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MCM London Comic-Con May 2019 - 'A brilliant event for everyone'

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Two young girls sit towards the front of the small seating area in front of the MCM Live Stage, centrally set on the south side of the ExCel in East London. It’s Saturday, and their second day at London Comic-Con. Truant watchers can relax: they had Friday off. They’re excited — the stage will later have, among others, Tyler Hoechlin and Nolan North. CJ Allan, of these pages, who hosts on the Live Stage, explains that they regularly come and visit the stage, seeking giveaways.

This is the 35th edition of MCM London Comic-Con, held twice a year — in May and October — since starting in 2002. The convention has grown exponentially over nearly two decades, and in October 2017 MCM was acquired by ReedPOP, the company which already runs New York Comic Con, C2E2, Star Wars Celebration and the PAX gaming exhibitions. Reports at the time suggested the takeover came at a figure upwards of £17.5 million ($23 million). It is staggering and a reminder of how MCM has grown.

The success has felt fully deserved. For years, they have been the superior UK convention, both on the surface and on the ground. In May 2016, MCM London set an attendance record of 133,000. The company has conventions up and down the country but 2018’s pair of London events pulled in over 200,000 people. Rivals? They faded away. Rogue Events, which ran UK events for a decade, ceased trading in 2017.

FanFest, which runs Walker Stalker Con and Heroes and Villains FanFest, may not tread a similar path but there are substantial issues. Their London 2019 event was mistakenly, horrendously scheduled for the same weekend as MCM. What amateur planning. David beat Goliath once; not again. Stephen Amell fell out with the company, as did others. Now Heroes and Villains London 2019 has combined with Walker Stalker Con London in February 2020 (FanFest own both). Alcoholics have organised piss-ups in breweries better. Thousands of fans lost travel money on buying into that event, and suggesting that Walker Stalker London in February will act as two events will not fix that. Still, at least they have had events happen. Not quite a dumpster Fyre.

Walker Stalker London will be at the ExCel, rather than the Olympia, where Heroes & Villains was scheduled to be. But their website still lists the Olympia under its FAQ over when the event will be (fortunately, not under a separate question asking where the event will be). The venue change is a smart choice: the Olympia is far too small for such an event.

To FanFest’s credit, the 2017 Heroes and Villains event — which took place at the Olympia, and featured Amell, Emily Bett Rickards, John Barrowman, Katie Cassidy, Matt Ryan, among several others — was generally very good. For those wanting autographs and pictures with some of the highest profile television comic book performers, it is phenomenal. But, having been to both it and MCM that weekend, it was clear which is better overall.

This time around, MCM’s biggest guests were huge draws: Sebastian Stan, Amell, Rickards, David Ramsey, Hoechlin, David Harbour, Misha Collins. Fans can be satiated by meeting them for a signature or a selfie, but be prepared. Be prepared for a hefty fee (between £50 and £90 for the aforementioned) and for gigantic queues. Positively, entry is far more reasonable, with day tickets up to £30 and a weekend pass for around £70. And there is plenty to do for that small fee. Don’t want to pay to meet the stars? You can watch them instead, with panels featuring them throughout the weekend. But queues again prove a problem.

It is inescapable at an event which brings in more than 100,000 visitors across three days. There are queues everywhere you look, no matter the attraction. Even a venture into the world of virtual reality, with Eleven Eleven, the Syfy experience, required an hour waiting. But this is where the breadth and depth of MCM is so important. With hundreds of stalls — dozens of them with an interactive element — it prevents any single one being eye-wateringly full. Well, except for the Funko store.

The depth of guests is important too. On the north side of the concourse sits the Comic Village, where 252 tables were laid out for artists of all varieties, from the likes of Andy Diggle, the author of Green Arrow: Year One, to Alex Norris, the man behind webcomic name. There are a total of seven stages across the show floor, and if your interests are varied enough then there is plenty to entertain. To hell with hearing Harbour and Collins when it’s far easier — and possibly more insightful — to watch a panel titled “How to be a confident streamer, YouTuber or blogger” and one about representation in fantasy.

Stalls? Once again, your range will dictate how quickly you consume everything on offer. In addition to Funko, there’s Forbidden Planet books, a tattoo stand, Bullet With Your Name On (which does as it says on the tin), Merchandise Monkey (again, tin). If it’s in popular culture, you can buy it: signed scripts and memorabilia, old computer games, oil and digital arts, action figures, DVDs and Blu-Rays, even old VHS tapes.

There is so much to experience, too. The Horror Channel had a stand which featured tarot card reading, a large wire loop game and a shoot-em-up arcade game. Those here for gaming would not have been disappointed, with a substantial PlayStation opportunity available alongside Side Quest, where swathes of retro games were playable. Universal provided a small area for visitors to sit and watch trailers on a loop, X-Men Dark Phoenix was being promoted elsewhere. Cineworld offered a chance to selfie with Spider-Man and, which provides home media for TV and film, was self-promoting as well.

Sure, this is a shopping list of possible ways to spend time and certainly spend money, but it goes to show how appealing MCM is to the common pop culture fan. To merely glance at everything takes an hour; a more detailed look will only take longer. The amount of content on show is second to none, and well worth the price of admission.

The biggest hit to your savings at an event like this inevitably comes at the food court, where £10 barely gets you a burger and chips. It all looked very good, in fairness, but a short stroll outside the ExCel along the Western Gateway road is a corner shop, offering a range of fresh, handmade baguettes. The BBQ chicken was delicious, and affordable. Hurrah.

Food prices are just a minor frustration. This is a brilliant event, magnificently managed and with something for absolutely everyone. There is a very good reason that it, and MCM’s other events, are the dominant force for conventions in the UK. San Diego Comic-Con is all well and good but so much emphasis seems to fall upon the major entertainment panels. At MCM, the talent is there but the most satisfying element is away from that.

The two girls, CJ tells me, probably got something free over the course of the day. That’s the story of MCM London Comic-Con: so many people and so much to do, keeping track of anything on the day is impossible. Very little comes free, for sure, but the experience? Priceless.

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