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Salt Lake Comic Con and FanXperience

on Tue, 02/10/2015 - 00:00

The first San Diego Comic Con was held in 1970 and drew a mere 300 people. It took 35 years for the annual event to reach the 100,000 attendees mark, and has steadily grown even larger in the years since. The inaugural New York Comic Con took place in 2006 with 33,000 people on hand, and reached the 100,000 plateau in 2011. Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, meanwhile, premiered in 2003 with a modest 2,500 attendees, growing to 70,000 by the year 2014.

Then there’s Salt Lake Comic Con, which launched in 2013 and immediately overtook Emerald City with 70,000 to 80,000 attendees while going over the 120,000 mark the following year. A FanXperience was added to the proceedings in 2014, likewise topping 100,000 in attendance, and although the 2015 FanXperience was limited to 50,000 tickets and was held during the month of January, it sold out nonetheless.

“No question about it, it’s social media and the incredible fanbase here in Utah,” Bryan Brandenburg, a partner in Dan Farr Productions—the organizer of Salt Lake Comic Con—explained of the rapid growth that the event has experienced. “There have been surveys that say we’re Geekiest State in the country. We’ve done the analytics. So for instance, you can tell how many Star Wars fans there are in Utah compared to California, and Harry Potter and Star Trek and Supernatural. We have done a very thorough statistical analysis using various analytic tools, and per capita, we are the Geekiest State in the country.”

One of those surveys was conducted in early 2014 by Estately, a national real estate company based in Seattle. Analyzing Facebook data for every state in the country, as well as the District of Columbia, Estately determined where each of the locales fell in regards to twelve specific areas of interest that ranged from Star Trek to Star Wars, cosplay to comic books. Each state was then ranked within each of those categories, with the “average rank” used to establish which state was the “Nerdiest in America.”

Utah finished first in six of the categories and only failed to make the top five in Anime, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, earning the title of Nerdiest State in the United States in the process.

With such a wide range of “Geek” interests within the state of Utah, Salt Lake Comic Con and its corresponding FanXperience has likewise brought in an equally broad selection of celebrities for the proceedings. The list includes such Star Trek heavyweights as William Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart, Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew from Star Wars, legendary Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee, and actors from such popular television shows as Doctor Who, Firefly, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.

Despite the impressive array of celebrity guests and large crowds, however, both Salt Lake Comic Con and FanXperience place an equal importance on the local Utah fan groups, charity organizations and cosplayers. Three Star Wars fanclubs, the Utah Browncoats, the Ghostbusters of Salt Lake City and the costumed charity H.E.R.O.I.C. Inc. not only regularly have tables in the vending area of the convention but participate in a wide assortment of panel discussions throughout the event as well.

“We go to great lengths to involve the local community,” Bryan Brandenburg explained during FanXperience 2015. “Some people will say, ‘Oh, you’re trying to be bigger than San Diego and New York’ and things like that, but that’s not really our goal. We want to be the best event in Salt Lake City, and not just best comic con but we want to be the best consumer event in the city. And right now we’re certainly the largest. We hold the record for the three—now four—largest conventions ever held in the state of Utah in regards to the number of attendees. But what it really is about is to bring in the market. People do come in from out of state, but for a lot of the cosplay groups, we’ll just provide them a booth for free because we want them involved and to feel like it’s their convention as much as anything else.”

Utah may be the Nerdiest State in America, but Geek and Pop Culture has infiltrated all fifty states of the Union and continues to grow rapidly. Not only has the attendance at Salt Lake Comic Con been strong, for instance, but similar conventions throughout the country have likewise topped 70,000 to 100,000 attendees each.

“You look at the name ‘Pop Culture,’ it’s popular culture,” Brandenburg offers as way of an explanation for the increasing interest. “It’s really exciting and passion driven to find a show like The Walking Dead or Superman. Trekkies have been around now for fifty years, and so it’s almost part of their DNA—our DNA—and there’s that kind of passion. But what Comic Con allows is for you to really be yourself around a bunch of people and not be judged for it. You can show up looking like a Borg or dressed as a Jedi Knight and nobody thinks that you’re some strange geek because everybody’s like that.”

Although comic conventions have a vast array of activities as part of their proceedings—including Artist Alleys that contain comic book illustrators selling prints and commissioned sketches, celebrity autograph and photo booths, and an assortment of vendors selling everything imaginable related to Geek and Pop Culture—Bryan Brandenburg considers the panel discussion as his favorite aspect of such events.

“I do like to get my picture taken with celebrities and things like that because that’s a long-lasting thing, but my favorite part is the panels,” he says. “It’s really nice to have the questions come from the audience and have somebody’s childhood hero on hand. To be able to dialogue with them on a local basis—they’re right there, live and in person. The energy of the crowd reacting to the questions is second to none.”

Geek and Pop Culture has become a very large umbrella over the decades since San Diego Comic Con premiered in 1970, and Salt Lake Comic Con is a reflection of that fact. Estately focused solely on twelve criteria in 2014 for their rankings of the Nerdiest States, but there are dozens of other categories that could have been used as well. Just like with anyone else, meanwhile, Bryan Brandenburg has his own personal leanings.

Star Wars is probably at the top of the list, and that’s been for a long time,” he explains. “I like a lot of the other things in terms of Superman and The Avengers and Marvel. Anything Marvel is pretty huge. I wouldn’t say I’m a rabid Star Trek fan but I like Star Trek as well.”

As for the overall residents of Utah, the state ranked first within Estately’s survey in regards to the number of Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fans, and second in the country in terms of Star Trek and Doctor Who fans. That’s a pretty broad range of interests, something that Salt Lake Comic Con and its corresponding FanXperience has successfully incorporated into its proceedings as well, making Salt Lake City and its Comic Con a microcosm of the entire country in the process.

Anthony Letizia

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