Tucson Comic-Con expects another record year

October 26, 2015

Gotham's finest and many Daleks can be found amid the crowds.

Gotham’s finest and many Daleks can be found amid the crowds.

By Simon Brimmer

Here’s a Daily Planet headline, complete with rotating newspaper filling the screen and coming right at you.

The whole comic book thing is kind of a big deal.

From the multi-billion dollar Marvel Universe to the impending record-setting release of the newest Star Wars installment to an endless stream of fantasy and sci-fi in a multitude of formats, it’s pretty clear we are in the midst of the golden age of geekdom.

Tucson is not immune to comic book fever, and that’s good news for Michael Olivares and the folks who have planned the eighth annual Tucson Comic-Con, slated for the weekend of Nov. 6-8 at the Tucson Convention Center. He expects to shatter attendance figures with another record-setting gate that features a lineup in the works for months.

"What about that BLUE one?" Yes, Uncle Owen, he was there too.

“What about that BLUE one?” Yes, Uncle Owen, he was there too.

“Each year we’ve hit our attendance goals. I’m hoping to hit at least last year, which was close to 15,000,” said Olivares, who also spearheaded a promotional campaign at the hugely successful Phoenix Comicon a few months ago. “They had 80,000 people at that show. We gave about 7,000 flyers away, and sat on the con floor and let them know we have a show too. We’re half the age of Phoenix, but obviously we’re growing as well. I hope that helps to give us a boost from some of our Phoenix attendees.”

Olivares has been responsible for building the reputation of Tucson Comic-Con, and that in and of itself is quite a time consuming commitment.

“It wasn’t like a thing I could put off and not think about it for six months,” said Olivares, who also owns and operates quirky designer action figure/comic book store XPanded Universe in Downtown Tucson in the building that features the Godzilla vs Ultraman graffiti fight scene on Toole.

“I dealt a lot more with contracts and insurance, trade show catering and coordinating, fire marshal code, everything all in one, and once I got to the TCC it hit me this is a trade show on a whole other level, and it’s more than just a yearly get-together. It became another business, in a sense. I have a lot of help from volunteers, but things like guest relations, accounting, all the logistics, it’s pretty much all me and my wife.”

And that’s just on the admin end. Setting up a comic book convention involves an entirely involved set of logistics that includes attracting noteworthy panelists and providing desirable access to vendors on the convention floor.

More than 15,000 eager fans queued up at the Tucson Convention Center last year.

More than 15,000 eager fans queued up at the Tucson Convention Center last year.

“There will be a lot more programming and panel rooms this year as we extend the exhibition hall,” Olivares said. “Programming is essential for a lot of conventions. The panels give artists and creators avenues to roll out something they’re coming out with: workshops, how to (discussions), it’s all basically rolled up in one.

“It also does alleviate the stress on the sales floor. You don’t want to feel like you have to walk the entire sales floor when you get there. You want to do a little bit of it, maybe check out a couple panels you think are interesting and head back to the floor. Taking in a panel is a breaking point for some to take some time away from the main floor.”

Success in the industry has created a trickle down effect. Precisely because Disney operates a multi-billion dollar venture with its ownership of Marvel Studios, and hardly blinked when it paid north of four billion dollars to George Lucas for his Star Wars franchise, and because of the attendance explosion at comic book conventions all over the world, Olivares says some late-bloomers, seeing a chance to make a quick buck, have entered into the convention planning process.

It’s not an approach that pleases Olivares. He loves this stuff, loves the work that goes into it, and brings that passion to building the Tucson Comic-Con.

Gory alt-Vietnam War zombie action? Check.

Gory alt-Vietnam War zombie action? Check.

“Nationwide we’re going through this phase where a lot of people are starting comic book conventions now,” Olivares noted. “They’re rolling out other things and adding a comic book convention within it. They say ‘I just need to get comic book creators, people selling toys and comic books, basically doing the bare bones and not giving it its own personality.’ It’s a cash grab for a lot of people.

“I keep an eye out on social media walls and see what people are saying and watch videos of what they’re saying about Tucson Con. I try to take those pros and cons and meld them into the next year of planning. I’m on the floor all the time and like asking people what they think. A lot of people don’t know who I am and think I’m a regular attendee. Overall, we get some pretty good responses. We try to keep it new and exciting each year for the attendees.”

Three-day passes run $25, single-day Saturday is $15 and Sunday $10, although numerous discounts and other plans are available. For information and more specifics, check out tucsoncomic-con.com or the Tucson Comic-Con site on Facebook.