As FanX opened its doors to the many-headed beast of Utah’s geek culture for day one of the three-day event, there was a subdued feeling in the air—not unlike the kind that settles in just before a storm rips through town, leaving nothing but smears of grease paint and empty Mountain Dew cans in its wake. Last year, Salt Lake Comic Con made history by boasting the largest attendance rate of a first-year convention in the history of North America. This year, both FanX and SLCC 2014 are each expected to pull in around 100,000 attendees. In anticipation for this increased volume, security and volunteer services appear to be more organized, and the exhibition hall has been expanded to twice the size it was last year. Though the attendance was sparse in the morning, the constant flux of attendees throughout the day still managed to fill up every nook and cranny of the Salt Palace—and it’s only day one.
Attendees of last year’s SLCC will recognize the huge exhibition hall crammed with wall to wall geek goodness—local art, steampunk jewelry and ironic T-shirts—as well as a full schedule of panels featuring local and international celebrities. Though there was still plenty to do on the first day of FanX, Thursday was definitely a warmup for the weekend. For those of you who were stuck working on the first day of FanX, here’s a quick recap of what you missed.
The press conference that kicked off the event was nothing short of surreal. Imagine, if you dare, Jason David Frank (the coolest of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) introducing Governor Herbert and SLCC producers Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg on a stage that was furnished to look like the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Standing behind them, representatives of Salt Lake’s police force, fire department, and the National Guard looked proud and enthusiastic to be present. When Governor Herbert recited the Green Lantern Oath, the extreme juxtaposition of fantasy and reality became too much to process, and I blacked out.
When I came to, I could see that several of FanX’s scheduled celebrities were available for press interviews, which was when I got to work. First, I spoke to Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl on AMC’s zombie survival drama The Walking Dead. This was my first time meeting a celebrity who was younger than me and, for some reason—I blame Justin Bieber—I was worried that he would be a dick. It was quite the opposite, however. We talked about League of Legends, (his favorite character is Nocturne), zombie films (he’s a fan of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland), and the success of The Walking Dead (he’s done with chocolate pudding for life). I was also excited to see Aaron Douglas, who did an amazing job as Chief Tyrol on Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica. He was in town last December filming a Lifetime movie called The Mentor, and had only great things to say about the SLC. “I fell in love with the place. The people, the city, it’s just beautiful,” Douglas says.
Geeks are, for the most part, an intellectual crowd. We like to pontificate about everything from consequences that would take place should James Bond encounter Doctor Who and his TARDIS to Batman’s official psychological diagnosis. The beauty of a convention like Fan X is that it gives fans the opportunity to discuss these polarizing questions with the creators of their favorite stories. The first panel that I attended was made up of local sci-fi/fantasy authors—Brandon Mull (Fablehaven, Five Kingdoms), Larry Correia (Monster Hunter International, The Grimnoir Chronicles), J.R. Johansson (Insomnia), Heather Ostler (The Shapeshifter’s Secret), Tyler Whitesides (Janitors) and Peggy Eddleman (Sky Jumpers)—who offered their collective wisdom on the things that inspire them to create the stories that they are known for. The group offered some interesting tidbits about their individual writing process—for example, the idea that a middle-school bathroom could be out of order for an entire school year inspired Tyler Whitesides’s successful fantasy series, effectively proving that a good storyteller can find something interesting in the weirdest of places.
Another panel that caught my interest was focused around the psychology of superheroes. As someone who has spent many hours thinking about how superheroes are essentially nutjobs, it was interesting to get a more in-depth perspective from folks in the comic book business. The panel included the creators of Salt City Strangers (Chris Hoffman, Josh Butterfield and Jeremy Gates), which is a superhero comic set in Salt Lake City, along with ksl.com film critic John Clyde, and literary experts Tyson and Tamara Webb. After a brief introduction, they opened the floor for fans to bring up the geeky questions that keep them up at night. Over the course of the panel, we discussed the popularity of dystopian literature, anti-heroes and zombies, and what thier popularity says about our society. Basically, zombies are still cool, but vampires have officially become lamesville.
If you’re from Utah and you dig comics, chances are you’ve happened upon Dr. Volt’s comic book shop. Given the audience of FanX, it’s not very surprising to encounter representatives from one of Utah’s most cherished comic book shops. Andrew Malin, creative director and buyer for Dr. Volt’s (which might be the best job in the universe) was decent enough to chat with me—after helping an avid Doctor Who fan select the right sonic screwdriver, of course. As FanX maintained a heavy focus on bringing celebrities to Salt Lake, it appeared as though comic books were taking a back seat this time around. Malin disagreed, however. “Comic books are just as much a part of geek culture as celebrities. The FanX audience has many different interests, and that’s why we’re here today,” Malin says. We also discussed Dr. Volt’s reputation as an inclusive comic book shop, where so many others seem to exclude new readers. “We pride ourselves on being able to talk to our customers, learn about their interests and then lead them to a comic book series that they’ll love,” Malin says. Though the geek movement seems to be going strong with so many blockbuster films and television programs that have been spawned by comic books, it’s important to remember that it’s folks like Malin and the team at Dr. Volt’s who keep new readers interested in the comic book medium.
In the event that you’ve stocked up on comics and souvenirs, your FanX experience shouldn’t be complete without a trip to Artist’s Alley. It’s here that fans can take home anything from a unique portrait of their favorite superhero or a piece of steampunk weaponry. At first glance, it tends to look like the only thing for sale is a hundred different pictures of ample-bosomed, half-naked superheroines, but hidden in between those stereotypical walls of oversexualized fanboy fare are some truly unique pieces of artwork. Among the most eye-catching of these diamonds in the rough was Toypacalypse, a terrifying collection of repurposed and remixed plastic action figures. I’m not sure if it was the giant baby head on top of a t-rex or the strange amalgam of Yoda and Iron Man that I noticed first, but this is the kind of weird shit that I go crazy for. I can imagine Toypacalypse creator James “Rez” Rezlin in an abandoned laboratory screaming, “It’s alive!” as he glues lobster claws onto a Hello Kitty doll. “It all starts with recycled toys,” Rezlin says, “I break them apart, and put them back together with hot glue and resin.” In addition to the strange shapes that Rezlin creates with his materials, each piece is coated with a paint job that makes them appear to be forged out of some kind of cosmic metal. “It’s a process that I’d like to keep secret,” Rezlin says. Check out his Facebook page for some pictures of his handiwork—but don’t say I didn’t warn you.