After 13 years of creating and organizing what is now one of the large comic and media conventions in the country, Phoenix Comicon has finally grown into their own space. That is, their own office space. Earlier this year Phoenix Comicon was able to move into an office off of 40th and I-10 that has now become their base of operations. These offices serve as a meeting ground for senior level volunteers to come together to brainstorm new ideas and strategies for the coming conventions. Last week, they opened their doors to the public to get a sneak peek of their new facilities as well as some of the upcoming merchandise for Fanfest next month. I was able to sit down and get some one on one feedback from all of the senior staff on how these offices impact their organization as well as get their thoughts on future events.
As I walked into the new lobby that faced their conference room, it was immediately clear that this office is unlike any other. The comic book inspired decor along with a custom mural by Travis Hanson was a welcoming beacon for any geek. In the hallway, a large Phoenix logo was created in-house and is composed of various photos taken from the Comicons of the past. The offices reflected those who reside in them, quirky, fun, and above all else, passionate. When I sat down with Matt Solberg, the Convention Director I asked what lead them to opening up these offices and he explained that they have been building up to this point for several years. “Last year we were able to bring on full-time staff and so we knew we needed to set up an official space for everyone to work in.” Matt explained that “the process took much longer than we anticipated. It’s the equivalent of buying a house but we managed to find this space and move in this past June.”
I asked Matt along with each of the other staff members how the offices have impacted his day-to-day work. “It’s definitely opened up possibilities for us…we all worked from our houses before and it made things difficult when we needed to meet. Before we would see one another maybe once a month and now we interact on a more regular basis. These offices give us that little edge that will make the show run better.”
The offices enabling better communication through shared space seemed to be the consensus for the staff. Joe Boudrie, Director of Programming said these offices allow them to bring in their teams to meet. “Before we would have to find a central location like a coffee shop or library, anywhere that would allow us to meet there for free.” I asked Joe what it’s like planning for Fanfest which is in just a few weeks and he said that it’s still a lot of work but not nearly as in-depth as Phoenix Comicon. “Comicon has thousands of hours of programming each year. Fanfest is a whole different event, we only have three rooms for programming at the University of Phoenix Stadium so it’s a lot less programming then we are used to.” I asked Joe what the highlight of programming will be for Fanfest this year and he said “Well there’s this little movie coming out called Star Wars, don’t know if you heard of it. But we are planning on basing much of the Fanfest programming around it.” Joe went to describe the outdoor space that they will be utilizing along with the 501 Legion including a BB-8 obstacle course for fans to try out.
With Fanfest right around the corner the office was abuzz with excitement over the upcoming guests and the last-minute details that they didn’t really have the prior year. Lee Palmer, Director of Operations explained that Fanfest last year was a late game decision that was wrought with issues. This year they had more time to prepare and implement some new policies that they are testing out. “Fanfest is a little more laid back, we can experiment more with different procedures. Phoenix Comicon is such a large venue that you don’t want to be testing out new things so Fanfest really gives us a chance to do that.” Palmer explained that operations are the silent ninjas at the conventions. “If operations is doing their job, no one knows we’re there.”
Opposite to operations Jillian Squires, Director of Marketing and Stephanie Munoz, Marketing Manager, face different challenges for Fanfest and Comicon. Stephanie, who is charge of social media for Phoenix Comicon says that her goal is to keep social media live during the events which for Comicon can be a non-stop task. “We have our ‘war room’ at the convention center where we take shifts checking in through social media. We answer questions and emails and post updates as the convention progresses and just keep our presence alive online. It gets pretty intense.”
Stephanie and Jillian revealed that Phoenix Comicon will be launching a blog soon that will serve as a how to guide for attending Comicon as well as be a year round site for all things pop-culture in the Valley. ” We want to create content that works for our attendees such as Con 101. We want to give insider info that can be used for Phoenix Comicon. We want to help them get the most out of the four days they are at Comicon, especially for people who are new to conventions.” The blog will serve as a tool for attendees but also a fun site to visit throughout the year with guest bloggers and pop-culture inspired content. The blog will launch early next year just in time for Comicon 2016.
One question that I asked each staff member was what they personally were looking forward to for Fanfest. While most of the answers were the upcoming guests such as Dirk Benedict or Karen Gillan most were excited to see the attendees reactions to the hard work and passion that they put into it. Now with a collective space that they can call their own, there’s no limit to the possibilities that these dynamic volunteers and staff can create.