The final day of Fantasy Con got off to a bit of a quiet start. The holiday hangover was in full effect, and the crowds on the convention floor were a bit thinner than expected, but that just made the aisles and halls easier to navigate and made everything more accessible. Arriving midmorning provided the chance to walk the entire legnth of the floor uninterupted, have a close look at each booth and take in the entire production without feeling forced to dash madly from one thing to another.
There were good reasons for scheduling the inaugural Fantasy Con over the holiday weekend. The thought that many people would have an extra day or two off and would want something to do before the nighttime activities were ready to roll was chief among them. But an extra couple of days off also gave many people a chance to get out of town, which meant that a lot of people didn’t quite realize what they were missing out on.
The benchmark for a fan convention in Salt Lake was set unreasonably high by the behemoth that was Salt Lake Comic Con. With attendance that ranged well into six figures, there was an obvious market for fans of not just comics and celebrities, but cosplay, sci-fi and fantasy. Fantasy and science fiction go hand in hand with comic conventions, but always seem to be overshadowed by the bigger, flashier and brighter comic characters that have become so ingrained in pop culture that fantasy lovers can’t help but feel relegated to their own little corner.
That’s a corner that Fantasy Con was happy to claim, with banners, gargoyles and dragons firmly at their back every step of the way. Founder Josh Patel has been working for over half a decade trying to put together Fantasy Con, and with the success of Salt Lake Comic Con, it proved that his hometown was the perfect place to hold it.
It’s easy to look at Fantasy Con as a quick way to cash in on a market that clearly has demands for an event like this, but the organizers went out of their way to differentiate it as much as possible. The convention floor, which was open to the fullest extent was set up much differently than one would expect—and it really felt like you were entering another realm right from the start. Greeted by two towering, 30-foot sentinals that lead directly into the Hall of Heroes helped gradually absorb the atmosphere. The Hall was full of fantasy-inspired art from some of the talented folks that were on hand throughout the weekend—like Brom, Jeff Easley of Dungeons and Dragons, and Heather Theurer of Disney Fine Art.
While it was billed as a mix of cosplay, film, art and comics, there was little mention of just how much of an interactive experience Fantasy Con would be. Massive, detailed sets could be found at every single turn, and people were ready and willing to welcome newcomers to the world of live-action role playing, sword fighting and archery. People were encouraged to dress up, and many took full advantage of the opportunity to go all out.
The aisles between were filled with artists—some local, some national—selling prints, commissions and original works alongside handmade steampunk clothing, custom wands (yes, Harry Potter fans, those wands) and anything else you wouldn’t have expected to find outside of Middle Earth or Westeros.
While that was happening all three days, one of the highlights of the weekend was definitely the Simon Pegg panel on Saturday afternoon. Pegg is known for his acting ability as much as his love of Internet culture, and he’s developed a rapidly growing, cult-like fanbase that worships his every role—even the romantic comedies. His early roles in British shows like Spaced led to the beginning of his American fame, but it was the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End), with Edgar Wright and Nick Frost, and his role as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the recent STAR TREK reboot, that he’s become a fan favorite of just about everyone.
While a little bit out of place alongside the dwarves, hobbits, witches and aliens that packed the convention, Pegg was still a huge coup, and didn’t disappoint. He had his own booth on the far side of the convention floor where he held a meet-and-greet and his weekend culminated in a fun audience Q&A session in the middle of the day inside a packed Grand Ballroom.
The panel host made just a bit of small talk with Pegg before opening the floor to questions from the audience. The first five questions were asked by kids under the age of 10, which made for a good couple of bits from Simon Pegg about how he hoped he wouldn’t have to answer any questions from adults.
That wish didn’t come true, but the questions he got weren’t exactly ones looking to land hard-hitting, journalistic scoops. It was a fan convention after all, so he was barraged with questions like, “Which of the three characters did you like playing the most?” referring to Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy (Gary, The World’s End) and which character would win in a fight between them (also Gary).
Pegg was asked about reprising the role of Scotty if Star Trek ever made the jump back to the small screen, to which he gave a very diplomatic, non-commital answer about how TV has become a platform that almost has better stories and performances than movies. It wa a long, well-thought response in which he never actually answered, because he’s probably not too keen on reading about it on the Internet for the next four days.
Once the panel ended, the rest of the day was spent wandering the aisles, looking at all the unique art, clothing and people dressed head to toe in costumes—like if the Craft Lake City DIY Fest had popped up in a medieval villiage. There were many things to buy, but for the most part, no one was there to buy anything (aside from an autograph or photo op with a celebrity, which ranged anywhere from $10 to $50), because everyone could actually take part in something. There was an archery range, there was a group teaching historical swordsmanship, and the biggest and best was the Belegarth opportunities.
The middle of the convention floor had been turned into an arena where they were holding giant battles with foam weapons. By singing a waiver and learning a quick version of the rules, anyone was able to take part and most of the time, the battles were full of people running around, jumping into combat with swords, spears and shields. A little ways away was someone teaching the art of blacksmithing, glass blowers, and a stage where professional fireworkers held court.
Fantasy Con was a truly unique experience, and bravo to the founders, the staff, and all the volunteers for making it run so smoothly. The more people start hearing about what actually went on inside the Salt Palace this weekend and how it was different than a bunch of middle aged men dressed as elves (which, to be fair, there were plenty of), they’ll be sorry they missed. It’s a con that got off on the right foot, and with the effort they put into this one, it’s only bound to get better.
Click here to check out a complete set of photos from Saturday.