Chronicles of a Comic Con Virgin

Salt Lake Comic Con.

The mecca of intermountain nerdom is back once again bringing fans of shows, anime, comic books and popular entertainment together for a three day extravaganza at the Salt Palace Convention Center from the 21st-23rd. Though I grew up in proximity to the San Diego Comic Con, I’ve never attended one of these events myself. I always felt as though I was missing out on some cultural juggernaut of an event–an outsider looking in. When asked to cover the event this year, I figured it was high time I cashed in my nerd points and dove into this experience head first.

While identifying as a nerd for much of my life, I learned yesterday that I am not, in fact, very nerdy at all. I was quite out of my depth at this event and felt more like an anthropologist observing a culture I was unfamiliar with, watching the people interact with each other in strange, foreign ways. As such, this post will chronicle my experiences as a Comic Con first timer and attempt to prepare and give pointers to other Con virgins.

Me and Patricia Cieslak in the T.A.R.D.I.S

The Salt Palace is massive. It’s almost half a million square feet jammed packed with artists, exhibitors, sets, celebrities and props from everything from Star Wars to The Walking Dead and even Mary Poppins. The sheer amount of stimulation around you is staggering. The vendors are hocking their wares, which span the gamut from homemade handsoap to replica spears. Talented artists sell their paintings, drawings and wood carvings emblazoned with nerd symbols, like Doctor Who’s T.A.R.D.I.S. Then there’s “Celebrity Row,” housing the stars of nerd and geek culture to sign autographs and take pictures with fans…for a fee. The costs range from $30-$75 for a signature or photo op. But group photo ops with multiple stars of a franchise (like Back to the Future or Guardians of the Galaxy) can set you back a whopping $250+. Basically, if you want to meet your favorite stars, be prepared to spend some serious cash. My tactic? Stand on the other side of the line and look at the famous person from afar. While you can’t take zoomed in photos lest security kick you out, you can say “I saw Val Kilmer,” and achieve a similar effect for free.

Cosplayer as Wirt from Over The Garden Wall

If celebrity culture isn’t for you, there are also hundreds of panels for you to attend. A Comic Con panel is a themed talk where you go see qualified person talk about a particular topic. They can be centered around a particular show/universe, or they can discuss a wide range of products under a central theme, like zombies or Disney princesses. Attend these panels at your own peril. While I’m sure that some of these panels are quite interesting and engaging, the two panels I attended yesterday were unequivocally bad. The first, “Disney Princess Movies and Cultural Appropriation” featured four white women who opened up the conversation by attempting to discuss the positives of cultural appropriation. The session went rapidly downhill from there. The second panel, “From Voodoo to the Running Dead: The History of Zombies,” had only one speaker: Sean Hoade. A self-proclaimed “zombie expert,” Hoade is a creative writer from Las Vegas who alleges to have taught the first “for credit” college course on zombies. Unfortunately for the audience, Hoade had very little interesting to say and did a great job of not knowing the answers to his own questions. Luckily for him, the audience often knew the answers and would correct him on his bad information. When not making jokes about fat people and “the short bus,” he was trying to promote his book and/or making comments about how high he was (not confirmed). Needless to say, many of those in the once packed hall started to trickle out when his lack of knowledge on zombies became more and more apparent.

Cosplayers as Ursula and Gandalf the Grey

If I could issue some tips to those attempting to navigate Comic Con in the future, these would be my top 5:

1. Either come prepared to spend lots and lots of money, or resolve to not spend any. There is very little room in between these two options. If you want to, come with a strict budget and be sure to stick to it.
2. Go off campus for food options. The food in the event center is mediocre at best and grossly overpriced. While many will eat there for the sake of not having to leave the convention center, try to support businesses around the event hall who have infinitely better food.
3. Try not to overschedule yourself. It will be tempting to plan out every single minute of your time there with panels and celebrity meet ‘n greets, but try to just absorb what’s going on around you. Then, once you’ve got your bearings, figure out what seems the most interesting to you. Do you want to shop? Do it! Go to panels? Enjoy yourself! But don’t get so overplanned that you end up miserable.
4. Take pictures of/with cosplayers. They love it and are always willing to pose for a photo. Many of these people spend lots of time and money creating very intricate and impressive costumes for this event. While it will feel weird at first to ask strangers for pictures, it’s just one part of Con culture that you’ll learn to live with.
5. Lastly, don’t be upset if you don’t enjoy it. Because of how Comic Cons have exploded in the last decade, there’s a lot of pressure for people to attend and love it. But this experience is definitely not for everyone. If it’s not your scene, then don’t go. It’s as simple as that.

You can find more information about this year’s Salt Lake Comic Con on their website.

Ashley Szanter
Ashley Szanter
Ashley Szanter is a contributing writer for Salt Lake magazine as well as a freelance writer and editor. She loves writing about everything Utah, but has a special interest in Northern Utah (here's looking at you, Ogden and Logan).
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