As FanX turns 10, founder Dan Farr looks back at ‘high expectations’ and building a fan community

‘Everybody has played a part’ in making the Salt Lake convention, which starts Thursday, one of the nation’s biggest.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A young Darth Vader (Weston Charleson) takes on his older self at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

It’s been 10 years since the first edition of the event that’s now called the FanX Salt Lake Pop Culture & Comic Convention, and creator Dan Farr is feeling nostalgic and proud.

“I had high expectations for what could happen with an event like this,” Farr told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Since 2013, FanX has brought celebrities from across fandoms and genres to Utah for panels, meet-and-greets, photo ops, autographs and more — attracting tens of thousands of fans to meet, buy stuff and wear cosplay.

The 10th anniversary edition of FanX, one of the nation’s largest fan conventions, runs Thursday through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City. (Tickets and passes are available at fanxsaltlake.com.)

Farr and his former business partner, Bryan Brandenburg, started the Utah fan convention in 2013. Brandenburg stepped down from FanX in 2018, and sold his share of the event in 2019. (In July, a federal jury in Honolulu found Brandenburg guilty of seven counts of sending email threats to bomb buildings in Utah and other locations.)

Several factors inspired the event’s creation, Farr said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) FanX founder and producer Dan Farr, seen here at the May 2021 announcement of that year's celebrities to the fan convention. This year's edition of FanX runs Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 21-23, 2023, at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Farr said he had attended conventions around the country, and only a few hyper-fans knew about them. He wondered, he said, why Utah didn’t have an event like that of its own.

“Here in Salt Lake, we knew there’s a lot of people that are fans of pop culture — the celebrities, comic books, film, TV and all that — but weren’t necessarily in the know of what these events were,” Farr said.

Another sign of Utah’s fandom power, Farr said, was how Utah movie theaters often would lead the nation in ticket sales when some major franchise films, like “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars” installments, had their opening weekends.

“All of these things really indicated that Utah, and Salt Lake specifically, was the place to create an amazing event,” Farr said.

FanX — originally called Salt Lake Comic Con — has become, Farr said, “an opportunity to meet celebrities or people who create comic books, writers, authors and illustrators. There’s so much there, and it’s just really a celebration of pop culture.”

Among the nearly 100 celebrity guests scheduled to attend FanX this year, Farr mentioned three he’s most looking forward to seeing: Actor Dermot Mulroney (“My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Scream VI”), “Saved by the Bell” actor and “Access Hollywood” host Mario Lopez, and actor Quinton Aaron, who portrayed football player Michael Oher in the 2009 movie “The Blind Side.”

The real Michael Oher recently alleged that Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, the Tennessee couple who supposedly adopted him, made millions off of him — allegations the Tuohys denied in a court filing last week.

It’s not the only controversy that threatens to intrude on the convention’s fun this year.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Faces at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

FanX during an actors’ strike

Looming over many of the celebrity guests is the ongoing strike by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). The union representing Hollywood actors launched the strike on July 14, after negotiations broke down with the group representing Hollywood studios and streaming services.

During the strike, SAG-AFTRA members are prohibited by their union from any appearances that would promote work they’ve done for companies against which they are on strike. That rule meant that major stars didn’t attend the fall’s major film festivals — Venice, Telluride and Toronto — and skipped this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego. (Exemptions were made for companies that have reached interim agreements with the union.)

Farr said FanX has made “minor” tweaks to the event, such as changing panel names, but that most of the celebrities that have been announced are still coming. (A few canceled, such as Alicia Silverstone and Shannen Doherty, but they cited scheduling conflicts and other reasons.)

“The actors on stage may choose to not reference their specific shows, and may just talk in general about life and experiences,” Farr said. “They can talk about acting, but they generally don’t want to be seen as promoting work that’s involved or tied into companies they’re striking against.”

Farr said SAG-AFTRA “is incredibly supportive of actors doing conventions, because it gives them an alternative source of income.” (He noted that one convention regular, “Lord of the Rings” star and FanX alumnus Sean Astin, is on SAG-AFTRA’s national executive committee.) Conventions also give actors a platform to discuss the strike and how it limits what actors can talk about, Farr said.

(Mark Von Holden | Invision / Associated Press file photo) Actor and action star Gina Carano, seen here in 2019 at a Disney+ event promoting "The Mandalorian," is one of the celebrities scheduled to attend the 2023 FanX Salt Lake Comic & Pop Culture Convention. Some have objected to her inclusion in the event, because of her past social-media comments that have been viewed as antisemitic, anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ.

The Carano conundrum

Another controversy began when FanX announced that Gina Carano, formerly one of the stars of the “Star Wars” series “The Mandalorian,” would be appearing.

Carano was fired from “The Mandalorian” and dropped by her talent agency in 2021, after making comments on social media. In one post that was deleted, she compared the political climate in the United States to that of experiences of Jewish people during the Holocaust. She also mocked the use of preferred pronouns, and shared misinformation in 2020 about voter fraud and COVID-19.

When FanX announced in August that Carano was scheduled to attend, reaction on social media was swift and angry, with accusations that FanX organizers were deleting comments from trans-rights supporters. Event organizers posted a message on the FanX Instagram account: “While we invite you to express your feelings towards any guest announcement, attacking other commenters in the comment section will be hidden and/or deleted, as well as anything vulgar.”

Farr said, “I never ever want anyone to feel diminished or like they’re not valued. … By no means when we book guests, do we look at somebody and say, ‘Ooh, this person is on this side of the spectrum, therefore we’re saying that we agree with what they said or what may be perceived as what that person is like.’”

The convention, Farr said, generally doesn’t get involved with what a guest does, or doesn’t do, on social media.

“I do look, and clearly if there’s a guest that would come and insult our attendees, that would not be right,” he said. “But if there’s somebody that will come and treat them well and respect them … that’s fully what I expect to come out of Gina Carano.”

Farr added, “booking somebody is not saying we support their opinions. We’re saying that we support pop culture and fandom.”

Farr said he believes “pop culture brings people together in such a powerful way,” and urged FanX attendees to “focus on where what we’re common on rather than what we’re different on.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Faces at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

How to navigate FanX

To navigate everything happening in the Salt Palace, Farr recommended people use the FanX website and download the event’s app, which include schedules of panels, photo opportunities, autograph sessions, meet-ups and other convention events.

One approach, Farr said, is to be an open book, and experience whatever you encounter when you enter the Salt Palace. But Farr encourages guests to plan ahead, so they don’t miss a big celebrity or an important panel.

One last tip, Farr said, is one that may require a bit more from people: Be outgoing.

“Go to the event and introduce yourself to people, meet people and ask them what things they like, go ahead and potentially make new friends,” he said.

In the next 10 years, Farr said he hopes to expand the convention to surrounding Salt Lake City venues, such as the Delta Center. (The convention did that in 2016, for panels with “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill and “Star Trek’s” William Shatner.) It’s a matter, he said, of figuring out the right balance, so the vendor hall doesn’t fall quiet between panels.

“This accomplishment of what we’ve created here in Utah, everybody has played a part in doing this and we really do have something significant that stands out on a national and international level,” Farr said, “We’ve been able to build a great thing together.”