Thousands of fans — many in cosplay, practically all wearing masks — filled the Salt Palace Convention Center on Thursday, for the return of the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention after a one-year absence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chris Provost, FanX’s longtime emcee for the Salt Palace’s Grand Ballroom, delivered his traditional opening dad-joke — “I dreamt I was a muffler in a car, and I woke up exhausted” — as he and other FanX staffers worked to make this convention feel as normal as possible.
“How many of you lied to your boss and told them you were working from home today?” Provost asked fans at Thursday’s first event in the ballroom. Provost then ran through the house rules, the first of which is to wear a mask at all times. The convention even has a slogan to encourage mask use: “Not all superheroes wear capes.”
The celebrities visiting Salt Lake City for the convention said they were happy to be back and seeing their fans.
Sam J. Jones, who played the title role in the 1980 science-fiction adventure “Flash Gordon,” said he has worked at some of the few conventions that ran during the pandemic — always complying with whatever safety rules they had in place. No matter what rules were in place, he said, the fans showed up.
“The passion of the fans is the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced the last year and a half,” Jones said. “It’s unbelievable. Their yearning, their desire. They want to be out. They want community. They want fandom.”
Voice actor Bret Iwan, who performs Disney’s official voice of Mickey Mouse, said that he has attended a few conventions since the vaccine became available, and was heartened to see how fans adjust to COVID-19 protocols.
“It’s just kind of great and comforting to see everyone’s willingness to act in the sense of the better safety overall,” Iwan said.
Fans inside the Salt Palace were prepared, some of them incorporating masks into their cosplay.
For Keith Snyder, a pharmacy technician from West Jordan, getting his Luke Skywalker flight-suit cosplay together wasn’t too hard — helmet, orange jumpsuit, and plastic items to simulate the computer panels on his chest. He made his own face mask, complete with the logo of the Rebel Alliance from the “Star Wars” franchise.
The only downside to wearing a mask, Snyder said, was “it kind of steams up the lenses on my goggles.”
Snyder, who said he’s fully vaccinated, is happy to be “just getting back into [the convention]. That year off was kind of bad.”
For Corbyn Mejia of Kearns, incorporating a safe mask wasn’t difficult, as he wears it under the body stocking — called a Morphsuit — over his head, and his costume mask no top of that. Mejia cosplayed as a bowler-topped character called The Wonder of U, from the Japanese manga “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.”
“It took a couple of tries to fit my actual COVID mask under [the costume mask],” Mejia said. “It keeps scrunching up.”
For Mejia, the appeal of going to the convention is “seeing the crowds of people similar to me. … Even with COVID, I just miss the bustle of it.”
Dan Farr, the co-founder of FanX, said he expects nearly as many people at the convention as would fill the Salt Palace before the pandemic.
“I don’t know that we’ll be up, but we won’t be significantly down,” Farr said before the convention started. “It’s going to be a big crowd.”
FanX announced on Sept. 2 that it would require all attendees — cosplayers, vendors, guests, artists and staff — to wear a snug-fitting mask while on the premises. Since the announcement, Farr said, only a few hundred people asked for refunds.
“We weren’t mandated by the state or the health department or anybody to do that,” Farr said. “We just felt that — in order to bring in an event like this, with this many people and do it responsibly — we needed to do it.”
Farr said none of the celebrities booked for FanX canceled because of the mask requirement — or because the event didn’t require proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests, as some concert venues have done.
In making the decision to require masks, Farr said he and his staff “wanted to wait as long as we possibly could, to see what was happening in the state, to see if the numbers were increasing or decreasing.” Farr also monitored how other conventions around the country handled the situation before making the decision.
Another safety measure will be found in the celebrity photo-op booths. FanX is offering Plexiglass barriers to be placed between celebrities and fans; it’s up to the celebrities whether they want to use them.
“They really aren’t that bad,” Farr said. “It’s not the same thing as getting the hug, and having that close interaction with the celebrities that they’re used to. It’s different from that. But it’s still fun and it’s still a great experience.”
FanX runs through Saturday at the Salt Palace.
Who’s coming to FanX?
Here are the celebrity guests confirmed for the 2021 FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention, Sept. 16-18, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City:
Tom Arnold • actor, comedian, “True Lies,” “Nine Months.”
Dickey Beer • stuntman and stunt coordinator, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” “Need for Speed.”
Jacob Bertrand • actor, “Cobra Kai.”
Anjali Bhimani • voice actor, “Overwatch.”
Nick Carter • singer, member of Backstreet Boys.
Ming Chen • Reality star, “Comic Book Men.”
Leah Clark • voice actor, “My Hero Academia,” “Fairy Tail,” Funimation titles.
Misha Collins • actor, “Supernatural.”
Peter Cullen • voice actor, “Transformers.”
Jim Cummings • voice actor, “Winnie the Pooh” and others.
Colin Cunningham • actor, “Stargate SG-1.”
William Daniels • actor, “Boy Meets World,” “St. Elsewhere,” “The Graduate,” “1776.”
Ashley Eckstein • voice actor, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
Christopher Eccleston • actor, “Doctor Who,” “Thor: The Dark World.”
Shannon Elizabeth • actor, “American Pie,” “Thir13en Ghosts.”
Jamie Farr • actor, “M*A*S*H”
Joey Fatone • singer, N*Sync; reality-show host.
Lou Ferrigno • bodybuilder/actor, “The Incredible Hulk,” “Hercules” movies.
Maile Flanagan • actor/voice actor, “Naruto,” “Lab Rats: Bionic Island.”
Will Friedle • actor, “Boy Meets World.”
Edward Furlong • actor, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
Jess Harnell • voice actor, “Animaniacs,” “Transformers.”
Judith Hoag • actor, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie” (1990), “Nashville.”
Kane Hodder • actor/stuntman, “Friday the 13th” franchise.
Bret Iwan • voice actor, official voice of Mickey Mouse since 2009.
Sam J. Jones • actor, “Flash Gordon,” “Ted.”
Martin Kove • actor, “The Karate Kid,” “Cobra Kai,” “Cagney & Lacey.”
Maurice LaMarche • voice actor, “Pinky & the Brain,” “Ed Wood.”
Andy Le • martial artist, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
Jason Liebrecht • voice actor, “RWBY,” “My Hero Academia.”
Daniel Logan • actor, “Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” “The Legend fo Johnny Lingo.”
Mary McDonnell • actor, “Dances With Wolves,” “Sneakers,” “Battlestar Galactica.”
Trina McGee • actor, “Boy Meets World.”
Caleb McLaughlin • actor, “Stranger Things.”
James “Murr” Murray • comedian, “Impractical Jokers.”
Edward James Olmos • actor, “Miami Vice,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Battlestar Galactica.”
Timothy Omundson • actor, “Psych,” “Judging Amy.”
Rob Paulsen • voice actor, “Animaniacs,” “Pinky & the Brain.”
Lucie Pohl • voice actor, “Overwatch.”
Zachary Quinto • actor, “Star Trek,” “Heroes.”
Carolina Ravassa • voice actor, “Overwatch.”
Tara Reid • actor, “American Pie,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” “The Big Lebowski.”
Alan Ritchson • actor, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, “Smallville.”
Kaitlyn Robrock • voice actor, “Mr. Pickles,” current voice of Minnie Mouse.
Adam Savage • TV host, “MythBusters.”
Rider Strong • actor, “Boy Meets World.”
Emily Swallow • actor, “Supernatural,” “The Mandalorian.”
Loretta Swit • actor, “M*A*S*H”
Eric Vale • voice actor, “Dragon Ball Z,” “My Hero Academia.”
Cristina Vee • voice actor, “Fortnite,” “League of Legends,” “Sailor Moon.”
Frank Welker • voice actor, “Scooby-Doo,” many others.
Jaleel White • actor, “Family Matters” (Steve Urkel).
William Zabka • actor, “The Karate Kid,” “Cobra Kai.”