Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Event Report: Alabama Phoenix Festival 2013

Memorial Day weekend saw the arrival of the second annual Alabama Phoenix Festival in Birmingham, with three days of science fiction, fantasy, and general geekery for those inclined to enjoy such things. This is the kind of event that covers a lot of my interests, from classic sci-fi and horror films to popular culture icons, but this time I attended the convention in my LEGO fan guise, helping the Magic City LEGO Club with a large display that drew a lot of attention over the weekend.

Gil Gerard at Alabama Phoenix Festival
Given that the convention is only in its second year, it managed to host an impressive guest list. Gil Gerard (BUCK ROGERS), Ernie Hudson (GHOSTBUSTERS), Colin Ferguson (EUREKA), and Janina Gavankar (TRUE BLOOD) were all on hand for panels and autographs, along with a bevy of authors, artists, and other professional guests. I was thrilled to find my popular culture colleagues, Dale Koontz and Ensley Guffey, at the convention to talk about the works of Joss Whedon. (Note to self: start going to cons as an author/scholar guest and geek out for free.) It turns out that Janina Gavankar is a huge LEGO fan, which made the weekend especially fun for our club folks.

Balloon Dalek and K-9 by Doctor Osborn
A vendor area offered all kinds of goodies for sale, including toys, comics, jewelry, and books. In the author section, you could meet Allen Bellman, the Timely/Marvel comic book artist who worked on CAPTAIN AMERICA and other popular titles during the 1940s. Bellman had signed art for sale and was a big draw for classic comic book fans. Other fun attractions included a BACK TO THE FUTURE DeLorean, a large TARDIS replica, and a balloon artist who spent his weekend making elaborate versions of Slimer, Twiki, K-9, and even a huge balloon Dalek.

So what did I take to Phoenix Festival for the LEGO display? Digging deep into my childhood obsessions, I went with a Doctor Who themed LEGO creation. My "Whovian Holiday" layout featured classic Doctors like Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker as well as the new incarnations, their companions, and lots of enemies, including a small army of custom-built Daleks. I loved being able to build something like that for an audience that would actually recognize it; I usually hide the TARDIS in my show layouts, but only a few people pick up on the reference at our regular LEGO shows. (Note to self: start going to cons with the LEGO Doctor Who display and watch other people geek out.)

Overall, the convention was a great experience, and my daughter had an especially good time costume-watching and meeting other kids who share her peculiar set of interests (including a truly obsessive love for My Little Pony). One thing I would like to see at Phoenix Festival in the future is more attention to classic science fiction. Admittedly, GHOSTBUSTERS can be called a classic in certain circles, but it would have been nice to see some panels and events that celebrated the genre's long and glorious past. A lot of the youngsters in attendance could use the education. I did meet a lovely older man who was sporting a FRANKENSTEIN t-shirt the same day that I was wearing my Bela Lugosi DRACULA shirt, so I know there are some fans already built into the crowd. (Note to self: start going to cons to do panels on classic science fiction films and geek out while being attacked by giant leeches.)

If you're in the region and find Dragon Con too crowded these days, I do recommend a weekend at Alabama Phoenix Festival. I'll definitely be going back next year!