“I will take a serious approach to a subject usually treated lightly, which is a nerdy thing to do”
Benjamin Nugent, ‘American Nerd: The Story Of My People’
I stop to consider a slightly remarkable weekend that has culminated with my first attendance to a convention, of course I had been to other smaller more intimate affairs over the course of my years as a fan of what is both lovingly used and sometimes directed as an insult, the so called ‘geek culture’, but without any competition this was the largest congregation of the alternate, different, special and wonderful fan bases of the various cultures and entertainment that at times is derided for various reasons but here, genuinely felt like a celebration and coming together of a people maligned out of misunderstanding and I would postulate fear of the unknown. Returning to the Nation’s Capital in London, this was an opportune event and time to be able to attend the 2019 MCM Comic Con London event hosted at the ExCel centre in the East of London, one of the few venues able to host such an occasion to the size and magnitude it required, here beyond the usual locations such as the NEC in Birmingham. To paraphrase a well used cliche that held a great deal of truth, the journey was as equally important as the destination, my first train from Perivale station on the opposite side of London had the first signs of attendees, costumed fan’s in various regala putting in a far greater effort than me in my solitary Zelda shirt. The closer the train got to Stratford, the more costumed heroes and villains boarded the train until eventually we all decanted onto the DLR line and it took on a life of its own, never in my days have I witnessed such a spectacular site, and in truth the day was early and only just getting started. A Smörgåsbord of the cultures and genres from gaming to film and everything in between, I recognised a few costumes and characters from my own media consumption and could approximate a guess as to the origins of others but it was truly spectacular, as a resident of London to see this serious and often dour city transformed to this colourful and imaginative explosion of expression was moving. Stepping off the tube to be confronted by colourful guard cosplayers and Storm Troopers was an experience, the long walk to the entrance hall and security checks an interesting walk and then of course the necessary checks and lines. I had been vaguely aware it would be required by my goodness, they were long lines although processed as swiftly as you could expect. What made the experience tolerable if not enjoyable was the strange sensation of queuing with a variety of characters in my immediate vicinity from Avengers to Indiana Jones, wrestlers, game heroes, those in spandex, those in fun t shirts, all sexualities, creeds and colours, everyone representing the best aspects of themselves and yet conforming to the English tradition of orderly queues.
The ExCel centre was divided largely into two encompassing sections, the north and south divide of the facility with the gaming, autographs and picture sections to the left and the memorabilia, comics and catering to the right. Having attended the ExCel once before for another occasion I was curious how the layout would be but given the size and space available it certainly made use of what was there. The north section was of predominant interest to me given the connotation to gaming of this page, and certainly with the various other studio and company experiences there was a great arrangement and assortment of things to do and try. With games to try from Sony, a vast VR experience with multi booths to try the latest immersion titles and Nintendo bringing over a number of its soon to be released role playing game titles, it was perhaps a slight shame there wasn’t any real representation from Microsoft but ultimately this isn’t and never advertised itself to be a gaming convention so for what was there, I appreciated the effort. I hadn’t known what to expect in terms of content but there was certainly a great deal and a broad base to experience and enjoy with various booths dedicated to selling gaming merchandise which I will admit I did spend perhaps a little more than I had intended, the joys of living vicariously through a past time. Moving away from the games booths led to the studio experiences, notably a number of titles soon to release and some fantastic marketing photo opportunities including amongst others as the more well known the new X-Men title Dark Phoenix and It Chapter Two with the option to partake in a moving image of sorts. I’ve really enjoyed these forms of viral marketing campaigns, in London we have been blessed over the years to be home to a number of memorable campaigns, the dinosaurs in Liverpool Street station for one but it does create a genuine sense of goodwill on behalf of the studios to allow you to partake and create resonance with these titles beyond watching a simple trailer for example. Of course there were exceptions, a prevalence of posters and banners for the Fast and Furious spin off film, whether this type of audience were especially catered for is open to interpretation however it obviously provides a source of income to the hosts so it plays its part. Having secured an autograph from the legendary and most well known gaming voice artist Nolan North after joining yet another queue, and a brief circuit around the south hall and the various comic and book stands it was time to enjoy the crowds and just people watch. Perhaps somewhat of a voyeur connotation but it was genuinely interesting to just watch the people in the various costumes and outfits from video games, movies, television, a wide array of ability, talent and means, certainly making far more of an effort than I but equally just a part of this world I had never experienced to this degree before.
I had expected this given the advertisement for the event was based around this participation but until you see it in person its remarkable the dedication and effort people will make to represent their personal heroes, a reflection of the industry and community to push boundaries and acceptance where society still sets boundaries, from costumed heroes in spandex with bulges in various locations, leaving little to the imagination, storm troopers and daleks in appropriate armour, people crossing the gender divide in their attire resonating with characters not typically associated. Everything and anything was represented in costume and attire, perhaps my own slight aversion was quite how open certain costumes appeared to be, I’ll readily admit this was my own somewhat conservative bias creeping in and can see the allure of acceptance and welcoming associated with these events. That said, to see certain costumes that were quite graphic in content and also aesthetic with children around did make me stop to ponder the appropriateness of some. When I stopped for a break, in one of the large empty halls by happenstance I happened to sit near a large group of late teenage girls who had come together representing their various heroes and characters, a safety in numbers mentality perhaps, dressing in attire from Japanese gaming as well as Marvel movies, as I enjoyed my salad they were interviewed by a couple of content creators who were impressed with their costumes and the general consensus was just the inspiration these fictional people give to young minds looking for a means of expressing themselves. Perhaps then in a city with an unfortunate reputation for gang attacks and violence, if the younger members of society today can gain inspiration from heroes and champions over gangsters and thugs, whatever they chose to wear and present themselves as isn’t so much of an issue.
I decided to spend some time, and money, exploring the various merchandise stands, there is something intoxicating and liberating being surrounded by a treasure chest of your heart’s desires although the temptation is great to perhaps be a little to carefree. I’ll admit I probably spent a little more than I had intended, but in the spirit of the event they will continue as long as they are a profitable venture, the larger attendees will perhaps run at a loss such as the movie studios but certainly the smaller private traders rely on your purchases. The biggest presence, the Pop Vinyls with a range of exclusive figures to Comic Con, I’ve enjoyed a few over the years but the queue for these was huge, longer than the autograph sections in part, I’ve enjoyed them, not to this extent. I did however have a chance to visit the Viz Media stand, perusing the range of books and opting for a Zelda title, quite unaware the co-creators were present and for no extra cost provided a ticket to return and have my book signed by one of them. I will cover the experience in my second part however have to comment the company and staff were extremely kind and generous both with their time and effort but also on the day to the fans. Having the chance to meet Akira Himekawa, the co-creators of the Manga franchise of Zelda books was a delight, even if I acted somewhat of a deer in headlights around them. One of the more interesting comments occured when they were taking your names in the queue to translate into Japanese for the authors to sign, I’d accepted ‘Charles’ is perhaps not as commonly known abroad or indeed outside of western culture as other names but was one the author knew and how to say remarkably clear. I’m not sure when that cheered me up but just seemed one of those curious cross cultural examples of language that shines through. After another brief exploration of the comics hall I decided to return to the north hall to have one final explore, coming across a stand selling the most amazing simplistic interpretations of movie posters I had encountered on the day, I’ll admit, I did buy a few to decorate a future apartment or house, I loved the simplicity and style. With the day drawing to a close and the last of the panels taking place I was interested I decided to call it a day, after a brief tour of the various merchandise stands, I had seen the Bethesda stand earlier in the day however I wanted to have one last look at this amazing figure from Skyrim. Certainly, a great many opportunities to part with your cash but with the exception of the private sellers who rely I’d imagine on the income of supply and demand setting their prices certainly the larger stands and studio funded outlets never seemed to charge above and beyond the normally advertised prices. The bust of the Skyrim warrior if I recall around £60 but in Forbidden Planet for example he could have cost at least double that depending on rarity and availability. You never felt you were being taken advantage of or the studios or stands, at least the larger official units, and whether you purchased the item today or online tomorrow you wouldn’t expect to see a considerable price difference resulting in the dreaded buyers remorse. With a last stop on my way towards the exit coming across the original great ape on a blocks created representation of the Empire State Building it was time to take in the sites and sounds on my walk towards the exit, a plethora of tired eyes and worn out feet from a great deal of walking leading a horde of costumed warriors and champions towards the welcome embrace of the London Underground to whisk us back into civil society dressed as the strange and wonderful people we were. I was sat on the train towards Stratford with a character from Overwatch and Michael Jackson in Thriller, in any other city a random sight but in London you just grow accustomed like New York, to the spectacle around you with a look of indifference.
This was my first convention, I can easily say it won’t be my last, perhaps next year I’ll show the same dedication and enthusiasm expressed on my favourite shows with a level of planning and foresight to ensure I see and enjoy my favourite stars of those in attendance. The motivation for this page was to explore and connect with other fans of a particular genre of entertainment, specifically gaming, over the last twelve months it has grown and expanded, perhaps in another year it will see further growth and directional change. What was interesting and honestly revealing to such an extent was the passion and commitment of fans across the divide setting aside whatever political and societal grievances permeates and pervades the news agenda and just come together for a couple of days in East London to celebrate the positivity and communionship of being a part of society that enjoys the obscure, the ignored, the downfallen, the unique, no animus or hatred, just reveling in the absurdity and spectacle of the occasion. The costumes ranged from the provocative to the fantastic, the panels insightful, meeting a range of actors was always a pleasure and all kind enough to chat briefly and enjoy the moment. I’ll readily admit to suffering from moments of anxiety, the crowds and levels of attendance were overwhelming at times but there were enough spaces to retreat to, it never felt to much. I really enjoyed Comic Con, for such a long time it was one of those events that would perhaps solidify an aspect of my character I wanted to keep buried or hidden from public display. However, over the last year writing consistently about gaming and the wider media culture has afforded me opportunity and I suppose a degree of brevity to set aside that feeling of horror and dread of exploring this aspect of myself, to just enjoy the culture and people involved with it, and whether you express yourself in a Hyrule T-Shirt or dress as Zelda herself, there is a place for you here. I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, I look forward to seeing anyone next year that takes that first step, it’s liberating.
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