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Captain Kirk, Chewbacca, Batman: Salt Lake Comic Con creates geek heaven as stars and fans gather

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 1:17 p.m. MDT

A A "Hobbit"-themed display at a Comic Con convention. (N. Eric Heath)

As a child, Manu Bennett idolized the aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, or Fingerbone Bill from the Australian film “Storm Boy.”

Bennett’s father took him to a hotel where Gulpilil was supposedly staying. After hours of waiting in the lobby, Bennett and his father left without seeing the actor, but that did not dampen the boy's excitement.

“We waited for several hours and this actor never came down stairs, but it was the buzz that I felt being in the building where he was around," Bennett recalled with a smile. "He was near."

Today, Bennett, who plays Azog the Defiler in “The Hobbit” and Slade Wilson in the CW’s “The Arrow,” is on the other side, signing autographs for fans at conventions across the world.

Salt Lake Comic Con 2013 (Salt Lake Comic Con) Salt Lake Comic Con 2013 (Salt Lake Comic Con)

“I remember that now when I’m at a desk or a Comic Con,” he said. “It’s their moment to meet an actor. I understand it.”

Bennett is just one of the celebrities, artists and vendors who will be attending Salt Lake City’s inaugural Comic Con from Sept. 5–7 at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

A first for Salt Lake

The largest of these fan conventions, Comic Con International, is held in San Diego every summer. More than 100,000 people flood the San Diego Convention Center to visit vendor booths, take photos with celebrities and attend panels about their favorite shows, movies, books or comics.

While cities across the country and world have held their own conventions, Comic Con has never made it to Salt Lake City — until now.

Manu Bennett played Azog the Defiler in Manu Bennett played Azog the Defiler in "The Hobbit." (Salt Lake Comic Con)

Dan Farr, the creator of Salt Lake Comic Con, attended Comic Cons across the country when working for Daz3D, an imaging software used by many comic book artists.

At each event, Farr said he was blown away by the excitement coming from vendors and attendees alike.

“It’s like you could cut it with a knife,” he said. “It hits you double barrel with everything you grew up being a fan of as a kid. And being able to see some of the actors or actresses that you saw in movies as a kid, even as a younger adult, it was just so powerful to interact with them.”

He began to wonder why Salt Lake didn’t have an event. After leaving Daz3D last year, Farr decided to make Salt Lake Comic Con a reality.

Farr admitted that as an entrepreneur he always thinks things are going to be so much bigger than what reality would suggest. But, he said Salt Lake Comic Con has become bigger than he ever imagined it could be.

Actor William Shatner is interviewed at the Big Apple Comic Con in New York in 2009. (Richard Drew, Associated Press) Actor William Shatner is interviewed at the Big Apple Comic Con in New York in 2009. (Richard Drew, Associated Press)

The convention was originally planned for the South Towne Expo in Sandy. Ticket sales soon required the event be moved to the larger Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake. Farr expects 25,000 to 35,000 attendees, more than 200 vendors and nearly 100 panels.

“I just can’t tell you how excited I am,” Farr said. “ … Sometimes there’s a lot to do but it to me it never feels like work.”

Hollywood comes to town

With a lineup of celebrity guests, artists and authors coming to Salt Lake, Farr said the event has something for almost any fan.

Batman fans can line up to see Adam West and Burt Ward, the original Batman and Robin. Star Wars fans can meet Darth Maul (Ray Park), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Darth Vader (David Prowse). If Star Trek is more of an attendee’s fancy, William Shatner will be signing autographs.

Actor William Shatner answers a question during a panel for the movie Actor William Shatner answers a question during a panel for the movie "The Captains" at the Comic-Con International 2011 convention held in San Diego. (Denis Poroy, Associated Press)

Even the Fonz (Henry Winker) will make an appearance.

The convention will also host several renowned comic book artists, including Greg Horn, lead artist for “Marvel: War of Heroes.”

“The gathering of talent in that room is going to be unprecedented for this type of market,” Farr said. “Everybody that’s coming is someone that I’m excited to see again or if I haven’t met them before, I’m excited to meet them. Across the board, I think they are great guests.”

James Dashner, a Utahn and author of the Maze Runner series, said he’s excited for Salt Lake City to receive its own event. Dashner, who has been a guest at several Comic Cons, including San Diego, said he loves being able to see all the passion fans have for their respective fandom.

“You kind of revel in your nerdiness. It’s awesome,” Dashner said.

Actor William Shatner stands on stage with actor Avery Brooks, left, during a panel for the movie Actor William Shatner stands on stage with actor Avery Brooks, left, during a panel for the movie "The Captains" at the Comic-Con International 2011 convention held in San Diego. (Denis Poroy, Associated Press)

For Bennett, it’s the chance to hear what fans think of the final product. While actors and producers see the product through each stage of development, viewers see the product much later after rewrites, cuts and edits.

“I do a performance but I don’t know what each individual viewer is going to think,” Bennett said. “It’s almost like qualifying my performance finally through the viewers. It’s very rewarding for me.”

But as rewarding as the Comic Cons are for Bennett, he said he believes the events are for the fans.

“If you wanted to connect with the face front of the industry, this is kind of it,” Bennett said. “Comic Cons are really the only event where it is for the public. …This is where the industry says, ‘OK, this is for you. This is your event.’”

How to Comic Con

Between 200 vendors and nearly 100 panels, tackling a Comic Con experience can be overwhelming to many first-timers. But Farr said not to worry.

“From my experience in other cities, you never tackle Comic Con,” Farr said. “You just can’t do it. There’s just too much packed in in every event. There’s going to be conflicting panels. You may want to go to two or three panels that are all going on at the same time and you have to pick one. You can only be at one place at one time. So you will miss out on certain events. That’s just kind of inevitable.”

Instead of trying to do everything, Farr recommended asking volunteers for help in planning which panels to attend, in order to make the most of each day. Farr also advised purchasing a multi-day pass in order to experience the most the convention has to offer.

“If you’re going to just walk through the show floor area, maybe you can do that in a day, but if you want to be involved in any of the panels or anything outside the event, you really do need the three days,” Farr said. “But if you want to dip your foot in the pool, then get a single-day pass and see what it’s like.”

While many people dress up as their favorite characters for the convention, Farr said costuming is not a requirement. In his experience, usually only 10 percent of attendees dress up for the event.

“But with that being said, if you’re into this at all, this is a time to let your hair down and throw on a costume and go in character if you want,” Farr said.

For Aaron Taylor, a Riverton resident, Salt Lake Comic Con will be a family affair this year.

Taylor, who attended Seattle’s Emerald City Comic Con last year, said he’s excited to take his children, including his 5-year-old son, to the local event this year. According to Taylor, his 11-year-old daughter, who is currently reading the Fablehaven series, is excited to meet Brandon Mull, author of the series.

“That’s all she can talk about,” Taylor said. “I don’t have any reservations at all taking my family. Particularly with the trend of superhero movies being geared not only to adults but kids, too. There are a ton of things that will interest kids of all ages.”

Bennett said that while some may see the entertainment industry as something degrading, he sees it as a powerful tool that can be used to promote morality and change. Entertainment, Bennett said, can help use become better people.

“Social justice and doing the right thing and having the power to make choices and defend society — these are all comic issues,” Bennett said. “I tend to think that we need to look at it as these heroes are personified versions of ourselves at an extreme where we’re able to be better people.”

Tickets can be purchased online at saltlakecomiccon.com or, if available, at the Salt Palace Convention Center the day of the event.

Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: kharmer@deseretnews.com Twitter: harmerk

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