The Puzzling thing about MCM Comic Con London

MCM Comic Con: London (2014) was a great experience for me. I got to meet Jessica Nigri and TomSka, and I got to interview both of them. As people who have made a living by pursuing their passions, they’re people I admire and look up to. I did have a moment of fan boy squealing when I first saw TomSka. #NoShame

I got to meet TomSka! There may also have been some interviewing..
I got to meet TomSka! There may also have been some interviewing..

However, I’ve been meaning to do write up on the event for a while, because the whole thing struck me as rather strange. It seemed to me, that the event organisers had no idea what their consumers really wanted, or new the value of what they had.

Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising!

I got lost, pretty fast when I first went into the halls. It wasn’t because of the people, nobody else was there yet, it was because of all the merchandising.

At Gamescom, there were seven different halls, which were all colossal in size. Half of one hall was the dedicated area for all merchandise and shops. If you wanted to buy something you went there. Good, efficient, German design.

Part of the merch hall at Gamescom, Cologne, 2014
Part of the merch hall at Gamescom, Cologne, 2014

At Comic Con London, shopping stands formed a border as you entered – with ambling shoppers blocking easy access into the hall – and they then criss-crossed the centre vertically and horizontally, so that both halls were a grid of merchandise stands.

So as I’m looking for a landmark to get my bearings, I’m looking at t-shirt stands that are selling the same t-shirts as everyone else, everywhere I look!

It was like an MC Escher painting made of Pokemon and Dragonball Z references.

MCM Comic Con London, 2014
MCM Comic Con London, 2014

Having run my own event now, I appreciate the large costs involved, and the limited amount of revenue tickets can provide. Selling merch stand spots to clients who want to be sure they’re going to make money from the event, absolutely makes sense. I get that part.

The problem was that merch stands far outnumbered things to actually do. It just felt like a large shop to me. Sure you need you want to make money of your event, but you still want people to enjoy it.

“Nerd stuff etc.”

The halls weren’t just confusing because of the dizzying amounts of near-identical merch stands, but also because of was on offer at the stands in-between.

To name a few, there was a Game shop, a Steampunk retailer, a Playstation stand, Cartoonists, a Youtuber corner, some of the cast members from Red Dwarf, two guys from Rooster Teeth (American youtube mega-channel) and a few of the original Power Rangers.

This could’ve worked out alright, but none of these things were grouped together in any kind of sensible order. The Manga shop was by Ubisoft (Game publishers) who were by the Youtubers, while Game was in another hall over by Rooster Teeth and ‘Asia-Corner’?

10311351_760889390651669_2299298054212829257_nPerhaps the idea was that at no point you would ever be more than 5 feet from a famous youtuber and somewhere to get your anime fix at the same time, but somehow I don’t think so.

Call me illogical Mr. Spock, but I would’ve put Youtuber corner next to the Yogscast and Rooster Teeth stands – because they do youtube videos on games. Then they would then in turn be adjacent to all of the gaming stuff, and you put all the anime & manga together on the other side.

Just like Disneyland, right? All the Lucasfilm stuff is one area, and all the Mickey Mouse stuff is in another. Simple, right?

I mean, I enjoyed the talk by Mike Bethell – designer of Thomas Was Alone – about his new game Volume. I was really excited to meet him too!

Me with Mike Bithell (left), designer of Thomas Was Alone and Volume
Me with Mike Bithell (left), designer of Thomas Was Alone and Volume

But, as one of only a handful of people who were in the audience, I got the impression that it didn’t fit in with everything else that was at the event. Developers of cult indie games isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and that’s even less so if you’re not a gaming focused event to begin with.

“Nerd stuff” seems to have been the mission statement by the organisers, without a whole lot of context as to what was relevant.

All about that Cosplay

I felt quite out of place for not being in some form of costume or another. It was the cosplayers who made the event for me. Some were technically brilliant. Others were dirt simple, but you immediately connected because you were both in on the same joke.

Those are real strips of Nori on his face!
Those are real strips of Nori on his face!
"Frrrranky Star!"
“Frrrranky Star!”

The bizzare thing was the huge crowds out on the front lawn. People were chatting about their costumes. Jedi young and old were having lighstaber battles. Groups of Dragonball Z and League of Legends cosplayers were doing photoshoots. There was a buzz in the air, and a passion for our shared nerdy interests.

The problem was not finding loads of League of Legends Cosplayers, the problem was fitting them all in
The problem was not finding enough League of Legends cosplayers, the problem was fitting them all in

The heart and the soul of MCM Comic Con London was outside the event halls.

The organisers just didn’t seem to know what it had. It had crammed its halls with merchandise and in between shoved in an odd mixture of general nerdiness, but hundreds of people preferred to sit outside.

IMG_6008Okay, maybe not everyone there had a ticket, but who needed one of those anyway if the best part is free?

Despite the throngs of cosplayers, Jessica Nigri – the “queen of cosplay” – wasn’t even labelled on the maps. I only knew where she was because she had made the effort to promote herself.

This is a woman who has over 300,000 Twitter followers, and 2.7 million likes on facebook. She had travelled all the way from the states to do a stand with the British cosplayer Kelly Jean: 16,200 followers / 276,050 likes.

I mean, you can’t say people haven’t heard of them!

Kelly Jean & Jessica Nigri at MCM Comic Con London, 2014 (Source: Facebook)

The queue for their stand, was consistently the longest of the whole convention, but it was tucked away in a far corner. The queue was actually blocking up a through-path, and cutting off the stands opposite it…and it was only 10am on the first day.

Nigri & Jean's stand is some around that far right corner
Nigri & Jean’s stand is somewhere around that far right corner

I had an awkward moment when the woman who played Holly in Red Dwarf (Hattie Hayridge) and Non from Superman II (Jack O’Halloran – the henchmen dude) asked me about this huge line that was in front of them. I had to be the one to tell them it was for someone they had never heard of, doing this ‘cosplay’ thing they didn’t know about.

That being said though, it’s clearly what the customers wanted! So why was her stand unlabelled on the map and hidden away against the far wall?

Okay, so maybe the idea was to just put them way over there, well out of the way of everything else. If you’re pressed for time and space, not an entirely unreasonable decision to make.

It definitely is becoming an increasingly common in the internet age, where someone you have never heard of has a huge fan base of millions of followers.

Rooster Teeth did equally well for themselves. The Yogscast and TomSka had some pretty decent lines too, but apparently the organisers had didn’t know just how big the Nigri fanbase was, and the event suffered because of that. A couple of stands down, and a fire exit would’ve been completely blocked off.

Research is so important these days. There are people I’ve never heard of who draw massive crowds at events like these. You can never be too sure.

MCM Comic Con London – The party’s outside

Maybe I’m projecting a bitterness for the UK’s regular mis-representation of “nerds” onto the organisers, but they didn’t give me the impression of people who had done their proper reading.

I did enjoy MCM Comic Con London, don’t get me wrong, but that was all because of the people: The cosplayers, the kids in awe of finding other nerds, the groups of friends all in costume together.

I am so very dead
I am so very dead
The dedication of some people is amazing
The dedication of some people is amazing
I know invite you to try and figure out where his feet actually are
I now invite you to try and figure out where his feet actually are

All the while, the icons were absolute stars and they were so unbelievable friendly to all of their fans. I don’t know where they got all that energy from, and even had some left over for a random Welsh dude trying to interview them.

Miles and Kerry from Rooster teeth
Miles and Kerry from Rooster teeth
TomSka listens to the Doctor
TomSka listens to the Doctor

Myself and my cousin spent the whole second day just chilling out on the lawn, looking at the cosplay groups and drinking in the atmosphere.

It was a good event all in all. But, if the best part of MCM Comic Con London was outside the event halls, then I suggest the organisers have a long think about what it is people actually want to see inside.

I think that all anyone wanted was an excuse to be nerds together and dress up in comfort, and maybe have a brief fleeting moment with their idols. You don’t need to stuff two halls in the Excel centre just to do that.