I’m sitting in a plaza with one of my old friends, eating a smoked salmon bagel and drinking a diet Coke. Normal. One table along, two men are sitting, watching people walk by. On the other side, a man feeds his girlfriend a chip, and they kiss. Still normal. However, the two men are dressed in full black combat gear, with labels reading ‘Umbrella Pharmaceuticals’ on their shoulders, and the couple are dressed as Eugene and Rapunzel from Tangled. Not so normal.
This is Cosplay and I was surrounded by it there at the London MCM Expo. Ten minutes earlier, I had taken a photo of Yuna, Lulu and Yojimbo (characters from the video game Final Fantasy X). I’d spotted characters from DC, Marvel, Naruto, Bleach, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Team Fortress 2, Minecraft- It’s bizarre when, in a hoodie and a pair of jeans, I was the one who felt out of place.
The Expo, a collective of video gaming, comics and manga, was held in the London ExCel Arena, from Friday October 26 to 28. Taking up a space easily the size of a football field, it took an hour and a half to get to the front of the ticket queue. The time spent lining up was used to comment on the vast amount of costumes on display around us: so much so, in fact, that my voice was nearly gone by the time we collected our wristbands.
The arena itself catered to pretty much anybody. Want to buy comics or Manga? You’re in luck. How about memorabilia or nick-nacks? Go ahead. Signed photographs? Whole stands full of them. What about replica swords, knives, batarangs and even replica Kingdom Hearts keyblades? Oh, were you in for a treat. The booths were outstanding, not just for what they offered, but also for who was running them. Cyanide and Happiness had a booth, as did Lego, Red vs. Blue, and Kaze. There was a section the size of a classroom dedicated to Steampunk (a Matthew Arnold one, sure, but still). There were several DIY and teaching booths too: a Manga drawing school, a Nintendo 3DS art gallery (My attempt at a flower was deemed ‘pretty good’: I’ll imagine they meant it), and an Origami stall.
There were three other major things at the Expo that need mentioning. The first was what made me tremble (almost literally) in anticipation: the video gaming booths. Now, quite apart from brand new games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Borderlands 2 there was also booths dedicated to games not yet released. Assassins Creed 3 was there, as was Far Cry 3. The WiiU had a huge booth with ZombieU and Nintendo Land among the games being demonstrated. Hitman Absolution, the new Tomb Raider, Star Trek: The Game: each was there to de sampled, if one could stomach the long queues. It took me another hour and a half to get my hands on Assassins Creed 3, and, my misgivings about the plot notwithstanding, the game play seemed tight, and the graphics outstanding. Retro games were also well represented: Power Stone 2, Street Fighter 2 and Mario Kart 64: all were there to be played.
The Comic Village was another highlight: a large space devoted to independent companies and solo artists who, in a very English market-like fashion, offer sketches, commissions, jewellery and other assorted wares, as well as, predictably, comics and manga. The sheer amount of artists there was bewildering: it took several goes through for me to fully appreciate everything on offer. It’s fantastic that the Expo offers this range.
Not everyone agrees, however. A stall owner mentioned to me that the MCM is in competition with the London Super Comic convention, an event focused more on comic books than Manga and Video games. The LSCC is held in February, however, and the packed hall should have allayed fears of any shortfall in attendance.
Finally, the signings. One of the big names was Matt Smith, The Eleventh Doctor, who appeared on the Friday. Others included Hatty Hayridge (Holly from Red Dwarf), Courtney Taylor and Ali Hillis (the voices of Jack and Liara T’Soni from Mass Effect 3), Peter F Hamilton, the famous author, Bill Paxton, and Warwick Davis, who of course played Professor Flitwick in the Harry Potter films, as well as acting in Star Wars, Merlin and M.I.High.
I managed to have a brief chat with Ian McNeil, who, among his roles, played Churchill in the recent Doctor Who episodes “Victory of the Daleks” and “The Wedding of River Song”. I asked him what he thinks the value of the Expo is to artists and performers such as himself. “I’ve spent the day listening to people, young and old, saying how much they enjoy my work,” he replies, “which is both touching and humbling. And it’s not just the kids, who remember me from Doctor Who, but then their parents as well! It’s unbelievable.”
Unbelievable is a term I could use to describe the Expo, but there’s something else that appeals to me from that quote. The Expo, a biannual event that takes place in March and October, actually manages the feat of being fantastic for both children and adults. As I leave, I notice a parent dressed as Ash, with his child dressed as Pikachu. That does, in its own odd way, sum up the Expo in a nutshell. Or, alternatively, in a Pokéball!