Marvel avengers assemble at Comic Con in Glendale
Captain America, Spider-Man, Falcon and The Punisher all walk into... a convention.
For comic-book fans, this scenario would be a dream come true.
And, it’s actually happening. Ace Comic Con is coming Jan. 13 through 15 to Gila River Arena in Glendale, and includes the big-name stars who fill these superhero roles: Chris Evans, Tom Holland, Anthony Mackie and Jon Bernthal, respectively. The line-up also features the man who is responsible for many of the most popular Marvel characters, Stan Lee.
The new pop culture convention, which comes from New York, has a heavy emphasis on big-name celebrity guests, and also includes Hayley Atwell, Karl Urban, and WWE stars Hulk Hogan and Sting. The convention launched in December in Long Island, and featured wellknown actors from the DC Comics movie “Justice League.” More than 20,000 are expected over three days, and organizers plan to keep the attendance smaller and more exclusive.
Big names slated to make appearances
Shaking things up
Brothers Gareb and Stephen Shamus created Ace, and both have experience in the con world: Gareb is the founder and former CEO of Wizard Entertainment, and Stephen served as chief marketing officer. Gareb entered the comic book world early on, publishing a number of comic books, gaming, action figure and anime magazines since the early ‘90s. He purchased Chicago Comicon in 1997, growing it from just a couple thousand people over the weekend to 25,000 the following year.
“At the time cons were not really that big, and were really more like comic book shows,” Gareb said. “For us it was like throwing a party, and we invited people we knew from our worlds... People who were disenfranchised came out, and saw so many more people like themselves there. We saw the birth of this community. Back then geeks or nerds were considered losers or loners, and all of a sudden you saw the power of many. It felt like a movement much bigger than ourselves.”
Now, Gareb said he has seen geeks and nerds become cool kids, attributing that change to the popularity of technology and superheroes. After leaving Wizard Entertainment, Gareb “semi-retired” in 2011. At the beginning of 2017, he and Stephen got to talking.
“We wondered how we can be pioneers in that world again,” Gareb said. “If we were to reinvent the business, what would it look like? We talked about things that bothered us, and things we love, like today’s technology. The size of celebrity talent didn’t exist back in the day.”
As for the guests, Gareb said he owes the lineup mostly to Stephen, who has strong connections in the industry. And they worked differently than other convention organizers to secure talent.
“We did it in reverse,” Gareb said. “We’ll try to secure the talent first. The way most comicons work in a convention center is people get whatever date they can get, then put out contracts to see what talent is available. That’s our franchise, we build the events around the talent.”
This also means that convention dates aren’t necessarily set in stone. They also looked at warm weather climates, and made sure no sporting events or concerts were scheduled during that weekend.
With the caliber of guests, organizers are seeing people come from all over the world to meet and see the celebrities. Celebrity guests all have photo ops and autograph sessions, but they are pricey: the most expensive VIP photo and autograph packages to meet multiple stars costs $910.
Still, general admission ticket holders can see the guests during their panel sessions and Ace Comic Con will utilize the jumbotron screens, which is why the Shamuses wanted arenas. Two stages will be going at the same time, and the entire event will be live streamed. The celebrities are encouraged to utilize social media throughout the weekend, which is something Gareb said sets the event apart from others.
A few hiccups
The Long Island convention had issues on the first day of the event on Dec. 8, which were documented on social media and in blog posts. Problems included long lines, hours-long wait times to meet guests (even for VIP badge holders), travel-related delays from celebrities, frigid weather and uninformed staffers. But Gareb said they worked to remedy those problems for a much smoother on Saturday.
“Certainly a lot of people were so excited about the Long Island event that we had a lot more people show up than we actually planned for that evening,” he said. “Once we were aware of the issue, we reconfigured how to deal with it. The next morning we flawlessly accommodated all the people.”
He acknowledged the travel issues for celebrities, and said they re-worked their schedules and had people stay late to make sure “everybody left with a smile on their face.”
“The beauty in Arizona is it’s in the 70s and sunny, and a bunch of talent is coming from Los Angeles,” Gareb said. “So it’s a lot easier from that standpoint.”
Alexandria Larsen, 28, from Mission Viejo, California, attended the con in Long Island and will come to the Arizona event. She always has enjoyed comic book movies, and recently started reading comic books.
When Ace was announced in early 2017, she knew it was a rare opportunity to meet one of her favorite actors, Henry Cavill. She attended Saturday and met the “Justice League” stars who attended: Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller.
Larsen said she noticed heightened security to meet the actors, and everyone had to walk through a second metal detector before meeting the celebrities, and no props were allowed, so they needed to be set aside.
“It was amazing, but I didn’t get much time with them which I was a little upset about,” she said. “Usually at previous conventions you get two minutes or so when you get autographs, but at Ace we were in and out.”
But Larsen said it was “definitely worth it” and is looking forward to coming to the convention in Glendale. She was back and forth about coming to the event here, but ultimately decided to do it because it’s close, she has friends going and she wants to meet Sebastian Stan.
A big deal for Arizona
Gareb said Ace Comic Con is not only attracting people from across the United States, but also internationally.
“The movies are global, and people realize they may never get an opportunity to meet these celebrities again,” he said. “People from all over the world fly in and want to meet and interact with the celebrities, and be a part of the experience. We get a lot of new people who have never been to a con before.”
Todd McFarlane, well-known for his work on “The Amazing Spider-Man” comics, and creator of Spawn, is an Ahwatukee resident and will host the Stan Lee panel.
“Stan and I have been good friends for decades now, and I have done a lot of events with him,” he said. “I think of it as a Stan Lee panel, and I am there as his translator. We’ll walk through his career a bit, and have some insights of what he did when he was young and talk about the longevity of his career... Maybe I’m biased, but he’s a living legend.”
McFarlane said he’ll also do some sort of demonstration, likely on a projector, and “draw something goofy to appear on the screen instead of look at me.”
Jesse James, owner of Jesse James Comics in Glendale, has been in the comic book industry since 1982, and opened his shop in Arizona nine years ago. He’ll partner with comic book collaborative Big Dog Ink for a booth that will feature harder to get exclusive items from titles including “Rick and Morty,” “Star Wars,” “Bill and Ted” and “Vampirella.”
James said he recognized early on that Arizona would be a big market for comic books and conventions, and events like Ace Comic Con are establishing that fact. He likened it to a “San Diego Comic-Con in Arizona.”
“Ace Comic Con brings something that we have never had with the plethora or A-plus stars all at the same event, surrounded by all A-plus vendors,” he said. “Most cons you go to have 400 vendors and 300 are selling Pop figures. This con has the best Pop figure sellers plus the biggest and best comic book stores, and local artists that represent the event.”
As for bringing another con to Arizona where Phoenix Comicon, Tucson Comic-con and a number of other smaller events exist, Gareb said he doesn’t see competition.
“From our standpoint we have a very strong vision for what we want to do and how we want to do it, and we provide a great experience for fans, so it doesn’t matter what other people are doing,” he said. “We don’t know what the future might necessarily be...but we want to be able to establish ourselves in the market and we do anticipate coming back.”
The full schedule will be released closer to the event. Here are the major highlights for each day:
❚ Saturday: Captain America Cast Q&A (Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Anthony Mackie), Legends: Stan Lee, Icons: Todd McFarlane, Ace cosplay contest.
❚ Sunday: Spider-Man Cast Q&A (Tom Holland, Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon), Punisher Cast Q&A (Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Tune-In: Marc Guggenheim, Spotlight: Hayley Atwell, Beyond the Page: Spider-Man.
❚ Monday: WWE Spotlight: Hulk Hogan, WWE Spotlight: Sting, Spotlight: Karl Urban.
Details: Noon-7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 14. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15. Gila River Arena, 9400 W. Maryland Ave., Glendale. $45-$55 for one-day admission. $95 for three-day admission. $125 for three-day VIP admission. Autographs costs $30-$175. Photo ops cost $50$800. VIP packages cost $285-$910. aceuniverse.com.
Stars of the DC Comics movie “Justice League” appeared at Ace Comic Con in Long Island on Dec. 8-10.