Getting ready for Salt Lake Comic Con: Families plan for upcoming convention

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28 2014 3:25 p.m. MDT

Denali McKinney, 18, helps Broden McKinney, 17, with his kilt as they prepare for Salt Lake Comic Con at their home in Sandy.

Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

SANDY — At the McKinney home, sounds of sewing machines whir, tools bang and lots of laughter is heard late into the night.

For months, the blended family of five has been laboring together over a set of costumes for Salt Lake Comic Con.

The whole house is affected, as handmade kilts hang over the railing in the entryway, power tools lay scattered across the kitchen table, and handmade replica weapons dry around the front room. Down the hall, an entire room has been dedicated to costume production.

They are among thousands of families across Utah and beyond getting ready for the second installment of Salt Lake Comic Con, beginning Thursday with the potential to attract 120,000 fans to downtown Salt Lake over its three-day run.

"We talked about going to San Diego Comic-Con for years," says patriarch Chris McKinney. "We never were able to with a big family."

"We're so glad it's here. We'll continue doing it forever," adds his wife, Erika.

Family tradition

"We have the most interesting conversations at dinner," says Erika McKinney with a laugh, anxious to boast about her creative children.

Her anecdote is interrupted by the teenagers, who reminisce about past projects and their time at last year's local pop culture and comic convention.

When Erika and Chris married more than a decade ago, their his-and-hers family bonded over their shared nerdiness. The kids put together costumes and waited in line for hours to pick up new Harry Potter books the day they were released. If they went to the movies, it was to see the latest Star Wars or Lord of the Rings installment. On road trips, they listened to audiobooks together.

Now the boys are in high school and the girls are in college, but their new tradition is attending Salt Lake Comic Con. A few of the kids' friends have gotten in on the fun, coming to the McKinney home to work on their own costumes.

"It's just fun because we all get together and we get to know each other even more than we thought we did," said 17-year-old Broden McKinney, who spent the evening aging a leather pouch he sewed himself. "It's a fun collaboration."

The family is stunned by the homegrown convention's overnight success, Erika McKinney said. Planning for the upcoming event began as soon as April's FanX event ended.

This year, the family is putting together a group costume, donning looks from the fantasy book series and HBO show "Game of Thrones."

The girls — Denali McKinney, 18, and Cairo Nord, 23 — are students at the University of Utah, but their first week of classes hasn't kept them from helping with costume prep at their parents' house.

Denali McKinney helped her mother fit foam armor for her brother, 17-year-old Aidan McKinney, while Nord and Chris McKinney began a duct tape model that will be used to make a suit for a family friend.

"It's kind of hard to always come down here, but somehow we always make time," said Denali McKinney, who is juggling school, her sorority responsibilities and now Comic Con.

Convention strategy

Nathan Caldwell and his brothers decided after attending FanX together that the April event will be an annual get-together for them. He's tackling the upcoming convention alone, but after attending both Salt Lake Comic Con last year and FanX earlier this year, the young National Guardsman is something of a Comic Con veteran.

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