I just got back from Denver, our cooler big brother of a city in the Rocky Mountains, where it held its first-ever Comic-Con. I won’t even talk about how easy it was to get an adult beverage (even in the convention center’s exhibition hall); we’ll just assume it’s a given that Salt Lake City should lobby the state Legislature more than it does to treat our citizens like adults. I’ll focus instead on other things that our region can learn from the event.
First off, Denver Comic-Con wasn’t some rinky-dink convention with one important guest and attendance ranging from less than a thousand to a few thousand. This was a full-blown convention with an entire array of well-known guests and attendance in the tens of thousands. They pulled it off right, and I’ve never had a better time at a convention. I was there selling my new book and did very, very well in that regard, too; they really know how to treat their guests.
Salt Lake City is thirsty for an event of equal size and splendor. Some say we can’t pull together a geek crowd that big from our area, but I don’t think that’s a problem we have. If you build it right, they will come.
Our problem is that we have a dozen smaller events, and none of them seem to have the bold ambition to do it right. Or, they insist on staying up in Davis County, beyond all reason. We have GEEX, which is cool if you like to watch an exhibition hall full of kids play video games. And CONduit is great, as long as you’re willing to put up with attendance in the hundreds and every standard nerd stereotype. Anime Banzai would be a perfect launching pad if it expanded its focus and were willing to come to a city worth being in. But we don’t have anything truly comics centric, and nothing that combines everything.
Denver set its sights high and did it all. The first thing organizers did right: They coalesced around a nonprofit organization, in this case The Comic Book Classroom (ComicBookClassroom.org). Using that as a launching pad, they put together a guest list that would be the envy of any convention. As far as comic-book superstars, they brought in Mike and Laura Allred, Gail Simone, Neal Adams, J. Scott Campbell and dozens of others. For television and film talent, they booked Wil Wheaton (who cruelly canceled at the last minute), Aaron Douglas from Battlestar Galactica, Billy West from Futurama, half the cast of Phineas & Ferb, Tom Kane (who voices Yoda on The Clone Wars) and even more than that. They even reached out to local and regional talent and brought them in. Then they put together a program schedule full of interesting panels, kid-oriented programming and stuff people wanted to see. They also made it affordable.
There’s a lesson Salt Lake City can learn from this. Maybe we can get all of the disparate events that happen around town and through the year to find a nonprofit to come in and put together one massive, epic event that would attract comic-book, science-fiction, anime and animation fans from the entire region. Between Big Shiny Robot!, Geek Show Podcast, the rest of the local geek media and all of these other convention-style events, why don’t we have something like this in the works?
Next year, Denver is bringing in the godfather of modern comics, Stan Lee. The city is already two steps ahead of us. If Salt Lake City is going to make it happen, we’ve got some catching up to do.
Bryan Young is editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.