Despite being a lifelong fan of Science Fiction, I have never been to a comic book convention. As someone who watched ‘Doctor Who’ as a child (Sylvester McCoy was my Doctor) and played ‘Star Trek’ in the playground aged 12, it might seem odd that I have not yet attended a convention let alone an expo.
I suppose my excuse would be that they were pricey and as a teenager I couldn’t find anyone who shared my passion for SF. Consequently, I was left to indulge my love by watching episodes of ‘The X-Files’ and daydreaming about meeting my hero, Gillian Anderson who played FBI Agent Dana Scully.
However, things have changed a lot since then and there has been a phenomenal growth in the popularity of science fiction and fantasy. The genres have moved into the mainstream and now geek is most definitely chic. In a bid to make up for lost opportunities and find out why these events are so popular, I decided to join the legions of adoring science fiction and fantasy fans who descended on the ExCel Centre for the MCM Expo London Comic Con last weekend.
On the train over to the ExCel Centre I overhear someone saying that the carriage is “like someone’s imagination has exploded” and it is certainly the case when I arrive. Where else could you see Lady Gaga rubbing shoulders with the Joker or Spider-man hanging out with Soundwave from ‘Transformers’? From ‘Doctor Who’ to ‘Disney’, ‘World of Warcraft’ to ‘Dragon Ball Z’, there is a vast array of costumes and no limits on what you can dress up as. Although only half of those present are in science fiction garb, I suddenly feel quite under-dressed for the occasion having decided against wearing a costume. There is a great sense of camaraderie between everyone and I see people complimenting each other on their outfits.
I was expecting to see the stereotypical Trekkies and ‘Star Wars’ fans but to my surprise, the majority of costumes are inspired by manga and anime, Japanese comics and cartoons. Several attendees who are dressed in manga-inspired attire tell me that the appeal of it is the level of creativity; compared to the west the Japanese imagination seems to be uninhibited. Whereas British and American cartoons are generally aimed at children, the Japanese produce films and comics that can be very adult with dark and disturbing themes. For example, the incredibly popular manga ‘Death Note’ is about a schoolboy who finds a notepad, known as the ‘Death Note’ which kills people if their name is written on its pages. However, there is a wide spectrum of Japanese anime and at the lighter end there is ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Pokemon’ and ‘Power Rangers’.
I ask a young man dressed as Domo, a mascot for the Japanese television channel NHK, why he decided to dress up as that character: “I was trying to choose something that would be slightly different to dress up as and so far, I haven’t seen anyone else dressed up as Domo - so fingers crossed.” He explains why conventions have grown: “It’s just that so many people love the different cartoons and there are now cult followings of Japanese comics. Also, the comics that come from America and England, people just fall in love with the characters and they love to show that they can also be creative in their own way by doing this sort of thing.”
As I make my way through the crowds, I stumble across two Roman centurions who share their thoughts on the increasing popularity of conventions. The Commander tells me: “It’s because of the internet and the growth of forums. It’s a good way for people to socialise and get together. Someone will come up with a great idea of going to an expo and the next thing you know, you’ve got a group of 50 people wanting to join you. I’ve noticed that it has become quite common in many kinds of fandoms, like ‘Star Wars’ fans and now re-enactment fans.” The Sub-commander adds: “I think one of the major factors is that people like to kick back and have some fun... so next time we can bring a legion.”
I continue to weave in between the stalls selling Hello Kitty soft toys and action figures. I notice a number of individuals dressed in Victorian outfits. They are standing by a stall covered in all manner of objects that look archaic and yet ahead of their time. I am quickly pointed in the direction of a gentleman in a military-looking outfit and a well-manicured moustache. He explains that this subgenre of science fiction is known as ‘Steampunk’ and it comes from the writing of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, mixing Victoriana with science fiction. He says: “It easily started in the 1990s but it has gained ground over the years and really got big in 2005 onwards. It’s really gained a good following all over the globe.” The emergence and expansion of Steampunk shows the scope of the science fiction and fantasy genres, even the new ‘Three Musketeers’ film has a Steampunk feel to it.
The London Comic Con has grown and evolved out of a collectors’ event which took place in May 2002 and was attended by approximately 10,000 people. Guests at the very first event included, Michelle Trachtenberg (Dawn Summers from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’), Walter Koenig (Chekov from ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’) Robert Picardo (the holographic doctor from ‘Star Trek: Voyager’) and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO from ‘Star Wars’). This year there are a host of celebrities, including several cast members from the ‘Doctor Who’ spin-off ‘Torchwood’, Anthony Daniels, Tyler Posey (Scott McCall from television series ‘Teen Wolf’) and Warwick Davis (Professor Filius Flitwick from ‘Harry Potter’).
It’s apparent from the expo that these genres have become more accessible and continue to expand at an extraordinary rate. Science fiction and fantasy have spread out across all mediums from film and television to novels and comic books to computer games. Last year around 53, 000 people attended the event and seeing all these people here, I no longer feel embarrassed about admitting my love for science fiction. Who knows, maybe the next time I go to a convention or an expo I might dress up. Perhaps I will attend as roving reporter April O’Neill from ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’ or intrepid journalist Lois Lane from ‘Superman’, the possibilities are endless.
For more information about MCM Expos across the UK visit: www.mcmexpo.net