelists: John Scalzi, L.E. Modesitt Jr, Phil Plait, and Ty Franck
This panel was in a pretty large room that included a dais platform with a runway. My husband commented that John Scalzi would surely use the runway at some point. Lo and behold, Scalzi did in fact walk the runway, mic in hand, crooning the first few lines of “Danke Schöen.” Then money exchanged hands. Scalzi won whatever wager has been made pre-panel. That was pretty fun, but now for the sci-fi talk.
Panelists kicked things off with a bit about how they developed an interest in science and how they use those experiences in their work. This led to a talk about when everyone hit the math wall (debunking that all guys can do math all the time). But the meat of the discussion revolved around how to include science and technological ideas effectively in your stories. Consistently applying technology was called out as a key component. For instance if you have a device that does this one thing that one time, surely that could be used again and has other applications that would affect the landscape in terms of society norms, technology, environment, and economics. It is essential to consider a holistic view of the science and tech in your world building as a writer. Modesitt pointed out that since we are a tool using society to be sure to not overlook the aspect of innovation and investment that comes along with new tools, or toys.
Scalzi pointed out that it is essential to get the science that we now know correct. To that end, Plait mentioned the Science & Entertainment Exchange that connects entertainment professionals to top scientists in order to incorporate the science we know into our entertainment media. So cool! As it turns out, using correct science is not limiting to a story like you might think. Having creators know what happens and consequences of natural disasters or science experiments gone wrong can actually offer more plot options than producers originally considered. Early on, Franck lamented how little science you had to include in your story before readers tag you as writing hard science fiction. But Modesitt insisted that writers should not write down to the audience and that what you write should seek to lift the reader up.
I only captured a few themes here unfortunately. This panel was great all around. Good interplay between the panelists that led to deeper discussion. So glad I did not oversleep and miss this panel!
Fred Van Lente Spotlight
Fred Van Lente is a busy guy: Conan, Brain Boy, and Project Black Sky web series. During Phoenix Comicon, Dark Horse announced Van Lente will have another ongoing series in their ranks come November 2014: Resurrectionists. He’s also got a successful Kickstarter up for production of a play King Kirby, about the life of Jack Kirby, among his other writing projects. I am amazed Van Lente had any free time to do this spotlight. The FVL panel was great with an overview of his career and funny stories about working at Marvel as well as turn of the century bicycle research.
I will post more about Fred Van Lente and Dark Horse announcements at Phoenix Comicon 14 in a separate article soon to come.
Anatomy of a Murder Investigation
Presenter: Sgt. Darren Burch, Phoenix Police Department and Silent Witness Program Coordinator
At this panel Sgt. Burch presents his investigation into a home invasion, murder, and sexual assault of an elderly couple of Phoenix in 1997. The panel was packed with people waiting outside to get in. And some did as a few people left the panel at various points—I assume in part due to the graphic nature of the material. But, it is entirely possible they left for other reasons. I consider myself pretty seasoned as far as crime and crime photos. But there is certainly a difference from watching CSI or NCIS and real life images. This panel was a shocking reminder of this distinction.
Sgt. Burch was very frank about procedure and the circumstances of the crime. He shared crime scene and autopsy photos along with details that provided him with a suspect methodology, since there were no fingerprints or DNA at the scene. He explained why he saw an organized killer that had almost certainly committed other crimes like this before. Burch told us elements of the crime that displayed excessive violence and a cognitive process of the perpetrator or, as Burch called him, monster. It took two years to make an identification and arrest in 1997 without many of the modern technology and databases we see on TV today. It was all very interesting really.
If I had any recommendations for Sgt. Burch in the future it would be to underscore not only the graphic nature of the autopsy photos, but also just the nature of the crime and images of the crime scene that could be a trigger for sexual assault survivors in the audience. This crime might not have been solved without the neighbor who heard moaning in the adjacent backyard and called 911. That neighbor gave this elderly couple a chance for survival and justice. As coordinator of the Silent Witness Program in Arizona, he stressed the need to be connected to your community and how it is the community that often has the information to aid detectives in their investigations. If you have a tip, report it.
Even with the heat, Phoenix Comicon was lots of fun. It truly seems like there is something for everyone. It is entirely possible that my husband and I could have spent our vacation in different programming rooms! At least we met up for a pic with Nathan Fillion.