Mar­vel avengers as­sem­ble at Comic Con in Glen­dale

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Kel­lie Hwang Ari­zona Repub­lic | USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

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.

JA­SON LABOY

Stars of the DC Comics movie “Jus­tice League” ap­peared at Ace Comic Con in Long Is­land on Dec. 8-10.

Gareb Shamus

Stan Lee

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