With something for just about anyone remotely interested in pop culture, as well as a star-studded list of guests, London’s biggest convention continues to be a biannual highlight for all.
Twice a year, thousands of pop culture aficionados flock to London’s ExCeL Centre in droves to spend the weekend immersed in all things geeky. At Comic Con, words like ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ are not insults to be thrown around in high school hallways, but titles to be embraced. Costumes and dressing up are no longer reserved for children at birthday parties – it wouldn’t be out of place to see people of all ages decked out in full cosplay regalia around the Royal Victoria Docks, proudly posing for photographs. ExCeL itself (normally a venue for corporate functions) is transformed over the weekend into a sanctuary for young and old alike, gathering to wear their love for their favourite franchises on their sleeves. Comics, sci-fi, and fantasy may not be novel concepts today, but if this summer’s MCM Comic Con was anything to go by, their influence is clearly still able to bring people from all walks of life together in blissful, nerdy harmony.
At Comic Con, words like ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ are not insults to be thrown around in high school hallways, but titles to be embraced.
I am myself an ardent fan of sci-fi and fantasy across all media; as such, receiving press passes to MCM Comic Con to cover the event for three days in May was nothing short of an outright blessing. The sheer size of the convention itself warrants its extension over three days – it took me an entire day just to explore the Comic Village and merchandise stores. The halls were jam-packed with people on all three days, milling about and taking in all that the convention had to offer. For an event this size taking place immediately in the wake of the Manchester bombing, the security checks performed were thorough, whilst also avoiding holding up queues too much.
Unfortunately, there were several organisational hiccups, the biggest caused by an attempt at crowd control. On Saturday, staff told the multitude of visitors getting off at nearby DLR stations that it was fine not to tap out (as it kept the queues moving). However, this flagrant violation of TfL’s travel guidelines resulted in a hefty £10 fine for more than a few disgruntled attendees, of whom I (thankfully!) was not one. Billie Piper, who had been scheduled to attend, also cancelled her appearances at the last minute, and several other delays and scheduling changes caused some inconvenience. Nonetheless, nothing major detracted from the overall enjoyability of the event, and I was fortunate enough to have passes for all three days (panel time changes leaving my experience unhindered).
Part of the wonder of Comic Con is its ability to bring movie magic straight to the fans, and this year certainly did not disappoint on that front.
This summer, MCM Comic Con boasted some impressive sponsors, with exhibits set up by several major players in the pop culture scene today. This included DC Comics and their Wonder Woman exhibit, as well as Dreamworks Animation, who were promoting the third instalment of their love-it-or-hate-it series, Despicable Me. A life-sized replica of the ‘Gru-mobile’ dominated a section of the hall, whilst on the other end, the actual costumes used in the filming of Wonder Woman were displayed behind immaculate glass cases (soon to be stained with the fingerprints of curious children and excited adults, alike). Pop-up booths for various other movies were also around, including an eerie tea party with Annabelle (yes, that demonic possessed doll from the eponymous horror movie), and an impressive model of Optimus Prime from the Transformers franchise looming over another entrance. Part of the wonder of Comic Con is its ability to brings movie magic straight to the fans, and this year certainly did not disappoint on that front.
But the fans themselves were also key in making their own magic. Cosplay is, and always has been, an indispensable part of comic conventions all over the world. MCM Comic Con is known for its celebrated cosplay coverage by UK filmmakers Sneaky Zebra, and the calibre of self-crafted and hand-tailored outfits on show this summer were, without a doubt, exceptional as ever. MCM Comic Con was home to both casual cosplayers who just wanted to dress up on the day, and professional cosplayers who take part in photoshoots and create customised costumes for a living. This fact was solidified by the exclusive airing of cosplay documentary Behind The Make-Up at the convention, celebrating cosplay as a practice that brings communities together whilst allows geeks to exercise creativity and feel at home amongst kindred spirits.
Despite the event’s official title implying an overarching theme of comic books, this was clearly far from the case. Merchandise from just about every imaginable fandom was available, whether in the realm of video games, comic books, TV and movies, or even lifestyle trends (such as Japanese lolita fashion). From original art prints being sold by both professional and amateur artists in the Comic Village, to international chains like Forbidden Planet selling collectibles and memorabilia, one would have to possess an immense amount of self-restraint to leave the convention without having bought a little something. The Comic Village in particular is one of MCM Comic Con’s best features, providing a much-needed source of innovative and original merchandise created by fans, for fans – a rare gem amidst a highly-saturated merch market, today.
Comic Con is not just for the fans, but an important tool needed for creators to break into the mainstream, and a much-needed opportunity for the independent comic scene to get the recognition it deserves.
It should also be noted that the Comic Village serves as an extremely important launchpad for independent comic publishers and artists, allowing them to gain traction and extra publicity for their work amidst like-minded fans and artists. Independent creatives usually support their work through crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and as such need strong fanbases – what better place to promote their artwork than at a comic convention? Several such publishers that I met, like Beyond The Bunker and Card Shark Comics, produce intriguing original content, and have already been met with acclaim from indie critics. A major comic convention bringing in extra admirers gives them the extra edge that they need to boost their trade, and break the monopoly that comic giants (such as Marvel and DC) have over the industry. Comic Con is not just for the fans, but an important tool needed for creators to break into the mainstream, and a much-needed opportunity for the independent comic scene to get the recognition it deserves.
Video games were also an integral part of Comic Con, as expected. Both independent developers and bigger companies had demos of the latest platforms and games for visitors to try out, as well as convention-exclusive discounts that were all but impossible to refuse. I had the opportunity to play a demo of Farpoint on the PlayStation virtual reality headset; although this didn’t provide much of an insight into the narrative of the game, it was a truly fantastic introduction to the world of VR technology (showing it to be a wholly immersive experience, named the ‘future of gaming’ by players and producers alike). Playing a first-person shooter with a gun handset within a virtual reality is, without a doubt, one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a while, and the demo of Farpoint itself shows a promising mix of open-world exploration and first-person shooter fun.
On a smaller-scale, I also tried out the new episode of the Bertram Fiddle adventure series (a game developed by Rumpus). Whilst prone to some glitches – an understandable hiccup, given the small size of the studio and the limited resources available – the game was nonetheless enjoyable, and a refreshingly low-key alternative to the big-budget bombast of PlayStation and Nintendo (which, at times, can get a little overwhelming). All manner of other platforms and games were also available to try out, ranging from the hotly-anticipated Tekken 7 released a week after the convention, to the exceedingly enjoyable Splatoon 2 on the Nintendo Switch. Additionally, e-sports tournaments were taking place throughout Comic Con all day, and a merchandise booth selling e-sports team jerseys allowed fans to wear their favourite teams colours. The gaming community was certainly well-represented at Comic Con, catering to everyone – from the most casual tablet gamer, to the hardcore, major-league hopefuls.
This was very much the same for fans of TV, movies and books. This summer’s MCM Comic Con boasted a star-studded guestlist, including Catherine Tate, stars from shows such as Class, NCIS: Los Angeles, and The Originals, and the voice actors from Adventure Time. For fans preferring older material, the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Lou Ferrigno (Mark Ruffalo’s predecessor as The Incredible Hulk) were present, doing signings and photoshoots all weekend. And – as if this wasn’t already a huge guestlist to navigate! – notable authors and comic writers such as Cavan Scott and Kieron Gillen were also around following Q&A panels with fans. Catherine Tate’s panel stood out to me in particular; despite being the first panel held on Saturday morning, the Gold Theatre was packed to the brim with fans of different ages. Tate herself was a lovably accommodating guest, doing a full circuit of the hall to greet all her fans, and even ushering a meekly standing family with young children to some free seats. Comic Con proved itself to be a unique, rarely-obtained experience for many fans that weekend – the chance to meet your heroes, and realise that they’re people just like you.
When reminded that our heroes are simply people like us, it is refreshingly encouraging to know that our wildest dreams may not be as far out of our reach as we expect.
I myself had a similar experience, having met KJ Apa (who shot to fame as Archie Andrews on the Netflix hit, Riverdale), and Jeremy Shada (the voice actor behind Finn from Adventure Time). Both actors are my age (no older than twenty), and getting the opportunity to chat with them – whether in a casual encounter backstage, or at a press roundtable – reminded me that the stars we look up to are often not so different from our own selves. Hearing strange, novel facts about the actors – such as KJ Apa recounting his admiration for Cole Sprouse (having grown up watching The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, before later becoming his best friend on the set of Riverdale) – were not only amusing, but a pertinent reminder that even idols get starstruck, and many manage to remain down-to-earth whilst plunged into the limelight. Seeing many similar accounts on social media during and after the convention is assuredly testament to the magic of Comic Con. When reminded that our heroes are simply people like us, it is refreshingly encouraging to know that our wildest dreams may not be as far out of our reach as we expect.
MCM Comic Con is, altogether, an amazing event. It is both reassuring and incredibly humbling to realise that fictional universes can bring so many people together, providing them with much-needed escapism from the mundanity of the daily grind. Comic Con, to many, is more than just another Bank Holiday weekend filler – it is a safe haven for fans to gather, transcending the boundaries of race, class, gender and age, and uniting the pop culture community for one wonderful weekend. I’m going to miss the magic of seeing Deadpool walk into the Crowne Plaza, or sitting next to Son Goku on the DLR. After the magic of MCM Comic Con, the world feels a little too normal to be true.
Images: EJ Oakley