As a long-time geek, I’ve noticed a change in the last couple of years. Our culture, as I’d term it, has broken into the mainstream. None more noticeably than at Comic Cons – taking place all over the world – multiple times a year, covering a number of genres. Conventions where geeks from all over the world can converge as like-minded individuals to share in a world far from reality.
Having been a part of this community since I was young, I’ve been to a number of them but one of my favourite has always been Europe’s biggest, MCM London Comic Con Expo, and I look to attend at least once annually. Normally held twice a year (May and October) at the massive ExCel Exhibition Centre in East London, it has always drawn a crowd – in fact, I’d say it’s the largest among the other conventions that have reached the UK. You may have heard of San Diego Comic Con in California, consider MCM London Comic Con Expo as its European sibling.
As I said earlier, geek culture has hit the mainstream – in films, TV series’ and games – it’s turning over billions of pounds each year. MCM looks to celebrate all facets of this rich culture, including more niche comic books, graphic novels, anime, cosplay and manga too. As well as giving fans the chance to meet their favourite stars from a number of different titles for photo ops and autographs.
This year, much to my delight, MCM was running for three days in an even larger area of ExCel than usual. It’s fair to say, in 2014, that MCM’s growth was beginning to show but in a rather negative way with burgeoning ticket queues, not enough space to walk between each stall and a general lack of facilities. But I’m glad to say; whatever issues there were last year – they’d been eradicated this year – clearly, the organisers knew that the experience couldn’t be repeated. In fact, I’d say this year was the best to date – clearly demonstrated with more than 130,000 people in attendance across the weekend, a record breaker!
I received my wristband on all days in the fastest time ever and entered into ExCel’s halls, in one of the many entrances, as the event began. I didn’t hear one complaint.
It was clear from looking at the floor plan previous to the weekend, and then walking to the convention itself that space wasn’t going to be a problem this year. With more than half of ExCel taken up with activities and more than reasonable areas to take a much-needed break, it was a pleasure to navigate. I’ve honestly never felt so much freedom at a convention, as in you actually have room to breathe, let alone walk around! Hats off to the organisers – they did a great job.
And with all this space, comes a lot more entertainment (geddit!?). So much so, that there’s no way I could have made the most of it all in one day. With hundreds of stalls, ranging from cute Japanese plushies, delicious Asiatic street food and Samurai Swords to Marvel’s much-loved comic books and larger TV/Film promoters, like AMC’s The Walking Dead – the MCM marketplace was better and more varied than it had ever been. What’s more with so many stalls, it even made prices more competitive!
Space no longer an issue, it made it easier to catch a Q&A, panel and a few of the game developer sessions. The enclosed amphitheatres were great at keeping unwanted sound out and there was more than enough seating. A few of the sessions I attended also felt more engaging and consuming because of this – you could actually hear the speaker amidst all the other activities.
Personal favourites, for me, were seeing Gillian Anderson (X Files) in person, Nick Blood (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) discussing feeling pressure to join the Marvel Universe on a larger screen and John Noble (LOTR, Fringe, Sleepy Hollow) making the point that Netflix has helped geek culture to reach the mainstream, at least from a TV standpoint. Nolan North talking about his career in the games industry was a highlight too, his claims that the game industry shouldn’t be devalued in any sense from an acting point of view, were very heartfelt.
As always, one of my favourite areas came back this year, the Games area. CAPCOM, Bandai Namco and personal favourite, Rising Star Games were in attendance showcasing their latest titles.
But whilst the big hitters were there, what made a difference for me was having so many independents involved this year. The VidFest area celebrating British YouTubers. It was a great introduction into one of the fastest growing areas in the industry and with so many indie comic artists in attendance in Comic Village, there was a lot of opportunity to read something a little different like Twisted Dark, as opposed to the larger, more popular comic titles, like Harley Quinn.
It’s important to say, that although this convention has clearly grown and had to adapt to its record-breaking attendee figures, the community atmosphere hadn’t changed one bit. There were still large groups dancing about the halls in their cosplay outfits, there were still complete strangers sparking up conversation in-between halls about new series hearsay and there was more than enough room to communally watch a trailer or two for upcoming films and game releases.
But, for me, it has to be the extraordinary efforts that attendees go to in terms of their cosplay that really makes this convention stand out. This year’s offering was the best I’d seen and the most varied – although there were still many Jokers and Deadpools running about the place! In my opinion, MCM would be the perfect place to pick up a future prop designer for any big budget Hollywood movie or HBO series.
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to spot the Disney cosplayers in their finest ball gowns and it was like being at one of my favourite Disney parks. The level of detail and role-playing was astonishing. Coupled with your usual Avengers ensembles, Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers, the Ghostbusters and many an Elf with bow in tow, it made for a diverse but enthralling mix.
With all this in mind, if you’re ever tempted to visit a Comic Con in the UK, I’d recommend MCM.
And here are a few of my top tips:
Buy a weekend ticket and immerse yourself for the full weekend. Yes, you’ll be knackered by the end of it but you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
If you’re coming from miles away, book a hotel early. They tend to sell out pretty quickly once dates are announced, your feet will love you for a comfortable night’s stay too!
Attend in cosplay for at least one day. It’ll be a once in a lifetime experience and you will most definitely not feel like the odd one out.
Throw away your pre-conceptions. The geek community is an embracing and wholly friendly one – you’ll love every minute of your time.
Expect queues but don’t let it put you off. They’re always fast moving and if not, at any point, talk to those around you. You’ll soon make a friend or two!
See you next year?