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SALT LAKE CITY — Even though FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention has attracted an impressive, star-studded lineup of celebrity guests, those guests say it’s still all about the fans this weekend.
After all, fans are the event’s namesake.
FanX runs today through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake. A handful of celebrities and event organizers gathered Thursday morning at the Grand America Hotel for a press event to kick off the festivities.
Actor John Wesley Shipp, known for his roles on the TV shows “The Flash,” “One Life To Live” and “Dawson’s Creek,” said his favorite thing about visiting comic cons is having a conversation with fans about the characters he plays.
“The audience owns these characters and the actors get to come in and play the characters,” he said. “We have a really lively exchange about what they like, what they don’t like. … All the walls come down, and we just have a real human experience and a great time.”
Other celebrities scheduled to appear at FanX include Jason Momoa, Evangeline Lilly, Jeff Goldblum, Chuck Norris, David Tennant, Rainn Wilson, Tim Curry and dozens of others. Momoa’s “Justice League” co-star Ben Affleck was also scheduled, but his appearance was canceled a few weeks ago.
FanX co-founder Dan Farr echoed Shipp’s feelings about the fans at his event, which is now in its fifth year.
“The reason why we can do this, and why we get in the best celebrities around, is because we have the best fans around,” he said.
Lilly and Tennant are two guests they’ve been trying to attract to Salt Lake since the beginnings of FanX, Farr said. Judging by the reactions of some of the fans, people are excited that they’re here, according to Farr.
“To be able to get them there this time — it’s a big deal,” he said.
Another new development at FanX this year is a renewed approach to safety, not only for fans but also for volunteers, celebrities, staff members and others in attendance, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Bryan Brandenburg said.
Volunteers will have a set of handouts and guidelines for handling harassment, Brandenburg said. That will include a flowchart of what to do if there’s a complaint, which will show volunteers how to report the complaint and keep people safe, he added.
In May, Brandenburg was involved in a harassment debacle with Utah author Shannon Hale that played out publicly on Twitter.
Brandenburg apologized and took a leave of absence before returning last month with a commitment to improving harassment policies at FanX.
Brandenburg and other FanX representatives worked with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to set up a 24-hour harassment hotline for reporting complaints. A community council made up of a wide variety of people within the geek community will handle reports, and the body has already resolved some harassment issues, Brandenburg said.
“We have a lot of initiatives that make us better,” he said.
The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault will be putting on a panel during FanX, too, he added.
Other celebrities also were excited to interact with fans during the weekend.
Paige O’Hara, best known as the voice of Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” said she loves hearing stories from fans.
“I’ve done several of these FanX’s and expos, and I love (fans’) stories of how they grew up on the film and what it meant to them,” she said. “To me, that’s the joy part of it, you get tired … but it’s really a rewarding thing to hear what people have to say.”
Actor Tom Hopper, who has appeared in the TV shows “Game of Thrones,” “Black Sails” and “Merlin,” said he enjoys getting reactions from fans. He said when you’re on set making a TV show, you don’t know what people will think of the show when they see it.
“It’s really interesting to see how people react to it, and maybe the different things that we didn’t see making it, or different ideas they have about the characters,” he said.
Jason David Frank, who has played the Green Ranger in several different “Power Rangers” productions, said he has enjoyed visiting Salt Lake over the years because FanX fans know how comic cons work. Frank, a good friend of Farr’s, has been to FanX three times over the last five years.
“I’m really just looking forward to seeing the fans in Salt Lake,” Frank said. "It’s a very familiar thing here in Salt Lake, but if you’re not familiar it’s pretty easy to figure out. If you’ve never been to a con, just come.”