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A Brief Look at Arizona Fandom History

[written by Hal C. F. Astell for the Westercon 70 Program Guide in 2017.]

Arizona's fandom history has not yet been well documented, but its roots go back to the sixties when Westercon was a teenager who had only rarely ventured outside of California. These roots were varied.

Science fiction novelist Rick Cook founded a Phoenix chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism in 1969 with Mike and Judy Reynolds. This grew into the Kingdom of Atenveldt that is still thriving today.

Our first convention was Phoenix Con in 1970, a comic book event run by Bruce Hamilton, a Scottsdale DJ, with Phoenix Comic Club members. Arizona's first guest was Carl Barks, creator of Scrooge McDuck. Phoenix Con returned in 1972 but was ironically never held in Phoenix.

Tucson fandom was soon spoiled for choice. A high profile movie con called Desert Con ran for most of the seventies at the University of Arizona with big budgets and major guests. Some committee members wanted a more personal event, so Jim Corrick and Carol de Priest founded TusCon in 1974, which is still going strong today as the oldest Arizona con still active. It's run by BASFA and Sue Thing has been a consistent chair since 1981.

Up in Phoenix, a core group of sci-fi fans grew out of meetings run by librarian Terry Ballard at Phoenix Public Library. They created LepreCon, named because the first event in 1975 was held over the St. Patrick's Day weekend. The United Federation of Phoenix was also founded in 1975 and both LepreCon and the UFP are still active today.

In addition to TusCon and LepreCon, Arizona in the seventies held all sorts of other fandom cons, often known by their nicknames rather than their usually unwieldy real ones: CookieCons, KandyKon, NoodleCon... the latter was held in Tucson in 1977, billed as "the event of the millennium", which sounds like a fair description given who and what was there.

All this reached a pinnacle in 1978 when Arizona hosted the 36th World Science Fiction Convention. By all accounts, Iguanacon was enjoyed by attendees but it strained and broke friendships behind the scenes. Arizona fandom fractured and rebuilt. By the time Phoenix first hosted Westercon in 1982, new groups were in play. PhringeCon, Inc. hosted a couple of star-studded PhringeCons, with a strong Star Trek presence, and CASFS had started a long run of CopperCons, taking a focus on sci-fi literature after LepreCon had begun to focus on sci-fi art.

And so things continued for most of the eighties. Each year saw the trio of long-running Arizona sci-fi cons: LepreCon in the spring, CopperCon in the fall and TusCon a couple of months later. Interspersed among them were gate shows run by Creation Entertainment and others, which were usually dedicated to specific fandoms, mostly but not always Star Trek, and a growing collection of mobile cons, both regional and national.

Randy Rau chaired Westercon 35 in Phoenix in 1982 for CASFS. Terry Gish brought Westercon 41 back to Phoenix in 1988. In between, Rau also ran our first World Fantasy Convention in Tucson in 1985. Bruce Farr was the chair of the fourth NASFiC, held in Phoenix in 1987 when Worldcon was in England; he also chaired Arizona's only SMOFcon in 1988.

We've continued to host such events, of course. Leprecon, Inc. ran the first North American Discworld Convention in 2009. Arizona also hosted World Fantasy on two more occasions (in 1991 and 2004) and three World Horrors (in 1994, 1998 and 2004), as well as Costume-Con (in 2012) and the Browncoat Ball (in 2013). This is our sixth Westercon.

The local Arizona convention calendar started to busy up around the turn of the nineties with a variety of events filling a variety of niches. The first may have been CorsairCon, a pirate-themed event run by the Corsairs of the Desert Sea, Inc., though Bruce Farr's SmurfCon, a conrunners event, may predate it. Gaming events began with CASFS's HexaCon in 1991 and that ran for almost two decades. Henry Vanderbilt began his Space Access conferences in 1994 and that has run for two decades! The Dark Ones set up DarkCon in 1995, which is still active today. So is Doc Con, a Doc Savage event celebrating its 20th anniversary this year; that started in 1998, the same year as ZonieCon, the first Arizona con for the fur community.

Book festivals showed up in 1998 too, in multiple places. The Arizona Book Festival in Phoenix went on hiatus after ten events; the Tucson Festival of Books then took over and has become the largest fandom event in Arizona with attendance over 130,000 in each of the last four years.

The only other event to come close is Phoenix Comicon, founded and still run by Matt Solberg. It started in 2002 as Phoenix Cactus Comicon, a six hour comic book con in Ahwatukee; it topped 100,000 attendees in 2016. The Blue Ribbon Army, a non-profit social group which began as a Phoenix Comicon fan club, has 12,000 members on Facebook, making their conversation surely the most active that Arizona fandom has ever seen.

The fandom landscape has changed considerably over the decades, not least because what used to be niche is now the mainstream. PhringeCon, back in 1980, was "for people interested in the fringes of science fiction", those fringes being fandoms like Marvel and Star Trek. Phoenix Comicon is the modern inheritor of PhringeCon's purpose as much as Phoenix Con's.

What's perhaps most notable is how the number of conventions held in state has grown. We may not have hit half a dozen in a year at any point during the seventies or eighties, but we reached double digits in 1998, then twenty in 2006, thirty in 2013 and forty in 2015!

Partly, this is because they represent a wide variety of fandoms: not just sci-fi cons, but anime cons, gaming cons, book cons, comic book cons, art cons, space cons, horror cons, fur cons, fanzine cons, faerie cons, dinosaur cons, collectible toy cons... you name it, we probably have it.

And partly, it's because mini-comicons are sprouting up in schools and libraries in cities across the state, where costs are low (or non-existent), staff are often inherent and events can be truly local. Instead of traveling to Phoenix and dealing with crazy crowds, many check out local events in San Luis, Apache Junction, Yuma, Cottonwood, Sierra Vista or Winslow. The pioneer here is Todd VanHooser, who has run Laughing Moon Con at Goodyear's Desert Edge High School since 2010.

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Last update: 6th February, 2020