The third and final day of FanX brought with it a sense of bittersweet excitement. Fans knew that today was the day that the convention was planning on bringing out the big guns, but they also knew that after the doors of the Salt Palace closed for the evening, they would have to make the long, somber journey back to the real world—at least until September’s convention rolls around, that is.
In addition to another full day of panels, artists and vendors, FanX’s headlining celebrities Nathan Fillion, Karen Gillan and Sir Patrick Stewart were all scheduled to appear for Q&A sessions with thousands of fans. Fillion, who is currently the star of ABC’s comic mystery Castle, has long been immortalized in geek culture for his role as Captain Malcolm Reynolds in Joss Whedon’s short-lived Fox series Firefly, though I’m a bit partial to his performance as Sheriff Bill Pardy in James Gunn’s splatterrific horror film Slither. Karen Gillan earned her place in the world of fandom for her performance as Amy Pond, companion to the space and time traveling Doctor in BBC’s Doctor Who. She can be found currently starring in the paranormal creepfest Oculus, which is still in theatres. This August, she will be digging into her dark side as the intergalactic villainess Nebula in Marvel Studio’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Sir Patrick Stewart is perhaps most well-known for his portrayal of Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation and his role as Professor Charles Xavier in the film adaptations of Marvel’s X-Men. His appearance at FanX came as a huge surprise when it was announced yesterday morning.
Attendance levels were record-breaking today—SLCC co-founder Bryan Brandenburg announced that their overall attendance for the event broke the 100,000 mark, 25,000 more than last year’s SLCC. With numbers that high already, it’s going to be a difficult record to break for the convention that is a mere six months away, though something tells me that Dan Farr Productions is up to the challenge.
It’s impossible to see Nathan Fillion on stage and not think of Flynn Rider from Tangled. Fillion is composed of the same casual, dry wit and square-jawed swagger as the Disney character to the point where I think Fillion should be collecting a bit of money for likeness rights. Be that as it may, his Q&A session with the FanX crowd was very entertaining. He shared stories that ranged from his first few experiences with Doctor Who to nearly getting beaten into the ground by a military man behind the scenes of Saving Private Ryan. I personally enjoyed his list of things he’d like to do on a TV show or film, which included, but was not limited to, landing a plane, playing his own double and lighting a fuse with a cigar or cigarette.
Karen Gillan was scheduled to take the stage after Fillion, but for reasons unknown, her session started a half hour later than scheduled, which was disappointing to fans who were expecting to have her on stage for twice as long. Regardless of the shortened session, Gillan managed to fill the room with her glowing personality and heart-melting Scottish accent. Most of the fans had questions about her work on Doctor Who, which sounded a lot like she was the youngest sibling in a large family of male hooligans. She told stories about how Matt Smith would go to great pains in orchestrating some very elaborate pranks with her as the primary target. Other fans were interested in her upcoming role in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, to which she remained fairly tight-lipped—other than advising the audience to never get into a fight with Zoe Saldana. Two things that particularly resonated with me were Gillan’s desire to play Lady Macbeth and her desire to work with filmmaker Michael Haneke. I couldn’t help but think that if Haneke made an adaptation of Macbeth with Gillan cast as the conniving Lady Macbeth, I would be more than a little excited.
The final event of the evening was dedicated to Sir Patrick Stewart’s surprise arrival. Stewart, who is extraordinarily high on the geek coolness spectrum, was every bit as charming in real life as I had hoped. Stewart began his session with news about an independent film that he had worked on with Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard called Match, which just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and was very well received. He will also be reprising his role as Professor X in Bryan Singer’s upcoming X-Men sequel. Stewart also shared a story about the significance of Salt Lake in his acting career—apparently his solo production of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol premiered here before it became a Broadway hit, which Stewart claimed gave him the confidence he needed as an actor. Fans were also quick to discuss Stewart’s charity work with Refuge, a UK-based nonprofit that is dedicated to providing safe houses for women and children who are trying to escape from domestic abuse. Like all of the celebrities that were decent enough to visit FanX, Stewart was incredibly gracious and entertaining.
Periodically, Bryan Brandenburg would keep the crowd updated with the statistics surrounding FanX. Based on what he told the crowd, the attendance levels of this weekend’s event were large enough to make the SLCC and FanX the two largest conventions in Utah’s history. Brandenburg also claimed that the SLCC was the third largest comic book convention in North America. By my reckoning, that would mean that the only two conventions that are more attended would be New York’s comic con and the one that started it all in San Diego. I haven’t been to New York’s con, but I’ve completed enough tours in San Diego to know that if you’ve got a well-attended convention, the movie, T.V. and comic book bigwigs take notice. If Brandenburg’s numbers are correct, that could be huge for SLCC. It could mean that the celebrity participation that we’ve seen so far could be just the beginning.
So why am I worried?
I’ve been around the block enough to know how pop culture works. When I see two conventions taking place within six months of each other, I have to wonder how long either convention can last. When something is able to debut with as much energy and enthusiasm as was emitted by last year’s SLCC, there’s a risk of it getting too big before the convention even knows what it really is. Though I love what SLCC does for the city and for all of the beautiful nerds who come out to revel in the fandom that unites them, my concern is that, at its current pace, the convention will reach critical mass and implode before it even has a chance to realize its potential. Regardless of the fanbase that SLCC has already gained, the convention is still a delicate and fragile thing that needs to be properly nurtured. Rather than emphasizing how many fans that SLCC can pack into the Salt Palace, I would hope that the folks at Dan Farr Productions keep their focus trained on what makes a convention like this great in the first place. It’s still far too early to determine the fate of SLCC, and it’s being handled by folks who know way more than I do about convention logistics. I, like many fans of the convention, simply want to make sure it lasts for as long as it can—especially so we can see it improve each year.