Last year saw the return of Phoenix Fan Fusion (formerly Fan Fest, even more formerly Comic Con) after three long years due to the pandemic. Originally the plan was to start up again in 2021, but safety concerns from both the organizers and the City of Phoenix ended up pushing the date back again and again until finally (in May of 2022) the convention came back to both old and new attendees alike; thousands of people flocked to the Phoenix Convention Center over the weekend excited for all the panels, guests, vendors, and events that occurred in the three-day span. It was not without its share of hiccups starting up again after such a long hiatus, but overall was an amazing return to a much-loved event. People were happy to have this awesome convention (and other similar gatherings) back and better than ever. However, at the same time there were noticeable changes such as exhibitors and regular previous attendees who were unable to attend or uncomfortable with attending (given such a large-scale event with the fear of COVID still looming), which posed the question if things would continue to improve post-pandemic.
Then this year’s Fan Fusion happened. And to say that it was bigger and better than the last one would be a gross understatement. Being that they’re celebrating their 21st year already marked it as a major milestone, but they took it above and beyond with the number of things they upgraded or packed into the weekend. Though the convention space or venue itself didn’t change in any way, it just felt bigger with how the layout was set up this year; a notable change included swapping the locations of the Gaming Hall and dance/event area (this year known as the “Reactor Room”) opposite of each other from the previous year and reconfiguring the free-play arcade to be located in the wide hallway outside of these two spaces, which made the whole area more inviting and easier for people to access regardless of what they were there to do. Inside the Gaming Hall, the vendor area inside was repositioned to allow for even more space where people could play card/board games, Dungeons & Dragons, or participate in the numerous tournaments held there over the weekend. A spot down in the lower level outside of the Vendor’s Hall was reserved for a “Indiana Jones” exhibit (ironically called ‘It Belongs In a Museum’), showcasing movie memorabilia across the series of films. And everywhere you looked there were stylish backdrops for people to take photos in front of.
The badge system (and even the badges themselves) got an upgrade as well; last year only those who had purchased VIP passes were eligible to have them shipped out in advance of the convention in order to technically ‘skip the line’ first thing in the morning, able to arrive when the security checkpoints opened at 9 instead of a whole hour earlier to first pick up their badge at pre-registration, and then hopefully get a good spot in the shade of the tents by the entrance while waiting for the checkpoint to open. Those of us who attended last year knew what that was like, most of us waiting out in the morning sun with temperatures climbing up into the high 80s/low 90s. This year the option to have your badges shipped to you was extended to everyone who purchased one (for a nominal fee), which helped to cut the number of people waiting to pick one up over the weekend as well as those waiting to get into the convention proper first thing in the mornings. Even more epic was how security on Friday saw the number of people waiting in the sun outside the shaded area to the checkpoint and made the decision to let everyone in a half-hour earlier than scheduled. Though the vendor’s hall and panels didn’t open until 10 and 1030AM respectively, people were more than happy to wait inside the air-conditioned halls of the convention center.
As for the Vendor’s Hall itself, it contained so many things in one space that I myself did not get to see every single table in there over the weekend; there was that much to do! One side was occupied by the ‘Hall of Heroes’, where you could find a massive number of celebrities in attendance (34, to be exact) including Jeremy Renner (the first convention since his life-threatening accident!), Grant Gustin & Tom Cavanaugh (Flash and Reverse Flash), the entire cast of the original 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie, and even legends Walter Koenig and William Shatner. Not to be outdone, another part of the Hall was devoted to epic authors (most of them with #1 New York Times Bestsellers) of all genres, with many books and novels to be sold and signed throughout the duration of the event. Artists and crafters also filled the spaces in between, with so many handmade wares of such high quality that I wished I could have purchased more than I was able to. And then lastly, cosplay guests and non-profit groups alike took up the remaining other side of the Hall, where among these you could find Legos, Dr. Who, Comic Book heroes, Transformers, and the Umbrella Corps, all happy to share their fandoms with eager enthusiasts and attendees.
Overall, the thing I loved most about the convention this year were the fans themselves. Whether they were in cosplay or not, it was amazing getting to run into so many people that I’ve met both in and outside of a convention previous to this; I think I caught up with more friends over this 3-day weekend than I have in the 6 months prior to that. Not just old friends, but the new ones that were made over the weekend as well! It was uncanny how many times we all would run into one another either in passing or seeing each other in a panel that we both happened to be attending. That’s one of the biggest things that I love about conventions in general, being able to share in a common love of fandoms (and in some cases, discovering or helping others to discover new ones). It truly fits with the motto of Phoenix Fan Fusion, “Discover Your Inner Geek”.
Looking forward to what next year brings and how the convention will ‘level up’ yet again.
Until next time, ja ne tomodachi!