Though the main vendor hall didn’t open to general admission patrons until 2 p.m., the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City was far from a ghost town early Thursday morning last week with guests eager to welcome yet another incarnation of FanX: Salt Lake Comic Convention.
A buzz of enthusiasm sparked eager chatter among friends and strangers alike, and attendees clad as characters from across the realms of pop culture descended on the entrances of the Salt Palace, ready to share the creations they’d spent months perfecting.
But the early crowds weren’t just drawn by a desire to socialize, or even to catch early panel programming. This year, the pop culture convention took its kick-off to the next level with a literal red carpet roll-out at the first ever FanX Red Carpet Walk of Fame.
For those still somehow unfamiliar with FanX: Salt Lake Comic Convention, a quick primer: The event kicked off in September 2013, quickly outgrowing its initial venue, breaking global records and finding a home at the massive Salt Palace, where it has hosted two events a year nearly every year since.
The pop culture-centric convention has featured thousands of panel hours with topics spanning from cosplay (costumes and character creation) to top television shows and tips for writers, while the main floor offers hundreds of vendor booths selling all sorts of unique and nerdy wares. The event also includes special features, a wide array of artists and authors, fun photo ops and, of course, celebrity guests, including star-studded alumni such as Marvel icon Stan Lee, John Cleese, Alice Cooper, Val Kilmer, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Chris Evans, Jason Momoa, Dick Van Dyke, Mark Hamill and Zachary Levi among many, many others.
This fall’s convention, which wrapped up Saturday night, was no different, with a guest lineup featuring Tom Holland, Christina Ricci, Kiefer Sutherland, Kel Mitchell, Ian McDiarmid, Dolph Lundgren, Hayden Christensen, Lana Parrilla and Joey Fatone, with roughly 50 guests total from film, television, video games and even the music industry and the World Wrestling Entertainment realm.
Though many of the guests were featured in spotlight panels throughout the convention weekend, last Thursday, fans were offered a unique early glimpse at their favorite actors and actresses courtesy of the Red Carpet.
“The thing that I’m looking forward to this year is to meet the people that actually acted in the show, because they were idols of mine when I was a kid and it’s going to be really fun to just meet my idols in person,” said FanX attendee Denise Carmichael-Slater as he waited for the Red Carpet event donned in the garb of the White Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger.
“What I look forward to is actually seeing everyone having a good time because this a fun event and basically this is for everybody to come and enjoy,” Tyler Prince said, showing some of the true talent and creativity of event fans with the cosplay of his original character Phantom.
“I’m here to see how it goes,” said first-time FanX attendee Mike Anderson. “This is basically a nerd convention, a nerds home for nerds.”
After a quick meeting with press, celebrities including Patrick Renna, Pearl Mackie, John Rhys-Davies, Jason Faunt, Mitchell, Jonny Cruz, Arrin Zech, Johnny Yong Bosch, Linda Ballantyne, Nakia Burrise, Jess Harnell and Catherine Sutherland hit the red carpet to kick off a weekend of fan-centric festivities.
Here are some of the comments the guests had to offer prior to the event:
Arryn Zech (Blake Belladonna from “RWBY,” Dr. Emily Grey in “Red vs. Blue”): “I’m super excited to be here. I’d not really heard too much about Salt Lake City,” Zech said of FanX. As to the fans, she shared, “I just really enjoy interacting with people — it’s a lot of fun. The dedication that fans have to the show is just outrageous. The cosplay, the fan art, it’s just so, so cool. I just have the best fans. It sounds so hinky to say, but no, they’re wonderful.”
Charles Martinet (Voice of Mario, Luigi, Waluigi, Wario and more for Nintendo games): “I’m so thrilled to be here at FanX,” Martinet said. “I get to meet wonderful Mario fans and Luigi fans; people who love video games and have a passion for what we do, and that makes it the most amazingly joyous experience. And for me, having done the voice of Mario for some 28 years now, and Luigi and Wario and Waluigi and Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, I get this extra pleasure of meeting generations of people who say, ‘Oh my goodness, you are the voice of my childhood and now you’re the voice of my kids’ childhood.’ You know, that’s a tremendous honor.”
Passionate for his career, Martinet said that’s something he wishes for everyone.
”Find out what you love to do and then do it, because life is short. You really have to dedicate yourself to your happiness, to your joy and to finding out what it is that you love.”
Patrick Renna (Hamilton “Ham” Porter in “The Sandlot,” Cupcake in “GLOW”): “It’s wild when you meet someone who wasn’t born when the movie came out but they love it so much,” Renna said of the strong fan following that still remains for “The Sandlot.” “That’s a good sign the movie still holds up. … The thing that I think gets me the most is it’s now transcended to three generations.”
As to coming to FanX, Renna was recently in Park City and noted, “It’s great to be back here.”
Kel Mitchell (“All That,” “Keenan and Kel,” “Good Burger,” “Mystery Men”): “Cons are awesome,” Mitchell said. “It’s cool to meet the fans and hear their stories and have good conversations with the fans so that’s been awesome. That’s why I do it.”
Mitchell also commented on the return of the show “All That,” and the importance of comedy, especially for kids.
”Everybody needs to laugh,” he said. “And what we talk about is teachers, playgrounds, you know, the stuff the kids are used to. Even though there’s social media now, kids are still into the same stuff and I think we really need that.”
Nakia Burrise, Johnny Yong Bosch, Catherine Sutherland, Jason Faunt of “Power Rangers”: According to Burrise, conventions bring with them “a lot of love and a lot of history.”
“I love hearing that “Power Rangers” changed people’s lives, encouraged them to get into martial arts and helped them to stand up to their bullies — things I wouldn’t have even thought of when I was on the show,” she said.
Pearl Mackie (Bill Potts in “Doctor Who”): “It’s great,” Mackie said upon arriving at FanX. “I’ve only been here for about two minutes, but those two minutes have been pretty good so far. There seems to be a lot of fans which is what it’s all about. It’s going to be a good couple days.”
“It’s lovely,” she continued. “Everyone’s so kind and so generous and they’ve always been so welcoming from the moment I was announced, so yeah, it feels like coming home.”
Mackie said she’s looking forward to not just meeting fans, but also getting their feedback.
“It’s just so rewarding,” she said. “As an actor, when you do screen stuff, you don’t necessarily get like, the immediate reaction from people. You know, it’s not like doing a play where people immediately applaud or they laugh if it’s good. With meeting the fans, it’s just wonderful to know ... what my characters meant to them, what the show has meant to them over the years. It’s just really fun.”
John Rhys Davies (Sallah in “Indiana Jones,” Gimli in “The Lord of the Rings”): Rhys Davies was quick to note that he didn’t really understand why he was at his first fan convention, but those in attendance quickly set him straight.
“When I started listening to them, I realized most of them do like me,” he joked, before explaining the dynamic of fan events such as FanX.
“Right at the beginning of comic cons and these wonderful parades of costumes, people felt as if they were the only freak in town,” he said. “With the invention of conventions like this, they find suddenly that they’re not the only freaks in the world, that there are other people with imaginations who want to pretend and expand their own lives, partly through the fellowship of other people with imaginations. I have met the most incredible people. I come because they teach me so much and I think I’m actually a better person for having come. I like people more and more and more which is good when you’re getting older, of course, it could be senility, I suppose.”
Celebrities weren’t the only draw at FanX last weekend, though. The ample crowd that swarmed the Salt Palace from Thursday through Saturday had the chance to cruise through vendor halls, meet comic creators, illustrators, artists and authors, gather with like-minded fans at cosplay meetups and spend some time enjoying the event with a younger crowd at KidCon.
Special features this year also included Kiss My Axe axe throwing, Mystery Escape Room, STAR Labs — a Portable Planetarium System sponsored by Salt Lake Community College, Virtual Reality, table-top gaming, dart tag, karaoke, Middle Earth Archery and more.
According to FanX emcee Chris Provost, his favorite part of the weekend were the fan-centric moments.
“I love hearing what we call these FanX magical moments — the moments that fans have and tell us about what they love and the celebrities they get to see,” he said. “I love getting to see fan reactions. That’s my favorite part.”
And for many fans, their favorite part was hearing Provost’s jokes at the many panels at the event.
”I just want to say I’ve been preparing those jokes since the day I was born,” he quipped. “They’re pretty bad.”
Also quick to comment on FanX magic moments was FanX manager Jarrod Phillips, who described the experiences as “those sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous moments that just happen when a fan meets their favorite actor that has been their hero their whole life.”
Phillips’ personal moment came at a previous FanX when he was able to propose to his finacee during a panel with Bruce Campbell, but he said the moments extend even from just seeing celebrities for the first time to families coming to the event together in costume for a weekend of fun.
“The thing with magic moments,” he noted, is “those only happen at the event, so if you’re not here, you’re going to miss them.”
“We have a passion for seeing people’s dreams fulfilled,” Phillips said of the convention’s staff, which comes as a trickle-down effect from the enthusiasm of event co-creator Dan Farr.
“When Dan founded the event, the reason he did it is because his fandom is the fans,” Phillips said. “There have been times when he’s put every last thing he’s had into making the show come off and that’s the level of his commitment — not even to himself, but to the fans. Dan is one of those unique individuals who really cares about other people.”
FanX wrapped up Saturday night, but there’s still plenty of fan-centric fun and commentary to be had in the convention’s Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/FanXSaltLakeComicConventionGroup. The convention will also return to Salt Lake Sept. 17-19, 2020. To see more coverage and guest interviews from this year’s event, visit heraldextra.com/comiccon.