When I told my friends that I attended the first Salt Lake Comic Con, many of them didn't really understand. One of them asked me, "Isn't that just a thing where a bunch of geeks get together and dress-up in silly costumes?"
Well, yes. Yes it is. Is that a problem?
I'm not sure what it is about the geek mindset that lends itself to grown men dressing as Klingons or the Joker or the Flaming Carrot. (Yes, there is such a thing as the Flaming Carrot. I got my picture taken with him at the Salt Palace entrance.) All I know is that there is a tremendous sense of kinship and community sharing a convention center with 50,000 other people who can name every single one of Star Trek's original 79 episodes. (First episode: "The Man Trap." Last episode: "Turnabout Intruder," with 77 others in between.)
For me, it was all about being in the presence of William Shatner himself.
Of course, to really be in Shatner's presence, you had to pay $75 to stand in line for an hour in order exchange a few pleasantries and snap a quick pic. I wasn't willing to do that, but I did poke my iPhone through the black curtains separating him from the masses and shot a blurry photo to prove that, while we hadn't met, we had shared the same airspace. (It's probably for the best, anyway. I would've felt compelled to tell him about the column I'd written about his toupee, and that would've made for an awkward situation.)
It was enough that I got to pose alongside Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict, Apollo and Starbuck, respectively, from the original "Battlestar Galactica" TV series, as that show has been a favorite of mine since prepubescence. I told Benedict that I had seen him 30 years earlier at Camp Pendleton in Southern California at a gathering of 50,000 Boy Scouts. On that occasion, Benedict told the crowd, "I have had the great good fortune to date Marie Osmond, and this is the first time I've seen 50,000 Mormons without 50,000 babies." He laughed out loud when I reminded him of that moment, and he recalled flying into the event by helicopter. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, certainly, but it was a lot of fun to make that childhood connection.
Indeed, childhood heroes were thick on the ground at Comic Con. There was Batman himself, Adam West, who seemed to have aged more gracefully than Burt Ward, a.k.a. Robin, the Boy Wonder, seated in the booth next to him (but to be fair to Ward, one can hardly expect a guy pushing 70 to maintain his Boy Wonder status over the course of five decades). I caught a glimpse of Lou Ferrigno, who looks just as incredibly hulkish now as he did back when he put on that green makeup every week. I also saw The Fonz, the alter ego of Henry Winkler, who was graciously shaking hands with everyone waiting in the line to see him, regardless of whether or not they had paid for the privilege. Not sure what Fonzie has to do with comic books or sci-fi, but I was glad he was there.
To be honest, I'm not sure what lessons I took away from my Comic Con experience. I can't explain it, really; it doesn’t make much sense. It wasn't profound or earth shattering or even necessary. It was just a whole lot of fun. And sometimes, fun is enough.
After all, I have a picture with the Flaming Carrot, and you don't.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.