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Salt Lake City’s First Comic Con a Force to Reckon With

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I have never had the opportunity of attending the San Diego Comic Con, but considering I’ve heard that the first ever in Salt Lake City, Utah pales in comparison is a scary thought. It ran from September 5-7, sold 30,000 tickets, and had an estimated 72,000 attendees on Saturday alone. I can’t even imagine what it must be like in San Diego. Let alone that ours ran only three days while San Diego’s runs an entire week!

I have to admit that I was hoping to take this opportunity to finally sell my complete set of Django Unchained action figures, but did not luck out. So alas, I equipped myself with my Pacific Rim bag and headed into Salt Lake City’s biggest geek event ever. The downtown Salt Palace Convention Center was filled to the brim, with nearly everyone dressed up as their favorite character, or at least wearing some kind of geek-oriented t-shirt. It was like a three-day Halloween costume contest. I was one of the t-shirt wearers, as it would be a pain to try to get in and out of the hourly panels dressed in anything more.

FerrignoFarrDay One was the lightest of the three days, as it only ran for four hours. Showrunner Dan Farr was introduced by Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), and made the announcement that he had talked to Stan Lee himself and confirmed Stan Lee would be here for Saturday. Next up was Dan Farr who explained that it has always been a dream of his to bring Comic Con to Salt Lake City and how much he loved the fact that the community was behind him. What city wouldn’t want a Comic Con of its own? I didn’t take the time to hit up any of the panels on opening day, but I did get to wander the vendor floor both before and after the official hours.

Wandering around with half the lights off and bumping elbows with everyone from Doctor Who to The Simpsons‘ Comic Book Guy, I got a close-up and personal look at what the folk from Weta Workshop had brought with them. Mostly consisting of all things “Middle Earth”-related, it was great to get up close and personal with a life-size Gollum, and being stared down by the giant Azog was mighty impressive. The rest of the night I spent wandering the vendor booths after I picked up an Expendables/Star Trek mashup t-shirt from Geek Show Podcast at my friend Kat Martin’s booth: Altered Landscapes.

Day Two was a little more hectic as I joined forces with colleague Jimmy Martin of Geek Show/Big Movie Mouth Off to see how many panels we could attend in one afternoon. First up was “Why We Love the Prequels — A Celebration of Star Wars 2.0” with special guest panelists Bryan Young, Leigh George Kade, Dartanian Richards, and Sean McPeak. All I learned here is that some people seem to think that these films are a little more real than just a series of films. This would be fine if they weren’t trying to justify that events in the prequels empower what happens in the original Star Wars trilogy.

RayParkPanoramaNext, we headed to “Darth Maul: Ray Park” mediated by Kerry Jackson of Geek Show Podcast and X96’s Radio From Hell. Ray Park proved to be quite the entertaining speaker. Maybe it’s the fact that you usually don’t get to hear him do much speaking, considering he plays quietly menacing roles: Darth Maul in Star Wars, Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe, and Toad in X-Men. He spoke very highly of his love for Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Charlie Chaplin, and even gathered up the youngsters in the room onstage to teach them how to strike a pose he called “The Ray.”

WinklerDay Two was cut short for me because of the birth of my friends’ new bouncing baby girl, appropriately named Leia, but not before I got to shake hands with Noah “Don’t Call Him Atreyu” Hathaway (The NeverEnding Story). Day Three was the biggest day of them all. I was running behind that Saturday morning and unfortunately missed “Actor, Producer, Director & Author: Henry Winkler,” but later that day I did get to see the humble man at his signing booth where I got my picture taken with him and my sister-in-law, Lindsay Johnson. While he may be best known as The Fonz, he seemed mighty pleased when I called him Principal Himbry, the character he played in one of my all-time favorite films, Scream.

I took to the main floor to wander through some more booths, including the “The Ghostbusters of Salt Lake.” Featuring lots of memorabilia available for purchase with all proceeds going to charity, Saturday is when the full crew of local Ghostbusters was ready for photo ops. They also have videos available on their Facebook page and can be contacted via email: GHOSTBUSTERSSLC@GMAIL.COM.

ShatnerBut all of this was simply a time-waster waiting for one of the day’s big events: “Captain James T. Kirk: William Shatner”! Yes, the captain, oh captain, was in the house to take questions from the audience and tell anecdotes including his on-set Star Trek: The Original Series shenanigans involving himself, Leonard Nimoy, and a bike. Probably the biggest laugh came at his introduction, as the Utah Jazz Bear came out on stage and blasted the audience with confetti to which Shatner exclaimed, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.”

As if William Shatner wasn’t big enough, we were allowed to save our seats for the next event on the main stage: “Excelsior! Stan Lee!” The comic book legend was here to save Comic Con. It’s no doubt that the 80,000-person draw for Saturday resulted from the announcement of one of the greatest living comic book legends coming to Salt Lake City. Lou Ferrigno gets all credit for convincing Stan Lee, who was on stage for a mere 15 minutes, but you couldn’t find a more excited crowd.

StanLeeMy sister-in-law managed to squeeze in a question during the Q&A, asking him who his personal heroes are, to which he explained that aside from himself, his hero was Errol Flynn, because he would leave his films with a smirk on his face, chasing a damsel in distress in need of saving. Someone also asked if he had a favorite DC Comics character, to which he replied, “If I don’t have the time to read my own, when would I find the time to read theirs?” He also gave a hilarious explanation about DC vs. Marvel and how Marvel Comics are more scientifically sound because even though we see Superman flying, he has no means of propulsion, whereas with Thor, he swings his mighty hammer as fast as he can and it pulls him through the air. “Perfectly, scientifically sound!”

By this point, I had decided that after seeing William Shatner and Stan Lee back-to-back, what more could there possibly be to cover? I spent about another hour with my sister-in-law stalking some teenagers to buy their masks from You’re Next that were being given out at a vendor table, before calling it quits and heading to an after-party at a local bar, finishing the night with a red chili tortilla burger and some amazing garlic fries. The weekend was an amazing blur filled with enough sights and sounds to choke the most hardcore geek.

Considering that the Salt Lake Comic Con tweeted they had finally sold out of tickets, and the estimated 80,000 attendees on Saturday alone, it may have been our first, but will surely not be the last. And hopefully, I will be there to bring Blogcritics as much coverage as I can for years to come.

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival.