One convention that has garnered its fair share of recent social media chatter – for better and for worse – is the second event under the newly-minted ACE UNIVERSE banner, ACE Comic Con Arizona (13th-15th January), under the auspices of brothers Gareb and Stephen Shamus, formerly of Wizard World and now out on their own with this new venture. The brothers had already set out their stall with the inaugural ACE show in Long Island back in December and fans were prepared to forgive any teething problems for this fresh, bouncing baby comic convention – however, the Shamus’ (Shamusus? Shamaii? Shamu!!) aren’t exactly green-gilled at all of this and surely they and their team could have ironed out those issues by Round Two… right?
AEISD follower and brand new blogger, Gabriela T, starting out on her own fresh new path with her excellently presented AT THE CRUX site, went to both events and, after her experiences of this second ACE convention, she’s posted about her experiences, breaking her take on the show down into THE GREAT, THE GOOD and THE BAD – she’s very kindly allowed us to reprint her post, here. Enjoy! (And then go visit AT THE CRUX for yourselves – it’s a great read…!)
GABRIELA T: If ACE Comic Con Long Island was DC’s DANCING WITH THE STARS then Marvel made sure to catch up with their own season in sunny Arizona this past weekend of January 13-15. ACE 2.0 was the indisputable winner when it came to location (quite a nice break from subzero weather in the East Coast), but did Arizona deliver and improve upon Long Island’s shortcomings? Join me as I recap the craziest 24 hours of my life!
Because I somewhat specialise in impulsive life decisions, I thought it’d be a great idea to leave JFK at 6:00 am, land in Arizona at 10:00 am, hop on a plane back to New York at 11:00 pm, and land in JFK at 5:30 am. All for the sake of seizing the day (and saving whatever pennies I had for San Diego Comic-Con and graduate school – ambitious, huh?)
Following 2016’s 21-hour trek from Newark to Kuala Lumpur, I thought I’d grown immune to red-eye trips. Clearly, I overlooked that there’s a big difference between sleeping on a 6 hour vs 14 hour flight. We arrived an hour early, (9:00 am Phoenix time), and instead of heading straight to the Gila River Arena, I stopped at a Panda Express for some food – nothing like Chinese takeout at 9:30 am to fill an empty stomach.
I continued reading Krysten Ritter‘s debut novel, BONFIRE (a fun and surprisingly dark book) until the clock struck 10:00 am. I fired up Lyft and my driver was Albert, a great Phoenix native with whom I discussed comic books and superheroes. He was a delight to talk to as I took in the sunny Phoenix landscape. Thirty minutes later, we made it to the arena.
THE GREAT: CELEBRITIES
Because they, alongside convention attendees, are the best part of going to a convention. Since I was at ACE for such a brief time, I was unable to really get to know many fellow pop culture fans. There was one sweet girl I met while in line for Tom Holland, and we chatted away about why we’d gone to ACE and other conventions we’d been to. She was quite the veteran! I also met a nice guy from Texas, who taught me a lot about comic book grading and autograph certification.
I also ran into the Marvel photographer who took great pictures of my friends and I at New York Comic Con – he said we were the happiest winners he’d seen all day! He even took several pictures of me on stage when it was time to meet The Runaways cast, and promised to send me all the photos he took of us! What a small world, huh?
My first photo op was at 3:30pm with TOM HOLLAND, the Amazing Spider-Man himself! He was as sweet and hilarious as you can expect him to be.
Next up was the most nerve-wracking moment of the day: the Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan dual photo op at 5:00pm! I’d only felt that nervous when meeting HENRY CAVILL last month, and my brain went crazy thinking of what to tell both of them during such as brief period of time. In spite of my hammering heart, I was able to muster quick words of appreciation, and I floated to heaven when both of these wonderful men hugged me and thanked me for my time.
Following Captain America and Winter Soldier came the man himself, Stan Lee, at 5:15pm! He’s one sturdy 95-year old to be able to brave this crowd of thousands! I briefly mentioned my time working with him at New York Comic Con in 2016, and thanked him, on behalf of my friends and I, for how he has helped change the comic book world and motivated us to believe in our imagination. Then, the best thing happened: I made him laugh and smile! I can officially add this to my list of accomplishments.
The last photo op was at 5:50 pm with someone who doesn’t get as much love as he should: Anthony Mackie, aka Sam Wilson aka Falcon! He was a sweet and personable guy, and he gave me such a great hug! Just look at the picture and tell me you don’t wish for someone to bear-hug you like that right now! All in all, pretty much my entire nerdy celebrity bucket list has been fulfilled, and I’d like to thank ACE for giving me the opportunity to meet several of my idols and favorite people in the span of a month. The lines were slightly better this time around (in terms of somewhat sticking to schedule), but not entirely so. Read on and find out why!
THE GREAT: VENUE
While I still insist that holding a comic con in an arena isn’t a wise choice, the Gila River Arena was beautiful. It was bigger than the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and there was a mini plaza with gorgeous water fountains and several restaurants surrounding it. They had more food stands, including a poutine kiosk! You’ve no idea how happy I was when I bit into those gravy-drizzled, cheese sprinkled fries! It’d been over six years since I’d last eaten them in Canada. I liked most of Arizona’s distribution better than Long Island’s, but there were still a few hiccups, which I’ll address later on.
THE GREAT: VENDORS / PEOPLE
I was moved to buy more stuff at this ACE than at Long Island. I bought an Infinity Gauntlet replica and a handmade Baby Groot (complete with flowerpot!) from a sculptor who hand makes all of the props in his shop. He had a number of beautiful Captain America shields – however, the price tag was a bit too hefty, and I couldn’t afford to buy one. I’ll see if I can find his information so I can share it with you!
I was also happy to finally shop at HERO WITHIN, a clothing brand founded by Tony Kim, one of my favorite bloggers and founder of Crazy 4 Comic Con! (AEISD: Ahh, yes… we’re aware of his work!) HERO WITHIN focuses on creating high quality pieces that manifest the wearer’s love for comics, without compromising classiness. They sell a number of button up shirts, blazers and jackets for guys, and cardigans, tops and dresses for the ladies. I bought their two beautiful, crazy soft Batman and Wonder Woman tops – by far my favorite comic book shirts! The fabric feels incredible, and the fit’s very flattering, contrary to what happens with most comic book related clothing for women.
Props to Tony, it was great to meet you, and I look forward to seeing you again at San Diego!
THE GOOD: PROGRAMMING
The moment Anthony talked about the time he walked into Dave Bautista, teaching Tom Holland how to fight, was one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard! The CAPTAIN AMERICA cast panel started a bit late, but was fantastic. Chris, Sebastian and Anthony have such great chemistry with each other, and their excitement for INFINITY WAR was contagious! May can’t come soon enough.
Because of my crazy photo op schedule, I couldn’t go to all of the panels I wanted to. Hence, Stan Lee’s panel with Todd McFarlane became one of my favorite convention memories ever. I’ll let the videos do the talking, but hearing a legend like himself speak about his seventy-plus years in the industry, as well as the importance of being a role model for succeeding generations, was a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you’ve read the news, you’ll understand the additional importance of why Stan talked about this. I was also happy to make it to the Cosplay Contest – shout out to THOR: RAGNAROK Hulk and Hawkgirl! It’s amazing to see how talented, patient, and dedicated people are to their craft.
THE GOOD: CONVENTION STAFF
I don’t know if this was just my experience, but I found this ACE’s volunteers and staff to be more available and nicer than they were in Long Island. They were incredibly accommodating of my schedule, and instead of making me undergo the crazy metal detector lines after exiting each photo op, they allowed me to hop right into the next line, at times ahead of other people because I had to leave quickly. Most of them knew exactly where everything was, and some of the staff even escorted me through a somewhat secret passage in the arena so I could avoid the crowds en route to the photo op area.
THE BAD: LINE-MAGGEDON!
If there’s one thing you hope a convention will always improve upon, it’s lines. However, can you believe me when I tell you the lines were worse this time around? No, I didn’t have to wait an hour because someone was late, but I did get into the convention an hour after I was supposed to. General Admission entry was delayed because of the amount of people in the VIP categories.
As a side note, I can’t stress enough that the whole point of a VIP package is lost if it’s sold to too many people. In order for experiences of this sort to work, their prices must be increased, they need to be sold to a limited amount of attendees, and the perks need to be improved (such as having an actual conversation with the celebrity you’ve dreamed of meeting.)
Like in Long Island, VIP packages were oversold, and those who purchased were annoyed because of how long they had to wait for everything. Additionally, there wasn’t a separate area for photo ops, unlike in Long Island. The way they set it up, the metal detectors were at one end of the vendor floor, so you’d have the photo op lines snaking throughout the already small show floor, making shopping and foot traffic nearly impossible.
The autograph situation didn’t improve either. In Long Island, there was at least more space for attendees to line up for said booths, where they were separated from vendors by a considerable amount of space and curtains. However, in Arizona, autograph booths were located directly across from vendors. Already narrow hallways became critically bottle-necked due to people queuing up for their autographs and attendees who simply tried to get by, forming rightfully annoyed mobs.
THE BAD: SCHEDULING
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the only two panels and cosplay competition I went to. My problem was that, because of ACE’s lack of planning and apparent lack of consideration for vendors and artists, a good number of panels had to be cancelled. There was one in particular I was excited about, titled “Branding Your Passion.” This interesting panel was meant to address how to transform your passion into either a business or something tangible. I headed over there after my photo op, thinking it’d be a great way to spend time until my next celebrity encounter. I’m walking into the cozy Lounge, expecting to find the panellists and several seated attendees…
…only to find absolutely no one except for the convention staff. They eventually apologised to me and said the panel had been cancelled because no one showed up.
Here’s my problem with this type of convention: don’t schedule panels and waste guests’ time if you know your plans revolve around your spotlight celebrities. Even though the advertised talent is the highlight of the event, it still disrespectful for the hardworking and talented people who set time aside to try and give back to the fan community. One reason I didn’t like Arizona as much as Long Island is because there were several haughty remarks I heard from a number of attendees (“Do you want to check out anything else?”, “No, we already took our photos, there’s nothing else to look at”). Clearly, they only cared about the celebrities they’d meet instead of the medium these actors and actresses help celebrate. They scoffed and made fun of some of the people dressed in costumes, rolled their eyes and looked disinterestedly at the creators stationed in the Artist Alley, and condescendingly clicked their heels (no, they weren’t part of a cosplay, and yes, heels at a comic con) past comic book vendors without as much as a passing glance.
I’m not going to lie, it hurt to see this type of behaviour. For years now, comic book conventions have long been home to an immensely warm and welcoming community, one that for years was unjustly cast to the sidelines because of the lack of appeal of the superhero genre. It took for us to reach the early 21st century, which marked the beginning of the X-MEN franchise, Nolan’s BATMAN trilogy, and the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the wider populace to become mildly interested in the stories others have followed for years. I don’t have a problem with those who only follow the movies – I used to be like that until last year, and then grew to appreciate the medium they were based on. I do, however, have a problem with those who only care about a celebrity’s good looks, and don’t appreciate the work they do to bring inspirational, life-changing characters to life.
GABRIELA’S FINAL THOUGHTS
While meeting some of my favorite creators and actors was an unforgettable experience, I hope ACE takes a note from their cancelled panels, and think more seriously about how to genuinely celebrate the comic book artists and creators thanks to whom they’re in business in the first place.
Thanks so much to Gabriela for allowing us to reprint this post – she’s a cracking writer, just starting out on this new adventure so please do visit her site, AT THE CRUX, for more great content (including a fascinating look into the United Nations Young Professionals Programme). And go follow and tell her we said hi at her Twitter at @Gaby19th.