by Paul Foxcroft
Navigating your way to Comic Con is easier than you might think. I planned a route from my house, but instead just followed a group of people in their early twenties who were dressed as videogame characters. It’s probably less efficient, but more colourful than my initial idea; but from now on, where possible, I will use cosplayers as a 3D, realtime GPS.
The Excel houses the whole affair, I always forget how big this building is, it looms over the DLR station as my train slows, throngs of men, women and children flood out of the carriage and into the cavernous structure – many, resplendent in costume or at minimum a t-shirt bearing some affiliation to an intellectual property or private joke shared with millions. Something tribal is happening here. There’s also a little boy who has managed to dress as both Spider-Man and Darth Vader simultaneously. Kudos.
Look, this is supposed to be a review. I don’t really know how to review an event so chaotically sprawling and intense as this. TL;DR? It’s good. I like it. Now let’s try to get through this. Strap in.
I’m overwhelmed. The main hall is a perpetual thunder-roll given bright physical form. Everything that can happen is happening here. A grid of stalls stretches before me, stacked high with sculpture, costumes, comics, action-figures and more. Also, pretty much everyone seems to sell the thing they obviously sell; like games, toys or masks and then they also sell Twinkies.
There’s a tiny helicopter pooping bubbles onto a giggling mass of giant rabbit women, thirty camera flashes pop and a spiraling still of a woman dressed as Lara Croft is produced for posterity. Everyone is eating from bowls piled high with what looks like brightly coloured powder. Supergirl and Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes are clearly on a date. A pair of Daenerys Stormborns survey the scene as they eat their bagels with the LAPD. For a while, the comic con resists my need to have context for what is happening around me – everywhere I turn there are people decked in costumes ranging from expertly executed to enthusiastically executed. There’s a number of people here who are not dressed up, but they’re harder to see somehow – my attention is drawn to the others as they wield fake weapons, maintain their hair and pose dramatically every few seconds for people to photograph them. I feel self conscious for being normal.
There are a so very many people offering free hugs here that I think it’s fair to say that the bottom has fallen out of the free hugs market, it’s flooded to the point where I should be making money by hugging these people.
There are celebrities here from all walks of media, John Noble is headlining, but there’s acts here from Arrow, X-Men movies, Doctor Who cast members. A whole neighbourhood of stalls is given over to people with YouTube channels, whose fans swarm to them to talk about their favourite songs and jokes, a highlight of the day is when Ninja Brian from Ninja Sex Party takes the stage at a comedy gig and owns the room with his silent karaoke. Mark Meer, the voice of half of Mass Effect protagonist Commander Shepard, is here and an old friend; he spends his days talking with his legions (pun) of fans, eager to share their stories from the game with Mark and to hear his.
The cosplay is an inescapable aspect of this event, there’s so much of it and it’s of a fairly high standard. There’s a real sense of community around it too, all around me characters from different intellectual properties greet each other warmly and share photo opportunities. That said, the key to the cosplay ideal seems to be a mild contradiction, the sense that everyone is welcome with their interpretation of their favourite characters while holding onto an unshakeable belief that you’re doing it best and everyone else is varying degrees of wrong. The welcoming aura of the event means that pretty much everyone is happy to talk about what they’re doing; be it cosplaying, collecting autographs, meeting their heroes, dancing on a podium.
Actually, I think my favourite thing is the stage where nervous looking girls, dressed as overly elaborate Japanese/Victorian service staff (It’s cosplay, I just have no idea what of), dance energetic routines to what may be J or K pop. I can never distinguish between the two. In fact, I know nothing of Japanese popular culture, this weekend has made this painfully clear to me. But my point is that nervous though these girls are, they’re owning what they’re doing. They’re dressed as their idols and dancing their dances and in some small way being more like the people they want to be. The cosplayers I spoke to about their costume choices tended to be dressed as characters that have qualities they admire. “Honour”, “A sense of justice” and one gentleman said of the protagonist from Bleach… or Fairytale (my notes are a mess) “He’s really committed to his friends” – all things the costumed folk seem to hold dear.
I stood in the middle of the event for five minutes making a list of the various cosplay looks. I present it here as a sidebar.
Male Harley Quinn (apparently know as Harvey Quinn)
Commander Shepard x 5
Male She-Hulk (This might be my favourite)
“Cog Girl” (I’ve no idea)
Killing Joke Joker
Actionable Mickey Mouse Costume
Booker and Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite.
Spider-Man x 14 (Variations included)
Daenerys Targaryen x 3
Some kind of Disco Predator (not sure)
Fallout Vault-Girls x2
Miscellaneous Cat People x 5
Two Guys From Payday: The Heist
Terrifying Facepaint Iron Man
There’s a spectacular number of stalls where people are selling memorabilia or almost anything you can think of, vintage Star Wars toys? Check. Terrifying plague-doctor masks? Check (and bought). A stall where some kids appear to be selling their occasionally good drawings of Pokemon with a genuine sense of arrogance? Check. There’s quite literally something here for everyone. There’s twenty things for everyone and a litany of other things you didn’t know you liked. And nobody here is anything but passionate about their “thing” that brought them here.
There are a few things that aren’t great, it’s warm. And I was there on the Sunday which I’m told is quiet. I’m not sure I could handle the Saturday crowds as they’ve been explained. There are a few really good deals on products in stores here, but they’re few and far between – I found that most items are about the same price in the wild, the main advantage is that they’re all in the one large room. The worst thing about the con was the very few, but still present, creepy dudes being lecherous over cosplaying ladies; I counted just two and was sort of insulted (called an SJW) by the one I talked to, but at least he wandered off because I was weirding him out. Justice?
I think the right way to do Comic Con is to go all in. Show up with a plan, there’s too much going on to wing it and not become confused and overwhelmed. I spent most of my day on my own, which I think might be a mistake. I had the advantage of having to talk to people for this thing, which meant I’ve left the con with many more friends than I started with. I’d like to write another piece on this next year, but in costume. I wonder who I know who might be able to play Pierce to my Finch from Person Of Interest…
In short. It’s good. And mad. And there’s an overwhelming sense of community that hits after about three hours of bewilderment. Wear comfortable footware.