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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

In Review: London MCM Expo 17

The one thing that really hits you about the MCM Expo at London's ExCel centre is its sheer size. The two big comics events in the UK are Bristol and BICS. Two weekends ago Bristol had 1000 people at it - last weekend the London Movie Comic Media Exposition had over 41,000 people through the doors over its two days. But then it isn't a comics convention, is considerably more.

There have always been film, TV and comics collectors marts or fairs around the country and since the 1990s some of these have grown into the super-fairs of which Memorabilia is perhaps the best known. These were, and continue to be, enormous gatherings of dealers selling books, comics, graphic novels, toys, models, photos, posters, DVDs, cards, autographs and more. The early super-fairs started to add a few actor signings to the mix as a draw to get more people through their doors and eventually started to get them to do short Q&A sessions as well. This has turned these kind of events into more of a half-way house between a sales mart and the kind of company run, TV series based, conventions that have taken over in recent years from the old style fan run TV cons.

With the decline of Star Trek fandom and the rise of Star Wars fandom as the various Trek TV series petered out and the new Star Wars movies appeared, people dressed as Klingons gave way to people dressed as Stormtroopers, while the rise of Anime and Manga produced many more colourful and increasingly bizarre characters for the costumers to emulate and a new word, "cosplay", to describe what they do. As computer games got away from their 'bloke in a bedroom' image onto the increasingly large TV sets in family living rooms, the crossover with the gaming world increased, while the success of new Doctor Who brought SF and fantasy series back into the mainstream of television. The MCM Expo drags all these seemingly disparate, but actually interrelated, themes together into one very large hall in London.

With such a wide variety of interests bringing in so many fans willing to spend a lot of money, it isn't surprising that the more traditional comics community wanted a piece that action as well and the Expos, not just in London but elsewhere in the country as well, have begun to add a themed comics section to their events. While it may still seem more dominated by manga than a more typical British comics convention, the Comics Village area at Expo, organised by artist/writer Emma Vieceli, is growing into something that demands more attention than it often seems to get in the comics press. With big name guests such as Warren Ellis, Tony Lee and Ben Templesmith scheduled to attend, as well as a multitude of small pressers, last weekend's Expo had a wide selection of British comics talent who were being presented to a larger and more diverse audience than would attend any normal comics convention or mart.

The overwhelming impression on getting off the DLR train on the warm and sunny Sunday morning was of the cosplayers milling around outside the venue - meeting up, chatting and unashamedly posing for photos anytime a camera was pointed in their direction. There were certainly a lot of cosplayers there with perhaps upwards of a quarter of attendees in some form of outfit.

Remembering that there were in the region of 20,000 people per day that would mean upwards of 5,000 people in costume, and the standard was high. While there were Stormtroopers, Stargate uniforms, a few Starfleet uniforms, Hogwarts pupils, various incarnations of the Doctor, Marvel and DC superheroes, and even two Lego mini-figs, the vast majority were manga and anime creations ranging from the enormous to the skimpy, from the pretty to the bizarre. Of all the costumes there however my favourite had to be the Empress Dalek who managed to combine the classiness of the best anime/manga costumes with something that virtually everyone at the event would recognise.

Inside the hall the majority of the sales tables were, like the cosplayers, also dominated by manga and anime. However there were sections for computer games, both single and multi-player, trading card games, an American wrestling ring(!), A-Team and Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine vans, plus a nice K-9, a smallish TARDIS and a rather poor Dalek for fans to get their photos taken beside.

One large corner took in the main stage with plenty of chairs and an impressive audio visual suite where the main panels and the live Japanese pop music took place. After various people from Caprica, Fringe and BBC's Merlin on the Saturday, Sunday also saw the team from BBC3's medical horror Pulse including writer Paul Cornell (above) and Stargate Universe's Alaina Huffman (medic TJ) and the irrepressible Jamil Walker Smith (Sgt Greer) plus SG1's David DeLuise (below).

With the main theatre only divided off from the main hall by black curtains, the panels were often affected by the noise outside and while the SG:U panel went well, the Pulse panel suffered from the amount of noise from the wrestling ring which unfortunately drowned out much of what was said being.

The far corner of the hall held the Comic Village with artists, publishers and small pressers mixed together in well laid out rows with their own stage for talks and discussions to take place.

With upwards of 70 tables in this section alone, while it may only have taken up an eighth of the hall's floor space, it was a major British comics gathering in its own right with familiar names such as Markosia, Self Made Hero, The DFC and Sweatdrop displaying on multiple tables...

... and familiar faces such as Sarah McIntyre, Lauren O'Farrell and Gary Northfield of The Fleece Station.

The table rates were low enough that small pressers were able to attend and show off their wares to a much larger audience than normal, such as John Maybury and partner Siobhan Hillman on the Space Babe 113 table, which has deservedly been Eagle Award nominated for the best British black and white comicbook.

Also there were artist Al Davison and writer Tony Lee showing off the collected edition of their ongoing American IDW Doctor Who comic which has been nominated in three different Eagle categories.

Steve Tanner of Time Bomb Comics was also there and who, as well as selling his titles, was proudly showing off his new daughter Sasha who was attending her second convention in two weeks having been in Bristol the week before and who, remarkably, was sleeping through the noise and chaos around her in the Expo hall.

Asking Steve about how his non-manga titles were selling to an overwhelmingly manga crowd, he said that he was delighted with his sales and that he had sold more at Expo in one day than at Bristol in two.

Perhaps his increase in sales was down to the sheer number of people attending the Expo. Coupled the number of attendees to the mix of tables in the Comic Village and the table cost, this certainly appears to be an event that more comics creators should be taking a look at attending.

For the comics fan the draw may not be as much as for a Bristol or BICS, but MCM Expo is such a vibrant celebration of popular culture that it makes for an event that is worth experiencing at least once.

The next London MCM Expo is at ExCel London on 30/31 October 2010. More details are available at the MCM Expo website.

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