It’s hard to believe that March marked the 4th annual FanX convention and 8th overall Salt Lake Comic Con event in Salt Lake City. It seems like yesterday that the first Salt Lake Comic Con was announced and Utah’s Geek population made it one of the biggest events in the state’s history. Held in September of 2013 70,000 attendees stormed the Salt Palace, many in imaginative Cosplay costumes, ready to meet celebrities and artists and pick up original art and mementos from their favorite obsession.
As the event has grown so has the list of guests. Everybody from William Shatner to Stranger Things Millie Bobby Brown. March’s FanX was dedicated to Carrie Fisher, a fan favorite guest. Stan Lee, the big fish at any convention, was scheduled to make an appearance. Due to illness he wasn’t able to get on the plane. To the delight of everyone there he did a giant Skype to a packed convention room.
Artist Alley is one of the fan favorite areas of the convention floor. Local and nearly local artists feature original art to please any fan. Local artist Ben Byrd has been there from the beginning. He paints well known characters from Disney, comic books and movies. His style is whimsical and engaging that draws out the “personality” of his creations. Utah Stories caught up with Ben to ask him about his work and his Salt Lake con experiences:
Utah Stories: Can you give us a little background on how you got started as an artist?
Ben Byrd: Well, I’ve been drawing and doing art probably since I was 5 or so. I took art classes in high school and college, but my career has been doing graphic and web design. I started doing graphic design when I was a sophomore in high school and that pretty much led me down the road where I’m at professionally. I love doing graphic and web designing. But I didn’t do much drawing or painting with my career. I would doodle at work and at home, but didn’t really do anything with it. I always wanted to do comic books, but again, didn’t really do anything. My wife and I had started thinking about selling my art online, or doing something like that. I had started drawing little funny people and things. I did a series of LDS characters in watercolor. We thought they would be fun to sell. This was about 5 years ago and I lost my job. My wife, Tatiana, told me to start doing art. So I got about 20 paintings. We put them on Etsy. We sold a couple, but then we decide to go sell at a Christmas show. It was really scary but we had some success so we did another show. A friend told us we should do the first FanX and so I did some more paintings. Our first and the first FanX was really successful. We learned a bunch and we started planning to do every Salt Lake Comic Con. I would paint in between shows. We’ve since been able to travel to out of state cons and it’s a really nice side business. I actually only started calling myself an artist when people ask me what I do for about the last 3 years. I’ve always been a designer, but not an artist. Now I call myself both.
U. S.: Which artists are your inspirations?
B.B.: I got into comic books when I was about 10 or 11. I loved the art styles in those, there were several artists in that community that I liked. James Christensen has also been a big influence on me.
U.S.: And where do you get inspiration for your subjects?
B.B.: Pinterest and the web have been a great tool for me to find new styles or see what others are doing. I also get inspired by nature, architecture, music (big one), and just generally things that grab my attention.
U.S.: How long have you been going to FanX and SLCC?
B.B.: We’ve been going to everyone since the first FanX. We’ll keep going as long as they accept us :)
U.S.: Can you relate one or two fan experiences at the events?
B.B.: We helped one of our fans propose. He asked for a custom piece of him proposing to his then girlfriend. We thought it would be fun and we recorded the whole thing! That happened just this last FanX.
We were at a con in Portland. Tatiana was down on the floor sorting through some prints. I was watching all the people walking around when I see this little dog walking down the aisle like he’s one of the con goers. He wanders over to our booth and walks right in. Tatiana squeals with delight and started petting him. Then I hear a couple of voices say “Gary” and the dog walks away. I look up and realize it’s Carrie Fisher. Later we saw Gary walk past again so I gave one of the security people one of our Princess Leia prints to give to Carrie. She walked back around with her people and said Thank you to us. That was really cool and fun.
U.S.: Are you able to do your art full time?
B.B.: I probably could? But I actually really like doing my day job too. We’re doing around 10-12 cons this year which is about double, so we’ll see how that goes, maybe we can make it a full-time thing, but I like the stability of just doing a regular 9-5 job.
U.S.: Why do you pursue your art – what does it give you in your life?
B.B.: It makes people happy. It makes us happy. I get to spend every con with my wife and we’ve worked together to build this. I love doing it for my family. I’m so very grateful again, that people come to see us and buy our prints. I’m more happy that they just smile or come and say hi, even if they don’t buy anything, i’m just glad to see friends or to make new friends. We love that part more than anything.
The next Salt Lake Comic Con is planned and tickets are on sale for September 21-23, 2017. Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg under Dan Farr Productions in partnership with MediaOne of Utah.
Story by Connie Lewis