New convention focusing on comics fills a void in Mesa

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Mesa Convention CenterWhen Phoenix Comicon made its move last year from Mesa to downtown Phoenix, the East Valley might have felt left out in the cold when it comes to fandom.

But have no fear — there’s a new con in town.

Amazing Arizona Comic Convention will be Jan. 8-9 at the Mesa Convention Center, 263 N. Center St. — the same venue vacated by Phoenix Comicon in favor of the newer Phoenix Convention Center. But there is more separating the two events than four months and 20 miles of freeway: The organizer of the new convention says he’s focused on staying true to the name “comic convention.”

“The focus on this show is primarily comic book and their direct pop-culture spin-offs,” said Los Angeles comics retailer Jimmy Jay, the organizer and promoter, with his brother Bill, of the Amazing Arizona Comic Convention.

The ever-growing Phoenix Comicon is known for attracting top talent in sci-fi and fantasy movies and television, but many of its guests are famous for roles beyond the realm of comic-book adaptations. For example, the Memorial Day weekend event for 2011 has already named such guests as Star Wars star Billy Dee Williams and Babylon 5 and TRON star Bruce Boxleitner, and just this past week Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy was announced as a guest.

“Those are great events too,” Jay said. “But our background is comic books. That where our love is. That’s what our passion is. That’s what we’ve been working with all our lives. That’s at the very core of what we do.”

Amazing Arizona Comic Convention guests include The New Mutants artist Rob Liefeld and The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman.

Jon BerenthalThe Walking Dead has become a sort of theme for the inaugural event, with cast members of the Golden Globe-nominated AMC series Jon Bernthal (pictured) and Steven Yeun attending as guests. The show is based on a popular comic book series of the same name.

But the convention will also debut new episodes of the Disney XD animated series The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Iron Man series on the cable channel, which is geared heavily toward tween boys. Jeph Loeb, the head of Marvel Comics’ TV initiatives, and a writer on Smallville and Lost, is one of the event’s headliners and will present the comic-based cartoons.

“Mesa has always had a knack of hosting an incredible and diverse assortment of events – comic conventions included,” said Michelle Streeter, spokesperson for the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ve been actively helping tout this new comic event to our visitors through a variety of channels and we are looking forward to a jam-packed weekend in the height of our tourism season.”

Jay said the event is in Mesa, and in January, for the long haul.

“Mesa has a tradition of having really good comic conventions,” Jay said. “We enjoy that there’s free parking there. It’s easy to load in, easy to load out. It’s a nice facility. The people in the area such as the Marriott are easy to work with, friendly, open to new business.”

He said the event also takes advantage of a slow national event schedule in the area in January, and capitalizes on working relationships he’s had with nationally known Valley businesses such as Atomic Comics in the East Valley and Samurai Comics further west.

Phoenix Comicon once took place in January as well, before moving to Memorial Day weekend.

“Our plan is to make this an event that will kick off convention season,” Jay said. “It’s easy to make this area our home. This is the very first ‘comic-con’ of 2011.”

Two-day weekend passes to the Amazing Arizona Comic Convention cost $25 and Sunday-only passes are available for $15. For more information, visit

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