From Thursday to Saturday I spent my days wandering the floors of the Salt Palace during FanX 2015. Or as it's become a ritual for me, a way to lose ten pounds in 72 hours. The amount of walking, talking, water drinking and general excitement you'll feel on a daily basis will make you feel like you've had the longest marathon, and that's just in street clothes. Think of all the stuff those in costume go through. In the three days I was there, I didn't do a lot of waiting for celebrity panels, that's more for the hardcore fans who are super obsessed with meeting their idols. Most of my time was spent going to panels around the center and checking out everything on the main floor. That's not to say I didn't interview some celebrities on hand, which you can read in this post here
, but, for the most part, this is a focus on FanX as a whole. Today we're going to be talking about The Hits (the items that were dead-on), The Misses (the stuff that just didn't work) and The Ricochets (things that were on target but bounced to somewhere else). Warning: This is just my opinion as a writer and a geek, so you're probably going to disagree with most of the things on here.
When the minds behind the Con said they were shrinking FanX down and limiting the ticket buys, a lot of people were wary over what they'd be getting into and what the ensemble of celebrities would be. They didn't disappoint as they brought in one of the hardest Doctors in the Who legacy to book in Matt Smith, Christopher Lloyd (who quietly canceled last time), Felicia Day, RJ Mitte, members of The Walking Dead
and Game of Thrones, voice actors who span three generations of children's cartoons, Brandon Routh, Carrie Fisher, many others to discuss at a later point. This year had a perfect balance that didn't feel overwhelming and didn't feel like you had to schedule an entire day to meet everyone you idolized. There was a little something for everyone without being bogged down by a mountain of choices. Of course, if it gets bigger, that just means the Con will have to expand to four days to meet the dedicated fan's needs.
Oh my, do the Utah crowds know how to make a costume. Chalk it up to the crafting community in the area, no matter what your trade may be, you can practically create any costume your heart desires with enough time and a little effort. Oh, sure there's crappy ones, there always will be. But shy
of San Diego and New York, SLC has got to be one of the most creative areas both in realism and in humor. I can't recall a time personally where I've had the privilege of being attacked by the undead, or watch a live-action Flash episode reenacted, or witnessed the fans having much more fun entertaining each other than trying to compete in the competitions or show off to the personalities. FanX, above all
the ones that came before it, was much more of an interactive experience between cosplayers than previous incarnations from this group. Also, whether you like the police or not, you have to give FanX credit for boosting up the law enforcement presence to curb the stalkers and sneaky photo-pervs looking to gawk and photograph women in skimpy costumes. The mentality of "you're asking for it" is two decades dead and should earn anyone using it as an excuse a swift punch in the face. But that's just my take on it...
One of the biggest and brightest moments from FanX didn't come from a celebrity, it came from a panel called "Nerdy Girls and the Rise of Girl Power," in which the seven women on hand discussed the treatment of women at conventions and their inclusion into the culture that was once male-dominated. The biggest epiphany that came from this conversion was whether or not the term "geek girl" even needs to exist now, which got a round of applause and support from the audience at hand. We could delve into a dozen different topics from here ranging from gender equality to GamerGate, but that's not what this is about. The fact is that the people behind Salt Lake Comic Con have gone out of their way to make subjects like this prominent, as well as giving women geeks in our community a bigger platform to speak on, is phenomenal. There aren't a lot of conventions who can boast that. The fact that panels like this, as well as ones on disabilities in media and the LGBT voice in comics, were featured and did well in Utah is promising. It should be highly encouraged to have these kinds of panels back for a second run.
The VIP Party
A minor hit for the fact that it gave everyone a chance to get drunk and get down in costume on a Friday night and not look weird. I've always thought that a cosplay party at The Hotel/Elevate would be killer on a Friday, but everyone I've ever suggested it to hates the idea. Good on FanX for throwing their own version at the far-west end of the Salt Palace, as well as getting some celebrities to drop in and check out the party.
The Press Room
OK, of those of you reading, 90% of you won't care about this, and of those of you left, 8% only have a mild interest and the other 2% actually care because you're in the field of journalism. The Press Room is bad, plain and simple. It has been since the first Comic Con
in 2013. Below is a picture of the 2015 FanX Press Room, which they finally added power strips in, but we still don't have Wifi to turn our assignments in on the fly, nor do we even have bottled water. This may sound like a petty argument from someone who gets to attend a three-day convention for free, but let me put this into perspective for average attendees: When you get a ticket, you're there to have fun; when I get a press pass, I'm there to work. Everyone with a press pass is technically working, it may be an awesome gig, but it's still work
. And for many writers, podcasters, videographers, bloggers and various others covering any con, trying to type a story next to one of the few unoccupied outlets in the building with thousands passing by isn't ideal. So a room is set aside for us to work in if needed. However, if the room doesn't suit our needs, we can't get our work done. Which is why you usually don't see complete coverage from all media outlets until Sunday or Monday after they've closed up shop.
It's a persisting problem (with many, many fellow writers seriously angry about it) that could be easily fixed for little to nothing. Yet we still don't know why it took them four conventions over 16 months to finally get a surge protector to plug our laptops into.
The Volunteer Staff
To be clear about this one, it's not the entire volunteer staff of FanX, there are many who do an excellent job and should be commended for putting up with patrons all day long. But I'd say a good 40-45% of them fall into this Miss. Many of the volunteers are trained improperly or have been over-trained to be extensively strict. I have two geek-related friends who are volunteer leaders at conventions outside of Utah, one works for DragonCon and the other for PAX. Not knowing each other, they've both independently said that the FanX volunteers are some of the rudest and most disorganized in the country. Part of that is to be expected because as stated earlier, the Salt Lake Comic Con is only 16 months old and there's always going to be bumps to iron out, especially for an event this size. But the fact that key areas like the panel rooms, Celebrity Row, and the South Ballroom continue to suffer from attitude issues and disorganization is mind-boggling. One example: A friend from a from a rival publication went to Carrie Fisher's last minute panel on Saturday, after getting confirmation from the PR reps and getting clearance from Ballroom volunteer leader, he waited to be seated. Two minutes before going in, he was told by another volunteer with authority above the first one that no press were allowed. After a 10 minute wait and seeing dozens of VIPs be let in, he was cleared to go in a second time. When he sat down, another volunteer yelled at him and said no media was allowed, and he was almost removed. After bring cleared a third time, 5 minutes later another volunteer came up and chastised him for where he was sitting, and threatened to kick him out again! It took 30 minutes to confirm him four times, not including being threatened with ejection for taking pictures or recording audio from two more entirely different volunteers. When I saw him in the halls later that day, he said he punched the chair he was sitting in. The guy is a 29-year-old RM, the last time I saw this man this enraged was in 2006, the last time the Cougars beat the Utes on their home turf. That should tell you something about how the volunteer staff can turn a simple situation into the biggest quagmire possible.
The Month of January
A minor miss, only in the sense that it was bitterly cold and you could chew on the air in the valley. When FanX put the voting in our hands, somehow we thought that having an event just 4 months after the last major one, during Sundance with the possibility of snow, was somehow better than holding it on General Conference weekend. Honestly, looking at it now, the only major issue would have been the hotel situation. Beyond that, you can't convince me that thousands of visiting LDS folk wouldn't have taken the opportunity to entertain themselves and the kids by purchasing a one-day ticket. FanX in April sure would have been more entertaining that watching the Jazz slowly march to last place before the playoffs. In a suit no less.
One of the biggest concerns going into January was the idea that, if you waited in line for 2 hours in the sun back in September, how much worse was it going to be waiting even 2 minutes in January with the bitter chill and horrible air trying to kill us. The solution that was implemented (and was pretty successful on the surface) was the new RFID wristband system that works much like UTA tap service. The downside to this (aside from showering with it if you weren't lucky enough to attach it to a lanyard) is that there's a number of online guides that show you how to pop these things off, or at least get them loose enough to slip on and off. Don't get me wrong, it was super efficient, but anyone could cheat the system if they tried.
This is the section of the local conventions that have the greatest intentions and end up with less than stellar results. For many, this is the first thing they see when they walk into FanX, but is often skipped because people have become used to the positioning of everything on the floor. Celebs are along the walls in the back, all the flashy stuff is in the middle, craft makers are on the north end and artists are on the south. If you know what you want you'll go seek it out, but at the same time if you're only interested in select items, you'll skip the rest and go straight there. While the Alley is a great concept and won't be going away, this area probably sees the least amount of traffic, which is a shame because of all the amazing talent in it. Perhaps one day they can merge everything together so that you HAVE to look around and be exposed to things you normally wouldn't seek.
The crew behind Salt City Strangers.
This isn't a slight on FanX, more the audience in attendance not preparing for the worst. Waiting and delays will be the bane of every convention attendee's experience until the day they offer morphine drips during your experience. If you plan to see anything popular, you're going to be waiting a while. If you know this to be true, why would you go out of your way to act like a jerk to everyone around you? Yes, you have
been standing here for over an hour as it creeps along to meet Princess Leah. That doesn't give you carte blanche to make everyone miserable that you speak with or interact with. If you plan on standing in line for ANYTHING, heed these words: Bring A Distraction. A book, a Gameboy, puzzles, card games, whatever takes the clock out of your situation. And if someone has to cut through because your line LITERALLY cuts off half the convention floor, don't punch them!
This speaks more to the design of the Salt Palace and the available staff on-hand more than FanX. (And I'm not showing a picture because... ewww.) The running gag about the Salt Palace for years is that it's the downtown airport. And much like an airport, it looks like they took four building designs, crashed them together and forgot to add enough bathrooms. Taking away the ones that are closed off to the public, there are only four major points for restroom use during FanX. I can't attest to the women's restrooms, but I know for a fact the men's were frequently clogged with the floors nearly soaked in urine. You got 50,000 people coming through on your busiest day, and no one's cleaning them once an hour? Come on!
Now I can't judge, or even claim to know what an average FanX ticket holder is going to check out on any given day. I've seen the stupidest panels pack a room and the most interesting ones get 35 people at best. My basic understanding of the process is that a large group of people are contacted to add in suggestions, then a panel of people decide what to showcase and who to invite to be on them. In many cases, this works great, like the DC and Marvel television panels, or the Forbidden Topics panel that left the room roaring. But then you get ones like "Religion In Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror," which was made up almost entirely of an all-Mormon delegation. Writing colleagues from other publications called it a return to seminary, many even decided not to write about it, because there were no conflicting opinions to make it worth going to. Then there are the circumstances where the panelists are ill-informed about their topic, or were added and have nothing to offer other than to promote their own stuff, and then sit quietly for 45 minutes. These panels are designed to give people who aren't into celebrities something more than just roaming the floor to buy toys, and right now these panels are about 50/50 when it comes to being entertaining or informative. The system isn't broken, but it certainly needs new blood and new ideas for September.
The overall feeling leaving on Saturday night was that, even though there were some glaring issues, FanX as a whole was really fun. If I had to replay the weekend over, I'd probably change many of the panels I attended to get a better experience. It makes for a cool family event, but at the same time there's an element where you want to leave the kids at home for a day and enjoy it by yourself. There's a vendor for practically everything you'd ever want (including a TARDIS media cabinet I can't afford), and if you plan accordingly there's no feeling afterward like you didn't get your money's worth. The third annual Salt Lake Comic Con will be happening from September 24-26, so if you're even remotely thinking about going, you should start planning everything now before the sales open up.