Over the course of the weekend of 23rd and 24th March 2019, MCM Comic Con rocked up its circus tent within some of the halls of the truly mammoth NEC Birmingham National Exhibition Centre, just off the M42 in the Midlands of the UK. I mention the location of the venue as it’s worth noting that it is situated some distance away from the bustling city centre, by some half an hour drive – something that does become relevant later in this review. But let’s cover the basics first.
I wasn’t able to attend both days of the show but very early on Sunday morning, I dragged my brother Paul down the M1 and, thanks to gratefully accepted press passes, we were able to get onto the floor of MCM Comic Con from doors open at 9am. I had heard incredibly good things about the show on social media the day before and was very curious to see if this translated to the quieter, more sedate Sunday.
As it happened: yes, yes it did, but only after the first couple of hours or so. 9am is a little bit of an earlier start for a typical MCM Sunday, with the faces a number of the staff that I recognised noticeably missing that extra hour in bed, clutching hold of Costa coffee cups with grim determination!
The extra hour, and Priority Weekend Pass two-hour grace period before letting in General Attendees, allowed the show to hold a couple of special features especially in the Main Stage, including a pre-recorded video of fan questions put to David Harbour in honour of the weekends HELLBOY DAY and also a preview screening of new sci-fi thriller REPLICAS, starring Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve and Thomas Middleditch. For most attendees, 10am might have been a bit of an early start to watch a movie in a convention centre setting, especially when there’s other things to see and do, but it was good to see it being represented and another effort by MCM/ReedPOP to shake up what you can experience at a con.
As it happened, ‘other things to see and do’ was what distracted Paul and I as we took in the well laid out and nicely defined Exhibition Floor, with anime, cosplay, retro video and tabletop gaming, fan groups and retail all getting great representation on the floor. There were one or two odd choices of vendor given space at the show but at least we weren’t back to the days of MCM where anyone with any old tat to foist the general public was provide with a table.
There was a natural throughline, a narrative to the floor which is definitely something that ReedPOP has encouraged and brought to the MCM brand and I, for one, am very grateful for it. All the changes they’ve introduced are very much acknowledged – but this doesn’t mean that they are sticking every landing, however.
Comic Village is an area that has benefited the most from a spruce-up, with a dedicated corner of the show, a brilliantly curated creatives line-up and the introduction of more renowned international guests into the listings. MCM, prior to the takeover, were known for their focus on the pop culture elements of their shows and ReedPOP have gone to great lengths to make sure comics are represented at their comic cons.
However, this doesn’t mean that the organisation still knows how to look after their invited comics talent. It was heartbreaking to wander past the tables of esteemed art gods Geof Darrow (HARD BOILED / SHOLIN COWBOY), Ron Marz (SILVER SURFER / THOR / STAR WARS) or Michael Dialynas (THE WOODS / TMNT) and find them looking rather lost and neglected, behind a trestle table that had no cover or significant signage to indicate who they were or the place they hold in the history of comics. It speaks volumes that the headliners of this area are listed in the Comics Village section of the website but not in the Special Guests section – no scrolling banner image on the homepage for them, I see.
I appreciate that most UK-based artists come with their own banners and/or table covers but that might not be something to be expected of an international guest, to drag with them on a long flight. And it certainly didn’t help that many comics fans here in the UK didn’t even know they were even in attendance, what with most if not all of the promotion of the show being lavished on the Hollywood talent.
This is still something that MCM have yet to grasp: it’s not just a case of ‘if you invite them, the fans will come’, to heavily paraphrase FIELD OF DREAMS They do need to start working the Facebook groups and comics fans networks better to build on what they’re trying to accomplish – heaven knows, if you feed the comics fans properly, they’ll gladly spread the word and whip themselves into a frenzy on their own.
But getting talent on to a plane and plonking them behind a table just isn’t going to cut it, and the team may lose some favour with guests that fans want to see again at a future MCM show. It’s been reported that Geof has said that if he had known that he was being put in a hotel adjacent to a convention centre, miles away from the city centre and any kind of interaction and activity, he wouldn’t have come. That’s… not good! We may not get people like Geof back again, and that shit is the kind of thing that sticks – and word gets around.
Okay, let’s get back to the positive. Yes, the Hollywood razzmatazz was represented nicely, with the likes of Asa Butterfield (SEX EDUCATION / ENDERS GAME), video game voice talents Charles Martinet (the voice of MARIO and LUIGI) and Veronica Taylor (POKEMON, YU-GI-OH!), Tom Hopper and Emmy Raver-Lampman (THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY), Osric Chau (SUPERNATURAL), and Felicia Day (SUPERNATURAL / THE GUILD) were all in attendance and had quite the crowd keeping them occupied throughout the day. Indeed, the one panel that I did make myself available for was Felicia’s appearance on the Main Stage and, buzzing from a full nights sleeps and too much coffee, she answered plenty of questions from both the MCM panel host and audience members with her trademark charm and wit. (No swears, mind, she kept herself in check, the cheeky tinker.)
Speaking of the Main Stage, something that was trialled out over this session was a headphones ‘Silent Disco’ affair, in which the stage audio was being pumped to everyone in the room who opted to don a set of glowing blue cans. It’s a great idea which would allow the MCM AV team to not require to pump out the Front Of House volume as much, which then bleeds out of the curtained walls and on to the floor, bothering the passing crowds and adjacent vendor tables. Unfortunately, the experiment backfired as there was no volume control on the headsets, the volume was set too low and it was actually better to leave them off. Some tweaks to happen there, before it comes together as an idea.
And that seems to be the case for MCM across the board, even now, the clues that they’re not quite sticking the landing: an earlier start meant that audience flow started slowly and without the necessary energy to inspire vendors of the day to come (some tabled Comics Village guests were looking very concerned at 10.30am – thank goodness the whole thing was buzzing by midday!); focus on some featured areas and neglecting others gives an uneven feel to how the show treats its guests and attendees; a slick presentation belies some cracks in the plaster work… These are little things that can be solved with a bit of forethought and planning, a shift in resources and the help of fans, who are ready and waiting to do so – these are phenomenal events that MCM put on and it’s a shame that there’s still some niggling pebbles in the shoe, putting a lingering cloud on what was a generally bright and breezy day.
Here’s a Photo Gallery of the day, with photos taken by myself and also by Paul (his are the ones with style and panache)…
mcmBHM19: MCM Comic Con Birmingham, 24th March 2019
…and here’s me and Paul recapping our day on the Sunday 24th March episode of TALKIN’ CON: A CUP O’ TEA WITH AN ENGLISHMAN IN SAN DIEGO. Enjoy!