Editor Update: 1/19/18 19:15 CST – It was previously reported in this article that there was a 24-hour window when Gal Gadot was to be a guest at Ace Comic Con Arizona. The information was provided to our writer from a source that misrepresented themselves. Ms. Gadot was never scheduled to appear in Arizona and there were no known contract issues with the Long Island Event.
We have shared some of the great cosplays from Ace Comic Con Arizona this past weekend, but now I’d like to share some of my thoughts on the convention itself. This was the second event put on by ACE Universe, which is owned by the Shamus brothers. Held in Glendale, Arizona, the convention took place at the Gila River Arena on January 13-15.
While this wasn’t the best-run convention I’ve attended, it certainly wasn’t the worst. With this being a new convention, a few hiccups were expected, and they seemed to have made a few improvements over the event in Long Island last month.
In speaking with other attendees, overwhelmingly the most positive thing about the convention seemed to be how panels were set up. Plenty of seating was available in the arena, so attendees didn’t have to stand in line for hours only to not get in to a panel due to limited seating. The panels were also shown on screens around the arena, so you could shop and still not miss anything. Since everyone could see the panel, it felt more like a shared experience.
The stands gave a convenient place to sit if you needed to rest for a minute or to eat. At most conventions, you often settle for sitting on the floor. Occasionally food and drink vendors would go through the stands, but they were not overly obnoxious about it. The upper levels of the arena were also used as a staging area for those in line for celebrity autographs.
Some girls I spoke with said that their favorite part of the convention was the panels. It was hard for them to choose a favorite one, but they greatly enjoyed the panels with the comic creators. A favorite was the panel with the Spiderman creators, as you got their opinions on all the different Spiderman iterations. Their favorite moment of the weekend was meeting Tom Holland.
One attendee related an enjoyable encounter he had with Todd McFarlane. The two were talking and the subject of Stan Lee came up. Mr. McFarlane asked if he was going to meet the legend, and the man said that regrettably he was not, citing the cost. Mr. MacFarlane told him to come to his booth later, and he gave the man an autograph ticket for Stan Lee.
Since the stadium was not packed with massive crowds, there was a more casual feel to the event. No one felt in a rush to run and make a panel or get ready and wait in massive lines. You could take your time and shop, or chat with friends or new acquaintances, while still having time to do everything else.
Early in the day on Sunday, it was announced that Chris Evans was ill, and would likely not be attending the convention that day. It was later confirmed after Hayley Atwell’s panel that Mr. Evans would not be there. Ace Comic Con was quick to announce that full and partial refunds would be available, and attendees could go to Gate 1 if they wished to speak with someone about this. The friend I attended with and I were supposed to get a photo with both Ms. Atwell and Mr. Evans. When we went to redeem our photo op, we were told that we had the option of not redeeming the op and receiving a full refund, or still get a photo with Ms. Atwell and receive a partial refund. Tom Holland was gracious enough to step in for the solo photo ops Mr. Evans had scheduled that day, though not everyone seemed happy with that. Online, many simply wished for Mr. Evans to feel better but other became incredibly angry, demanding full refunds for the tickets and even their flights, and saying they would dispute the charges on their credit cards.
On Sunday, it was announced that Karl Urban was also feeling ill and would not be able to attend Sunday or Monday. For the most part, this seemed to be taken in stride a bit more than the Chris Evans announcement. Due to his cancellation, the only guests on Monday were the WWE guests. During the time his panel was scheduled, the Spiderman panel from the evening before was re-broadcast on screens.
Improvement Still Needed
While there were plenty of positives about the convention, there are certainly still areas where it could stand to improve. Many people I spoke with stated that there was not a good flow to the vendor areas, which were on the main concourses and behind the panel stage. Particularly on top level, it seemed like vendor tables were crammed in, leaving not much space for people walking by, leading to issues with flow. The Photo Ops area backed up into the bottom level vendor area, which would get very crowded if there was a backup of the line to get into Photo Ops.
I heard the comment more than once that the convention was simultaneously trying to be too organized, yet also had a lack of signage. There was nowhere you could find a physical schedule of events or a map of the venue. Outside the venue, there were no signs pointing to the weapons check tent. You would only see it if you were coming to the main gates from a certain direction. This is particularly an issue, given the recent security problems at conventions. Several attendees complained about how the photo ops was set up. You needed a QR code from your email to get in line and redeem it, only to get in another line to get in, and then get in line for your particular photo op.
There were metal detectors at the main entrances, which has become an increasing trend at conventions, yet there was also a second set of metal detectors outside the photo ops area. However, these second set of metal detectors disappeared after Sunday.
Regarding the Chris Evans cancellation, I must commend the convention staff for how well they handled everything. They did their best to communicate what the options were, and tried to make sure that everyone would get what was due them, be that a substitution or a full/partial refund. However, there was no signage at first when it was unclear if he may be able to make it later in the day. The only way I found out about it was because we were told as much when we went to redeem our photo op. There was no notice on the screen at the beginning of the redemption line. Later, pieces of paper with the announcement were taped on tables by the entrance to the Photo Ops area.
Regarding accessibility, I believe that this is another area where the convention needs to improve. Nowhere on the Ace Comic Con website does it refer to accessibility accommodations. It seems as if attendees needing this would have to go out of their way to find a way to contact the convention about this. On site, this seemed like it could be an issue as well. Given that the panels had stadium seating, the best any non-VIPs could hope for was the seating at the top of each level. I assume that the panel floor and bottom vendor hall/Photo Ops area were accessible by elevator, but there were no signs to this effect other than the stadium signs for elevators.
Several attendees did not like the paper or plastic wristbands that were given out. The only ones given badges were VIPs.
While the arena was not exactly packed (a source told me non-VIP sales were about 4,800 tickets at the door), by far the least attended day was Monday. At times it felt like there were more arena staff/volunteers than attendees. In particular, the upper level was occasionally near-deserted. Several vendors packed up early on Monday, or weren’t even there.
On whole, it feels like Ace Comic Con is still very much in a fledgling state of growth, as well as learning what works and what doesn’t. Cancellations are certainly beyond the control of organizers, and something attendees must expect the risk of when they decide to attend a convention. However, if the organizers take the experiences at the two events and see any future events as an opportunity to improve, Ace Comic Con could certainly become a unique event.