Salt Lake Comic Con @ The Salt Palace 09.07

Posted September 13, 2013 in

Alex and Tony: Punk Rock Superheroes! Photo: Megan Kennedy

Unless you just flew in from the darkest reaches of Romulan space, you may have heard about a little convention our fair city had last week, a convention that shattered records and expectations and huffed new life into the suffocating lungs of local geekdom. Dan Farr Productions’ Salt Lake Comic Con was a blazing fucking success by all accounts—especially financially—and has set the stage for Salt Lake to become a new mecca for the culture. Saturday morning, I donned my best Batman shirt and joined the throng of people to see just what was so special about not only Salt Lake’s first* comic con, but about cons in general. I’ve never had occasion to be a part of one and I was very excited that I got to pop that cherry in familiar territory.

(*There seems to be some dispute, as there is bound to be between geeks, about who was actually first, concerning a previous and much smaller-scale con done in the ’80s or ’90s. I’m not here to confirm or deny anyone’s story, just to acknowledge the contention.)
My visit being on the last day, as well as the day when the big guns of Shatner and Lee were coming out, there was no doubt in my mind that Saturday would surpass the already seam-busting crowds the Con had experienced thus far. From the second we stepped on the standing-room-only Trax car until we got back home, my personal bubble (admittedly bigger than most people’s) was thoroughly invaded at every turn. We were fortunate in that my press status allowed us to skip the fucking gargantuan line of people that weaved around the Salt Palace’s entrance and down the block. Lines were a big part of many visitors’ day, especially if they were hankering to get face time with Stan Lee, who had a heaving throng of people waiting for hours to get his autograph. I found many of the “smaller” attractions weren’t bad at all, and the panels we went to had reasonable lines and smooth transitions. 
The Con was set up across the convention hall floor, with celebrity tables lined against a wall and given room for lines to form. It was sort of sad to see some of the celebs without big lines or indeed lines at all. I fulfilled 8-year-old Megan’s dreams by sidling up to Billy the Blue Ranger early in the morning, when he had no other waiting fans, and telling him how awesome he was. He asked for our names and was nice but seemed kind of aloof; it was still cool after all this time to be able to shake the dude’s hand, though. Power Rangers were one of the great trifecta of shows that taught me the ways of ninja badassery (the other two being TMNT and the X-Men animated series). 
Even though we’d arrived early, it wasn’t long before the line outside began to make its way into the halls, and suddenly, there was just too much awesome to take pictures of. I am so impressed with the cosplay that turned out for this Con. It honestly was one of my favorite experiences of this, seeing everyone geek the fuck out and then geek out over each other. It was all love, all admiration, all support and camaraderie and solidarity, and that is really something to crow about. The geek culture is not always a kind culture. Most of us, having been marginalized in one or more ways, take our cultural obsessions pretty seriously—we’re defensive of this newfound popularity and acceptance from the mainstream that used to taunt us—so much so that we begin to turn on each other, unsure to whom our aggression now belongs. We make up shit about “fake gamer girls” and “poseur nerds” who deserve our ire for not meeting some bullshit arbitrary list of qualifications that no one can agree on anyway. None of that mattered at SLCC. It was beautiful. I don’t know how geek cons in other cities operate, but this is exactly how I think our culture should represent itself all the time, in all venues. My boyfriend and I tried to have a friendly competition, counting DC vs. Marvel cosplay, but we abandoned it when we both got into the 50s-60s with neither pulling ahead. (I will say: I’m surprised I didn’t see a single serious Superman cosplay… Oh, wait—no, I’m not, ’cause fuck Superman.)
Aside from celebs, the Con had hundreds of booths and tables set up to peruse. Even with my day-long adventure and really trying to get down every single aisle, there were some artists I don’t remember seeing, and so I know I missed a lane or two trying to navigate the throngs. But the booths really represented the full spectrum of the culture: art, novels, comic stores, graphic novels, merchandise, makeup demos, cosplay, action figures, collectables, gaming demos—you name it— there was probably a booth for it. Some of the merch booths were full of kind of shitty, little, easy-to-find items like generic character posters or T-shirts that were overpriced, but some were truly unique, like the booth packed with homemade replicas of geek trinkets like T-Virus injectors, dragon and xenomorph eggs, and even a bottle of Nuka-Cola Quantum that looks like it was pulled right from the DC Wasteland. That was a prize we couldn’t resist, and took the last one home for our shelf. Unbeknownst to some, there were a lot of local artists representing at the Con. I actually think they did a really shitty job of advertising this fact. Had I not been following a few of said artists’ social media pages, I never would have known myself, and that’s BS. That being said, it was great to see my friends and compatriots in the art scene having literally thousands of people walk by their work. I was even lucky enough to get the last special-edition print of Candace Jean Andersen’s Bunny Batman.
We decided to slip into two of the smaller panels mid-afternoon. First was Kevin Murphy of Rifftrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000, a comic genius who has found his own ladder to success with his insane work ethic and willingness to follow unconventional ideas. Rifftrax is basically the sequel to MST3K in its comic setup, minus the puppets and visuals—now the team sells just the audio to a movie, along with their side-splitting commentary, which you can play alongside your own copies of the film. Not actually “showing” the film allows the team to go after huge blockbusters without drowning in licensing fees. Murphy showed the eager and happy crowd the Best Of Reel from 2012’s season including clips from Breaking Dawn, The Avengers, Harry Potter and Thor. He blew me away when he explained that it takes him 40 hours to write the comedic lines he’ll use in 20 minutes of film. That is a goddamn monk-like dedication to comedy that I will respect for all time, and it absolutely shows in his results. There were some great anecdotes about the history of his work, about how much the team “hated” making the MST3000K movie (far more stressful for them than the series), and about retiring the beloved puppets for Rifftrax. He took audience questions and handed out bags of popcorn to particular great ones before he led the crowd in a choral performance of a drinking song he’d written about giving up drinking. He recorded a few takes, which he says will be up on his website in the near future, so I look forward to the calls from Hollywood regarding my upcoming singing career. 
After Murphy, we hung around to see the next speaker whom I was very excited for, having just become a Gallacticite (Gallactican?): Richard Hatch, who played both Apollo Adama in the first run of the series and terrorist/political terrorist Tom Zarek in the new incarnation. He was a very well-spoken and animated guy who talked about how blessed his time was on the series and how rare it was, he felt, for actors to find themselves as a part of something like Battlestar, which has maintained its importance in the culture for over 30 years. He showed the crowd an awesome gag reel from the new series including a whole fart-ripping sequence that I’m not too proud to say was the funniest clip I’d seen all day. Then Hatch discussed his problems with how sci-fi is treated by mainstream television and how he, like everyone there, was tired of suits in boardrooms using outdated Nielsen ratings, which don’t account for viewings on things like Netflix or people who use DVRs, to determine the survival of shows like Battlestar and Firefly. A fan question led him to talking about how the last season of Battlestar, including its highly controversial last episode, was completely rushed thanks to the Sci-Fi Network refusing to concretely promise the show’s creators enough time to finish the narrative. Of course, those writers didn’t want the show ending, like the aforementioned Firefly, with no closure, so they took the single season they were guaranteed and finished the story. It was somewhat comforting to hear that the show’s actors and creators were just as disappointed with that output as the fans were, but it still sucks that it was completely out of everyone’s control. Then Hatch showed us a trailer from his new project, Cowboys and Engines, a steampunk western alt universe series with Malcolm McDowell; the trailer was pretty poorly edited in that it didn’t tell us much or show many exciting scenes, but I’m glad the dude is still working on passion projects and I look forward to checking out more about it. 
Being its first year, no one expected SLCC to go off without a hitch, and it absolutely had hitches. As many other outlets have reported on, the staff was simply unprepared to handle the sheer tsunami of people that descended on the Salt Palace. This led to, among other things, the hassle of the Fire Marshall having to disappoint hundreds of people by closing off entry for a time, as well as numerous communication issues within the Con itself. I had to speak to many volunteers throughout the course of the day, mostly because the Con’s signage was a confusing clusterfuck. The volunteers were all plenty amicable, but only one or two actually had the information to help me, meaning almost every question I asked led me on a wild goose chase to find someone with an answer. I get that there’s about ten billion visitors for every volunteer at the Con, but when a volunteer out front corralling the line of people has no idea where press are supposed to go? Not cool.
The mass of people also made navigating the smaller aisles difficult, i.e., most of the con’s floor space was a claustrophobic nightmare. I’ve literally never been in a throng of people like that and for a socially anxious introvert like me, it very nearly overwhelmed the fun of the Con. Wider aisles are an absolute must-change for next year. It prevented me from seeing a lot of the details of booths because stopping meant creating a complete holdup for the possibly hundreds of people behind trying to get through. The crowd can help with this problem next year, too. A great deal of it was exacerbated by people not being aware of their surroundings. With 50,000-plus people packed into such a small space, every idiot on a cell phone or family clutching hands and moving as a giant cancerous pack of elbows is a showstopper. At the risk of sounding like a dick, I’d say we should probably disallow strollers in future years, too, for the exact same reason. 
The only rotten egg I ran into all day was a man whose name I didn’t catch outside the William Shatner panel. I was directed to him by yet another clueless volunteer when I asked for clarification on press entrance to the large panel room. This man, clearly a higher-up in his nice dress shirt and walkie talkie, answered my question but then proceeded to berate me for having “no proof” I was a member of the press. Apparently, the badge his own workers had given me, which was based on a list pre-approved weeks ago by more of his own workers and checked against photo ID, was not enough proof that I belonged in the press area. He hassled me for a business card or one of those fancy laminated press passes some outlets carry, which is hilarious considering any asshole with access to Kinko’s can make up that “proof.” In the end, I found the whole exchange insulting, and it revealed a kind of insecurity these guys had in their own people, signaling to me that next year they need to tighten up their logistics. If you don’t trust your own people to correctly identify press and VIP members, you may want to get some new people—or here’s an idea: properly train the ones you have. The fact that, upon check in, I was informed they had “run out” of press badges seems relevant to this conversation. How you run out of badges when the list was pre-approved is beyond me, unless the aforementioned poor training of volunteers led to press badges being given out to non-press. Obviously this would also explain the hassle I got. Nevertheless, literally none of this is mine or any other visitor/press/VIP/Deadpool’s problem. This is the stuff a Con is supposed to have down to a science, and I hope next year gets us closer to that goal. 
There were other bitter moments in the day, but none really the Con’s fault: Shatner decided at last minute to ban all press from his and Adam West’s stage-sharing panel, there were some scattered anecdotes of West being unkind to fans waiting in line, etc. Overall there were very few stories of “bad celebrities” I heard, which is great. Stan Lee’s appearances were overwhelmingly positive, and he continues to set the standard for how brilliant creators should interact with the people who love their creations. Even better, every story I heard either personally or secondhand from a celebrity had them gushing about how great our Con was for them, how impressed they were that a first-year Con had pulled off what we had pulled off, and many of them reported awesomely high numbers for autograph and photo sales. This is hugely important and, I hope, will help draw even bigger, badder geek icons for years to come. I want superhero actors salivating to join SLCC. I want Chris Hemsworth and Vin Diesel fighting each other over the opportunity to be a part of our legendary geek celebrations. 
I’m super proud that my first Con was in Salt Lake, and that we completely dominated the challenge set before us. If you missed out this year, do yourself a favor and start planning right now for next year. Oh, and check out my awesome photo gallery to get a glimpse of the action!
Alex and Tony: Punk Rock Superheroes! Photo: Megan Kennedy A Weeping Angel espies her next victim. Photo: Megan Kennedy This is one tiny window of the enormous convention center floor. Yeah, Salt Lake knows how to Con. Photo: Megan Kennedy