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100,000 people give fun FanX record-breaking turnout

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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) This little girl in a pirate hat got a birds-eye view of the craziness during the opening day of Salt Lake Comic Con, Thursday, April 17, 2014.

By Michael McFall

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Apr 21 2014 04:21PM
Updated Jul 28, 2014 01:32PM

The Salt Lake Comic Con organizers made history — again.

More than 100,000 people turned out for the FanX comic convention, making it the biggest convention in state history — a record previously broken in September by the inaugural Salt Lake Comic Con, which sported about 70,000 to 80,000 people. The sibling convention, FanX, was created in the wake of that success to give people a second weekend, in the spring, to get dressed up, meet celebrities, writers and artists and roam a convention floor full of geek-centric shops and attractions.

"I’ve said all along that we have the best fans in the world right here in the western United States and they proved it again," said Dan Farr, show producer and founder of Salt Lake Comic Con, in a statement. The huge turnout also makes FanX the third largest comic con in the United States, beaten only by New York Comic Con and the incomparable San Diego Comic Con International.

Greg Gage, who manned the booth for his Sugar House store, Black Cat Comics, loved seeing how happy everyone was. He remembers how, during the first Salt Lake Comic Con, some people had to wait three hours to get into the building, and were met with discouragingly dense crowds once they did. But this year, the organizers doubled the floor space and, as far as Gage saw, managed the lines much better this time compared to last.

"People could move in and out, there were no traffic jams of cattle like in September," Gage said. "They came in and were a little more ready to have fun."

Gage initially thought that premiering a second convention mere months after the first was too soon. But he admits he was wrong: attendance exceeded his expectations — and naturally, was good for business.

"Sales were great, very good. That’s one of the smiles I had walking out," he said.

The celebrities seemed to walk away smiling, too. Stars, through their social media accounts, expressed their gratitude for the fans. And both Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" fame, said FanX was one of the best conventions they have ever done.

On top of that, one moment in particular left quite the impression on Frakes, one unlike any he’s had in 27 years of doing conventions.

During the "Next Generation" reunion panel Thursday night, the first audience member to ask a question of the crew was a young war veteran who lost both of his legs in combat and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Obviously emotional, the man described how watching hours of the now decades-old sci-fi show pulled him through his darkest moments, and he thanked the cast for "preaching to us" without knowing they were.

As he poured his heart out, the cast came down from the stage and, one by one, embraced him.

It’s Farr’s goal to organize an event that makes an impact on people, and hopes to reach an even broader market. He expects even more people will come from out of state to attend, and heard from a lot of people who wanted to attend FanX but couldn’t this time.

"It’s nice to know that we haven’t tapped the market by any means," Farr said.

Besides expanding the floor space, the organizers increased the hours and included an area specifically for children and their families. Going forward, Farr plans to continue improving the line management and is considering setting up bleachers to give attendees more places to sit down and people watch. He may even book floor space in other buildings if the demand calls for it.

And naturally, they are always looking for new celebrities to come out. Farr already has some lined up for the next Salt Lake Comic Con, but he is keeping their names close to the vest for now.

This year’s line-up included heavy hitters such as Nathan Fillion, Karen Gillan and — announced at the last minute — Patrick Stewart. Professor Xavier’s appearance was announced at the end of the "Next Generation" panel, and Farr only firmed it up two hours before.

The second annual Salt Lake Comic Con will be held Sept. 4-6. Tickets go on sale sometime next month.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda

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