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Are three cons too many for Salt Lake? FantasyCon fans say no

Published July 6, 2014 8:52 pm

Entertainment • FantasyCon fans don't think so; the newest convention draws an estimated 30,000 over the Fourth of July weekend.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City has gone from zero to three large-scale geek gatherings in less than a year, and FantasyCon seems destined to be measured against the other two episodes in the burgeoning con trilogy.

The Salt Palace floor is a little less crowded during FantasyCon than during September's Salt Lake Comic Con and April's FanX. The entertainment-to-vendor ratio is probably higher. But were the appetites of Utah geeks already sated?

"No!" said FantasyCon attendee Caesar Reese at Saturday's finale, feigning indignance. "Is that a trick question?"

Ironically, FantasyCon founder Josh Patel thinks FanX treads on the buildup to Salt Lake Comic Con, which would otherwise benefit from a "Brigadoon"-like period of anticipation. But Patel's own FantasyCon is different enough, he said Saturday, that he needn't worry about the other two.

To its credit, FantasyCon does feature a more uniform vibe — Middle Earth, give or take — and is less of a pop culture cornucopia.

"It caters more to other sides of the nerd," said attendee Mikaela Bair.

"Lord of the Rings" star Elijah Wood deejayed a kickoff event at The Complex, and the convention has allowed J.R.R. Tolkien fans to meet a dozen actors from "The Hobbit" and "LOTR" series.

Patel emphasized that the event stems from his true love: fantasy art. "At all the conventions I've been to, [artists are] always stuffed in the back corner," he said. "Only the commercial side gets pushed to the forefront."

And that's not just lip service. FantasyCon commissioned Volos, a three-story-tall dragon with a 53-foot wingspan, and the first thing con-goers passed was Patel's "Hall of Heroes," featuring so-called "masterworks" artists. But comparatively few stopped to admire those works while throngs gathered to hobnob with celebrities and view live entertainment.

It was not altogether different, in that way, from Salt Lake Comic Con and FanX, which were both founded by Dan Farr.

Also like Salt Lake Comic Con, customers paid a pretty penny just to walk through the doors. Admission for the finale — the priciest day — was $40 for those 16-and-over. For children 11-15, it was $20, and for those 10 and under it was free. It cost more yet for autographs or photos with celebs.

"We didn't come prepared for that," said Jason Buck, who attended with avid Middle Earthling son, Jason. "Knowing now, next time we attend, I'd come prepared for more autograph opportunities."

A photo with movie star Simon Pegg cost $85. His rare appearance was the draw for Coldwater, Mich., residents Michael and Kelli Stroud, who were second in line at 10:15 a.m. for Pegg's noon autograph signing. Michael said he "paid way too much" to book a flight and hotel on three weeks' notice, "but it was worth it for sure," he said.

Asked if Pegg's work fits into the theme of fantasy, Patel explained, "Anything that doesn't exist in reality is fantasy."

For Wes Jackson, the highlight was meeting "Hellboy" and "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" actor Doug Jones, who told him to put away his wallet before posing for a photo by jumping into the arms of his friends.

Jones also planted a kiss on Jackson's cheek.

"I'm not gay, but I'm not washing off my face," Jackson said.

West Jordan's Don and Cindy Woodruff treated their daughters Bethany and Rebecca to their first-ever convention. Before Rebecca interrupted to show off a hand-forged dragon that she bought for $20 after watching it get pulled out of a working kiln, Cindy said she wanted more of the juggling and swordplay and music, and fewer vendors.

"But it's still a lot of fun," said Don.

Salt Lake Comic Con drew between 70,000 and 80,000 last September. FanX brought in more than 100,000. Patel said Saturday that he believes 30,000 will have attended FantasyCon, and that he will have met his goal.

Farr told The Salt Lake Tribune by phone Thursday that he doesn't view FantasyCon as a threat because he hasn't yet exhausted his target market, which he estimates at roughly half a million people.

"We actually believe that because of this, they've done a lot of marketing and they've helped bring awareness to new potential customers for our event," Farr said. "It's a good warm-up event."

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper