Salt Lake Comic Con

by GEORGE W. KOUNALIS

In August 2013, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Salt Lake Comic Con was projected to break inaugural convention attendance records with a low-end estimate of 40,000 attendees. That September, 72,000 comic fans showed up to the premier convention, according to Salt Lake Comic Con’s own statistics. These numbers speak volumes to the fandom phenomena taking place across the United States as well as in Utah. According to Jeffrey A. Brown, author of Comic Book Fandom and Cultural Capital, “Cons often appeal to a much wider range of fandom than just the comic book enthusiast.” (Brown, 17) The Geek Phenomenon is one that is becoming mainstream in American culture, with Utah being cited as the “nerdiest state in the country,” according to a 2014 piece in Time. Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg, the two forces behind organizing Salt Lake Comic Con and its current directors, have created Utah’s biggest convention in the state’s history.

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The vendor floor of the Salt Lake Comic Con, September 2013. Photo by George W. Kounalis.

Salt Lake Comic Con’s inaugural event had many guests of honor, including actors Adam West, William Shatner, and Henry Winkler, and comic-book writer Stan Lee. The initial event also boasted many vendors and artists from a wide range of fandoms. To the uninitiated, fandoms are the driving force of a comic con. The term is used to describe the groups of people who are fans of certain TV shows or other geek groups. The diverse amount of vendors, artists, and guests attracted thousands of Utah’s “geekiest” to the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.

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A panoramic view of the Salt Lake Comic Con vendor floor, September 2014. Photo by George W. Kounalis.

The event lasted from September 5-7, 2013. According to the Deseret News, “Fans reported waiting in line for as much as four hours Saturday just to get into the front door to catch the last of the three-day convention.” Ticket sales on that Saturday topped 50,000, with the event being declared as sold out and the Salt Lake County fire marshal limiting the number of people allowed in the Salt Palace. This means, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, that Salt Lake Comic Con’s inaugural event was bigger than the popular Outdoor Retailer show. (McFall) On August 30, 2013, The Salt Lake Tribune quoted one of the convention’s cofounders, Bryan Brandenburg, as saying, “Not only will we increase local participation by 50 to 100 percent, but based on analytics, we are going to be another San Diego Comic-Con.”

Salt Lake Comic Con’s next event, FanXperience 2014, hosted 100,000 people, making it the new biggest convention in Utah. According to Salt Lake Comic Con’s own website, event attendance has continued to grow with each additional convention.

The Salt Lake Tribune, in a story published on September 3, 2014, cited Salt Lake Comic Con’s statistics to illustrate the event’s popularity: “Attendees at FanX came into Salt Lake City from all but two U.S. states.” This suggests that the impact of Salt Lake Comic Con is reaching beyond Salt Lake County. The reporter also noted: “While only 15 percent of the registered guests at last year’s Comic Con were from outside of Salt Lake County, Farr says that number is showing a steady uptick.” Comic Con has been growing since its inaugural convention and is beginning to show an impact on businesses in downtown Salt Lake City.

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A group of cosplayers have fun at the September 2014 Salt Lake Comic Con. Photo by George W. Kounalis.

Salt Lake Comic Con’s initial convention included many panels on a wide variety of topics, including “How to Get on a Reality TV Show,” and featured numerous film/TV workshops and a Cosplay Contest. “Cosplay” is a term that is the fusion of costume and play. In
“geekdom,” the term is used to describe costuming as a character from a piece of visual media. The convention’s ability to give people access to these sorts of events is one of the many reasons that Salt Lake Comic Con has grown exponentially over the years. Attendees also have opportunities to get autographs and photos (for a fee of $20 or more) and greet the stars who are present.

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From left: Tom Kenny, Jeff Zannini, Jess Harnell, Grey DeLisle, and Bill Farmer participate in the Twisted Toonz Panel at Salt Lake Comic Con FanX, 2016. Photo courtesy of Dan Adams.

Prior to Salt Lake Comic Con’s 2014 event, San Diego Comic-Con notified Salt Lake Comic Con that it was suing for trademark infringement and false designation of origin. The Deseret News reported on August 8, 2014, that Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg denied dropping the Salt Lake Comic Con name and said, “We feel very strong that we’re not doing anything that everyone else isn’t doing.” The Deseret News also reported that “Salt Lake Comic Con is among dozens of conventions across the country and the world that brand their events as comic cons. San Diego Comic-Con holds the trademark on ‘Comic-Con’ with a hyphen, but abandoned its 1995 bid for the rights to ‘Comic Con,’ with a space.” In May 2016, according to Salt Lake Comic Con’s website, both San Diego Comic-Con and Salt Lake Comic Con requested an extension for the lawsuit. Dan Farr and Dan Farr Productions are arguing that they obtained a trademark for Salt Lake Comic Con and that many other events use the term comic con in their name.

In February 2017, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Emerald Expositions, the company that owns the Outdoor Retailer show, would no longer hold its massive, twice-yearly shows in Salt Lake City. In response, Bryan Brandenburg wrote an open letter on LinkedIn regarding the situation and how Salt Lake Comic Con can fill in the shoes of the Outdoor Retailer Expo. In his letter he cites how the state’s tax credits for filmmaking in Utah has created the perfect environment for Salt Lake Comic Con to grow. Brandenberg writes, “We believe we can build something that will have much more impact if we are able to line up the type of support that Outdoor Retailers had here. Salt Lake Comic Con is only three years old and we’ve already helped generated tens of millions of dollars in economic impact to the area.” Requesting the support from the state of Utah could fill in the shoes of the Outdoor Retailer Expo and allow Salt Lake Comic Con to become the number 3 comic convention in the United States behind San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con.

Salt Lake Comic Con is currently the largest convention in the state of Utah and has set a new precedent for Geek culture in the state. Even though the con is only about 3.5 years old, the impact of it is being seen across the state. With the Outdoor Retailer Expo making the decision to leave in February 2017, Salt Lake Comic Con has been put in a position to fill in those shoes and has the potential to become bigger.

I interviewed Dan Farr at the most recent event on March 17, 2017, regarding the Outdoor Retailer Expo leaving Utah and he had the following to say, “We would like to be something like South by Southwest, which is a fan festival for music. If we can turn it [Salt Lake Comic Con] into something like that here, we can have hundreds of millions brought into the state.”  This convention matters because it is one of the biggest events in the state and will continue to be so. The impact of events such as Comic Con bring new people into geekdom and allow the community to be put on the map for other geek events. It also allows Utah to expand connections with the entertainment industry.

George W. Kounalis is a junior at The University of Utah. He is majoring in journalism with a minor in music technology.

Sources

George Kounalis, interview with Dan Farr, recorded March 17, 2017, http://bit.ly/2nwDYGy.

Salt Lake Comic Con, “San Diego Comic-Con International vs. Salt Lake Comic Con,” accessed March 14, 2017, http://bit.ly/2mSLQkG

Bryan Brandenburg, “Salt Lake Comic Con Can Fill the Void of Outdoor Retailers Exit,” LinkedIn, February 24, 2017.

Salt Lake Comic Con, accessed February 23, 2017, http://bit.ly/2m4Jv8L

Michael McFall, “Comic Con delivers fans, but does it deliver dollars?” The Salt Lake Tribune, September 3, 2014.

McKenzie Romero, “San Diego Comic-Con strikes back: Lawsuit filed against growing S.L. convention,” The Deseret News, August 8, 2014.

Nolan Feeney, “This is the nerdiest state in America,” Time, April 26, 2014.

Matthew Piper, “Salt Lake Comic Con organizers have San Diego in their sights,” The Salt Lake Tribune, September 11, 2013.

Program, Salt Lake Comic Con 2013, September 5-7, 2013.

Matthew Piper, “Salt Lake City is poised to challenge first-year comic con records,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 30, 2013.

Alberty, Erin. “Outdoor Retailer is leaving Utah over public lands issues, a move Herbert calls ‘offensive.'” The Salt Lake Tribune, February 17, 2017, http://bit.ly/2m1xxJx.

Brown, Jeffrey. “Comic Book Fandom and Cultural Capital,” The Journal of Popular Culture 30, no. 4 (March 1997): 13-31.

Wright, Bradford. Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2003.

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