Salt Lake City’s first annual Comic Con drew a record number of eager cosplayers this week, with apparent thousands being turned away at the door on Saturday due to issues with building capacity. Previously compelled to switch venues due to unexpectedly high ticket sales, not even the Salt Palace Convention Center could contain all the costumed cargo that flooded its decks.
With between 50,000 and 90,000 tickets sold for the three-day festival, the first annual Salt Lake Comic Con has already set a record for the largest first year con. Hours after the venue opened on Saturday morning, a massive line of hopeful attendees still stretched for several blocks. Packed shoulder-to-shoulder and what seemed like miles from the front entrance (see picture above), many potential attendees were confused and frustrated, not knowing why the line refused to move, or if they were even in the right line in the first place.
Moments later, a Comic Con rep with a bullhorn announced to the crowd that they were “out of tickets”, and that no further entries to the convention would be permitted. He politely apologized, but told the crowd it needed to disperse. Keep in mind, this is thousands of people in a line stretching for several hundred yards, around a few city blocks. Many booed and yelled, holding up their pre-paid tickets in protest, and several screamed for immediate refunds (see video below).
After a brief delay, the Comic Con staff relented, announcing that they would allow anyone with a pre-paid ticket to enter. Having run out of Saturday wristbands, the staff began dispensing leftover Thursday wristbands in their place. I heard a rumor that the fire marshal had expressed concern regarding the building’s occupancy, which was essentially confirmed by press contact Kenny Caldwell, who told me via email that the convention did, indeed, reach its maximum occupancy of 48,000 for “a brief period on Saturday”, but that he was “not sure of the approximate time”. (Caldwell would not confirm how many potential attendees were turned away.)
Predictably enough, there was little room to maneuver on the convention floor on Saturday afternoon, with attendees slamming shoulders and stepping on toes. Friday (I did not attend on Thursday) was a vastly different experience, as I was able to move freely from booth to booth, talking comfortably with authors and artists. But Saturday was crazy. Finding a few feet of free space was like discovering a glorious desert oasis: somewhere you could breathe, and think, and live, and maybe check your cell phone. In short, agoraphobics should stay the hell away from the Salt Lake Comic Con.
The guest list included super-studs like Stan Lee, William Shatner, Manu Bennett (“Crixus!”), and Lou Ferigno, but based on the handful of brief interviews I had with random strangers, celebrity interaction wasn’t the primary draw. Interestingly enough, the majority of the people I spoke with cited cosplay as the main reason they came––the ability to be someone else for a few hours, as elaborately and creatively as possible. Even those who weren’t dressed up mentioned their eagerness to see those who were.
Regardless of the crowding issues, the first annual Salt Lake Comic Con will undoubtedly be viewed as an astounding success. Of the dozens I asked, only one attendee told me he wouldn’t come back next year. (And he probably will.) Based on this year’s numbers, I can only imagine that 2014’s Salt Lake Comic Con will draw bigger celebrities, bigger artists, and more out-of-staters. We’re gonna need a bigger venue.