Between the 27-29 May, the capital’s ExCeL convention centre played host to a colossal event for geeks coming from around the country and beyond: the London MCM expo. MCM is one of the biggest gatherings for mainstream cinema, video games and comic books in the UK. This year’s expo was its 10th anniversary, and promised never a dull moment for attendees.
Organisers expected numbers of around 60,000 frenetic fans, based on previous years. The frankly humungous hall was certainly busier than a Tatooine cantina at happy hour all through the weekend’s events. There was a large stage for celebrity panels, and cosplay competitions at the very rear of the hall, behind games trial and tournament booths, signing and photography areas, an array of stalls for comic producing amateurs and professionals, and even a wrestling ring. A fringe stage overlooking the Thames right outside the ExCeL provided room for live bands to perform, and also displayed movies trailers.
While the expo had a bevy of media to entice in crowds, the vast majority of the people who attended were there to cosplay. Also happening at the ExCeL that weekend was the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology, whose professionally-attired guests seemed bemused and amused at the Bleach, Naruto and Final Fantasy characters that sauntered past them through the MCM’s gates. Much of the hall was crammed with anime and manga merchandise of every form and function possible, serving an audience of teenage otaku.
To the smattering of general public present, and a still considerable section of the convention-goers, the barrage of Japanese-orientated content jarred with most of the line-up, particularly the comically out-of-place Universal movie presentations that included comedy Bridesmaids, a completely unwarranted Johnny English sequel and street-dance spectacle Honey 2. However, the overpowering anime and cosplay focus didn’t prevent a diverse crowd from enjoying what was on offer.The main stage
Undoubtedly, the biggest draw on the MCM panel line-up was four of the cast of the Fox network and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s animated sci-fi comedy, Futurama.
The voices of Fry (Billy West), Amy (Lauren Tom), Hermes (Phil LaMarr) and Kif (Maurice LaMarche) entertained an audience filled to capacity with character voices and impersonations of everyone from Richard Nixon to each other. Another highlight was a question and answer session with X-Men: First Class and Thor screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz. Both were enthusiastic about their projects’ positive reception, but seemed almost too geeky for a gathered crowd who were not very interested in comics beyond cinematic translations.
Panels also provided a welcome break from the otaku overdose. The UK cosplay finals took place on the main stage on Saturday, however, and contained an ensemble of characters from games, movies and TV who thoroughly entertained on-lookers.
The upcoming Green Lantern superhero movie from Warner Bros. was the expo’s primary sponsor, emblazoned all over the hall. Despite this, there was almost nothing to say for theatrical content at MCM. With some major genre blockbusters to come in the next few months, including Captain America: The First Avenger and the last instalment of the Harry Potter adaptations, it was difficult to be inspired by the lacklustre displays on offer. Huge cardboard teasers for prequel Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes were probably the most baffling inclusion.
Games booths stretched across the massive hangar of a convention hall. A number of major forthcoming releases were available for demo play, but probably the biggest draw was Nintendo’s The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time revamp for the recently released 3DS handheld.
Presentations and Q&A opportunities were held on the GameSpot UK stage located in the centre of the MCM hall. GameSpot partnered with the expo for the first time this year, and provided some interesting panels for titles such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Queues at the Nintendo stands were primarily for the opportunity to play Ocarina Of Time. Tweaks and the 3DS’ signature stereoscopic technology looked very promising, as Den of Geek’s hands-on preview suggests. The steampunk mech’n’furry fest Sola To Robo: Red The Hunter, which features an interesting mix of flying and fishing, was also available for handheld testing. Story-driven beat ‘em up Dead Or Alive: Dimensions was impressively cinematic and made excellent use of 3DS visuals.
Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii seemed like an unusual mix of Square and BioWare RPGs, but was hard to drop in and out of. The oddly riveting WiiPlay Motion allowed guests to simulate holding a giant ice cream cone and flying through a space version of BBC One gameshow Hole In The Wall.
A PS3 demo of expo sponsor Green Lantern: Rise Of The Manhunters got the attention of many visitors to the Warner Bros. stand, and Den of Geek was able to play through the first mission. The latest trailer for Batman sequel Arkham City, featuring new playable character Catwoman, also pulled in crowds.
The Xbox 360 had two major third-person shooters games ready for play: June’s Red Faction: Armageddon and September’s Gears Of War 3. Getting to test these titles was next to impossible due to the large numbers of eager gamers. Less visceral fare included Child Of Eden, a spiritual sequel to Dreamcast and PS2 synaesthesia game Rez, which looked to be an intriguing diversion forthcoming for the Kinect peripheral. More readily playable were Shadows Of The Damned and two Xbox Live Arcade offerings from Atari, Warlord and Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale.
Grasshopper Manufacture’s cinematic Shadows Of The Damned will be coming to Xbox 360 and PS3 in late June, and is an energetically sarcastic third-person shooter in the style of Resident Evil 4 from that series’ creator, Shinji Mikami. Players take the role of stereotypically-gruff demon hunter Garcia Hotspur and use a chatty, animated floating skull named Johnson who can morph into weaponry, items and vehicles. Playing like Marvel’s Ghost Rider meets Evil Dead, Damned could be one of this year’s most interesting releases.
Atari’s pair was simpler but very fun to play. Warlords is an update of an 80s gaming classic that is half Pong, half Breakout and possesses some Castle Crashers charm, while Daggerdale is a surprisingly accessible console alternative to top-down viewed RPGs like Neverwinter Nights.
MCM’s games provision was rounded off by a selection of arcade demos from Tecmo Koei based on the Gundam and Bleach anime franchises. Mad skills were brought by some convention-goers at the Dance Dance Revolution area placed halfway between the Comics Village stage and cosplay preparation tables. Adjacent to the DDR booths was a fenced off Super Street Fighter IV tournament that showed more danger of breaking thumbs than bones.
MCM’s Comic Village area saw appearances from several big name artists and writers spanning very different types of work. Still, advertised as London’s comic convention, the MCM did not live up to that expectation by any means.
The Comics Village was relegated to the very far corner of the convention hall. Barring stalwarts Rebellion, major publishers neglected Britain this time, with only Marvel making any concession with a stand for its trade paperback and graphic novel range published in the UK through Panini. This was a sad sign for a nation whose creative output in comic books has equalled, if not surpassed, American involvement. It was encouraging to see the Comic Book Alliance present, a fledgling and impartial organisation doing its best to promote British comics, graphic novels, webcomics and sequential art.
Luckily, individual creators and smaller publishers were there in force. Talents included lettering revolutionary and Elephantmen writer Richard Starkings, Demo illustrator Becky Cloonan, new Uncanny X-Men writer Kieron Gillen, and UK publisher Orang Utan Comics. A delightful panel with Internet success, Simon’s Cat was the stand-out on the Comics Village stage.
The culmination of Friday’s VIP preview evening was the 2011 Eagle Awards, the comics industry’s longest established prize celebration voted for by fans. Beginning in 1976, the Eagle Awards have taken place as part of each May’s expo since 2010. This year’s awards were presented by Futurama voice actor Billy West and nominees included writer-artist Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, Dark Horse Comics’ Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight and sleeper hit Axe Cop.
A strange mix of cult and mainstream
May’s MCM was an entertaining and crowd-pleasing event that brought British geeks together to celebrate their interests. It was eye-opening to see such a degree of otaku-dominance, but MCM can hardly be blamed for providing an outlet to the subculture that is rapidly overtaking comics and film as geeky pastime of choice. Without a doubt, attendees had fun.
The end of October will see 2011’s second MCM, which will be combined with its sister Memorabilia show. Perhaps a broader range of merchandise and guests will make the next MCM more accessible to fans of British and American franchises. Whether rival shows such as the recently-established Kapow! could tempt people away thanks to bigger names and a more mass appeal will have to be seen in future years.