SALT LAKE CITY — Downtown Salt Lake City will be flooded by every fandom you can imagine as FanX returns to the Salt Palace on Friday and Saturday, April 19-20.

“It’s so much more than I ever thought it could be,” said founder and producer Dan Farr. “The first time we did the event here, it was hard to explain to people, because if you hadn’t been to an event like this, you don’t really know what to expect.”

The two-day FanX spring event celebrates pop culture as a whole, appealing to everyone from casual to super fans.

“It’s just everything in our society and pop culture that we relate to, or that we find pleasure in,” said Kiki Furia, a panelist at this year’s event and local cosplayer. “FanX encompasses everything with that. It’s like Disneyland, but better.”

Founded in 2013, the original event sold out and was the highest-attended convention in Utah with 72,000 attendees. The following year, the jump to 120,000 attendees made it the third-largest convention in the country.

“What I didn’t realize was how much of a lifestyle this has become for so many people,” Farr said. “And it wasn’t like we created that; they already had this strong passion for fandom, but this created a community around them.”

While FanX is the most popular comic convention in Utah, it wasn’t the first geared toward a target audience.

“My first con, I was a sophomore in high school, and my friend and I heard about this sci-fi convention,” said Kerry Jackson, FanX panelist, local morning-show DJ and host of the “Geekshow Podcast.” “We went over to the Holiday Inn in Provo the day of the convention, and it was maybe 45-50 people, but that was 45-50 more people than I knew were into any of that stuff.”

Farr wanted to bring the experience of a convention to Salt Lake after experiencing it as a vendor at other events.

“It was the energy I felt attending these in other cities,” said Farr. “As you walk in the room, you just feel something there. For me, it wasn’t about seeing anybody in particular; it was the creativity and the energy. Seeing all the people in costume, that excitement is contagious.”

With the rise in popularity of characters from Marvel, DC and other fandoms, FanX has grown just as quickly, hosting at least one event every year since.

“It’s just so encouraging to see thousands and thousands of people who all love the same thing,” Jackson said. “That’s such a great thing, because in the ‘80s, we geeks had to hide.”

Until recently, the term ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ carried a negative connotation, but the rise in popularity of numerous fandoms has shifted that dynamic, creating a community for those who have an appreciation for such topics.

“People come up to me at the event, or I talk to them out in public, and they’ll tell me how they didn’t feel like they fit in,” said Farr. “Then they come to the event, and they realize there’s a lot of other people that share the interests that they have and that they really do belong.”

Attendees have the opportunity to meet and interact with celebrities from some of their favorite fandoms, including comic book artists, authors, voice actors and more. Guests this year include Lynda Carter, John Cleese and Alice Cooper, as well as Zachary Levi of “Shazam!,” which has grossed more than $260 million worldwide since opening in early April.

“They put more into what they’re doing than just sitting behind a table and signing an autograph,” said Farr. “They put much more heart and effort into it, and that’s what really makes me enjoy having these people come. I’ve become a fan of some of these people just because of how they’ve treated their fans.”

There are two types of panels at FanX — celebrity, and topic panels — focusing on different elements of fandom and moderated by local members of the community.

“With a celebrity panel, everyone gathers in the ballroom, the celebrity comes up, you do a short interview, and then Q&A with the audience for about 45 minutes or so,” Jackson said. “With a topic panel, the programming committee will get submissions, and once we decide on the topics the moderator runs the show and you work with your panel. Each person has their own take on that particular fandom, and you work the panelists and the crowd. It’s all about interaction.”

Along with the panels, autograph stations and photo opportunities, and local and national vendors and artists will also be on hand, selling one-of-a-kind and hard-to-find items. There is also a strong cosplay community at FanX — people who will dress the part of a favorite character or franchise. Farr estimates roughly one-third of attendees come in costume.

“For me, being a cosplayer just livens up the fandoms, and I would say judging by people’s reactions, it’s the same for them,” Furia said. “Nothing is more exciting than you wearing the costume that you love. Whether you bought it, modified it, or made it from scratch, there’s just something about wearing it and being proud of that character, that fandom, or your work.”

It’s also a way for connections to be formed between attendees who might not otherwise know someone enjoys the same things they do.

“You’re instantly making friends and I think that’s the root of creating community,” said Furia. “It takes a village for anything to grow, so as we are connecting with total strangers over this one thing that we love so much, that’s the magic behind going to a convention.”

In 2014, San Diego Comic-Con sued FanX, which was originally known as Salt Lake Comic Con, for trademark violation after using “Comic Con” in their official title. After four years of litigation, a ruling came down that not only did Salt Lake Comic Con violate trademark, they were also responsible for nearly $4 million in legal fees.

Event organizers have challenged the ruling, and the case is currently in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California.

“We feel that, based on the fact that there are 140 other comic cons around the nation, it is a term that is very widely used,” said Farr. “There is a lot of history of people using that term without issue. We have confidence in our position that we will be able to set this right. We’re going down that path, and we believe that it will come out positively, not only for us, but for everybody else that uses the term Comic Con.”

Even if the appellate court chooses not to rule in favor of FanX, attendees say they won’t be disheartened.

“We’re our own state, catering to our own communities, so if it’s that much of a challenge, let’s just start from scratch and be our own thing,” Furia said. “I like that we’re called FanX; this is our event, and it is something that will put Utah on the map as our own identifiable thing.”

Farr says that no matter what you’re a fan of, there’s bound to be something geared toward your interests at the Salt Lake convention.

“By and large, most of the people that we work with and that come to the events on a regular basis get excited about a lot of different fandoms,” said Farr. “You can have that passion and excitement about everything.”

And while there can be a divisiveness among fans as to which fandom is better, FanX strives for inclusivity.

“We should be happy that people are into this stuff,” said Jackson. “It’s a wonderfully strange world. The more the merrier; come one, come all!”

Contact Jonah Napoli at 801-625-4213, or jnapoli@standard.net.

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