This past weekend, I had a unique opportunity for my life and my career: to cover the MCM London Comic Con — the largest event in comics, games, and entertainment in the United Kingdom. What follows is a short account of my experience with this imposing event, so crowded with people, so full of life and so full of novelties.
Let’s start with the basics: I had a long ride ahead to reach the ExCel Convention Center — as I live in Swansea, a five-hour bus ride away from London. However, arriving in London presents another challenge: the journey from Victoria Coach Station to the ExCeL Centre – one hour and three tube journeys in a city I know very little about. The trick? As any convention goer knows — follow the cosplayers.
Despite having read much about it, I was still unprepared: the MCM London Comic Con is simply immense. Occupying more than half of the giant ExCel Convention Centre near the Thames, about 120 000 people visited the convention during the three days of the event – I was around for the first two..
The event itself
In simple terms, the reactions on arrival on Friday – a day of less activity, partly due to working hours – was of jaws dropping. A diverse crowd that ranged from families with small children — some hoping to meet Daniel Radcliffe, there to promote his new movie, Horns — to bearded fellows wearing fantasy gaming T-shirts. Passing by amateur and “professional” cosplayers, nerds of all kinds and even some old ladies (one I saw again on Saturday with a bag overflowing with memorabilia from Marvel – whether for herself or as a gift, one can only wonder+.
Here I have to separate between two things: Comic Con as a convention and in terms of its feel. As a convention, it’s a dream: a cluster of nerds and fans of all kinds, celebrities from the A to the C lists (those actors and illustrators who are only known by fans of * insert thing here * – people like Robert Llewellyn and Hattie Hayridge, from the excellent Red Dwarf series, colorist John Paul Bove – Judge Dredd and Tranformers ReGeneration One, and the eternal Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Amber Benson). An insane amount of sellers of all kinds of geeky junk, autograph sessions, panels with staff and crew from series and movies…it’s a dream, in a nutshell. Even despite all the practical problems.
This is even before you get to the chance to play games before they come out on the market and equally amazing, the chance to find products that have long been off the market, as in “too cheap to be on ebay”. Conventions, as we know, are the nerd paradise – and this is not any different.
However, the practical problems are many and at some points are really troublesome. As I said, there are about 120 000 people in just three days; overcrowding is a guarantee, either within the convention, or around it. Some of the booth shops were almost impossible to see, given the throng of people around you – and if you managed to stop to take a look, you were guaranteed to be bumped into. At the end of the second day, all the ATMs inside the ExCel Convention Center and several around it were penniless. I only managed to follow one whole panel – that of Daniel Radcliffe – as all the others I tried to go to were either crowded or with huge queues.
Stranded in London
At the end of the first day, not to run the risk of missing my bus back to Swansea, I missed the panel of the original cast of Mighty Morphin ‘Power Rangers – despite having a guaranteed seat as part of the press. A big mistake it turns out – as despite leaving early, thanks to the delayed ExCeL DLR I arrived at Victoria Coach Station ten minutes after my bus – the last bus.
This then provoked another memorable experience: getting lost in London without having anywhere to go (until a colleague of mine offered me a place) – I found it an immense city, always busy. Crowded streets and tube stations, especially on a Friday night. I encountered the strangeness of a full bar on a Friday closing at 10pm but eagerly grabbed the chance to cover the second day.
If the first day was an amazing experience, the second was twice as good. The popularity of the saturday – even in the early morning at 9am – made Friday seem monotonous. Passing through four lines of public transportation to get there, the last two – two DLR lines – were fully packed with people going to the convention. Imagine sitting in a crowded train full of cosplayers – to the point of being difficult to move without bumping into someone – and this is a vague picture of the experience; however to know the feeling you needed to be there.
I had the chance to meet some actors and artists in person. The afore mentioned Robert Llewellyn and Hattie Hayridge (Holly and Kryten from Red Dwarf) were flattered with “the first Brazilian fan” they’ve met. Jack O’Halloran (Non from the Superman II) decided not to grant an interview. Ian McNiece (who played Winston Churchill in Doctor Who and the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune miniseries) gave me a brief interview about his many roles. I faced some huge queues to try to talk with some top celebrities (like Japanese director Shinichiro Watanabe, actress Amber Benson, the staff from the gaming site Rooster Teeth and the original cast of Mighty Morphin ‘Power Rangers) – without much success. Maybe I should have “pushed my luck” with the press pass.
I saw bits of panels, tested a few games before launch (three of which I will speak about in another article – one that I found great, one “average but fun”, and one that made me angry). I saw the beautiful Square Enix Play Arts Kai line stand with brand new figures (some exclusive to the Con). All the while Professional cosplayers from Star Wars (including one perfect Chewbacca, and a Tusken Raider who roamed the con halls “threatening people”) circulated throughout the convention centre.
Offers, statements and releases
However, the best of a con is never what is being offered by the event itself – but what businesses and shops have to offer. Gaming companies demonstrating new titles, raffling DLCs, games and even gaming consoles. Toy companies showing old and new products. Specialty shops selling from Star Trek Tribbles to giant Gundam model kits that led me to ask how they even got the boxes in. All types of comics. Shirts, caps, gloves and thematic hoodies. Oriental food (because it is inevitable that a nerd event be overtaken by otaku). Antiques and rarities of all kinds – and at extremely friendly prices. Among others, I saw two copies of the set of Trench Bluster & Mech Ideas – a set that only 500 copies were produced. Whatever it is you’re after, this kind of event is a great place to get it – especially if it is large.
Pedro will be bringing us more from the event throughout the week…
Words by Pedro Leal
Image Credit: The london vandal