Having never been to a Comic Con before, I was unsure of exactly what to expect. We’ve all seen pictures from these conventions, but to fully experience it is something different entirely.
I went to MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2016 on Day 2, the 21st of November. The event was hosted at the National Exhibition Centre, a massive exhibition building which offers an enormous amount of space in multiple halls, often hosting many different shows at once. After coming through the ticketing system, walking into the conference hall was quite the experience in of itself. The hall opens up in front of you and you’ve suddenly stepped into another world, one of heroes and villains, where your favourite characters roam the halls. It really is quite a surreal experience for a first time attendee, almost overwhelming. There is so much to see, so much to do, and you want to do nothing but get straight into it. I chose to start from one end of the conference hall and take my time, poring over the stalls available, taking in the sights and sounds, and capturing some images.
The first thing that really struck me was the sense of community. Banks of computers host games of League of Legends, friends and strangers play together and against one another, not for ranks or to prove their might, but just to have some fun on a day out. Mini-tournaments of Smash Bros and Street Fighter are running on big screens, where all comers can take on anyone that fancies their chances in front of a small audience. Other TV screens host a variety of games from Halo to Wii Sports, Sonic the Hedgehog and everything in-between. Seeing people enjoying games with their friends, and others watching, really does make it feel like a little community. People that may otherwise never meet or interact are brought together by a common interest, and that is a theme that is really consistent throughout the entire convention.
Within the first 10 minutes, it was clear that this convention really caters to a wide variety of people. Need some nice paintings for your front room? How about some comic books to read, or even to collect and sell later down the line? Looking to blow some cash on a classic Gameboy Colour, or some N64 games? That is all available here, and way, way more. I was actually very surprised just how much was available, and how many different types of people were catered to, and this is really obvious by the people that attended the convention too. You could be forgiven for expecting Comic Con to be full of 13 – 21 year olds, but that is far from the case. Whilst the convention might seem targeted at a very specific group of people, the range of attractions and items for sales clearly appeal to people from all walks of life, meaning you’ll often see families, couples, and individuals amongst the usual flocks of comic culture loving teenagers.
There are a multitude of things available for sale here that honestly, you’d struggle to find elsewhere. Japanese food, American candy, hand-drawn comic book covers, first edition prints of popular comics, even hand-printed denim jackets and engraved bullets. Within my first hour at the convention I had encountered a shrine to Harambe, a mint condition first edition print of Issue 27 of The Walking Dead for £150, and pre-packaged Japanese ramen. A lot of the available items feed into a variety of different subcultures, but this is the perfect place to introduce others to these new subcultures and get them to perhaps try some of customs of these different ways of life.
Its honestly surprising just how much you learn about these cultures just by roaming the stalls. Some of the most interesting things to me personally were associated with subcultures I’ve never been interested with. The one that stood out the most was a Steampunk stall, selling mechanical timepieces, compasses, and even imitation firearms. The attention to detail in these pieces is astounding, and the costume design for the people of this particular subculture is astonishing.
Another interesting thing was the mythical magic subculture. Feeding a lot into role-playing and medieval pagan beliefs, this stand was extremely interesting. Along with the usual assortment of themed mugs and cards, the stand also offered jewellery with spiritual ‘enchantments’, dragon eggs, and even bracelets made of various metals that bare your name in runes or elvish language. Truly a great stand for people of the subculture, and an interesting spectacle for those who have not encountered it before, such as myself.
But when it comes to Comic Con, its known for one main thing: Cosplay, and there was definitely no lack of that here.
Just a casual stroll around the venue means you’ll be crossing paths with some of the most revered and despised characters in popular culture. There is something quite intimidating about the Payday crew wandering the aisles with assault rifles, or walking past Negan and seeing that barbed wire baseball bat you saw on AMC’s The Walking Dead just last week. Its very surreal, and the detail and effort that goes into some of the cosplays is honestly insane. Cosplay is one of those things where detail really matters, and the lengths some of these people go to pay off in their emulation of their chosen character.
The best thing about cosplayers is they’re so open. They know they are going to be asked for photographs, and they’re more than happy to pose for them. This really adds to the whole friendly community atmosphere of the convention, you feel like you can approach and talk to anybody, and everybody that is there really enjoys being there. People will spark up conversation over anything and its a great environment to be in.
A great example of this is with the store clerks. Because you’re all there for the same reason, they’re super helpful with any enquiries and they’ll pick up on things you say and spark up conversation about it. I was wearing a Reaper Overwatch shirt, and the store assistant at the American Candy stall started a conversation with me about moving from Console to PC play, and the intricacies of it. Usual trips to stores involve a fairly boring rigmarole of conversation about the weather, but being in such a happy and interest-centric environment means that the conversations that inevitably spark up are ones that both parties are truly interested in having.
Along with the usual stores selling clothing and merchandise, there are many other sorts of attractions. Food venues were suitably expensive, as is to be expected from a convention, but the variety of food available was quite good. The usual suspects are there in Subways, burgers, fries etc, but you also have the aforementioned American candy, fish and chip stalls, a pork sandwich station aptly named “The BBQ Hog” and much more. Not only does this offer options for everyone, but it also helps to split queues based on preferences. At The BBQ Hog, I had to wait about three minutes from the time of joining the queue to paying for my food, a pleasant surprise at a packed convention.
Also within the convention are some themed attraction stalls. Have your picture taken on the Iron Throne, meet stars from popular shows such as Red Dwarf, Flash Gordon etc, become The Green Arrow on the archery stall, or practice your zombie killing skills at the Undead Paintball stall. These stalls are fairly expensive, as to be expected, but its something you can’t do anywhere else. When you’re at a place like Comic Con, you should take advantage of what is there. The convention isn’t on every day, so enjoy it while you can.
Some other attractions were spectator events, namely Robot Wars and amateur wrestling. Being a fan of wrestling since childhood, I was surprised as to how good the amateur wrestling was. The performers really know how to rile up the crowd with their sportsmanship and charisma, and the crowd respond aptly. Its common to hear the shouts and cheers of the crowd from across the other side of the convention hall, its clear just how much the audience are enjoying the spectacle, and how good a job the wrestlers are doing.
I didn’t manage to catch the Robot Wars show, but just from looking at the preparation you could tell it would be a good show. The robots aren’t weak remote control plastic cars, they’re the real thing that you’ve seen on TV show. Spikes and saws jutt out from the scarred black metal, and even just watching the preparation phase of these robots give you a good idea of exactly the sort of show you’re about to see.
Finally, was it worth the ticket price? Definitely.
I paid £22 (£11 each) for two general entry tickets to the convention, and spent about £75 whilst there. I’d say I am personally a careful buyer, I’m not a fan of frivolously splashing money on anything that catches my eye, but I am very happy with the purchases I made, the service from stall owners, the interaction with the other people there, and the overall experience of the convention.
Even if you’re only interested in a couple of TV shows, or if you’ve never been to a convention before, I would highly recommend you visit. Considering this was my first ever Comic Con, I am all too excited to go back next time its in town, and I would urge anybody who is considering it to do the same, it is an experience you will not regret.
If you’d like to view all of the images I shot at MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2016, you can view them here.