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For many fans, the lure of Salt Lake Comic Con lasts all year

SHARE For many fans, the lure of Salt Lake Comic Con lasts all year

SALT LAKE CITY — Harold Weir's basement will never be the same.

There are bins of sewing supplies organized in one corner, a shelf where masks and wigs sit atop styrofoam heads, and a long clothing rack suspended from the ceiling that holds one elaborate costume after another.

Weir made all of them.

Over the past three years, Weir has slowly transformed the basement into his workshop, a room dedicated to making costumes for events like Salt Lake Comic Con as part of a creative outlet he now can't imagine being without.

"I love being creative. I'm not artistic, but I'm creative," he said. "It's very relaxing to me to be creative and create things. … I probably spend any time that I'm not doing something else working on them. Any free time that I have, that's what I do."

Salt Lake Comic Con became one of the largest events of its kind nationally virtually overnight. For many like Weir, Utah's burgeoning comic and pop culture convention is more than a three-day event: It has become a culture that has supported a number of new interests and lasts year-round.

Fans have developed new skills and hobbies, made the convention part of their annual budget, and have adopted the event as their family vacation for the year.

Since the convention began, Dan Farr, Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder and show producer, said organizers have marveled at fans' commitment.

"I should have realized this going into it. It never really occurred to me that this would become such a central part of people's lives like it has," Farr said. "There are so many people who have developed new friendships through comic con. … There's a responsibility to make sure we keep it great."

Weir and his wife, Roxanne, attended the first Salt Lake Comic Con in September 2013. The couple had long participated in a Utah group of Halloween enthusiasts and had made a few costumes for their own haunting efforts, but they were immediately impressed by the level of detail and commitment that went into "costume play" at the convention.

"We were walking around and we saw Commander Data (from "Star Trek: The Next Generation") standing there, and we were just shocked how good the costume was and how good he looked," Harold Weir said. "I just thought, 'That's so cool. We've got to do something about that.'"

The Weirs wanted in. Salt Lake Comic Con's smaller FanX event rolled around six months later, and the couple spent just two hours throwing together costumes to play the Thermians, the quirky alien race in the movie "Galaxy Quest." Other fans hurried over, complimenting the creative costume choice and taking photos, and the Weirs granted requests to wear the costumes a second day.

"We were hooked. It was just so much fun," he said. "From those humble beginnings of two-hour costume, now I spend an inordinate amount of time working on costumes."

For his next endeavor, Harold Weir shook the dust from his mother's sewing machine, which hadn't been used in 30 years and was on its way to being an antique. After teaching himself to sew, he also took a professional mask-making class to expand the kinds of costumes he could create, learned to make his own patterns, and began creating a work space in his home that stays up year-round.

In addition to the popular Thermian look, Harold Weir has assembled a full set of "Galaxy Quest" crew costumes the he wears with family and friends, Severus Snape and Bellatrix Lestrange costumes from the Harry Potter series for himself and his wife, a Doctor Who and a Weeping Angel costume that the couple wears together, and others that he still has in the works.

Some costumes take weeks or months, while others can be thrown together in a day or two with just a little work and a lucky trip to the thrift store.

While costume making is her husband's hobby, Roxanne Weir said she is happy to support his projects, which he does to entertain family and friends.

"Someone asked, 'Do you like to dress up?' I answer by telling them, 'All spouses have a choice on how to support their honey's habit,'" she said. "I do it because I love him. As long as it makes Harold happy, I will be right their by his side."

There is just one rule when wearing one of Harold Weir's costumes: Do not break character.

"Our costumes are pretty basic compared to some of these (at comic con). Some of these are just beautiful," he said. "When it comes to cosplay, we are the play part of it. We have so much fun."

Farr, who knows Harold Weir from their Rocky Mountain Haunters Association days together, has loved seeing his friend bring his love of entertaining to comic con. He hears raving reviews of the couple's Thermian costumes at each convention, he said.

"Everybody talks about," Farr said. "What's interesting is they won't go out of character. They will maybe slip out a little bit to say hello to me once in a while, but in front of people, they stay in character."

* * *

When Nathan Caldwell attended the first Salt Lake Comic Con with a free pass he won, he wasn't sure what he was walking into. Amazed by art, collectibles and comics on the sprawling convention floor, it became quickly apparent that he could easily spend a lot of money there.

Caldwell decided to return to FanX the next spring, this time prepared to pace himself through the three-day event. He had also been looking for something special to do with his three brothers and invited them to come along.

Having learned the hard way about budgeting after blowing through all his income from a Army National Guard deployment in a single year in college, Caldwell has tried to be careful with his money ever since.

He mapped out a budget to save $2,000 in just a few months and made a plan of how to get his FanX passes at the best price, the best time to reserve a hotel room, and how to space out his expenses rather than spending all at once.

"When we got near the end of day Saturday, it was like, 'Well, I've still got this much left,' and my brothers were helping me find things to spend money on because I had saved up to spend the money for that weekend," Caldwell said. "Since then, I haven't gone as big on it. I've been more reserved."

Not long after, Caldwell began dating a friend of several years, Heather, and introduced her to the convention as well. When the couple got engaged, Caldwell suggested they plan a budget for their wedding the same way he had begun budgeting for comic con.

"A lot of adults get in that situation, I know I did too, where you think, 'Oh, good. I've got money. I can go do this, this and this,' and not plan accordingly," Heather Caldwell said.

"Comic con is definitely one of those that you really have to sit down and say, 'OK, this is how much I'm going to go into this with, and if I don't spend it all, great. And if I do, I know that's what I could plan on,'" she said. "(Nathan has) taught me a lot of that."

The couple has planned a "staycation" honeymoon in Salt Lake City to attend comic con, with a budget set up to spend at the convention together and a few nights in a downtown hotel.

Before Salt Lake Comic Con, Nathan Caldwell was unaware of other comic and pop culture conventions beyond the well-known San Diego Comic-Con. Now, he has attended conventions in Las Vegas as well and hopes to attend others around the country in the future. His favorite stop on any convention floor is to see the artists selling geeky drawings, paintings and other pieces.

"I went from the first one being just overwhelmed by artist alley and buying a whole bunch of prints to now I go find artists there that I like their stuff and I get commissions done so I have original pieces," he said.

One of Nathan Caldwell's favorite souvenirs so far is a piece of art he saved to buy at Amazing Comic Con in Las Vegas, but that he loves mostly for the memories it represents. It is an illustrated comic book cover by artist Jeff West showing him and his brother, Austin, as members of their favorite childhood cartoon and comic, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

To keep attending conventions, the couple plans to keep their comic con budget going. Additionally, they have started online stores on eBay and Etsy to sell some of their older memorabilia to buy new items at future events.

* * *

Salt Lake Comic Con will return to the Salt Palace Convention Center on Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1-3.

Guests include Mark Hamill, best known as Luke Skywalker from the original Star Wars trilogy; Salt Lake Comic Con alumni William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk in "Star Trek," along with Lou Ferrigno, the first "Incredible Hulk"; Michael Rooker, "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "The Walking Dead"; Ian Somerhalder, "The Vampire Diaries" and "Lost"; Ruth Connell, "Supernatural" and "Disney Infinity"; Billy Boyd, The Lord of the Rings trilogy; Manu Bennett of "Arrow" and The Hobbit trilogy; Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson and Michael Zapcic of "Comic Book Men"; and "The Dukes of Hazzard" trio John Schneider, Tom Wopat and Catherine Bach.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero