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Despite growing pains, Salt Lake Comic Con nets another record-breaking event

SHARE Despite growing pains, Salt Lake Comic Con nets another record-breaking event
I’ve loved the whole experience. It’s all these people that normally wouldn’t be able to show how much you love Pokemon or how much you love different nerd stuff. Normally you keep that stuff under wraps, but here you let it show — and everyone just praises you for it. – Elizabeth Stucki

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake Comic Con broke its own record for the third time in a row as more than 120,000 people flocked downtown for a three-day nerdy getaway.

Attendance peaked Saturday with as many as 90,000 fans bustling through the Salt Palace Convention Center, Comic Con co-founder Bryan Brandenburg said as the convention neared closing time.

Attendance numbers have yet to be finalized, but Brandenburg said initial estimates confirm Utah's homegrown comic and pop culture convention breezed past its goal for 120,000 attendees during the three days, despite logistical snarls that left fans waiting in line for hours to get in Thursday and organizers grovelling.

More than 72,000 guests turned out for Salt Lake Comic Con's inaugural event last fall, and 100,000 attended its FanX convention in April.

Organizers cut off online ticket sales at noon in an attempt to prevent guests from buying passes and not being able to get in, Brandenburg said, while the Salt Lake City Fire Marshal briefly blocked entry on a few occasions Saturday to break up the flood of fans entering the convention center.

Salt Lake City fire spokesman Jasen Asay said officials never saw an overcrowding or safety concern but just wanted to slow down entry. Lines going into the building were stopped once for 15 minutes and twice for 10 minutes.

Despite the rough start, Brandenburg said he knew the event was a rousing success when Stan Lee, returning guest and master of the Marvel universe, gave praise at the end of his appearance Saturday saying, "I love Salt Lake City. They have the best comic con in the world."

"Talk about being proud. When you get that kind of kudos from Stan Lee, you're doing something right," Brandenburg said.

Organizers especially lauded the fans' enthusiasm when it came to their costumes. In the days leading up to the convention, organizers tracked Google analytics and found Internet searches for "cosplay" outnumbered those for "comic con," Brandenburg said.

Brooklyn Collard, 12, carefully planned her My Little Pony themed outfit before coming to Salt Lake Comic Con, donning a rainbow wig and suspenders with colorful, fluffy boots and a pony backpack. At first she was overwhelmed by the delighted strangers who wanted to take pictures with her, but before long she was enthusiastic.

"She's got a pose down and everything," Angelina Collard laughed as the family of six took a break for lunch, their older children positioned at a nearby table in the crowded dining area.

Collard herself wore a Victorian-themed tribute to Batman, complete with corset, while Brooklyn's father, Al, wore a casual T-shirt and jeans.

"It's really nice that people would do that. I'm having a great time here," Brooklyn said.

Newlyweds Melissa and Bronson Dameron, of Orem, drew crowds with their costumes, dressed as Rapunzel and Flynn Rider from Disney's "Tangled" version of the classic fairy tale. Their cartoon-themed costumes, far from the comic book roots of these types of conventions, were nonetheless a hit, and the couple posed for countless photos with small children, all the while complimented by their parents.

"We just love Comic Con. It's like geek Mecca for us," Melissa Dameron said. "The point, I think, of Comic Con is really that you can be so invested and just geek out."

The couple enjoyed April's FanX event so much that they decided to attend the second Salt Lake Comic Con even when the event's celebrity lineup, while still impressive, left them wanting, Bronson Dameron said.

"We like dressing up together, and we just like the atmosphere," he said. "This one is a little bit different. They haven't had the celebrity draw that I would like to see, so we haven't seen any of the panels. We're just here for the atmosphere this time. They did a great job. They got so many people to come."

The young and wildly popular convention isn't without its growing pains. For three days, disgruntled ticket holders complained on the event's social media profiles about long lines, confusion and limited points of entry, some claiming they never made it into the event at all.

However, many guests who took advantage of three days of preregistration earlier in the week had no complaints about admission, saying they walked in with minimal wait.

Celebrity panels filled up fast with many attendees left outside as the ballroom doors closed and foot traffic between vendor and artist booths became heavily congested despite widened walkways.

Nevertheless, fans at the convention were enthusiastic about the event, complimenting the variety and layout on the convention floor and an overall positive vibe in the crowd.

Cassidy and Jeff Davis, of Bountiful, saved up to buy Gold Passes allowing them shorter lines and early admission throughout the convention. Having attended the past two events, they complimented the spread out convention layout and organized photo op process as they waited in line for a picture with Hulk Hogan.

"I feel like they're starting to get more organized. It's taking some time, but they're getting there," said Cassidy Davis, who intends to make Salt Lake Comic Con a regular event for her family.

Long lines notwithstanding, first-time Salt Lake Comic Con attendee Elizabeth Stucki, of Ogden, promises she'll be back for the next event. Stucki said she waited nearly an hour to get into the venue Thursday and was briefly caught outside Saturday when the fire marshal closed the doors.

The Utah State student was previously unconvinced about attending, but as she left the Salt Palace with a plush Pokemon tucked under her arm and a smile on her face, she counted herself among the convention's loyal fans.

"I've loved the whole experience," Stucki said, gushing over her chance to meet "Arrow" star John Barrowman and the time she spent wandering through the booths. "It's all these people that normally wouldn't be able to show how much you love Pokemon or how much you love different nerd stuff. Normally you keep that stuff under wraps, but here you let it show — and everyone just praises you for it."

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero