Dr. Who?

The Alabama Phoenix Festival celebrates imagination as the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and people explore their inner superhero, warlock or sci-fi character.

Photography by Chuck St. John
Make-up by Somica Spratley

A forum for celebrating the creativity and imagination that science-fiction, fantasy and superheroes foster, the Alabama Phoenix Festival was born from the desire to break through the sterotypes often associated with a scifi convention. This unique event is the brainchild of Steve Charleson, Tim Stacks and Stan Daniel, who hope to create an environment where people of all ages can come together and explore the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. The weekend of events runs from May 25-27 at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center on Highway 280. The organizers take their inspiration from Albert Einstein, who said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” On the pages that follow, we talked to and photographed some people for whom the imagination is never far below the surface. Find out more about attending the festival at www.alabamaphoenixfestival.com. If you’re going you might want to pack your light saber. Just in case.

Hunter Brown as Dr. Who

Hunter Brown from Vestavia Hills is 19 years old.  He is pursuing a B.F.A. in musical theatre at the University of Montevallo.

In the photograph, Brown is dressed as Dr. Who from the classic British TV series. “I love the character because of how well-written and layered he is,” he says. “The writers and actors make him seem like a real, tangible being despite the fact he is an immortal alien that travels through time. You can always feel his happiness, loneliness, and despair.”








Shane Pardue, dressed as a Crimson Guard from the G.I Joe TV show & Comic Series

Shane Pardue, age 29, is dressed as a Crimson Guard from the G.I Joe TV show and comics and says that he is one of the only people in the world who does G.I Joe costuming.

The burgundy-crimson costume appeals to Pardue because, quite simply, it looks so good and so distinctive. “It’s like high fashion in a way while still being kind of militaristic, and the uniform is very crisp and clean and striking.”

Costuming is rewarding to Pardue because he says he learns new skills. “Every costume is a new challenge,” he says. “You have to do a lot of research.  You have to get tips from somebody to make something that was maybe drawn and never physically put on a person in real life.”

Pardue is a freelance graphic designer.










A.J. Sutton, dressed as Emma Frost


A.J. Sutton is the art director for the Phoenix Festival. Sutton, age 24, earned a degree in sculpture from UAB in 2011.

“Emma Frost is a super-strong female character in comics,” Sutton says. “She used to be a villain, but she’s trying to redeem herself, though she’s still a little slippery. In X-Men, she’s using her femininity to her advantage as a strength instead of a weakness. I love the strong women, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Anita Blake, strong female role models.

Like some of the other festival participants, Sutton says that the event is a chance to get away, at least for a weekend, from the day-to-day grind. “It’s a little bit of wish fulfillment, fantastic escapism, and there is a sense of community because you’re with other people who are into the same stuff as you and like to think about the same things that you do.”







Jonathan Sutton, as Spiderman

Jonathan Sutton, age 26, lives in Five Points, has a degree in music technology from UAB, works as a videographer for Alabama Public Television and plays upright bass in an indie-folk band called Opera Sextronique.

He is attracted to Spiderman because of what he sees as the character’s underlying normalcy, strangely enough. “His alter-edo is Peter Parker, and he’s not like the other heroes, like Ironman, who’s a millionaire, and Thor, who’s a god,” Sutton says. “Peter Parker had a day job and a girlfriend. He had to go to work and make rent. He has average human problems that make him more relatable than those other guys.”

Sutton likes the sense of community he finds at events like the Phoenix Festival. “It’s a time to just cut loose with other like-minded people and just nerd out with them,” he says.



Steve McCleskey

A vice-president at Regions Bank, Steve McCleskey, age 46, lives in Talladega, Ala., and says that the Phoenix Festival is the first costuming event that he’s attended.

He will serve as Star Wars track leader at the event and is responsible for helping create and moderate panel discussions.

McCleskey has high hopes for the festival. “Envisioning the future, whether scientific or artistic, is critical to economic and social progress,” he says. “Fostering creativity and imagination is what the [event]  is about.”






Yoko Mizuhara

Yoko Mizuhara, a 21-year-old marketing student at UAB, says that she finds “a lot of camaraderie in fandom, and it’s a great way to meet a lot of other costumers.” She has gone to over 20 general sci-fi and about 50 anime conventions since 2003.

“I think I did cosplay (short for “costume play”) even before I knew what it was,” she says. “It lets me to be someone cooler than I am and lets me meet all these other amazing people at conventions.”













Stephanie Hickey



Stephanie Hickey, a 19-year-old from Concord, Ala., is a music student at UAB who likes to draw and loves the Harry Potter stories.

“As a child, I loved magic and dragons and I still do, so when the movies came out I was absolutely thrilled,” she says. “It was completely perfect for me because the characters grew up with me and it was one of those movies that I felt I was actually part of. It was my perfect escape. The world that I always wanted to live in as a child came to life in front of me and I loved every second of it.”














Paige Smith

Paige Smith is a 47-year-old freelance writer living in Trussville. Her hobby is designing and building costumes.

“I go to conventions around the country to talk about how to make costumes without sewing,” she says. “I take recycled or cast-off items and hook them all together using every shortcut imaginable. “

Smith likes steam-punk, which she calls a blend of Victorian and futuristic elements.

Costuming is a way for people to forge deeper connections to some part of the pop culture that they like, including TV, movies and comics. “It’s a way to physically engage with it,” she says.




Steve Charleson, an engineer with Cotney Aerospace in Helena, says that he’s always been a big sci-fi/fantasy fan and attended his first convention in 2000. “I really enjoyed it and have been going regularly every since,” he says.

According to Charleson, he and his partners saw the need for an event like this in Birmingham after the Magic Con sci-fi event left the city two years ago. “That left a big vacuum, and nobody else stepped up,” he said.

Tim Stacks is also an engineer at Cotney Aerospace.

He says that there is a large community of people in Birmingham interested in the genres celebrated at the Phoenix Festival. “There are many talented individuals coming to this year’s Alabama Phoenix Festival that are local to the Birmingham area, and many have a following of their own.”

Stan Daniel says that he thrives on the sense of vast possibilities endangered by comics, sci-fi and fantasy. “What’s imagined in these genres become tomorrow’s reality,” he says.

Daniel and the other organizers hope that the festival can help inspire creativity in Birmingham and Alabama, and say the symbol of the Phoenix rising from the ashes is no accident. “This is a rebirth, we hope, for the fantastic elements to keep talent in this state and to give them the opportunities that they are leaving for elsewhere,” Daniel says.

Daniel wants festival attendees to be inspired by the art, the exhibits and the speakers.  “I want them to be inspired and go out and create and to follow their creativity wherever it takes them,” he says.

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One Response to “Dr. Who?”

  1. Uncle says:

    I knew that this was going to be a BIG THING !!!!

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