Salt Lake Comic Con 2017
By: Lindsay Flanagan
Salt Lake Comic Con is only four years old, but in that time it has broken numerous records and won several awards. Founded by Dan Farr, an entreprenuer who founded a 3D content software company, and Bryan Brandenburg, a former computer game programmer, the first ever Con was held in 2013 and had over 70,000 attendees. The founders added an additional event called “FanX” that is held in the spring. The Con and FanX just kept growing and by the third event, Salt Lake Comic Con 2014, it had over 120,000 attendees and was declared “the greatest comic con in the world ” by legendary comic creator Stan Lee!
It’s no wonder I had high expectations for the fifth biannual Con. With special guests such as Dick Van Dyke, Christopher Lloyd, Elijah Wood, Val Kilmer, John and Joan Cusack, John Barrowman, Catherine Tate, Eliza Dushku, Jodi Benson and Zachary Levi and panel sessions ranging from Star Wars and Harry Potter to Cosplay 101 and gaming and writing panels, it was certain my expectations would be exceeded.
I arrived at the Salt Palace Convention Center on a cold, windy first-of-autumn day. I was greeted by Mr. Bilbo’s trolls and Dr. Who’s TARDIS on my way into the building. I headed to the press conference, where the press guests witnessed the unveiling of three major displays of the con—a full-sized Wonder Woman built out of Legos, a Wonder Woman themed custom Harley Davidson motorcycle, and a Jurassic Park-themed wheelchair carriage for a child (that one possibly choked me up). The press was also treated to a live painting demonstration of a Stormtrooper by incredible artist Rob Prior.
After the press conference, it was time to hit the vendor floor. As a book nerd, I was drawn to booths like Shadow Mountain Publishing, a local publishing house in Salt Lake City, and Writing Excuses, a podcast created and hosted by authors Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells. I was also stopped in my tracks at booths where there were Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings fan gear. The vendor floor was huge—I knew I wouldn’t be able to peruse it in just one day. The other highlights of Thursday’s vendor floor browsing were Azog, the Orc captain and nemesis of Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit (well, to be fair, he was not actually on the vendor floor—he was banished outside to the conference center main hall), the Delorean from Back to the Future, and an amazing nearly-life-sized pirate ship. I also saw some fantastic cosplays, but I think my favorite of the day were the three teenage girls dressed as Tina, Gene and Louise Belcher from Bob’s Burgers.
I was really excited to get to the panels and my first was the “Women of Supernatural” panel, which was moderated by author Angela Hartley with panel guests and authors Holli Anderson, RaShelle Workman, Zoraida Cordova and Bree Despain. Although there were moments of fangirling over Sam and Dean, the bulk of the discussion really did focus on the roles the various female characters play in the story: demons like Meg and Ruby; hunters like Charlie and Jody; love interests like Amelia and Lisa. And it was argued that whenever a girl became a love interest, that equaled death for her—and the most important female character, Sam and Dean’s mother, Mary. I live-tweeted this panel, which was really fun but I worried I wouldn’t get the best bits of the panel tweeted to the audience! The best takeaway from the panel was this: “It wouldn’t be such a great show without the women.” Amen! The panelists also spent time talking about the upcoming spinoff series, Wayward Sisters, and their hopes and expectations for the show—Zoraida Cordova hopes it’ll be like “Buffy 2.0,” but her biggest fear is that the girls will end up needing to be saved rather than doing the saving. Fingers crossed the girls of Wayward Sisters are as awesome as the boys of Supernatural!
I spent the rest of the afternoon in Harry Potter related panels, the first one being “Harry Potter is My Bible: Fandom as Faith,” which was a fascinating discussion on how fandoms and art can help us in our real lives. The panelists discussed the ways in which J.K. Rowling’s characters taught them—and can teach future readers—important life lessons like being kind, accepting others and standing up for what’s right even when it’s unpopular. I walked away from that panel more fully appreciating my love for the Harry Potter world. My next panel was “Harry Potter and the Cast of Unforgettable Characters,” which not only focused on who the panelists’ favorite characters were, but the ones they hated (Umbridge was a favorite to hate) or ones they wished they had as friends or family.
The following day dawned a bit warmer and less blustery, making my drive to the convention a less stressful. Although, as soon as I reached the area of the Salt Palace, I knew the Con was going to be much more crowded than the previous day. After searching for what felt like eons for a place to park, I finally arrived, a bit disheveled despite the wind being less ferocious than the day before. I went straight back to the vendor floor in search of Gandalf and Gollum because I had missed seeing them the day before—and coincidentally ran into a Gollum cosplayer who pretty much nailed it, voice and all.
I was awed by the Headless Horseman, a local display from the Salt Lake-based haunted house Nightmare on 13th, and found my new fire pit for my backyard—an upright pit with the One Ring as the bowl and crowned by the Witch King of Angmar’s mask. I also ran into the cutest couple of Comic Con—a male Princess Leia and a female Obi-Wan—and almost took a ride in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But my panels wouldn’t wait for me so I left to attend “Greetings from Middle-earth: The Legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien.” I almost didn’t get into the panel because it was so popular, but held in a smaller room. The panelists even discussed the fact that they needed a bigger room—and even more panels on Tolkien (hear, hear!). Although there was a lot of discussion about Tolkien’s contributions to modern fantasy as his legacy, I tend to agree with panelist and author Paul Genesse who stated that we—con attendees, fans and scholars—are his legacy, because even after 70+ years we are still discussing and reading his work and retelling it in the forms of cosplay and film.
I then made my way to the Grand Ballroom to see Jodi Benson, the actress who (among her many roles) voiced Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. She was such a joy to listen to! She was hilarious, entertaining and incredibly sweet to audience members who lined up to ask her questions. She closed her session with singing Ariel’s song, “Part of Your World,” earning her a standing ovation (and my rekindled love for the Disney movie that practically owned my childhood).
I went back to the vendor floor (still in search of Gandalf and Gollum) and ran into some really fun cosplayers, my favorite being Edward Scissorhands. It was the only Scissorhands cosplay I had seen at the Con—or ever outside of Halloween. That one might have been my favorite cosplay of the whole Con, even over the gorgeous Arwen Evenstar from Lord of the Rings. (I heard her say as I passed her and her partner Aragorn that they had a Lord of the Rings wedding and she had worn the dress and crown. If I hadn’t been queuing up to talk to the Tolkien panelists, I would have stopped). After finally locating Gandalf and Gollum displays (which I didn’t even selfie with—why, I don’t know!) it was time for the panel I’d been most excited about – the Salt Lake Comic Con Debate of whether or not Snape from Harry Potter is a hero. I’m just going to cut to the chase here: Snape is a hero. Snape for the win. Heroes are not perfect or flawless. Snape was a flawed person, selfish in ways and selfless in others, but in the end he did the right thing: he protected Harry up until his dying breath. (*mic drop* *wipes tears*)
I stayed in the room where the debate was held because I found out that actor Eoin Macken, Dr. TC Callahan from the television series The Night Shift and Sir Gwaine from Merlin, was going to be holding a panel. Well, being a huge Merlin fan—one who sobbed when the series was canceled after its 5th season and who was distraught at the ending—I knew I had to stay. Eoin was funny and sweet to the audience as he discussed his various roles and his published book. When I got up the nerve and asked him if he’d consider doing a Merlin reunion, he said yes, if there ever was to be one. Here’s to hoping.
I had so much fun at Salt Lake Comic Con. I didn’t want it to end, but the night was getting darker and I had to drive home through the canyon. I’m looking forward to Salt Lake Comic Con FanX in the Spring!