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I have to come clean on this one: I wasn’t planning to visit MCM London Comic Con this weekend – funds, timing, fates conspiring against me… However, in the light of recent developments in terms of a buy-out of the UK arm of the MCM Expo organisation by the mighty ReedPOP event organisers – and after a couple of messages from a few bodies in the ReedPOP team that I know, asking if we going to be meeting up – I felt I had to make the effort to travel down, at least for one day.

MCM Expo’s London Comic Con is an event that I’ve been to before on a number of occasions and, while I’ve seen the show’s audience grow and expand, I’ve also seen the show itself get into a bit of a rut. Stepping into the ExCel Centre over the last few years, you began to know what to expect in terms of content, stalls, panel and autograph guests and especially in how it was treating its comics creators. The Comic Village has seen some improvement in recent years but it’s been too little, too late, for MCM to be saddled with the label of merely a pop culture show with a small smattering of comics representation. Indeed, the strength of the MCM brand has been more about the community of incredible fans and attendees that walk through the door – and also loiter on the steps and the green outside!

image - MCM London Comic Con (Winter 2017) 97

It’s that brand strength and enthusiasm that has drawn ReedPOP to make the offer to buy out the company, keeping in place and coordinating with all the managers and team, and bringing all of their not-inconsiderable expertise to galvanise the UK events under the MCM Expo banner, which also include the Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Belfast shows. Seeing what ReedPOP have done with New York Comic Con, Emerald City Comic Con and others, this is a meeting of minds with incredible potential for the entire UK con landscape. If MCM step up to the next level, so will everybody else.

image - MCM London Comic Con (Winter 2017) 86

So: to London Comic Con Winter 2017. As the first show under the umbrella of ReedPOP, the ink on the deal only a few days dry, what did I make of the Sunday of the show that I could make it to?

image - MCM London Comic Con (Winter 2017) 50

Well, I kept getting lost again! What is it about the ExCel that keeps spinning me around?? North Hall, South Hall: I always get kerfuffled. I know, I know: N this, S that, but I still get all turned around. Could banners above the separate doors, detailing the themed area people would be entering, be too much to ask? There was a few times when I had to look to the end of the halls to see if there were Theatres there, just to work out which I was aiming for: I just ended up calling them The One With The Comic Village (Ooh, And The Bloody Huge Marvel Area) and The One With The Gold Theatre.

image - MCM London Comic Con (Winter 2017) 94

And it was a Bloody Huge Marvel Area, too – possibly a little too spread out for my liking, looking very much like there was a massive showcase space promised to entice the House Of Ideas but a truck or two broke down on the way to the show, leaving large areas of empty footprint. What was on display was impressive – we’re talking stuff that hasn’t seen a convention floor since Anaheim’s D23 Expo, such as THOR: RAGNAROK and BLACK PANTHER set costumes. Nevertheless, it still seemed a little spread thin.

And this seems to be the prime issue that MCM needs to address: space management. There’s a lack of cohesiveness on the floor, that sense of throughput and narrative which makes a successful convention work. There’s some efforts, such as the grouping of VidCon, Gaming, Pop Asia and the aforementioned Comic Village, but the whole thing’s still too fractured, with random booths thrown into the mix which breaks up the footprint and gives a sense of confusion. (What on Earth was Maoam doing there, anyway?! I’m betting the clean-up crew just loved picking up sweet wrappers all day…)

Speaking of the Comic Village, this is the other issue that MCM and ReedPOP have to tackle – and the one area that has the most potential for galvanization and change. With the way that ReedPOP have grown that area at shows like New York Comic Con, it’s exciting to think that we could be seeing the same influx at MCM, with Comic Village getting a much need spruce-up – becoming a Comic City, so to speak. The trestle-tables vibe was all well and good, when the section was being treated like a neglected step-child but it needs a bolt of rocket-fuel and this could be the thing that makes that happen.

image - MCM London Comic Con (Winter 2017) 17

International comics guests, signings, panels (which I’m more than up for moderating, by the way, just to put my face in the frame!)… all of this could be introduced to the show, accessing the resources and rolodex at ReedPOP’s disposal – integrate that with the incredible independent small press industry we have growing here in the UK and that could present something truly special, in the same framework as we’ve seen at shows like London Super Comic Con. That show has made great strides to grab the general public’s attention but the modern convention has shown that it takes the bright lights of showbiz to get them through the door. Then, a great artist alley can show people where all the great ideas came from for their favourite films and television – and continue to spring from, like a breaking dam.

image - MCM London Comic Con (Winter 2017) 86

Indeed, let’s talk about about the many positives that I can already take away from the show as it currently stands:

  • A wide breadth of attractions and interests, several which I hope will be carried forward in the new MCM Comic Cons – while they don;t appeal to me personally, I think a grand showcase for things such as trading cards, manga and new media (in the form of Vidcon/VidFest) is exciting and fresh, bringing different audiences through the door.
  • The showcase guests – any chance to revel in the same atmosphere as people like the delightful Andrew Scott (SHERLOCK) and the vivacious Hayley Atwell (MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER) is just lovely. Just a shame there wasn’t more of their calibre to fill out the massive panel room spaces provided – boy, those rooms looked decidedly empty in places… Can’t they split the Platinum Suite, maybe, do something interesting with the free space?
  • Cosplay. Oh my, the cosplay element of MCM London Comic Con has always been something to behold but it really has become a central part of the MCM experience. (Damning the rest of the content with faint praise?) Says a lot that the Cosplay Competition at the end of the Sunday was the busiest I saw any of the panel rooms.

image - MCM London Comic Con (Winter 2017) 20

In closing, I can’t deny, I had a great time, walking the many, MANY steps around MCM London Comic Con but I can also see that it is a show with much to grow into. It is an event that has the most incredible potential and, with careful planning, care and attention, could truly become this country’s New York Comic Con, and more: I’ve got a few niggles but these are things which I’m certain ReedPOP are fully on top of, after looking over this weekend. When attendees become exposed to what the North Americans have been treated to for the past decade, in terms of talent, presentation and spectacle, maybe they will then demand more from the rest of the shows here in the UK, forcing some shows to seriously raise their game. We’ve settled for the Village-Fete-and-Bunting for too long. I think people in this country will be surprised by what a comic con can actually be.

image - MCM London Comic Con (Winter 2017) 51

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