Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ten Great Things from my Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperience

Last week I attended the Salt Lake ComicCon FanXperience and it was awesome. I've had a little time to recover and reflect now, and in the ways of internet lists, and as a journal entry for my life, here are ten great things from my FanX experience.

1 - I Survived
    Yes this is hyperbole, but not as much as it sounds. I did not go into the three day event well. The day before the convention, I had lunch with my friends and they poisoned me somehow. I’m not sure how it was done, or if it was one of them or all of them, but that night, the one before the convention, I got violently sick. My body was racked with pain, my guts knotted themselves into epileptic worms, my temp shot up, I exuded more sweat than usual and didn’t sleep a wink. It was not an auspicious start.
    But like that was going to stop me from going.
    I gave up solid food for coffee and Imodium and fasted for days in the hopes that I wouldn’t have to spend my time at Comic Con in the bathroom wondering which end to aim where. That, lots of pills, and the fact that I have a pretty good calorie reserve around my middle, did the trick and kept me running. Even so the sweats hit me like a summer squall about ever three hours, alternating hot and cold which delighted the unsupervised dodge-ball playing monkeys in my stomach who took each new storm as an excuse to restart the game.
    Also on the day before the con, I should ad, I slammed my hand against a steel girder while running up stairs. I’m clumsy with dirty glasses and not used to running. Or stairs. Or hands apparently. I got a big goose egg and a bug tender ringed bruise that’ll come into play later.
    Sick and tired, hungry, sweaty and sore, I went to FanX unsure if I'd make it. I did (obviously) and challenged as I was, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

2 - Family
My Teemo
"Seething Ball of Rage"
    I was accompanied to the convention by my sons. Miraculously enough FanX was held over spring break for my youngest and my eldest doesn’t need sleep before finals. Therefore, I got to experience the color and clamor with my boys. Together we picked out cultural reference we shared and I learned about the new ones I missed while educating them about the old. We bonded. It was awesome.
    I should say that I wasn’t the only one there bonding with family. This is Utah. We have families and the planners know this and took advantage of it in the best possible ways.  There was a side “Kid-Con” going on, with RC robots, dancing, legos and plenty of Star Wars. Memories to last a lifetime were being handed out for the taking. The next generation of fans were being brought into the fold with excited grins, contagious laughter and more than a few Elsas in ice blue gowns and braids.

3 - The Crowds
    There is such an energy at a convention like ComicCon FanX that if you haven’t been to one, it’s difficult to describe. I heard it was particularly acute in Salt Lake because we’ve been starved for such an event for so long.
The coolest fans!
    Comic Cons are celebrations of "fringe" popular culture. They are parties. They are love-fests for those particular tastes we’re often too embarrassed to admit to. But not at the Con. At the con, we rejoice in the imaginative and far out. We get close to our heroes and icons, movie stars and Bat-Mobiles. We’re swamped with memorabilia that takes us back to our childhood or last Sunday’s episode all the while surrounded by 100,000 of like-minded people all doing the same thing. Everyone’s on a similar wavelength, enjoying the experience, happy to be there, gladdened by the crowds of similarly enlightened strangers who they recognize as their friends.
    I didn’t need to eat those days at the con - I was fueled by the overwhelming surplus of positive energy from the crowds.

4 - The Panels
    I got to sit on six panels during the con and they were all great fun. I got to share what little insight I’ve gleaned from my experiences as a writer and social critic. I got to hang out with great people and make new friends. To tell the truth, I got a lot more than I gave. I picked up so much good advice about writing and horror, genres, marketing and storytelling. I'd have gone to the panels anyway. Having such a great seat was, well, freakin' great.
     In celebration, I gave away bunches of books. I handed out cards, shook hands, glowed with shared energy. I may have made a few fans, but I know I made a lot of friends.

Me in good company!

5 - The Floor
   Remember when going to the mall was fun? I'd forgotten until I got down among the acres of vendor booths at FanX. What a fantastic dreamscape of art and memorabilia, books and toys that was. So wonderful. And then to make things even more unbelievable, along the back wall where the crowds were paricularly electric, there are booths of celebrities. I won’t go through the list, but I should mention that most of Star Trek TNG was there including Patrick Stewart. Oh, and Nathan Fillian, Captain Hammer himself all under our same roof shaking hands, taking pictures, signing autographs and hanging out.

6 - Karl Urban
    Karl Urban is so handsome I’d kiss him. He’s been in many of the recent science fiction movies that I think really matter, Star Trek reboot, Riddick and Dredd.
    Here's my story: I was on my way to a panel when I saw Karl heading the other way in the same corridor. He had security with him. Security all wore red shirts by the way. Knowing not to mess with the celebs, I simply took a step back and bowed my head and hands in a Wayne’s World “I’m not Worthy” posture. He smiled and shook my hand.
    It was my bruised hand (told you I’d get back to that). Pained as it was, I  shook his and relished in the pain. It was like I was given special nerve endings for that weekend just so Karl Urban could squeeze them and cement the moment.
    It was cool. A brush with fame, a moment of my life where it intersected with his. It hurt, a little, but still, it was cool.

7 - The Train
    I rode the Utah Transit Authority Trax to the convention hall. It was my first encounter with modern transport in Utah and I was  impressed. Effective, timely and so much less hassle than having a car downtown. Not only am I a Comic Con fan, I’m now a Trax fan. Go Mass Transit! Save the City! I understand the convention helped UTA set a new ridership record. I was there.

8 - Cosplay
    Comic Con is a party where the best guests come in costume. I don’t care where you spent your Halloween, the masquerade party FanX put it to shame. There’s "people watching" and then there’s "Cosplay watching." We are geeks and nerds, fans of the extreme persuasion and among us, you may see Master Chief and Ursula in the same room. Star Fleet red-shirts and rebel brown-coats mingling with Imperial Stormtroopers and Transformers. Some costumes were good, some were great, some will take your breath away and make you wonder if they stole it. You can wander for hours in the halls of a con like this gawking and watching. Every costume-filled hallway is a quiz of cool - Airbenders and Elves, Doctors, Oods and Cybermen all getting along. What a place.

9 - Edward James Olmos and my question
    When I was in graduate school I studied BladeRunner with an eye toward making it the cornerstone of a thesis. I never had to write that thesis, but the movie is as much a part of my education as algebra.
    (SPOILERS) Back before the director’s cut and the 5-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions, I cottoned onto the possibility that Deckard, the Harrison Ford character was a Replicant. In the first voice-overed version of the film, most of the clues were taken out. But not all. Sensing the possibility, I felt like I’d found treasure and the movie exploded with new meaning and power.
    Then the discs came out and the question was shown to be central and my insight proven right (insofar as it was a question). Decades after the film's initial release Ridley Scott admitted not only to the possibility but even to the reality that Deckard was in fact a Nexus Six.  But what I wanted to know is if at the time of filming Scott had let the cast in on that possibility.
    Enter Edward James Olmos, one of the coolest actors on the planet and BladeRunner alumni. As Gaff in the film, way back when, he was the other detective, a quiet but surly, origami-folding streetwise character that is the crux to the whole twist.

    Enter Edward James Olmos at Salt Lake ComicCon FanXperience.
    I attended Olmos’s huge ballroom panel and stood in line to ask him the question, to find out if Gaff knew - or, more to the point, if Edward James Olmos knew, if Ridley Scott had mentioned the possibility to him and thus pull a racist portrayal out of the actor.
    I didn’t get to ask my question. But I did get to stand under the screen a few yards away and thoroughly enjoyed his talk.
    I tried him at his table after the panel and couldn’t get to him before my panel began. But the next day, just as he’s setting up I caught him. I shook his hand, got a fantastic signed picture and got the answer that has troubled me for decades.
    No. No one on the set had the slightest inkling that Deckard was/could be a replicant. They thought they were just making a new kind of detective noir while a racing against a looming director’s strike in Hollywood.
    Thus is the genius of Ridley Scott and the power of film.

10 - Organization
    Last year’s Salt Lake ComicCon blew the doors off. It was so popular that people had to be turned away on Saturday. People who’d gotten in couldn’t re-enter due to the Fire Marshal's concerns. It was the surprise event of geekdom. In its first try, Salt Lake ComicCon became the third biggest con in the country. Check out these stats.

It was so big that the producers decided to make it twice a year. Bold move considering the expense and work needed and the novelty of the event in the city. Would fans come again to both FanX in the April and ComicCon in September?
    I was one of the people who’d been turned away on that Saturday. I watched to see if the same crowds and confusion that beset the last one repeated at this one.
    I saw the crowds but none of the confusion. The planners of FanX did their job well. Everything was smooth and crisp. Lines were managed. Food was managed. Panels, events, parties  - everything came off so smoothly that I heard not a single word of complaint from the hundreds of people I talked to. The proof of a successful organizing effort is in its invisibility. The mechanisms should just work and no one notices. Thus it was. The volunteers and paid staff were excited and helpful, professional and effective, handy but invisible. I'm sure there were crises, fire needing to be put out, but it was all done before I could smell the smoke.
    I can only imagine how much work went into it the process before I got there. I saw some of the activity behind the curtains and can only marvel at the whole enterprise’s smoothness.
    Well done folks. You’ve raised the bar and set a firm foundation for an enduring event. Class act all around. A safe place for grown-ups to be children and for children to play. Thanks. Well done. Well done indeed.

I’ll see you in September for the next one!

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