Comic-book-hero movies are mired in sequels, so why not Utah’s comic book convention?
So on Thursday, Salt Lake Comic Con Part 2, also known as FanX, will open its doors at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City. So far, ticket sales suggest the three-day event will be even bigger than last fall’s record-breaking comic con, and the event’s organizer is feeling as brave as Captain America facing a band of Nazis.
Organizer Dan Farr is confident that Utah can support two comic book conventions a year. He predicts this week’s convention will draw 100,000 visitors, at least 20,000 more than last fall’s event, easily breaking the record for the biggest convention in Utah.
“I’m not worried about what happens this year. But as we move into next year, that is a question we need to ask and talk to a lot of fans about,” Farr said about whether his grand experiment of two comic cons in Salt Lake City per year will work. “One thing that fights against that is we do bring in a new cast of guests, and we do change it up. If you go to one event, the next one will be new again. We’ll keep it fresh.”
After last September’s rousing success of Utah’s first comic con, which drew between 70,000 and 80,000 attendees and became the largest convention ever in Utah as well as the biggest first-time comic con in the U.S., Farr didn’t hesitate to consider having a second event only months later.
“One of the leading [reasons] is just because I thought it would be fun,” he said about why he wanted another comic con so soon. “So many people commented how sad they were that it ended so quickly. The other factor is it seemed like such a long time to wait another year.”
Mimi Cruz, owner of Night Flight Comics, a Murray comic book store, said Salt Lake Comic Con can remain successful as long as it keeps its list of guest celebrities fresh. Part of the allure of these pop-culture conventions is that actors from genre shows and movies and comic-book legends come to sign autographs for fans.
“It will work as long as people are interested in chasing celebrities, and that is what this is about,” said Cruz, a veteran of comic book conventions who has attended every San Diego Comic-Con for the Past 25 years. “As long as people in Utah are interested in meeting people from ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Castle,’ then, yes, we can have two comic cons.”
Like last year’s event, FanX has top names scheduled for Thursday, including the return of William Shatner (Captain Kirk from “Star Trek”), most of the cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” half the cast of “The Walking Dead,” and Nathan Fillion, the star of the cult science fiction series, “Firefly.”
Farr said he researched other cities that hold more than one comic-book convention, such as Dallas and Chicago, and he believes Salt Lake City can do the same.
“We found that in those cities they were still only scratching the surface of the market size they appeal to,” he said. “What we were able to do is have an event with such a market appeal that we could bring a comic con that is bigger than most cities’.”
Brady Canfield, a 51-year-old Summit County comic book artist, also believes Utah can support two comic cons per year.
“I don’t see any problem. It’s all a matter of the guys putting it on. What they [event organizers] did in September was really amazing, and the area really showed its support,” he said. “Look at the Outdoor Retailer conference and how well that has done, and it’s outgrown the convention center.”
But while Salt Lake Comic Con could have the same staying power of the Outdoor Retailer show, it doesn’t result in the same economic benefits to the state.
Ninety percent of the attendees at last year’s comic con were from Utah, and half were from the Salt Lake Valley, said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, the city’s visitors and convention bureau.
“The basic tenet of why we have conventions is they bring in exogenous spending — money from the outside in,” he said. “If someone from Sandy comes to Salt Lake [and spends money], that’s not exogenous.”
Beck doesn’t know how much last fall’s convention boosted business for surrounding Salt Lake City businesses — but he believes Utah can have two successful comic cons a year based on what he saw from last year’s event.
“What we saw last fall is there was a real need for that level of content in and around that culture,” he said. “All of our experience says that with that strong of a show, there is clearly room for growth. Whether that’s splitting it into two shows or having one big show, this is Dan’s great experiment, and we’re very optimistic and very supportive of Dan.”
If you go
Where • Salt Palace, 100 S. West Temple
When • Thursday, noon to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Tickets • $10 to $60