No matter your interests, Salt Lake City’s metro area regularly hosts enough conferences and conventions that there’s most likely one that’s right up your alley. There is, of course, the LDS Church’s General Conference if that happens to be your bag – but there are also FanX and Salt Lake Comic Con (our biannual pop culture and comic book conventions), Anime Banzai, the Salt Lake City International Tattoo Convention, numerous government and professional meet-ups… and FearCon, a convention devoted to all things horror.
I’ve attended a few of these conventions, in particular Salt Lake Comic Con (you can read my thoughts on that here and here), but this year was my first FearCon. On the whole, it was fun and competently organized. It rated a solid nine out of ten for effort and an eight out of ten for execution. The layout would be familiar to anyone who has attended a similar convention; row upon row of booths offering entertainment, education, and all manner of wares for sale. FearCon, however, had more of a taste of the carnival or the circus to it than most conventions. Part of this ambiance is easy to explain. One of the featured events at FearCon 2019 was the Vampire Circus, which you can get a taste of here, and thus there was a fair degree of circus spillover to the con both thematically and in the cosplay. There’s also the current zeitgeist surrounding evil clowns; between Pennywise, the Joker, and Harley Quinn (and an inexplicable and colorful gaggle of juggalettes), there were plenty of faces bedecked in greasepaint. Vendors in the indoors area were doling out cotton candy and popcorn as well, which contributed to the circus effect.
FearCon felt like Comic Con’s carny cousin – the grubby cousin with a lot of tattoos and a job running the ghost house ride at the State Fair. I mean that as a compliment. In its scale, Salt Lake Comic Con dwarfs FearCon: SLCCC draws 100,000 – 120,000 visitors every year, whereas FearCon draws a an estimated 10,000. Likewise, FearCon offers “over 150” vendor booths, while SLCCC/FanX feature an entire floor populated by many more hundreds of vendors. This might sound like SLCCC has the advantage over FearCon, but that was not my experience in the least. SLCCC is so vast and teems with so many attendees crammed cheek-by-jowl into its aisles that it is difficult to experience in its entirety. It can leave one feeling exhausted, claustrophobic, and a bit beaten down. FearCon, by contrast, has a distinctly human scale, and feels more personable and welcoming as a result.
Both SLCCC and FearCon are family-friendly events, but I’d say that Comic Con and FanX place much more emphasis on kid-friendly content than FearCon does. That’s not to say that there’s anything objectionable at FearCon – only an observation that Iron Man and Black Panther are probably more appealing to the average grade schooler than shambling, toothy ghouls (although, judging by FearCon’s turnout and my own childhood predilections, some grade schoolers prefer the latter). There’s plenty that appeals to humans of all ages, too. For example, all of these conventions provide opportunities for creatives to display, discuss, and sell their wares, with FearCon catering to the morbid/goth/metal crowd and Comic Con the geeks, although there is substantial crossover in the fandoms. FearCon had plenty of authors and small publishers on hand scattered amongst the ghost hunters, mask merchants, and special effects demonstrations. Conventions like FearCon offer an invaluable marketplace for artists and small business owners, and it was good to see how vibrant trade was.
Speaking of which, you can support the independent horror publishing community yourself by picking up a Halloween treat from Madness Heart such as Reed Alexander’s In the Shadow of the Mountain, or the anthology American Cult (which includes my short story “stuffed”). And if you happen to find yourself in Salt Lake City next October, check out FearCon – maybe I’ll see you there!