Europe’s biggest pop culture event may have its more star-studded iteration in May, but its October incarnation saw no less flock to ExCeL, and no less opportunities for even the most casual geek to enjoy themselves wholeheartedly.
It’s happened again, as it happens twice every year. Cosplayers gear up for a showcase of their costume-crafting talents. Parents deck out their babies’ prams and break out the makeup for themselves too. Geeks and pop culture enthusiasts who don’t want to seem as involved as they really are start searching for their t-shirts adorned with subtle references to their favourite comics, movies, or TV shows; hoping to find a like-minded soul who will appreciate the finesse of their identity as a fan. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you MCM London Comic Con. The event, arguably the most renowned convention in all of Europe, returned from the 27th to the 29th of October to bring just that little bit of geeky magic back into everyone else’s lives, be it the attendees themselves, or the confused passers-by on the DLR who have to sit next to a living, breathing anime character on their commute down Beckton way.
MCM London’s October outing is generally a little more oriented around younger children – kids get free entry! – which leads to no surprise that the biggest section of the convention was devoted to the pop culture behemoth that is Marvel Studios. Coinciding with the release of Thor: Ragnarok in cinemas on the first day of the convention, the Marvel section was bursting with promotion for the movie – I couldn’t move an inch without seeing Chris Hemsworth’s grimace plastered on just about every flat surface in sight. But of course, the huge Marvel area had more to offer than just one superhero. There was a Spiderman: Homecoming VR experience for avid gamers and movie enthusiasts alike, as well as stores selling official merchandise and themed photo booths from the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Any child remotely inclined towards pop culture would have been overcome with glee at the abundance of Marvel’s family friendly superhero stock at the convention.
I couldn’t move an inch without seeing Chris Hemsworth’s grimace plastered on just about every flat surface in sight
Marvel’s already huge presence at MCM London wasn’t just limited to merchandise and photo booths, though. Two of the convention’s biggest guests this fall were none other than Hayley Atwell and Anthony Mackie (who play Agent Peggy Carter and The Falcon respectively), two secondary, albeit integral characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Both held panels and photo sessions for their adoring fans, who were filling the theatres as soon as doors opened for a chance to see them. Also present at the convention was Andrew Scott (perhaps best known amongst convention attendees for playing a brilliantly depraved Moriarty on BBC’s Sherlock), as well as David Bradley (Walder Frey from Game of Thrones amongst other stellar roles on Broadchurch and Harry Potter) and convention regular Warwick Davis (known for his roles in the Star Wars and Leprechaun series, and his advocacy for actors suffering from dwarfism). As a slightly more left-field addition to the guests, several WWE stars were also present, for those immersed in the more muscle-bound side to pop culture. And for those more inclined towards YouTube videos instead of big-screen movies, Comic Con’s staple VidFest UK booths included guests like TomSka and KickThePj. Kids may have been the priority at MCM London this October, but that definitely didn’t mean that everyone else wasn’t going to be able to meet their heroes either. Sure, the names may not have been from the biggest hitters out there – especially not with the rumour that part of the Stranger Things cast would appear at the convention going around – but it was a fantastic lineup nonetheless, and would have given the whole family a multitude of reasons to get on that long DLR ride east.
One thing that MCM London in October definitely held over its counterpart in May, however, was the presence of several publishing houses in its hallowed halls this fall. Where MCM London in May had been devoid of any books other than comics and graphic novels, October saw stalls set up by Bloomsbury, Quirk Books, and even the most respectable Folio Society, a collective dedicated to promoting both new and established illustrators by combining their artistic talents with classic works of literature. Bloomsbury was present to promote its plethora of young adult literature, most notably Sarah J. Maas’s saga, A Court of Thorns and Roses – and if the rate that copies were flying off the shelves at was anything to be believed, then reading isn’t dead, and the youth are definitely still voraciously devouring books. As for Quirk Books, their stall truly had something for everyone. From limited edition notebooks bearing the crests and logos of gaming franchises and popular TV series like Destiny and Outlander, to an illustrated children’s re-telling of Back to the Future, and even multiple copies of Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean Star Wars lampoons – The Empire Striketh Back, anybody? – the indie publisher’s portfolio of beloved books certainly won the patronage of many an intrigued geek.
MCM London still pulled out all the stops for its devotees, be they four years old or sixty-four years old
As if the wallets of every convention attendee wasn’t already perilously empty after just several hours at the three-day convention, the amount of video games available to exclusively test and pre-order was surely enough to turn some enthusiastic gamers into the dictionary definition of the word “broke”. The biggest game present by far was that of Assassin’s Creed: Origins, the hotly-anticipated title from Ubisoft that proved itself, from its demo alone, to truly be the saving grace that the otherwise floundering Assassin’s Creed franchise needed to pull itself out of the muck. Sharing a demo tent with Origins was a game that could not be more different – South Park: The Fractured But Whole was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and provided a good counterpart to the intense combat mechanics that Origins brought to the table. And Ubisoft aside, there were plenty of other games present that had attendees queueing up repeatedly to have a go at them. Japanese game publisher NIS had its own area, boasting an impressive range of titles from the new Dangan Ronpa instalment to the generic yet strangely enjoyable RPG, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. Nintendo, a staple at MCM Comic Con, was present once again too, bringing back their demos of Splatoon 2 for the Nintendo Switch, as well as the critically-acclaimed Super Mario Odyssey and Pokken Tournament DX. While not as many indie developers copped spots in October (as in May), the lovably furry title Cat Quest was available to play too, and the queues for the four demo tables were at times impenetrable. Gamers’ delight, indeed.
Last but not least, what is MCM Comic Con without its very namesake, the Comic Village? Indie authors and artists brought their wares to showcase, hoping to gain new fans regardless of how well-known they already were. This particular convention also saw an influx of first-time exhibitors, some of whom had even travelled from as far as Sweden for the event. This new sense of multi-nationalism within the convention made its range of original work available for perusal all the more intriguing – the indie comic scene in Britain is booming relative to the rest of the world (excluding America, of course), and the injection of multicultural titles from new emerging artists certainly gave the Comic Village an edge over even the most popular indie comic stores around the country.
Sure, everyone is generally more excited for the May iteration of Comic Con – after all, more people look forward to the start of summer than the start of October’s week-long half-term holiday. Yet MCM London still pulled out all the stops for its devotees, be they four years old or sixty-four years old. I remain convinced that family fun has never seen an event of this proportion before, and possibly never will.