Over the last weekend of October, the London Docklands area was once again flooded by an outlandish and peculiarly dressed crowd numbering in the hundreds of thousands. I can only imagine the bewilderment of the locals, seeing well-loved heroes and villains of all shapes and sizes leap out of their respective mediums – be it film, television or literature – only to arrive in our world and share their DLR carriage. Yes, it was the annual MCM Comic Con weekend for London: quite possibly the largest celebration of pop-culture and general geekery in the country. To many, and quite probably myself as well, this was a haven for like-minded lovers of various aspects of popular media to share and discuss their passions and to indulge in esoteric references with one another. Honestly, I was not prepared. As a first-timer to Comic Con (I had unexpectedly inherited a press pass from a friend only the day before) I was overwhelmed by not only the sheer diversity of interests between the enthusiasts present, but also the vibrant passion they had in pursuing them.
Of course I have heard of Comic Cons: usually the big ones that happen in the States. In my mind they were these grand affairs where people went along with their immaculate cosplay – all dressed up as their favourite film, television or video game character. What they did once inside, however, was a mystery to me. A friend of mine, a Comic Con veteran by now, informed me that a lot of what they do was walk around browsing for “cool stuff”. She couldn’t have described it better. It wasn’t just the merchandise on offer: from internet personalities interacting with their fans, to artists drawing commissions on the spot, to preview screenings of the latest shows, you just couldn’t help but be filled with wonder as your inner child inevitably took over. In its basic essence, Comic Con was part showcase, part shopping – tailored for cosplayers by cosplayers – and with a light dusting of Eastern anime culture to top it all off.
This year, more so than before, there was an increased presence of game companies. A large section of the convention floor was dedicated to hosting major Japanese developers such as Bandai Namco and Nintendo, which gave fans the chance to get their hands on as-yet unreleased titles such as Dynasty Warriors 9 and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. Meanwhile, Ubisoft gave fans the chance to try the recently released Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which proved to be a main attraction for many. In addition, several well-known faces from television (and well-known voices from the world of voice acting) made guest appearances on stage for Q&As and signing sessions. This year, fans had the chance to meet most of the cast of Red Dwarf, Sherlock’s Andrew Scott, and Avengers stars Hayley Atwell and Anthony Mackie, among so many others. Furthermore, attendees were treated to behind-the-scenes looks at Blade Runner 2049, with the film’s art directors and creative leads, as well as the team behind BBC Radio 4’s new take on Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
I’ll be first to admit that there is nowhere nearly enough time to see most of what is on offer. I went on Sunday, by far the quietest of the three days, tagging along with a group from the SciFi Society – hereafter referred to as the Herd of Nerds – shepherded by our very own “Rincewind” (Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series). Quiet as I say it may be, the event was still well attended by throngs of the esoterically-inclined, the majority of whom were in cosplay. One thing that struck me was how open and friendly every attendee was when all dressed up – it was commonplace to see people approach and compliment one another’s costumes and discuss for a moment or two on that shared passion. In a way, I could see cosplay as almost akin to advertising one’s interest in the hope of attracting similar-minded fans. For example, our Herd’s lone “Booker DeWitt” (Bioshock Infinite) was soon joined by his character’s other half, “Elizabeth”, cosplayed by a stranger, out of pure chance. While it was quite often that we would see two cosplayers stop to chat on the sole basis that they were dressed as the same character, this did not apply to the almost ubiquitous Pennywises, Spidermans, Rick/Mortys and Harley Quinns however, and it soon became a game for us to count how many of each we saw as the day went on.
Cosplaying is certainly not mandatory, but there is something very liberating, especially if done well, about being able to don a few pieces of scrap cloth (bought the day before off Amazon) and accessorise with painted cardboard (saved from the dumpster) to pull off an impersonation of your favourite character – all without fear of judgment. The cosplays seen on the day were hugely varied, and similarly the philosophies behind each can be very different. Of course, there are plenty of jaw-droppingly accomplished cosplays that are themselves testimonies of immense dedication and effort, but there are also niche cosplays that focus on a very particular aspect of the subject matter and demonstrate the cosplayer’s creativity. My personal favourites were humorous cosplays that proudly advertised in-jokes nobody would understand unless they were familiar with the subject matter. To illustrate: one of our Herd was dressed as a neglected, lone, severely damaged Ancient Age Roman warrior unit (from Civilization V), carrying his unit symbol and depleted health-bar (which our Herd conveniently used to rally around amidst the crowd). Few people got the reference, but the reactions of those who did were priceless.
To end off the day, I had the opportunity to witness the annual Cosplay Masquerade competition, where the most technically accomplished cosplays take to the stage to compete and qualify for the larger Clara Cow’s Cosplay Cup held later in the year. Almost all contestants took advantage of the competition’s light-hearted nature to show a humorous streak to their characters, be it Aquaman lip-syncing to “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid or Daenerys Targaryen singing “I Just Can’t Wait to be Queen (King)” from Disney’s The Lion King. Regrettably I did not stay as they announced the winner, it would have been interesting to know the criteria the cosplays were to be judged. Instead, with just an hour left on the clock, I rapidly browsed the remaining stalls I had not seen – chatting with comic artists as they promoted their work – and browsed through the assortment of geektastic merchandise on offer – which included edible geeky treats based on popular culture.
With MCM Comic Con London over for this year, it was time to crowd back on the DLR amidst the tired but smiling faces of the attendees, their props falling apart and their wigs and costumes in dire need of repair. Needless to say, it was a very enjoyable experience, and I would eagerly anticipate its arrival next year. Perhaps then, I might even have a costume ready. Better get thinking.