Celebrities kick off Salt Lake Comic Con with singing
Some were eager to see, others to be seen but nearly all attending Thursday's opening day of Salt Lake Comic Con aimed to show their love of their favorite science-fiction and fantasy icons.
The first day of the three-day comic-book convention attracted thousands to the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Many were dressed in "cosplay," wearing costumes often homemade, many with elaborate and even obsessive detail of their favorite pop-culture characters.
In the Salt Palace's larger halls, hundreds of people cheered and laughed as the actors who played some of those icons talked onstage.
One of Thursday afternoon's big draws was a double act: British actors Colin Baker and Paul McGann, two of the 12 men to portray The Doctor, the time-traveling, body-changing hero of the cult BBC series "Doctor Who."
Baker was the sixth Doctor, playing the part from 1984 to 1986. McGann was the eighth Doctor, appearing only once, in a 1996 TV movie and failed pilot for Fox. (This was during what McGann called "the wilderness years" or, according to Baker, "the boring bit" between the BBC's cancellation of the show in 1989 and its revival in 2005.)
"Every single second I spent doing the program, I adored," Baker said, adding that he's a bit humbled that the show "has such a toehold in the affections of, well, the world now."
When a fan asked the actors to name their favorite moment playing The Doctor, McGann's answer was simple: The opportunity last summer, for a webisode leading up to the show's 50th-anniversary special, of "getting to do a regeneration scene after 18 years. And I got to turn into John Hurt!," he said, to much applause.
Baker said it was "a cracking idea" by some BBC writer, "someone lost in the mists of time," to let The Doctor regenerate, or change bodies. The writing trick a short-term fix devised when the show's original star, William Hartnell, grew ill has become the key reason for "Doctor Who's" longevity.
"It's why we're sitting here," McGann said.
Earlier Thursday, about a dozen celebrities helped kick off Salt Lake Comic Con with fanfare, singing and confetti (supplied by the Jazz Bear).
Actor and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk on TV from 1977 to 1982, was the first to take the stage at the curtain-raising event. He expressed his excitement at his second appearance at the event.
"It's got to be the best convention I've ever done," Ferrigno said, "and that's because of you, the fans."
Manu Bennett, who stars on both CW's "Arrow" and HBO's "Game of Thrones," paid tribute to event co-founder Dan Farr, who first approached the actor last year before the first Salt Lake Comic Con was even launched.
"Something about his communication skills told me, 'I think I'm going along with this guy,'" Bennett said. "And now you guys are going to get 130,000 people this weekend."
Salt Lake Comic Con is expected, organizers say, to draw between 120,000 and 130,000 visitors to the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City between now and Saturday. That would put the Utah event near the attendance levels of the country's largest comic-book convention, San Diego's Comic-Con.
But some of those people didn't get into the convention without a wait. Lines to enter the Salt Palace stretched two blocks, from the entrance on 200 South to Abravenel Hall, and some fans waited up to two hours before stepping inside.
Because of this, event organizers later offered passes for an extra day at the convention to people who were delayed in line.
The hassle didn't spoil the party.
Singing was predominant at the preview event. Actor Eugene Clark, familiar as the zombie Big Daddy in George A. Romero's "Land of the Dead," led a sing-along of his own song, "Help All the Children," in honor of the children brought in by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to meet the celebrities. Voice actor Vic Mignogna followed by getting the crowd to sing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
The capper came when a Salt Lake Comic Con staffer brought out a birthday cake for actor Jason David Frank. Frank, known to fans of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" as the Green Ranger, turned 41 on Thursday. The audience sang "Happy Birthday" to Frank and then, led by Clark, sang a zombie version consisting entirely of grunting.
"The way you're blushing, dude, you can be the Red Ranger," Farr told Frank after the singing.
Bryan Brandenburg, who co-created Salt Lake Comic Con with Farr, touted how much larger this year's event is compared to the first event last year. The floor space is doubled, the KidCon activities have been expanded and some 300 hours of panels and other programming are on the schedule, Brandenburg noted.
For the celebrities, appearing at conventions like Salt Lake Comic Con provides a chance to connect with fans.
"I find the interaction with fans to be extremely important," said Australian actress Gigi Edgley, who starred on the science-fiction series "FarScape." "I want to give back to them as much as I can. â¦ [The fans] tell these amazing stories about how the shows we do have inspired them, or helped them through a hard time."
"I meet amazing people," said Veronica Taylor, a voice actress known to fans of the cartoon series "Pokemon" as the voice of hero trainer Ash Ketchum. "As a voice actress, it's weird when someone stops me to take a picture."
Twitter: @moviecricket Salt Lake Comic Con
The second annual event, drawing together fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror and other genres.
Where • Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City
When • Through Saturday
Hours • 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; floor opens an hour earlier for Gold and VIP passholders.
Admission • $60 for a basic three-day multipass; $25 for Thursday only; $35 for Friday only; $40 for Saturday only. Gold packages also available. (VIP packages are sold out). Go to saltlakecomiccon.com for details.