MCM Winter Expo 2012

(Why yes, I am referring to them in the same manner as the Japanese refer to Comiket, though those are a couple of months later, entirely dedicated to comics, and four times bigger XD)

Last weekend I went to the MCM Expo, which is held twice a year in London’s Excel Centre. Also known for hosting various Olympic events. I actually got myself organised this time, and caught the same train as my friend from King’s Lynn, so we went together. I also finally gave her a Nendoroid (small, chubby figures of characters from nerdy things… where’s the Doctor Who ones?) I’d bought in Japan. She was with various friends in costumes, who said “We’re a bunch of freaks”. Except on the way down the train I’d walked past a loligoth zombie with her face all in stitches, so yeah. I’d intended to dress up as a 30’s American gangster, to “promote” Pulp Detective. In the event, I forgot to even take the first issue of Pulp Detective and shove it in people’s faces. The small WH Smith in the King’s Cross Underground didn’t have it either. Why yes, I would have bought a second £3.25 copy just to shove in people’s faces.

Anyway, on arrival we promptly lost most of the people from the train, who had spent the journey playing Mario Kart and screaming. The journey to the venue was uneventful… apart from when a few Japanese girls accosted my friend (dressed as computer-generated singer Hatsune Miku) and wanted pictures taken with her. Then they asked us where “the Harry Potter place” was. We also met a cowboy on the underground, but he was on a pub crawl, not going to the con XD. Also my friend’s friend, dressed as the second doctor (though with the hair of the fourth XD) decided to spend the rest of the day in character, which was amusing (he saw many of his future selves). We waited for somebody else, who was cosplaying a “Pyramid Head” from… some game. We had to wait for him to change, which appears to have involved taking most of his clothes off, which somehow took ages. His costume was very good, so loads of people wanted pictures taken, he also insisted on walking to the queue “in character”, dragging his huge sword. We decided to leave him to it.

The queue was as fun as ever, with many hi-fives and fist bumps. There was also a few “mexican wave cheers”, but as big as the MCM queue is, it was a bit too small for those to work properly. You really need 110,000 people, stretched across a gigantic field, with AC/DC at one end. Later on we tried to start a mass singalong, but unfortunately nobody else knew the words to any Spitting Image songs (or 19th century German propaganda anthems). Oh we also got everybody clapping at one point XD. After the qeue was finished I lost the other two by stopping to have Thai curry AND sushi… well you didn’t get very much of either. The sushi was the nicest pre-packaged kind I have had in this country, which isn’t saying much.

Once that was over and done with, it was on to the main hall! I’ve always said they should expand the convention into two halls, instead they appear to have taken out the partition between two and turned them into one huge one. It was far less crowded than it was in May, and even the small press “comic village” had a decent amount of space between tables. It was also the first place I headed for, of course! There was plenty else going on along the way, mind you. KITT was parked in the middle of the hall, and there was a Yu-gi-oh / Magic card tournament nearby. Also costume competitions, talks and that. All of which I sailed serenely and ignorantly past, I had comics to buy!

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The complete haul

Japanofail issue 6 (of 5) is a collection of very funny gag strips, I’ve lost track of how many of them I have, mind you. Better have a dig in the small press drawer.

I also got a couple of Victorian-set stories, though both involving elements of “Steampunk” and magic. Widdershins is pretty funny, and remarkably for a “vaguely manga”-type modern story, doesn’t depict Victorian Britain as “just the same as it is now but with a few gas lamps”.

Twisted Dark is great big 200 page wedge of horror for only £5, and Tortured Life is a new full-colour comic from the same creators. This one about a man who is able to see how people and animals will die when he looks at them, so becomes a hermit, then finds somebody who is apparently not going to die!

Allsorts is from Sweatdrop Studios (in-depth post really is going to be made one day, honest! …or just look them up yourself) and is an all-ages comic. There’s actually a few Sweatdrop comics that would be great for children, but which have swear words added for no reason. It puts me in mind of “daringly” watching 12-rated films when you are 10, or spotting one swear word in a translated manga. Completely pointless! Anyway, Allsorts is A4 sized and very thin, a format just like a traditional British weekly. Mind you it’s also £5 because it has a small print run and many people worked on it. It even has a text story! Though knowing the Sweatdrop lot, this was no doubt inspired by seeing text stories in The Phoenix, rather than a knowledge of the history of British (or real history of Japanese) comics. Also from Sweatdrop is Reluctant Soldier Princess Nami – a parody of Shoujo Battle anime from the late 80’s, which makes no sense to me, probably because I haven’t watched what it is parodying!

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Oops, some airfix paints fell conveniently into place

But the best buy of the con was this Doctor Who book. IDW in the US are producing their own Doctor Who comics (including a crossover with Star Trek) independently of the strips in Doctor Who Magazine or Doctor Who Adventures. The cover was signed by artist Al Davison! I’m keeping that one in an old Phoenix envelope. The story itself is about the tenth Doctor in the world of Hollywood during the roaring 20’s. I seem to remember a brief reference to that in one of his last TV episodes – making the book a neat ‘gap filler’.

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Posters n postcards

The most interesting thing I got was Sound, a compilation of Vietnamese comics(!). The theme of the collection is Sound, though there’s also plenty of stories with a ghostly horror element. One story, perhaps inevitably, mentions the war and another gives an insight into Vietnamese culture – they have a “Civil Defense” who are like Britain’s PCSO’s, only organised along military lines. The artwork is mostly Japanese style and the production of the book is in line with UK small press anthologies. I suppose Vietnam’s comic industry is tiny, under-funded and anaemic, with a very blurred line between the “small press” and “professionals”. Just like Britain’s comic industry, in fact!

After a lot of wandering about looking for my friends and appreciating cool costumes, I spent the last of my money on some Japanese porn comics and came home, going through several flurries of freezing cold rain. Winter is truly here now, so stay indoors with your favourite picture-books. My next convention will probably be the Spring MCM or Camcon II… depending on dates! There is a convention in Leeds next weekend, which The Phoenix will have a stand at, but that’s a bit far to go for a day trip, from here.

MCM Expo, May 2012

I’ve gone to several of the MCM Expo’s now, always the ones in London (though they are also in Birmingham, Manchester and, er, Telford). The London ones are twice a year, in May and October, and go on for three days! But I only ever go on the Saturdays. One of these days I’ll book a hotel and get the full experience. Plus I’ll make some costumes!

Anyway, On the past occasions I kept forgetting my camera, but this time I remembered. I’d been looking forward to it for a year, as last October I went to an Anglo-Japanese society Karaoke night that “got out of hand” the day before. Ahem.

I woke up at the normal work time, and first went into Ely to take some ridiculous photographs. Here is the Ely funfair:

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At 7-ish in the morning, so nothing was going on

You’ll notice it is taking up half of one of Ely’s central car parks. Now while the city does have a “park and ride” it’s really not big enough to justify having one. Plus most of the shops in the centre are girly clothes shops anyway. If you have a car, going into Ely is only suitable for quickly buying some small things, otherwise you’d go to Cambridge. So really the council wants to make as much central parking available as possible, otherwise they will just kill the town off.

Of course the funfair was once held here:

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But that’s near this:

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And so people complained that having the funfair there was “disrespectful”. And once again “rethpect for peopleth sincewy hewd beweifs” was allowed to stand in the way of progress and efficiency. Sometimes I wish we were more Chinese, I really do. Mind you the government will no doubt adopt the worst parts of China, like a national firewall, in time.

Anyway, with that lot out of the way I set off for the actual event! It’s in the Excel Centre in Docklands, which is so big you probably really can see it from space! It’s even got it’s own DLR station, and as you get nearer on MCM day the trains start to fill up with people in crazy costumes, talking about anime. Oh and about which station they are going to change at – any of the three after Bank Underground station is fine, honestly!

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A friend did an ‘interesting’ photoshoot around here. You can see this building in the background XD

Having changed trains you then stay on and are taken right to the convention’s front door! Apparently via Fukushima…

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Should we be this close?

After that there’s a “bit” of a qeue. I arrived earlier than I normally do this time (11-ish as opposed to 1-ish), so the qeue was shorter. It also seemed to be moving a lot more quickly. In previous years there’d always be people stopping to take photos of each other’s costumes, but I didn’t see as much this time around. Maybe there was some crackdown on it announced on the official website.

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Spot you!

I didn’t see any queue-jumping either, in spite of the formidable, impassable barriers that had been set up:

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Some of them were even raised off the ground!

Maybe it’s not that we don’t have no friends, we just choose them better! And meet up with all 60,000 of them twice a year…

Anyway, after queueing for about half an hour – 45 minutes, and a great many hi-fives, I finally got the “Adult Entry” wristband. For some weird reason you then ‘queue’ again to have somebody put it on you.

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Ooh, aint ‘e bold

And with that, I was finally in the convention! After walking past a vast area of empty hall. Like I said, the Excel Centre is giant. I bet you could fit all of Camcon in the room that the qeue is in. Strangely, though, they rent these two rooms but the convention itself is only held in one. The other is half-filled with the queue and then is half empty. Surely it would be better to put  some stands in there as well? Leave the main hall for the “big attractions” (Marvel, Viz Media, new games etc) and have the artists and small press in the other half of the queue hall?

As it stands, the room that the convention proper is held in can get worryingly overcrowded at times. They’ve also tinkered with the layout this year. There’s a popular (and controversial) stall that sells Yaoi, which used to be in one corner, but this time was right inside the entrance. There was also a ‘walkway’ between large merchandise stalls running at 90 degrees across the people coming in. The comics area was also strangely laid-out, with the small pressers in ‘lines’, but then with Marvel against the wall, right in the middle of the far end of the lines – resulting in major blockages. Still, it was easy to get to the small press tables!

Sweatdrop Studios, who are ‘technically’ small press, but are so well-known that they could better be described as ‘medium press’ these days, were out on their own with a large stand. If I remember rightly Emma Vieceli used to be one of the main organisers of MCM, mind you XD

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I’ve been meaning to take a pic like this for ages, in-depth post coming soon!

Saturday was incredibly hot, though the main convention hall was well ventilated and/or air conditoned, so it wasn’t as bad as you might imagine. I had to keep ‘topping up’ with deodorant mind you! I bought a few odds and ends including Bakuman book 11, which I promptly left behind at the stall selling a British comic called Formera. I went back and amazingly it was still there, I also bought the two volumes of Formera currently available. It “looks like One Piece”, as I said at the time. But I’ve never read One piece (and at approaching 700 chapters I’m not about to start!).

After that It was time for lunch. There’s a giant hallway running through the Excel Centre, which on this occasion was completely open (on a previous occasion half the centre was closed off for a medical conference – the look on their faces as they came through “our” bit as priceless!). There’s loads of little fast food outlets all the way along with a greater or lesser degree of seating. They’re quite “reasonably” priced too – considering they have a large captive audience in central London, anyway!

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This is just over halfway along (with the shorter part behind me, mind you!)

After that I decided to venture outside. On previous occasions I’ve never actually realised that anything was going on outside the building (mind you some of those previous occasions have been really cold). But actually there’s a big plaza and riverside area with a grass embankment to sit on, a stage set up on a lawn with live(ish) music, and a ‘dance’ area where people do silly dances like Caramelldansen. I only discovered all of this a few weeks ago when I looked at Youtube videos of past expo’s. BUT this year they moved the stage to just outside the main entrance, so you could hardly miss it!

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A girl that was doing Jpop dances

Most of the performances I saw were basically girls who have memorised the dances to manufactured pop music performing them. Except of course this is manufactured pop from JAPAN and so ,no doubt, has an ancient and noble samurai tradition behind it. I wonder if these sorts of events in Japan feature girls doing the dance moves to “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls, or something?

The reason the stage had been moved to just outside the main entrance was because there was another event going on further down, promoting the benefits of swimming. At least it had attracted additional ice cream vans and also a load of portaloo’s, so the qeues were smaller!

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Once upon a time this was all disreputable boarding houses filled with disguised detectives.

Oh and just another picture to give you an idea of the scale of the thing. The stage area is up those stairs, between them and the building!

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Desertified

I had a couple more wanders around the convention hall, bumped into a few people I know (including the organiser of Camcon!)  and bought some more bits and pieces. Including a couple of books from June Manga, who label them “yaoi”, though I understand yaoi is a term for pornographic comics. June’s comics are actually romantic stories with varied settings. One I got before was a police procedural, and this one has two stories, both dealing with love-hate relationships turning into, erm, love-love ones. Mind you the stories could do with more action, what about a tale of romance between two strangely-long-haired Desert Rats during El-Alamein?

I also got a book called One Cell from a company called Lomsofd Manga (which I kept misreading as “Lowestoft Manga”). It’s “backwards”, despite having been originally written in English. Plus the art style looks more like an exaggerated stereotype of manga, I think somebody’s having a larf! Also on the shopping list was a couple of books from Ushio, who does some very funny material in his “Japanofail” books. Oh, and another title from Sweatdrop Studios – the second part of Strangers & Friends, which is about mysterious murders in Wooton Basset.

The best thing I got, though, was a huge reprint book of Hokusai Manga, which was the first thing to be called “Manga”. One literal translation of manga means “random sketches”, and that’s what Hokusai Manga was! You’d have a couple of pages of insects, followed by Noh masks, followed by people doing everyday jobs. There would sometimes be ‘literal’ illustrations of famous proverbs and things too. Hokusai Manga was originally planned to be just one book (published in 1814 – during the Edo Period, when Japan was closed off from the world and basically a Medaeval society), but ended up running to 15 volumes published over 64 years (though the last one was discovered and published 30 years after Hokusai’s death). The books were supposed to be a kind of guide to drawing, but ended up being bought in their thousands by a whole range of people who just liked looking at the pictures. I can see why, there’s something enchanting about them. Many copies even found their way out of Japan and influenced and inspired artists in other countries.

After a bit more wandering It was time to go home. I deliberately aimed for the new part of King’s Cross station. I remember major building work going on there when I was going to Plymouth with my granny for the eclipse… in 1999! It’s kind of hard to believe I won’t ever be squeezing through a narrow tunnel of wooden hoardings next time I go.

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Don’t I have another blog for non comics pictures?

In all, a fun convention, though I didn’t buy as much as I expected to (still spent the expected, large, amount of money mind you!). Perhaps in October I’ll do the full three days!