The Pros and Cons of Comicon

It is the day before the first day of spring. As I sit in my office chair, working at my computer, the giant snow thrower passes by and deposits a massive blast of snow onto my window making me jerk around at the sound it makes. So much for springtime in Fargo. I contemplate having to go outside in the below-zero weather when my thoughts drift off to the end of term at the university. That’s when vacation comes around and my usual holiday in London is already booked for May. It just so happens that my holiday coincides with one of the great cultural phenomenon for a geek like me – Comicon! And may I add not just any Comicon but the MCM Expo at the London Excel Centre, the enormous exhibition hall in London’s Docklands. I’ve been for the last three that were held there and it never gets old – well, it hasn’t yet.

I’ve been to several Sci-Fi conventions and comic book shows over the years where I met the actress who played Counselor Troy on The Next Generation and the actor who played Odo on Deep Space Nine. Even with those two things going for them nothing compares to the MCM Expo. It’s not just a comic book show, nor is it only graphic novels, nor video games. It is so much more. It encompasses nearly every genre imaginable – movies, television, games, novels, anime – you name it and most likely it will be there. People come from all over England, Scotland, and even from the continent. It is like nothing I have ever seen or participated in before.

mcmThe excitement builds long before you get to the Excel. No matter which area of London you’re coming from, as you change Underground lines and get closer to the Docklands, you begin to see more and more people in costume, chattering away with their friends, flush with the exhilaration of the prospects of the Expo. Then as you make that last change for the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) at Canning Town Station, the cars are brimming with revelers of every type, size, and kind. As the cars come to a stop at the Excel, anxious geeks like myself pour through the doors and onto the winding ramp that leads to our destination. Once inside the Excel, you still have to line up to buy your tickets unless you’ve purchased the advanced sales tickets online. I find standing in line to be quite interesting all on its own. There are row after row of roped-off aisles where you fall into line. It all moves rather quickly, and you get to see a lot of the costumes as you pass by others who are farther in front and behind you. There’s always a multitude of teenagers holding up “free hugs” signs. I normally just wave at them and smile; at my age one could get into trouble hugging teenagers. Every now and then the din of excited conversations is punctuated by a wave or a yell. It all makes me feel about 20 years younger.

Once you’ve purchased your ticket and the wristband has been secured, you’re free to wander about the expo. I usually have one of my English friends with me and by the time we’ve met up in the center of London, made it to the Excel, and gotten out tickets, its nearly lunch time. The Excel has a food court similar to most shopping malls, but I prefer to go back outside the Excel and eat at one of the pubs located next to the walkway. An order of fish-n-chips and a Guinness later my friend and I head back into the expo. We peruse the vendors’ wares – everything from animation cells, jewelry, action figures, graphic novels, clothing, and games – all the while taking notice of all the costumes around us; I am unfamiliar with some of the characters but there are the great and the not-so-great when it comes to their attire. Last October when I was there with my friend, Scott, we saw the largest Red Power Ranger ever, seams stretched beyond the imagination. We still joke about it.

My best friend, Kris, lives in the west end of London. He belongs to a costume group called the UKCM (United Kingdom Colonial Marines). They’re the guys – and gals – from the Aliens movie franchise. They’re usually all there in full uniform, walking around in a group or “guarding” the game display for the latest Aliens role-playing action game. Kris and a couple of his fellow UKCM-ers are featured in the latest version of the game, which I got to play long before it came on the market. Last year Bill Paxton from the franchise was there and was so impressed by the UKCM that he had them come back stage and visit with him, taking photos and signing items for them. Since I’m traveling from the U.S. to London I don’t have the room to carry a full costume setup and my clothes for two weeks’ vacation, as well. I usually just wear a USCM shirt, camo trousers, and boots.

Besides getting to hang out and get my geek on with my friends, there’s tons more to do at the Expo. Special guests are there to do talks and sign autographs – producers, directors, actors and actresses, game designers, artists, writers, etc. I’ve seen Danny DeVito (the Penguin from Batman) and Elvira, mistress of the dark (yes, she is still alive). This coming May’s Expo will feature a panel of actors and writers from Once Upon a Time and a special appearance by Mark Meer, known for his role as the voice of Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect trilogy. And as usual, there is a costume parade, various costume competitions for different categories, props and sets from movies and television where you can have your picture made, and much, much more.

So no matter how young or how old you are, what you’re into, there’s something for nearly everyone at MCM Expo. The only con that I can see is that it occurs in the U.K., thus it is cost prohibitive for some. But, if you happen to be in London mid-May or mid-October it should not be missed. I hope to see some of you there. I’ll be in the USCM shirt and not hugging the teenagers. Cheers!

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