Hosted by Leonard Sultana of An Englishman in San Diego, and Mark Searby, the Creator Stage at MCM London Comic Con saw a unique panel covering convention culture and fandoms. Taking part in the discussion were Josh Denham, the MCM Event Manager; Mary Franklin, the Global Event Director of ReedPOP, and cosplay guest, Ivy DoomKitty.
The panel opened with the trio being asked about their first interaction with conventions. Josh revealed that his first experience was an MCM London convention, 20 days after he started working with MCM. “Cosplay really did stand out to me,” said Josh, adding that at the time he didn’t know much about it. “Just seeing the passion behind it, the determination [from] the people creating the outfits and just how well respected that is within that community. It just reverberates the passion that people put in at comic cons across the world. That really stood out to me and that still stands out.”
Mary singled out working on the first Star Wars Celebration as the first time she saw the power a convention had to bring fans together. “It was 2002, we did Star Wars Celebration in Indianapolis,” said Mary. “The first morning, before we opened the doors, I went outside and started walking down the street along the queue. It went along the convention centre, went down past the convention centre, went down around the block.” Mary added that it made her realise, “How lucky am I that I get to have a part in making memories and making a milestone event for these people?”
Ivy noted how for her it started with Big Wow Comic Fest, in North California, an event she had originally attended as a fan, and subsequently ended up becoming a part owner of before it was sold to Silicon Valley Comic Con. “Seeing that side of it, on how you run shows internally, how you handle guests and things like that, that kind of helped with when I went from that, to actually guesting at shows.” Ivy also added how just one year into cosplaying, she started guesting, which allowed her to see how different conventions are run and how the fans are.
Asked on the differences between a US and UK convention, Mary highlighted how the UK fans are “a bit more sensible,” as well as being more calm. She contrasted with US fans, saying, “Days before the show starts, fans are out, they’re lined up and camping. By the time it’s day one, they’re anything but sensible.”
“This is my second London show,” said Ivy. “One thing I’ve noticed in this part of the world… you know what, in every country but the US, it’s definitely a lot more relaxed and very easy going with things.”
Mary mentioned how her role within ReedPOP means that she oversees all their comic conventions outside the US, listing countries such as China, Singapore, India, Australia and France. “The strong fan communities are the absolute foundations of these shows. The stronger the communities get, the more involved they get in the shows; obviously the more ownership they’re going to feel in the shows. That’s good, we definitely want them to feel a part of the show. But that does often come with a sense of entitlement and I observed that in all cultures I’ve worked in.”
When asked on the biggest evolution in the community of MCM Comic Con, Josh said, “We haven’t had conventions of this scale going on in the UK anywhere near as long as the American conventions.” He felt that the biggest evolution was the change in mentality from certain brands that wanted to interact with fans in the UK and Europe. “What we want to do is work with those companies and deliver what us as individuals would love to see to if we’re coming as a fan to a convention. We are looking at what would make us excited.”
Questioned on how certain brands and companies end up appearing at MCM Comic Con, Josh mentioned how a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, as there are companies that approach MCM and there are other companies that they approach. “We are learning all the time about our fanbase, what our community wants to see at the show,” said Josh. “We are doing what we can to make sure we are using that information to deliver the experience.”
Ivy was then asked about cosplay being a somewhat separate community within fandoms. She agreed, but felt that there was some overlap when it came to the reasons cosplayers attend conventions. “Cosplayers go to conventions to compete in the costume contests,” said Ivy, “One thing that I absolutely hope is that MCM become a part of the Crown Championship of Cosplay.”
At this point Mary nodded her head, and said, “Confirmed.”
“Oh my God, that’s amazing,” responded Ivy. “That’s a big deal in the cosplay world, it’s huge! So I’m very happy.” She also felt that it was great that MCM were growing the cosplay community.
Asked on how MCM and ReedPOP balance the community aspect with the corporate, Mary said, “The beauty of a comic con, because it’s not so specialised, we can offer content in all kinds of interests. From the big celebrity things, to the minutia of different fandoms, and we have an audience for it here.” Mary also emphasised how they welcome submissions, ideas and proposals from fans, saying, “We really need them to help inform us.”
Josh echoed Mary’s comments and explained how the community of the show is the core aspect, saying, “Regardless of whether it’s a niche community or whether it’s the general community of the fandom that’s in attendance, we should be celebrating that. We should be creating an environment that feels safe, that feels accepting and celebrate the diversity within those communities. That’s what MCM has always been about and should remain to be.” He also mentioned how MCM listened to feedback in regards to the Comic Village, working with more artists and introducing the Comic Village stage.
Questioned on how to keep people interested in pop culture and fandom in the future, Mary explained how “popular culture is always changing” and there will always be something new. “It always changes and we have to change with it. That’s why we listen to fans, that’s why we listen to exhibitors, that’s why we watch trends.” She also revealed how keeping up with new trends in pop culture would mean hiring new, younger people with different interests.
An attendee raised the question on how the artist alley area at a certain US convention had become smaller and “less creative,” and wanted to know if this would become a continuing trend, as more entertainment brands enter the scene.
“Our intention is not to shrink it or reduce it,” responded Josh. “In fact it’s the opposite. We want to grow it, we want to nurture it, we want to celebrate talent we’ve got in the UK, as well as bringing talent from overseas.” Josh then pointed out, “Comic is in the name of the shows. It’s got to be at the heart of it as well.”
Josh was then asked if MCM would be integrating the US model of conventions at MCM. “We are MCM, we want to keep ourselves as MCM,” replied Josh, adding that they while they are both different markets, they could learn from the US conventions.
Finally they were asked on where they see fandom evolving at future events. Ivy highlighted the overlap of cosplay and different companies that work with conventions, using Twitch and SyFy Wire as an example. “You have these different companies that are interested in working with cosplayers,” said Ivy.
“Part of the fun of being able to stay connected to the fans and work on this is that, honestly, we don’t know what pop culture trend is coming next,” said Mary. “We look forward to seeing them reflected in the fandom and then making them a part of the show.”
“There’s always going to be developments, there’s always going to be changes,” said Josh. “You can’t predict it necessarily. But having people with different tastes will always create that knowledge within your internal team.”