Phoenix Comicon has been one of my favorite events of the year since I started going seven years ago. Back then, it was a single room in one wing of the Phoenix Convention Center, and while it was busy, you could move comfortably through the aisles. The first year I went, the highlight was meeting Ray Park and seeing a cast panel from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which included Levar Burton singing the Reading Rainbow theme song. The whole audience joined in, naturally. In subsequent years, it’s become a huge touchstone of the Phoenix nerd calendar, spanning four days in summer and drawing high-profile guests like Bruce Campbell, Stan Lee, George Takei, Jamie Bamber, Cary Elwes, Stephen Amell, William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy’s panel literally moved me to tears. Building off that success, the organizers of Phoenix Comicon launched FanFest, a smaller event in December, which just wrapped up its inaugural weekend.
The event took place at University of Phoenix Stadium, which, among other things, has much better parking than downtown Phoenix. The size and scale of the event reminded me a lot of the early years downtown, before it got so claustrophobically crazy that you would have to wait for fire marshalls to let you in to the building. The floor of the stadium was wall-to-wall with vendors selling comics, toys, clothes, steampunk gear, fezzes, custom art, and weapons. I’m always fascinated by the weapons selection at Comicon. Do I need to buy a bat’leth? At some point, I’m going to determine the answer to that is “yes”.
I was happy to see quite a few local artists had tables at the event. I made sure to stop by Kevin Coulston’s table — he’s the local creator of Dylan McVillain, an all-ages webcomic — and had him make up a sketch for my son. Check out his work here.
I also met Eric Torres, the local designer and creator of the World of Rynaga, a science-fantasy RPG world. His art work and world-building are fantastic, and he’s spend a lot of time designing and play-testing a PvP tabletop card game within the world, called Iconica. The art is striking and beautiful in its simplicity, and it creates a massive world of warring factions and mysterious technology. I picked up the starter deck of Iconica, and I look forward to joining his regular tabletop gaming sessions at Samurai Comics. Check out more of Rynaga here.
The absolute highlight of the day, however, was a Q&A session with Paul McGann. If you don’t know who that is, take a peek at his IMDb page — he was in Withnail & I, Alien 3, Hornblower, and Luther. But if you don’t know any of that, I’m sure you know him as the 8th Doctor from Doctor Who. His career as the Doctor is a strange and varied one. He first appeared in the 1996 telemovie opposite Eric Roberts as The Master, which was intended to be a pilot for a new Who series. The movie was not successful, and the Doctor disappeared for another 8 years until the 9th Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, appeared in 2004, followed by David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, and enormous and unprecendented success for a gloriously cheesy, 50-year-old sci-fi relic. In the interim, McGann’s Doctor has actually continued in a series of Big Finish audio plays, which have expanded the world of the 8th Doctor. During the buildup to Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary special, McGann returned to the screen in the short “The Night of the Doctor”, which finally portrayed the 8th Doctor’s death and regeneration into the War Doctor.
McGann spoke for a full hour, taking questions on everything from his history with Doctor Who to his work on Luther to his favorite sports (he’s a Liverpool supporter, but referred to my Blues as “a good side”). He revealed that he originally turned down the Doctor in 1994, but was convinced to play the part after gravitating to the character’s fugitive loneliness. McGann had hoped that he would have been able to be involved in the 2004 launch of the new series, but was completely caught by surprise when he was asked to appear in “The Night of the Doctor” in 2013. He described being on tour with the 6th and 7th Doctors, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and not being able to tell them anything about the call. McGann had to pretend he didn’t know anything about what was in store for the 50th Anniversary, struggling to keep the secret. Even then, he, along with everyone else, was completely gob-smacked to see Tom Baker appear in the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor. I remember seeing both in theaters, and being completely blown away by McGann’s appearance. I was also pleased to hear some of McGann’s hopes and criticisms for the direction of Doctor Who. He described how, when filming “The Night of the Doctor”, it seemed like head writer Steven Moffat was just making it up as he goes. Having struggled to make it through the Matt Smith years, which almost completely sank my childhood love for Doctor Who, I feel like that’s a pretty accurate statement of Moffat’s style. Additionally, McGann said “they missed a trick by not casting a woman” as the next Doctor after Smith left the role. His casting suggestion, to gasps and cheers from the audience: “Can you imagine Tilda Swinton as the Doctor?”
McGann was also very self-aware about the 8th Doctor’s status as a black sheep. He described appearing in previous cast photos as being like “a kid who missed picture day in school”, where the 8th Doctor just floated in the background. Since the success of the Big Finish plays and his return in The Night of the Doctor, McGann and 8 have taken their place among the pantheon of Doctors. When signing an autograph recently, he was thrilled to find that he had moved front and center, and even David Tennant was behind him.
Finally, he made sure to answer the most pressing question, at least in my mind: Will there ever be more Hornblower? Laughing, he said, “We can’t get him [star Ioan Gruffudd] to come home!” No more Lieutenant Bush, at least for now.
All told, it was a great event. The cosplayers were out in full force, the starpower was considerable, I was able to meet some new artists, and completely geek out with Paul McGann. It’s always a pleasure to see the geek community come together, and I’m looking forward to next year’s Fanfest and watching this event grow.
For more on Phoenix Comicon and Fanfest, check out their website.