The Joys of a Smaller Convention

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For years, my family’s tradition was attending Phoenix Fan Fusion (formerly Phoenix Comicon) and we’ve seen it go from 13,000 in attendance numbers to just hitting one year at 106,000 attendees. We’ve loved our convention experiences, and as our kids have gotten older, our skills at taking them to these weekend long events have massively improved. Like many geek families, COVID interrupted our convention attendance, but things are reopening again this year in our state.

Our first convention back did not actually end up being Phoenix Fan Fusion, but instead we opted for Tucson Comic-Con which is more local to us but smaller in terms of attendees. The guest list wasn’t as big or name heavy as we have seen from Phoenix. This is not a convention that’s boasted TV/film guests like Leonard Nimoy, Adam Savage, Nathan Fillion, Bruce Campbell, Ming-Na Wen, or Catherine Tate as well as several appearances from the legendary Stan Lee. Guests here tend to include authors and comic book writers/illustrators. That difference might be a big deal to some, but it simply made a different convention experience for us and there were some fun benefits to it.

1) Being local meant not dealing with hotels. While we know people who opted for hotels anyway, there was no packing for several days of travel, no arranging a pet sitter, and the kids got to roll into their own rooms and beds at night which meant they got much better sleep than they do when it’s four of us in a single hotel room. By the last day, we’ve come to expect our kids having an edge of slap happy to them that we avoided this year and not having one bathroom to four people trying to get ready was also a major plus. Being local meant it was easier to convince a friend to give her first convention a go because there were less logistics involved in attending as well. It was also extra fun to see who all we ran into that we knew personally because it absolutely was a thing that happened on several occasions. 

2) The vendors tend to be local so you’re really supporting local artisans. The smaller the convention, the less likely it is that the vendors have traveled from far away. This meant purchases tended to support local small businesses (several local gaming stores had booths) as well as artists/makers that are from our immediate area. With local artists, making arrangements for custom orders can also be much easier. My favorites this year included Jester Gurls Creations who do these beautiful Pokémon terrariums that can even have light up options. We picked up two of them and have a third we’ve reached out about ordering because the Pokémon in question had already sold out. They are just lovely and unique and mine sits on my nightstand at home in a place of honor. My younger kid already wants another and a peek at their Instagram account shows they’ve also done Studio Ghibli and Star Wars designs (I’m seriously going to need a Grogu). Similarly dangerous to my wallet is fabric designer Robyriker Designs who has an amazing selection of fabric designs on Spoonflower including things like pirate icons, books, astronaut cats, science dogs, console game controls, and so many more. If you like premade things, check out her Etsy shop with a variety of items including zipper pouches, infinity scarves, and head bands. Yes, there are options to custom order headbands based on her fabric designs too. Local food trucks also got pulled in to help accommodate food demands and it was certainly nice to see ones we’re familiar with and love. While not truly local, household favorite TeeTurtle had a booth for convention exclusives and let me tell you, that was as dangerous as when they have sitewide sales. Overall, when we weren’t paying hotels and out of town travel, it allowed our budget for grabbing stuff from local vendors much more. 

Some of my favorite purchases. Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.

3) Time to do smaller things. Usually if there’s big celebrity guests we’re hoping to see, our scheduling is sort of directed by this to accommodate panels and autographs. This can mean adding extra times for lining up or sitting through other panels to guarantee seats. Smaller panels or activities can become lower priority even though they might be really fun. I usually don’t end up taking time to do things like gaming because of this sort of time commitment. There’s also the fact that I’ve gamed long enough to run into enough toxic players than I’m wary of groups where I don’t know the people running things. Luckily, I didn’t just have the time but Wesley Lee and Levi Davis, who are familiar to me through Taekwon-Do, were there running Legends of Kralis, a sci-fi tabletop roleplaying game they have both worked on and being published under Talarius Gaming. Knowing the people running the games made me a lot more willing to get involved, and it was honestly a pretty fun experience for me and our middle schooler. I was particularly impressed by the mechanics for space combat. 

4) The costume and activity groups are also easier to get involved in. The trick with meeting cool organizations at a convention that are recruiting but are not local can complicate the logistics of getting involved. A couple of hours away can be a big deal for regular participation. While we’re not looking at joining any groups at this time, it is kind of nice to note that there are costume and LARP groups local to our area. In terms of people looking for communities to join, knowing what is actually and truly local to you can make a big difference in finding something to participate in. Even though I wasn’t looking for an organization to join, there was something comforting about seeing some of the familiar groups out and about again after two years of COVID and I don’t think they’ll ever be a time that the droid builders sending BB-8 to roll up and beep at me will ever fail to send me into absolute glee. 

So if you’re debating about attending a small local convention, I highly encourage you to do so and I think that you’ll find there’s some fun aspects to it even if you’ve gotten use to bigger scale events. I certainly foresee us attending Tucson Comic-Con again next year. 

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