Bestselling author and comic book writer Fred Van Lente tells MyM why he’s excited about MCM London Comic Con…
I am extremely excited to be attending MCM ComicCon London this year in no small part because it’s my very first of 2018. I attended a lot of comic book conventions last year to do research for my upcoming prose novel The Con Artist, which coming out in July from Quirk Books. In it, a famous comic book artist is accused of murdering his editor at a certain well-known con in San Diego and he has to solve it before Sunday and he’s hauled away by the cops. I did a lot of cons to make observations to put in the novel, as well as take photographs for the great comics artist Tom Fowler, who does con sketch-style illustrations for the book, and I kind of overdosed on them.
But now sufficient time has past that I can venture back onto the con floor free of almost all thoughts of murder.
Did I say “almost”? No, sorry, I don’t mean to scare you, I mean “all”.
Though…if you’re getting annoyed at celebs overcharging for photos, or cosplayers blocking your path by posing for a photo with every single person who asks, or standing in line for forty-five minutes to pay twenty quid for a hot dog, come by my table in Comics Village or the Quirk Booth (#420) and say hi, and I may be able to instruct you how to … you know … best [finger quotes] “take care” of them … [finger quotes] “discretely”.
After all, there’s always some research that never makes it into the book. They’ll never catch you!
Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, author of Princesses Behaving Badly, shares her reasons…
When I was 12, I had braces. Everyone else did, but I also had stupidly long hair that made me look like an ill-groomed horse. I made bad clothing decisions – everything I wore was either too tight or too big. I talked too much and too loudly, and never said the right thing. I had pet ferrets, which everyone decided was weird. Things were not going well for me.
I was the new girl at an all girls’ school in Texas where everyone had known each other since first grade. Things had started well – I was a novelty at first, and a few of the mothers made sure that their daughters were nice to me. That blossomed into sleepovers and trips to the mall, but by the middle of the school year, those friendships were being battered on the rocks of “girls at that age”. And no one else in the class liked me. One day by the lockers, a girl, unprovoked, snarled at me to get a life. If I’d known how, I wanted to tell her, I would have.
So instead, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. A lot. I cried when Tasha Yar died; I had a huge crush on Wesley Crusher (obviously); I wanted Captain Picard to be my dad. Sometimes, I’d get my mom to take me to the comic book store – in the same strip mall as the frozen yogurt place AND the big box music store – and stock up on books and trading cards. The day the action figures went on sale at the toy store, I was there (Deanna Troi, by the way, is still in her box, 25 years later). I wore ST:TNG like a warm coat, lived in it, dreamed in its language and cadences. I wished so hard that the Enterprise would just beam me straight out of this new town and this new life that I really wasn’t enjoying much.
I wasn’t the one who suggested we go to the Star Trek convention at the Hilton Hotel at the airport; that was one of the two friends who still talked to me after the other girls decided I had “stinky hair”. Her mom drove us there and read a book in the lobby while we wandered the rows of booths, the tables of Bajoran ear cuffs and signed headshots of Star Trek stars, collectible cards and communicator badges, t-shirts and books and stuffed Tribbles. People in costume – redshirts, Klingons, Vulcans, even a Ferengi, Captain James T. Kirks and Spocks – mingled with the hundreds of people who’d all turned out for LeVar Burton’s Q-and-A session in the ballroom.
I had found my tribe. It wasn’t only that we all loved the same thing, loved it enough to want to gather and breathe it in together. It was that they got it: This thing was important. It made us feel better about life.
I went to several more Trek conventions after that, some better than others but all of them in hotel ballrooms. At one, a 30-something year old man followed me and my friend around the booths, awkwardly peppering us with questions about our favourite episodes until we finally lost him by ducking into the ladies’ room. I still watched ST:TNG religiously, added to the binder – decorated in silver and gold paint pen – I’d dedicated to my trading card collection.
The last 20 years has seen a massive explosion in the size, power, and visibility of fans; that’s enormously cheering to someone who needed fandom so desperately at one point in her life. I don’t often get to go to cons anymore, and when I do, I’m usually wearing my journalist hat (regrettably, it’s a metaphorical hat, not an actual one with a press card in the band; that would be amazing). I’m drawn to these places of fan expression because it reminds me of belonging. It reminds of that there is playfulness and fun in the world, that even if it feels like you’re alone, you’re not.
The Enterprise probably won’t ever beam you up and out of your crappy world. But sometimes, a good con is the next best thing.
Best-selling author Marieke Nijkamp shares her love of Comic Cons.
My favourite thing to do at any comic con is to sit on the floor and watch people walk by, chatting about guests or cosplay or the treasures they found. Especially when I’ve reached that point where I’ve worn myself out with browsing and meeting new people. When I can settle in and observe, and look for the people who walk around like they fell down the looking glass or stumbled into Narnia. Because in a way, that’s what we did.
When I first tiptoed onto the internet, I fell into SFF fan communities and text-based RPGs. I was in my early teens, and internet was scarce and slow. But it felt like I found my community. In my late teens, I experienced my first real life fantasy gathering. I was in costume. Everyone else was in costume too. And while we traveled there, it felt like we shared a secret from the people around us, like we were all traveling to the same secret world. I belong there, in that space. But it didn’t complete me. I missed parts of me. The fandoms, the games, other stories.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I attended my first comic con, and it felt like homecoming. After all, while I may be a fantasy reader at heart, I’m also a Whovian. I’m a Trekkie. I’m an avid gamer and GM. I’m a comic book nerd. I’m an appreciator of fine arts. I walked around starry-eyed, wide eyed, overwhelmed. I was entirely spoilt for choice. I don’t think I even bought anything that day. I just took it all in. I met a whole bunch of new friends and I spent the next couple of days wandering around the real world feeling lost.
I’ve been to various cons in various countries in the years since. These days, I have the absurd pleasure of getting invited and going to cons professionally, which is one of the great joys of telling stories professionally. But regardless of where I am or how many cons I visit, that first day always feels the same: I feel like I can breathe.
Surrounded by people in the most intricate cosplays, by fellow creators, by members of fandoms I don’t even know, I feel reinvigorated. It isn’t always perfect. As a nonbinary, disabled creator, I’m all too aware of that. We can always be safer, more inclusive, more accessible. But there is no greater treat than to be able to celebrate passions and universes, together.
So when I’ve tried to say sensible things on panels, when I’ve signed books, when I’ve bought entirely too many comics and other books and RPG core rulebooks and dice (and let it be said that, despite what my friends say, one can never have too many dice), I sit on a floor and observe the people who are as wide eyed and starry eyed as I was. I watch them realize that we belong here. And for a few days, this world is ours.
Award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky shares his love of MCM London Comic Con ahead of his second visit…
It’s not saying anything special these days, to say I’m a child of geek culture. I grew up on Star Wars and Dr Who and Blake’s Seven, just as much as on Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett and Gene Wolfe. And, again like a great many people of all demographics these days, that love has not abated, but only gained in strength over the years, until I can sit back and simply boggle at the extraordinary flowering we’re currently experiencing across so many media – the revivals of Who and Wars and Trek, the incredible long-term narrative balancing act of the MCU, through to breath-taking new SF masterpieces like Arrival or Ex Machina. A golden age, for real, and I feel privileged that, in my small and bookish way, I’m a part of it.
I was lucky enough to be invited over to the London Comic Con last year, when they were just kicking off their books track. I’d never been before, had no idea what to expect. Except that a few years back I was in the same space in the Excel Centre when the World Science Fiction Convention came to London, which was the biggest event I’d ever been at.
Certainly some similarities, but the Comic Con turned out to be twice the size and absolutely buzzing. What it reminded me of, more than anything, is that scene in some Sci-fi films where the protagonist steps from some limited environment – office, car, home, something calm and enclosed – and enters the bazaar, the grand market, the bustling undercity full of movement and colour, adverts, noise, life. Not that I’m saying it’s a wretched hive of scum and villainy, of course, but it was like being plunged into another culture, something utterly its own, strangeness everywhere you look. A place where they do things differently, as though someone’s twisted the fabric of reality to make a little bubble of Somewhere Else.
I think what really brings over that impression is the cosplay. There was a fair amount at the World SF Convention, and there’s always some at most of the conventions I go to, but Comic Cons seem to be where the hobby really takes root and blooms. The inventiveness of it, the skill in costumery, the imagination, whether it’s film studio-perfect replicas or a character taken through a dozen reversals and permutations to make something completely new.
Back, then, for my second year, and I’m still just that weird kid from the 80’s who likes Dungeons and Dragons and spaceships and alien monsters. And if I get the chance to create and share my own alien monsters – some of whom also happen to be the heroes of their own stories, rather than just the monsters in someone else’s – then frankly I feel I’m indecently lucky. I’ve been 10 years in print this year, and though I’ve certainly seen science fiction and its various fandoms take a few stumbles and the odd wrong turn, overall things seem to only build on past successes, and where better to showcase successes than a huge, colourful event like the MCM Comic Con?
Vic James, author of the Dark Gifts trilogy, on her top Comic Cons experiences:
I spent six years living in Tokyo, just up the road from Shibuya. Many weekends I’d browse the manga at Tower Records, or shop for Totoro socks, or just scoff taco-yaki and/or waffles (though rarely at the same time) on Takeshita-dori. Every Sunday, the cosplay kids would gather in Harajuku: anime and steampunk wherever you looked. Brass goggles, fishnet fingerless gloves, purple hair, furry ears, lace parasols, mecha suits, top hats. It was glorious and I loved it.
And then I repatriated to the UK. London life had much to recommend it – not least avocado on toast and proper coffee – but nonstop visible pop culture wasn’t on the list. Until I went to my first Comic Con. It’s like a trip back to the Tokyo of my heart. And as an author, I get to experience it from the inside, too…. So here are some of my favourite Comic Con experiences:
Crap celebrity sightings. I mean crap sightings, not crap celebrities. You get some pretty top-notch celebs at cons, although getting closer may prove tricky. But that’s fine – the rubbish “Did you see…?” “Was that actually…?” conversation is a highlight of any day. I swear the screams still ring in my ears from that time Benedict Cumberbatch accidentally took a short cut through the YA books section of one London con. And I’ll always treasure Laura Lam (False Hearts) lighting up when she met Gates McFadden at Dutch Comic Con.
Travelling to Comic Con by public transport. No, seriously. The closer you get to venue, the more people you’ll see in cosplay, or fandom t-shirts, or batshit-fantastic jewelry and hair. Your heart will be warmed with a great fluffy blanket of belonging. Reader, these are your people.
The proximity to greatness. At San Diego Comic Con last year I was on a panel taking place in a room directly above the famous Hall H during the latest Game of Thrones season launch. Every few minutes we’d hear seven thousand people losing their shit as yet another teaser trailer or cast guest was introduced. We may have considered asking everyone attending our panel to jump up and down at exactly the same time in hope of crashing through the floor/ceiling and dropping in.
The love. I will never forget a guy in my signing line at the same SDCC. He was an older bloke with a white beard, and I figured the book in his hand was a speculative post-panel purchase for a relative, but no. I asked him why he’d picked it up and he stood there a while, cradling it in his arms, then just said “I have no words for the way I feel about your book.” Reader, I almost bawled my eyes out right there.
The food. OMG. Every Comic Con will see me running amok in the food court. Tako-yaki and waffles to go, please!
The cosplay. Not just the brilliance of individual costumes, but the unexpected combinations. My favourites remain a Jack Sparrow arm-in-arm with a 9-foot Transformer at Dutch Comic Con last year. The same con saw a cute husband-and-wife turn up to get their book signed in matching rainbow unicorn ballerina outfits.
The inclusiveness. Cons have gotten so much better in recent years with clear guidelines for appropriate behaviour, especially around cosplayers. The result, when it works, has got to be one of the most fantastic body-positive, identity-respectful spaces you’ll find anywhere.
And last but not least…
The merch. Fave London and New York Comic Con buys include: a Pikachu onesie, Totoro stockings, a plush Tentacle Kitty, a hand-knit Totoro (made by the fabulous @hotcutegrlygeek), and too much jewelry to mention – keep an eye out for the gorgeous acrylic designs of Richardson&Richardson. There’s also a dude who does really authentic-style Japanese woodblocks, but with pop-culture figures smuggled in. They’re amazing! The art section is always a favourite of mine, with so many talented smaller creators.
However you choose to spend your day, Comic Con will have something to make it awesome!