Yesterday, I reported on the Trade and Press Preview day. It was a bit like the bare bones of the event, with none of the buzz and energy of the real thing. London Comicon MCM Expo is a totally different animal when the public turns up.
The show opened this morning at 9am, and some of the comics folks who have stands there told me today that it was a bit of a slow start. But when I turned up at lunchtime, it was rammed.
The first thing I saw when I got past the guys who check your tickets was a massive long queue of attendees. It took me a few moments to realise they were waiting in line to meet Anthony Daniels (C3-PO) and maybe get an autograph.
A long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away, I interviewed Mr Daniels when I was editor of Starburst Magazine. I was invited to his rather impressive Mayfair cottage and found Tony to be a most genial host. But that was over thirty years ago, so I thought it best not to fight my way to the front of the line to say hello. He probably wouldn’t remember me.
Elsewhere in the Stars of Film and TV signing area were some other celebs … minor and not so minor, with lines of varying length waiting for autographs. If you’re as old as me then you’ll know who Shirley Eaton is. And Madeleine Smith was one of my first teenage crushes.
TV comedy was quite well represented with actors from ‘Allo ‘Allo and George and Mildred. Doctor Who seemed to be quite well covered as well. And I saw Warwick Davis having his picture taken with fans. Inexplicably, there was a row of glamorous young women signing autographs. It took me a few moments to realise they were Page 3 glamour models … the only one whose name I knew was Kyla Cole.
From the other side of the Atlantic, the Expo hosted visitors from the casts of US shows like Haven, Warehouse 13 and Teen Wolf, none of which I follow. Haven looks like it might be worth a look, and the couple of Warehouse 13 episodes I’ve seen are kind of fun, but most of my limited TV time is taken up with Fringe, The Wire and Smallville …
Because the Excel Centre is such a huge space, the organisers were able to to get a few full size vehicles from assorted movies into the hall. There was the Bluesmobile, the General Lee, the DeLorean … and the Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder. Hardcore fans won’t need me to tell them which movies these are from.
I was pretty impressed with the full-size, fully operational R2-D2 that was rolling around, bleeping and warbling like the real thing.
I gave the FWA Wrestling Show a miss. Likewise Robot Wars – though they seemed to be pretty well-attended.
I did feel a little sorry for some of the less-popular celebs, who looked a bit lost sitting at their tables with no one asking for autographs. But I didn’t dwell on that and made my way out of the Memorabilia section and moved over the the larger hall that I’d explored a bit yesterday.
Squeezing through from one hall to another was a bit of a crush, but popping out of the narrow gangway into the main hall I was in Comic Village and the first stall I fetched up at was the Knockabout Comics stand. I’d never met Tony Bennet (publisher) or Hunt Emerson (cartoonist) but I’ve always loved Hunt’s work, so I took the time to tell him so.
Knockabout has been at the forefront of the UK underground comics scene since the 1970s and has fought its share of battles with Customs and the Legal System over publications deemed “obscene” by The Authorities. They even found themselves in a battle over Alan Moore’s From Hell when they set out to publish the collected volume. Tony told me that trading had been brisk with quite a bit of interest from attendees, particularly the younger ones who were unfamiliar with “graphic novels”.
Moving along I ran into Oliver Lambden, who was running the Modern Monstrosity stand. I met Oliver when I was on jury service in 2009 and we were amazed that we were both involved in comics. What are the odds, right?
Right opposite, Dave Hine (above) has a stand promoting Bulletproof Coffin, a project he wrote for Image Comics in the US with art by the astonishing Shaky Kane. I’ve known and loved Shaky’s work for years and always gave him as much to do as I could when I worked on 2000AD. Dave Hine is no mean artist himself, but he’s probably better known as a comics writer these days.
Directly behind Dave Hine, former 2000AD artist John McCrae has a stand with his son Kirby (below), who is also a comics artist. McCrae began with drawing Judge Dredd and spin-off characters for both 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine, but soon turned his attention to American comics and drew all 60 issue of Hitman from Garth Ennis scripts. To date, John has drawn Spider-Man, The Hulk and Superboy and, as always, offers beautifully crafted sketches and autographs to his fans.
I was feeling a bit guilty about hanging out with old friends, so I pushed off to see what else was going on.
The first thing that hits you is the astounding number of attendees who are in costume. Probably over half are wearing some kind of costume. There’s an awful lot of Gothic Lolitas. Some of them carry big swords. I’m guessing this is a manga thing. There was quite a lot of animals too. At least, people with primary colour hair, animal ears and a tail. The military motif seemed popular, as well. I’ve seem this look in some of the several anime movies I’ve seen. Ofter, military characters appear to be wearing pre-WW2 Japanese army uniforms. So did some of the conventioneers. Gas-masks are popular. Goggles. Huge axes. Oh, and swords. My goodness, but these folks love their swords.
If you’re new to the idea of cosplay, but have a burning desire to get involved, Totally Cosplay is offering all kinds of workshops, from makeup and props to dance choreography – with YouTube star Beckii Cruel – and fight routines. Experts are on hand to show you how to make your own costumes and accessories, whether you see yourself as a giant robot or as a cat person.
I also saw a lot of people with a sign around their necks saying “Free Hugs”. I didn’t take anyone up on the offer, but investigated further and found that this was an informal movement started by a guy called Juan Mann in Australia. When he returned to his hometown of Sydney, he found all his friends and relatives had moved away. Holding his Free Hugs sign at the Pitt Street Mall in Sydney, he waited fifteen minutes before an elderly lady came up and gave him a hug. The thing has turned into a worldwide phenomenon.
A very large area is given over to Computer Gaming. I have to admit right up front that onscreen games is something I haven’t the slightest interest in. I suppose after being involved in comics for so long, I see electronic games as a bit of a comics killer. But some major games producers are offering previews of new titles, which will mean more to gamers than to me. 2K are premiering The Darkness II; Ankama have Wakfu and Dofus; then there’s The Adventures of Tintin and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations from Ubisoft and Batman: Arkham City from Warner Bros Games. And the games area has been one of the busiest at Expo.
Some games demos attract queues as long as some of the celebrity signings. It’s quite something to see characters from the games queuing to see demos of games they’re appearing in …
But by far the largest area at Expo is taken up by vendors. Just about every aspect of pop-culture collecting is covered. In the Memorabilia section you can buy autographs of stars of both big and small screen. There’s all kinds of spin-off mechandise from the worlds of manga and anime. There is a limited selection of comics available – mostly recent comics and graphic novels. There’s very little, if any, vintage comics on offer. For that, you’ll need to go along to the London Comic Mart next Sunday at the Royal National Hotel in London.
And of course, cosplay is well represented, with stands selling weapons and costumes, as well as cosplay accessories. There was an elaborate stand promoting the art of Steampunk cosplay – a sort of Western answer to the more widespread Japanese-style cosplay. Steampunk is an alternative view of Victorian society where all kinds of science fiction concepts are achieved using retro technology – so steam-powered robot, hot-air blimps and coal-fired flying saucers.
And interspersed with this there’s panels and talks by industry professionals from the fields of TV, movies and comics.
I came away from Expo today feeling that there was so much to do but not enough time to see it all. It’s a kind of whistlestop tour through several fields of collecting obsession.
Of course, there are many individual events that concentrate on one aspect of pop culture collecting, but Expo attempts to gather several strands together under one roof and this is both its strength an its weakness. It’s a fascinating showcase for those not so familiar with these alternate worlds and contains a great deal of entertainment value for just a £10 daily admission fee.
London Expo continues on Sunday 30th October and tickets can bought on the door.