Cosplay and commodities and celebrities, oh my! FanX is an extension of Comic Con — a gathering of geeks from all realms to celebrate everything that makes nerds great. I had the great privilege to attend my first “con” on March 17-18. I walked in with my Leonard Nimoy t-shirt and a dream. I walked out with wonderful memories and way too much merchandise.
My first steps into the Salt Palace Convention Center were confident but I was soon awestruck. Surrounded by geeks of every kind — anime lovers, classic comic fans, gamers (tabletop and video) and even a “John Oliver” cosplayer — there were no limitations. Costumes ranged from intricately handmade to clever D.I. finds.
The room was simply beaming with pure geek-energy as a result, with vendors adding to the geekery of it all, including artists and artisans, businesses and charities. You could buy anything from t-shirts, to custom weapons — both real and fake — and hand-crafted jewelry.
Celebrities of note included “Psych” stars James Roday and Dulé Hill, as well as Cary Elwes, Wallace Shawn and Chris Sarandon from “The Princess Bride.” Weird Al also made an appearance, unlike Stan Lee, who had to cancel his trip due to health problems. Fans were so adamant about seeing Lee that FanX convinced him to do a live-stream video interview and was attended by hundreds. There were also panels with Zachary Levi of “Chuck” and “Tangled,” and Bonnie Wright of the “Harry Potter” series.
While the variety of experiences was thrilling — I tried speed-dating for the first time and that was interesting — the most impressive aspect of FanX was the number of charity booths; There were about a dozen. They ranged from cosplayers who visit children in hospitals to art-based after-school programs for kids at risk.
Professional mermaids known as the “Sandy Sirens” help to teach children eco-friendly habits through merfolk volunteers. Their mission is to spread the “love and joys of undersea life in a child friendly environment. We teach about the importance of recycling and keeping our waters clean from the use of storybooks, to songs and through ASL,” as they write on their website. They work in tandem with non-profits such as R.E.A.C.H. and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and volunteer at birthday parties and parades throughout Utah.
Raising Education through Arts, Characters, and Heroes (or REACH for short) is an educational organization that seeks to elevate learning in schools. Dressing up as fantastical characters and heroes, they help to supplement areas of literacy, history, arts and anti-bullying.
“Our goal is to try and help support the education system,” said Mandy Brown, the current director of R.E.A.C.H. “They’ve had so many cut-backs … so we try to step in and fill that gap without costing the schools any more money.” She further explained that R.E.A.C.H. helps kids learn about other charity organizations, such as the Legacy Initiative, and how they can get involved in their community.
The Legacy Initiative is an organization aimed toward “including the excluded” by offering food, supplies and care to those in need. The first Saturday of every month, volunteers make burritos, assemble hygiene kits and gather other donations to give to those experiencing homelessness. They also offer special care to homeless children through “Cause Play,” a fun play on words that refers to dressing up as heroes and characters and passing out candy to bring joy to little ones who are suffering.
Ted Mills, president of the organization, says they’re not only fighting hunger but also fighting the stigma surrounding the homeless population of Utah.
“Part of our mission is educating people,” he said. “Any one of us could experience homelessness at any one particular time in our life … and some people would argue that we’re just helping the problem — by giving someone food we’re ‘allowing’ them to be there. Our take on that is more of we’re providing them with something they can’t get themselves that maybe gives them a little bit more hope [and] a little bit more dignity.”
Throughout FanX I saw fantastic cosplay, got some killer merch and met some of the most amazing people. FanX 2017 reminded me that there are heroes all around us. Though Superman may not always be there to save the day, special people throughout Utah are dedicated to bringing hope and joy: with or without a cape.