The Drama of Phoenix Comicon 2017: An Assassination Attempt, a Weapons Ban, and a Removal

The Drama of Phoenix Comicon 2017: An Assassination Attempt, a Weapons Ban, and a Removal

Memorial Day Weekend is typically a time to reflect on those who served our country and paid the ultimate price, but in Arizona, it’s a time for comics, cosplay, a little chaos and more at the annual Phoenix Comicon.

This gathering of geeks clogs the downtown streets where attendees brave triple-digit weather to meet their heroes, show off their costumes, and connect with others like themselves. However, unlike years before, Phoenix Comicon 2017 will go down in infamy with its daily, unexpected doses of drama occasionally veering towards a life or death struggle.

Day One: The Assassination Attempt

As Phoenix Comicon opened on Thursday, May 25th, fans excitedly filled the halls of the Phoenix Convention Center, ready to explore all the con had to offer, but among these ecstatic faces was one stern individual on a mission.

Referring to himself as “The Punisher,” young adult Matthew Sterling arrived at the con with 3 loaded handguns, a shotgun, and multiple knives. His intent, as reported by the Phoenix Police, was not only to kill officers he deemed — and posted photos of online — as “bad officers,” but to assassinate Power Rangers actor and Comicon guest, Jason David Frank.

Sterling's target.
Sterling’s target.

However, in another city, a hero saw something and said something. Rayko Dig, a Los Angeles musician who had met Sterling on one occasion, received texts from Sterling with pictures of his targets. Seeing these alarmed Dig, galvanizing her to alert law enforcement to Sterling’s presence and intent at the con. In doing so, Dig helped Phoenix Police to subdue Sterling before anyone was harmed.

Jason David Frank even reached out to Dig to thank her, stating on his official Facebook page, “Just have to say thank YOU Rayko for telling the police! [You’re] my hero for saving all of us!! You did a great job for ‘seeing something and saying something.'”

Day Two: The Weapons and Props Ban

With the attack in Manchester, England still fresh on the mind, Phoenix Comicon Director, Matthew Solberg, took no time to increase security and enact new guidelines to keep con-goers safe. While attendees dreaded long, outdoor security lines, it was nothing compared to their rage directed at Solberg’s Thursday evening announcement:

“All costume props are no longer allowed, including foam and cardboard props, shields and sabers. Purchased props will be wrapped by the vendors and must remain so while they are on-site. We encourage you to take your purchases to your car or hotel as soon as possible after purchase.”  

No guns, lightsabers, shields, or otherwise.
No guns, lightsabers, shields, or otherwise.

While most attendees understood Solberg’s rationale for eliminating realistic gun or firearm props, the majority of con-goers felt a blanket ban on all props — whether foam, cardboard, gun, weapon or not — took it too far, ruining the costumes which cosplayers work so hard to either create or purchase.

The next day, Solberg let up on the blanket ban but not by much, stating, “Wands, sonic screwdrivers, plushies, masks, fairy wings, empty holsters, signs attached to costumes, fur suits, cardboard made costumes and non-weapon props, dishware associated with costumes, empty quivers, hats and helmets, Power Ranger Morphers, and umbrellas, by example, are allowed.”

Yet even with this bright bit of news, there was still a heavy atmosphere putting a damper on the con that would persist the following day.

Day Three: The Fallout Continues…

As the Exhibitor Hall opened Saturday morning, fans quickly noticed a familiar presence was missing. For nine years, one vendor had always been in attendance at Phoenix Comicon: UltraSabers. These purveyors of custom lightsabers attract amateur and professional Jedi alike who are interested in taking their study of the force to the next level.

However, on Phoenix Comicon’s most popular day, the company, their booths, and their desirable sabers were gone.

Attendees admiring the UltraSabers booth.
Attendees admiring the UltraSabers booth.

Questions started flying, but there were no answers to be found. Even now, the drama between UltraSabers and Phoenix Comicon is still shrouded in accusations and a “he said, she said” debate, leaving the fans to do no more than simply choose a side.

Between their opposing stories only a few pieces coincide, such as UltraSaber’s protest against the blanket ban on weapons and props at the con. Understandably, the company felt their business selling lightsabers would be harmed by this ban and simply did not agree with it.

UltraSabers also claimed — as found in both statements — they were forced to hand patrons their brand-new, customized, $100+ lightsabers in trash bags in accordance with Solberg’s new guidelines. Lastly, both parties also confirmed that UltraSabers were forced to pack up under Police supervision and leave Friday night after the exhibitor hall had closed.

Aside from the shared elements of their stories, everything else remains muddy at best. UltraSabers claims they requested a refund for their booths on Friday after being asked to leave the convention. They also claim to have followed the “trash bag policy” despite disagreeing with it. Phoenix Comicon, on the other hand, states that UltraSabers did not follow their guidelines, forcing them to remove UltraSabers from the con.

The facts surrounding this dispute between longtime friends may never be known, but it has left a lasting impact on annual attendees who fear their favorite booths could be banned or removed at any time for simply disagreeing with the convention’s director.

The Future of Phoenix Comicon:

Sadly, the future of this con is uncertain. After changing their volunteer policy earlier in the year — making it so one has to pay to join a service to volunteer at the con — having multiple guests drop-out such as Charlie Cox (Daredevil) and Ming Na Wen (Mulan/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), overselling multiple photo-ops with celebrity guests, an assassination attempt, a ban on costume props, and the removal of a staple booth, Phoenix Comicon may have started on a downhill slide to their demise.

Scroll through the 1000+ comments on their more popular posts, and you will find mixed reactions to the events from the weekend: some fans swear Phoenix Comicon will be their last while others applaud Solberg’s willingness to do anything to keep attendees safe. Only time will tell.

Keep checking back with The Source for more updates on Phoenix Comicon and the interviews we conducted with some of the con’s guests! It’ll be cool. Promise.