For many fans across the country, comic con season begins and ends with the summertime, with locations like San Diego and Tampa Bay drawing thousands of pop culture geeks every year. If you live in Arizona, though, autumn is when all the action is. In the past eight weeks, Arizona fans have attended — or still can attend — Phoenix (Comicon) Fan Fest, Phoenix Zine Fest, Tucson Comic Con, Yuma Con, and the Doc Savage-centric Doc Con.
With so many options, what could possibly make this year’s second annual Cottonwood Comic Book Show any different from its peers?
First of all, Cottonwood is just over 100 miles north of Phoenix, just east of popular staycation spot Prescott, and boasts average temperatures somewhere between the two cities. During this year’s Cottonwood Comic Book Show, which was on Oct. 29, Phoenix suffered a high of 96 degrees while Cottonwood boasted a much cooler 84 degrees. (“Much cooler” and “84 degrees” are synonymous ONLY in Arizona.)
Further, the Cottonwood Comic Book Show is the effort of the Northern Arizona Cartoonists Association (NAZCA), a nonprofit group of artists that strives to promote the comic arts with an emphasis on community outreach. So, while other comic shows most often set up in convention halls or hotel meeting rooms, the CCBS was staged in a church, with exhibitor and attendee fees collected to benefit the youth group’s trip to winter camp. Those kids earn their keep, acting as the show’s volunteer staff, setting up and tearing down the facility, running waters to exhibitors, and hosting a raffle all on their own. It’s a community effort from start to finish.
Some may criticize these distinctions as downgrades from the usual metropolitan comic shows, but (full disclosure) as an exhibitor and organizer myself, I find smaller shows more intimate and frankly more true to the spirit of the “comic con” legacy. The shows I saw advertised in comics as a kid, in issues from the 1970s and ’80s, seemed more intimate, even down to their then-hand drawn marketing. Cons like the Cottonwood Comic Book Show hearken back to those simpler days. Fellow exhibitor Al Sparrow agrees.
Al, co-creator of the webcomic Red Skirts, commented, “There’s something to be said for the smaller local conventions that seem to be springing up here and there (one every weekend it seems). Cottonwood was about ten or so vendors in a church fellowship hall and honestly I had as much fun meeting people and talking funnybooks as I have doing the larger shows.”
The ability to blur the lines between exhibitor and attendee is an asset to the show, as well. During the con’s traditional sketch-off, this year wryly hosted by Flash/Crimson/JLA: Year One scribe Brian Augustyn, two young fans joined the creators on stage, perpetuating that sense of community.
“For me, that was the most rewarding part of the show,” Kozak Comics’ Alec Kozak shared. “Two new talented artists got to share their work with the community. For NAZCA, I consider that a success because it shows that artist events like this bring all ages, backgrounds, and skills together for a fun and entertaining community event.”
Daniel Franks’ “The Art of Gaming” panel made a similar impression. Afterward, Daniel reported, “My audience wanted to start meeting regularly to play a game starring the character we created together.” With NAZCA’s regular open meetings, follow-ups like that are more possible than ever.
If this article seems more editorial than reporterly, you’re right, Snapper. (See the latest developments on Supergirl for that reference.) Nowadays, I liken my success at a comic con to how one might gauge their friends-to-likes ratio on Facebook. If I have 1,000 friends, a post that garnered a mere 50 likes doesn’t seem very impactful. However, if I have 400 friends, 50 likes means an entire eighth of my friends reacted to that post, which is quite a feat. As an exhibitor at comic cons both large and small, I know thousands attend the bigger shows like Phoenix Comicon or Tucson Comic Con, and for all the folks that grace my table, many more pass, for a variety of reasons. Smaller shows may find themselves in more humble venues, but a slower current of people and fewer exhibitors to see guarantees more attention, communication, and business. For me, I need two out of three of those things to have fun at a comic con.
Fortunately, the Cottonwood Comic Book Show offered all of the above.
NAZCA continues their con circuit on April 1, 2017 (no joke), with the second annual Verde Valley Comic Expo. For more information on that show, follow NAZCA’s Facebook page.