By now, we’re all aware of most of the drama coming out of Phoenix Comicon. The volunteer situation led to some other big concerns with staffing and security. The prop ban was controversial. Darth Mexican wrote a great review of the con from the general attendee’s point of view, but what was it like for a cosplayer this year? I want to fully explain what happened to my personal convention experience with all the changes. This may get a bit long, but I feel it is important to accurately communicate everything that happened with Phoenix Comicon, at least from my little personal bubble, to help add context to some of the feelings from the community.
For those unfamiliar, I am a cosplayer local to Arizona and go by the name Schrei205. I have been cosplaying since 2013, and I focus on costumes from World of Warcraft and League of Legends. I have won Best in Journeyman at Taiyou Con 2016 with my World of Warcraft Warrior Tier 8, third place Journeyman at Phoenix Comicon 2016 with my genderbend of Graves from League of Legends, and have participated in multiple Blizzcon cosplay contests.
The easiest way to do this is chronologically, and the adventure starts well before the con had opened its doors. The past two Phoenix Comicons, I had entered the masquerade, and I intended to do the same again this year. I was eagerly awaiting the sign-ups, and had even become so antsy that I sent a message to the official Facebook page on April 7th requesting info. They said they would post as soon as the sign ups were live(for reference, my emails
from last year with the coordinator for that year started on April 9th for a June 4th masquerade date.) The sign ups went live on April 18th, which I only found out because I posted on Facebook about how anxious I was for them and a friend informed me they were open. I checked the various social media sites for a post from Phoenix Comicon officially announcing their opening, as they had told me they would do, and there was nothing.
In addition to no announcement, there were also some drastic rule changes present with no context offered. Candidates were now required to have work in progress photos showing the costume at least 75% complete to be accepted into the masquerade, and these photos were to be “weighed heavily in the judging process.” There was never much clarity on when these pictures were due, or in what form. After submitting the registration on the website, an automatic response was sent stating, “Upon receipt of application, you will be contacted for photos of the costume\s to be worn.” I waited a week, and when I didn’t receive anything requesting my photos, I sent an email to the contact listed. In previous years, our coordinator was Kevin O’Connor, well known for also being our hilarious host during the event itself. This year there was yet another change; the new coordinator was someone I had not personally dealt with before, LeeAnn Jensen. Clarity was still an issue, but I figured so long as I had sent LeeAnn my photos, short introduction, and mp3, I was all set to go for the masquerade.
Now, at this point, I’d like to get into the actual event. But before I begin I want to make this clear: I am not trying to start any debate about the prop ban. It has been discussed at length by many others, and I’d rather focus on what it meant for how I experienced the convention. I am simply going to state that it is entirely possible to be safe and have props, and I’ll leave it there.
My plan was to finish my prop for my masquerade costume on Thursday night. I watched as the news rolled in about a sweeping prop ban, including everything from sonic screwdrivers to wands. I felt devastated. I had failed to finish this prop for Blizzcon, and wanted to redeem myself here. I also now had no costume that I could wear and enjoy the convention fully. My characters are all defined by their weapons, and I as a cosplayer feel the same. I had been planning for a while to bring my mother with me as a special treat for her birthday, in part so she could see how people reacted to me and my costume work. I had no idea how this would affect the day with her, but we pressed on.
As most of us already know, the lines on Friday were a bit intense. Thankfully for registration most of it was indoors, but the organization of the lines certainly could’ve been a lot better. It was unclear where one line ended and another began since they snaked back and forth a few times. Around an hour and a half after parking, we were finally in. By now, I had realized just how drastic the difference between Graves holding a 43in double-barreled foam shotgun and unarmed Graves was. I still chose to come in cosplay since I had convinced my mom to make a costume to wear with me, but I was honestly regretting it. A costume that had previously gathered small crowds, made it difficult to get anywhere due to being stopped for pictures constantly, and got me 3rd place in the journeyman category of the masquerade the year before, was ignored. Nobody recognized it. Hardly anyone cared to stop me for pictures. I was in cosplay, but for all the reaction I was getting, I might as well have come in regular clothes. I was nobody without my prop.
Despite my interaction with the con being so drastically different from previous years, I made my best effort to still enjoy the day with my mom. She was dressed as the shame nun from Game of Thrones, and thankfully she still got a lot of attention for it and could enjoy her experience. Part way through the day, we decided to stop into the cosplay lounge to rest for a bit. I needed to pin part of my costume, and adjust my wig, so I figured it’d be the perfect place for that. However, this part of the con changed as well. There were no mirrors in the room, and in front of the supply table was someone who seemed to be playing guard more than helper. I felt as if I wasn’t welcome to use the supplies laid out, and their distribution was tightly controlled. It felt so hostile in a setting that I had always felt was for relaxation, peace, and community. We also attended a panel related to cosplay on this day that was severely hurt by not being able to bring in any example pieces of their molding work, and I was disappointed that this was what my mom’s big convention day had turned out to be. So much of the convention I had hyped up for her was falling flat.
I woke up bright and early Saturday to begin preparation for what I hoped would be a great day in a costume I had revamped heavily. As I was checking my phone, I realized I had a new email regarding the masquerade, received at 1:31am. This message stated that they had “developed a plan” that would allow masquerade participants to bring their props in. “If your prop is one of the prohibited items, it would be best if you do not bring it. If the prohibited prop is vital to your costume\presentation we can provide an escort from the loading dock to room 301A.” There were a few things that bothered me greatly about this email, and some of those were learned much later in the day. First off, this was a bit late for those of us who had chosen not to finish a prop amid all the craziness of the earlier days. Others chose not to even bring theirs anywhere near the convention due to the ban. This email was also not received by every contestant. Many I spoke to had no idea until they saw other contestants with their weapons inside our prejudging room. I understand that they meant well and were trying their best within the limitations, but the last-minute nature of this plan meant that it simply felt unfair to many of the contestants.
The line situation had been mostly solved by the time I got there, and I did enjoy my time at the con in costume. I spent as much time as I could out and about before the masquerade. I met up with friends, and I checked out some more panels that were lacking in prop examples due to the ban. I took a few glances around Phoenix Comicon’s social media pages throughout the day, and had they been your only source of information, you would have no idea there was a masquerade at all. The vast majority of posts leading up to the convention, and the day of the masquerade itself, were about the celebrities. Everything was about the big names there; what they were doing, what they were saying. The cosplayers who were here to compete, who had brought the best they had to offer, weren’t worth mentioning? Not even after the event did they congratulate their winners, or even their best in show. Not a single word spoken of the contest where prizes totaled over $2000. The message was clear to me: celebrities are more important than the community.
At this point, all the information I had for what would occur between the 6pm meetup time and 8pm start of the masquerade was that we were to “mingle with the judges.” A previous email response said, “As for meeting the judges there should be one on one time with them for you to have them ask questions and for them to get a good close up look at your costume,” which was a bit more comforting than the idea of simply “mingling” with judges and hoping to have enough time with them, but it was still incredibly vague. As we filed into the room, none of us knew what we were going to do, but the judges did a great job explaining and getting things going. However, it still felt like there was a serious lack of organization. The mood in the room was unlike any other I had experience before a contest. There was a very somber feeling, almost as if there was a large portion of us collectively mourning the loss of our props and trying to get over the stresses and unknowns we faced getting to this point. As usual though, I enjoyed talking and making friends backstage, as well as getting a nice close look at the other costumes. After 2 hours in the room, we were all ready to go. Though for some reason, unbeknownst to any of the contestants, the already late start time of the show was delayed 30min.
Once things actually got going, they seemed to be running well from what I could see. The costumes looked great, the performances were great, and we were all feeling incredibly excited for our time on the stage. I approached the stage following an incredible Dr. Strange cosplayer whose stage performance was amazing. As I prepared to head up, I wanted to make sure they knew how to pronounce my introduction since I’ve had a bit of trouble with that in the past. I saw the paper with my information on it, but for some reason, all they had was my real name and my costume. But there was no time to correct it. There was no time to say, “That’s not what I sent at all. There’s supposed to be a lot more.” I could only sigh and at least make sure what was there was pronounced correctly. I did my best to quickly forget that and focus on the performance I had planned. I had edited my audio together perfectly, practiced and captured the true essence of the character, and I was ready to share it with the audience. I stepped on to the stage, began slowly walking out, only to realize the sound I heard was not my music at all. The cue I had practiced for wasn’t coming. I looked back to the stairs, unsure if I should run back down and tell them there was a mistake, or just go along with it to not make a scene. I was panicking. I had never faced this before. I had never considered this a possibility. The part of me that hates conflict ended up winning, and I stayed out on stage. I attempted to do my best to put on some sort of performance to a song I had never heard before in my life. I took a bow and headed off stage. I was shaking. I tried to be as restrained as possible, but I couldn’t help but yell at the first people I saw, telling them that was not my music at all. I am not a performer. I normally only perform as much as is required to display my craftsmanship, and this time, I had wanted to try to become the character in a performance as well. All my preparation for this moment was completely shattered, and it was all I could do to hold back the tears and not ruin my makeup.
As I sat in the crowd, I continued doing my best to not make a scene. I told the new friends around me how they had not played my music, and much to my surprise, they told me I wasn’t the only one. By the end of the night, I personally knew of at least 6 different people whose music had been lost and replaced by something completely random. Thankfully, as the show went on, my spirits were lifted by seeing what we were all there for: great costumes and great performances. After the last contestants, the “halftime” show began with having all contestants parade back across the stage in reverse order. This was something new, but I thought it was a great idea to fill some of the time while judges made their decisions. It allowed the audience another chance to see us, and gave us another stop in the spotlight.
After the rest of the show, the judges came back, and it was time for the awards. The only things the judges said during the entire ceremony was that they moved some people around in categories, and later they spoke a bit about how there was nothing set up for the group category. They thankfully scrambled together some prizes for them, but there were no trophies. Unfortunately, those weren’t the only issues with the awards. As they began announcing winners, I wished the judges had stayed to offer context and explanation for the wins, but our wonderful host continued alone, starting with the novice category as per usual. Suddenly I was called as the winner for second place novice, and I was more than a bit surprised. I entered as a journeyman. I sat in the room for prejudging with the journeymen. I was the first of the journeyman category to walk the stage. If anything, I was on the border between journeyman and master as far as rules go. Yet, here I was, being announce second place novice winner. And yet again, there I was, going along with it, because what am I supposed to do? I was in yet another situation that I have not planned for or ever considered a possibility. At this point, I was finding all of these mistakes more and more humorous, so for the final time of the night, I smiled and went with it. I said my thank you and moved backstage. They apologized again for the mistake with my music, had me sign something I can’t even recall at this point, and sent me on my way. I have no idea how this mistake was made, and I have no course of action in this situation. I feel incredibly strange about this award. Did the judges misplace me? Did they intend to give me an award in my actual category, or did they judge me as if I was a novice? I’ll never know. I reconciled it to myself jokingly as second place in the “dealing with incredibly weird mistakes” category.
The show ended very late, and after a long drive home and an emergency stop for therapeutic Ben and Jerry’s, I was finally home around 1am. I still went to the convention Sunday despite my mixed feelings from all the previous events, but I chose not to bother with cosplay. I did enjoy the final day of the con, but it certainly still felt hollow to me. What is usually a major highlight of my year, one of the biggest conventions I attend, felt so very off. I still have no idea if I’ll care to attend next year, or if I’ll ever compete at this convention again.
I want to love this convention. I want my hometown con to be one of the biggest and greatest and to speak of it with pride. But this year, we went very much in the wrong direction, and I certainly hope that changes are made to get us back on the right path. The community is what makes conventions great, and I feel Phoenix Comicon needs to take that to heart.
If you’d like to contact me, feel free to message me on any of my social media/email!