My Experience at the SLCC FanX—Part 1
Last weekend I traveled to Salt Lake City for a new event, the Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperience (FanX). I had a plan of attack, but as usual my to-do list was more ambitious than my stamina. This was my first convention with press pass too. I am pretty sure that I did not use it to the fullest extent possible. Overall, I had a great time in a new city and venue with plenty of new vendors and different faces in panels. I have a lot of positive things to say about the event and some suggestions for improvement as well.
The event was a success for the organizers, Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg. A post-event press release provided attendance numbers and qualified the event’s success:
[FanX] had more than 100,000 attendees to become the third largest Comic Con in the United States, the largest convention in the state of Utah and the largest Comic Con in North America per capita, proving yet again that Utah and attendees from all over the world love what’s going on in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake Comic Con’s Facebook page is now the most popular page in Utah reaching 2.5 million people in one week.
On Saturday, it was definitely crowded. Panels were difficult to get into and parts of the floor were a traffic jam. But having been to Emerald City Comicon and San Diego Comic Con International, the crowd did not feel like 100,000 people over three days. It could be that this event had a great layout or was so well designed to meet the needs of the crowd. There is a distinct disconnection between my impression and the numbers reported.
FanX wasn’t really focused on any single theme. There were lots of comic artists and illustrators, but comics were not an overwhelming presence. To that point, I would not call FanX a comic convention. There were high-profile celebs for sure. (Many with high price tags to be paid to gain access to them.) Truly, this event seemed to be a celebration of fandoms for fans to express themselves in costume and on panels. There was a little bit of everything and something for everyone at Fanx. I saw an overwhelming amount of Doctor Who cosplay, which is always a blast.
The FanX kicked off with a press event honoring true local heroes, the convention founders, the Governor of Utah, and the special guests of FanX. I was skeptical of a governor speaking at a con. It is just something I am not used to seeing. However, Gary R. Herbert proclaimed April 17th to be Comic-con Heroes Day in Utah and spoke easily about the impact of the FanX and SLCC. He even quoted favorite nerd slogans “May the Force Be With You,” “Live Long and Prosper,” and the Green Lantern oath “In Brightest Day,” etc. I was most impressed that he included the Green Lantern oath.
Over the three days at FanX, I attended some panels to mixed success. I enjoyed the panels, mostly. A few were truly unorganized and some well-intentioned that were derailed by panelists. One interview went a bit sideways due to a special guest’s behavior. Despite all that, I gleaned some interesting information like titles, websites, or authors to check out and research. I will be writing specifically on my experience with panels in a separate post.
The FanX floor was large and spread out and it was pretty easy to get from one side of the con to the other. Bonus! I really liked the artist alley best. That is where I spent the most of my time and money. I purchased a variety of stuff like ornaments from Obake Style, zombie novels from David Dunwoody, linocut prints from Mike Miller, an amazing found art sculpture of Boba Fett by Henry Cesneros, and zombie motivational prints by The Zombie Nation.
A few occurrences betrayed the operations at FanX as a new event. There were no microphones for audience questions in the larger rooms. Panelists did not have the experience or wherewithal to repeat audience questions so all of us knew what precipitated the answer. If the panel didn’t see your hand in the air, you were out of luck in asking your question. By Saturday, this was changed and I noticed microphones in the rooms I visited.
This one might be on Epic Photo Ops, regardless they are the chosen vender at the event and it does reflect on the event itself. There was a long line for photo op refunds. (I know because Casandra “Elvira” Peterson canceled her Saturday photos.) Once to the front of the line, the volunteer did not give me a refund on the spot, but explained to me that Epic Photos would refund me automatically and if not to contact their support. This information could have been told to all of us in line. Many of us were in the same situation. I believe that Emerald City Comicon volunteers would have been calling out this info to the line and half of us would then have gone on our merry way for more con experiences. That is a win-win for volunteers and attendees. As it was we spent nearly 30 minutes in line to be given an email address.
In all my years going to Emerald City, I have never experienced or heard of a guest canceling their photo ops. I heard from a few volunteers that Peterson was not the only one to cancel their appointments. I can’t speak to why this happened. Yet, as an attendee, it is a red flag that something is not right. Either selection of special guests or the organizers ability to communicate and set expectations for the guests.
My Final Thoughts
The volunteers and building staff were very nice and extremely courteous, and helpful. Not every con can boast of that. Overall, the event was fun and well-run. Without marquee comic writers or publishers at this event, it was the same weekend as Wondercon, I do wonder what niche this event will find to sustain itself. Plus, there is a Salt Lake Comic Con—without the FanX—happening in September. Will this market be able to support two 3-day events in one year? I will be curious to see what happens here as this event has become the third largest comic con in the Unites States per SLCC promoters.
In 2014, I will be attending five, possibly six, conventions. Seeing how they all measure up and the different approaches taken by organizers should be fascinating!