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Review: MCM LONDON COMIC CON (ExCel Centre, London Docklands 27th – 29th May 2022)

I guess we can safely say that comic and pop culture conventions are well and truly back: 2022 is the year all of them made their return and, oh boy, haven’t we been crying out for them over the past two years of a barren landscape?

MCM Comic Con is one of the biggest fish in the pond and they did put on a show in October last year which was their tentative attempt at dipping toe in the waters. Now, into a new year and the appetite for the big events being back, a lot was resting on the shoulders of the MCM team (and, of course, their owners ReedPOP) to officially come back with a splash.

They wanted to put on the type of a show that they had been successfully putting on before the world shut down due to a global pandemic – could they do so in the shadow of the New Normal? Which guests could possibly put themselves in front of a massive crowd, right in the heart of the Nation’s capital? Curious to seek answers, I journeyed off to London’s ExCel centre for my six-monthly trip to an MCM Comic-Con in the hope that the good times were back.

Through the doors, the first thing that struck me was that this was a lot sparser convention than years previous. With both mammoth sides of the ExCel centre being used, normally packed to the rafters with retailers, artists, booths, activations, computing, merchandise, guests and – my personal favourite – the Pop Asia section… this event was very low on the ground in terms of most of those usual outlets being here. It almost felt like an event being put on in the middle of the pandemic, not one that was coming out the other end.

Wherever I looked, there was space galore. Even the walkways between the booths were vastly wider than I have ever experienced. That meant there was more room for people to get around, which is no bad thing when you are at a big convention, of course. But this felt roomier than ever before.

In fact, there was so much space down the aisles that I never bumped into one person at any point during my time at the convention. And it wasn’t as though MCM was short on numbers. Weekend passes had sold out very early on and Saturday tickets sold out a short while before the actual event itself. So in terms of numbers, the actual event was near back to capacity numbers seen in 2018 and 2019.

But when you have those kinds of numbers you need things to keep punters staying around and MCM London Comic Con simply didn’t have that spark over the weekend. Sure, there were the usual booths selling pop culture merchandise and there were artists alley doing a brisk trade.

Elsewhere, rather than the MCM team organising panel and on-stage content themselves, the panels that were on offer were nearly all made up thanks to fans pitching their own panel content to MCM and then being given the green light. So, while the whole weekend may have looked busy on the panels front – and it was – that was mainly down to fans’ own panels rather than the big main stage panels that MCM would put on.

Fans doing their own panels at conventions has been a thing for many years now but that content usually projects an enthusiastic air of ‘let’s put on a show’ spit-and-sawdust in the kiddle of the usual presentations of sheen and polish. Here, more than ever before, it was noticeable that if those panels didn’t happen at MCM London then there would be a complete void of anything of note on the panel front.

I was interested in seeing the BOB’S BURGERS panel on Saturday afternoon on the main stage, but disappointingly, this was a pre-recorded panel – as too were a couple of the other main stage panels. What happened to those big in-person panels that used to be the main staple of this organisation, featuring special guests and unique moments happening right there, before your eyes? They just didn’t exist this past weekend. Instead, it was left to fans to somehow put the bums on seats and, to be fair, to most of those panels, they all seemed pretty busy. It very much felt like these homemade panels were the saviour of the entire weekend when it came to hearing people speak.

Cosplay is another saviour for MCM Comic Con. Once again, this year’s cosplay turnout was excellent, making MCM very much the UK’s home for cosplayers to show off their incredible creations. At this show, cosplay is king. Some of the work that must go into some of the cosplay I saw must take years, never mind months. Everywhere I turned, I was taken back by the awesome brilliance of cosplay. Once again, it was the fans who were turning up and showing how it is to be done.

When it came to big name, mainstream guests, this is where the show was its biggest let-down for me. For many fans, some will argue that MCM bringing in voice actors from anime shows such as MY HERO ACADEMIA and THE LEGEND OF KORRA is actually impressive, and that’s fine because we are all into our own entertainment.

But take those couple of guests out of the equation and in terms of big name guests who you could get an autograph and/or photograph from, then it was down to Dan Fogler, who was only making an appearance on Sunday, David Ajala and Ross Marquand. These are people that most pop culture fans/conventions goers might know or be aware of and they do have a nice following of fans. But where was the big, big, BIG name guests? Where was this year’s Tom Hiddleston? Where was this year’s Simon Pegg? Where was this year’s Jason Mewes?

There was just no big star (with apologies to those above I have mentioned), but that’s what MCM have made a name for themselves and were good at doing: bringing in one or two big A-list actors alongside some other well-known actors and voice actors and cosplay guests. This event lacked all of that.

Weeks and days leading up to the event social media was awash with fans asking when MCM were going to announce more guests. Those questions were never answered. To have no showstopping name at the London flagship show is one huge misfire and I have to ask why. Because you’d think that ReedPOP, with their rolodex of big names to call on, they could get a superstar name on a whim (and not to mention a bathtub full of cash). Surely it should have been relatively easy to at least get one star name?

But nothing. Nada. No-one. As such the whole reason-de-etre for a lot of people’s attendance at a MCM event was swept away. There are many who just want to get an autograph or a photograph with the big-name guests, or attend a panel with the big guest stars. But that didn’t happen because there were no big A-listers and, as such, the whole weekend lacked that sort of crackling energy that these big names bring to these events.

Let’s go back to something I mentioned earlier: many who follow my writing or my social media will know that one of my favourite parts of MCM’s events is the Pop Asia section. I just love the diversity of what is on offer: food, merchandise, events and the like. It’s just something very different inside a mainstream pop culture convention. But even this Pop Asia was different. It was so much more subdued with fewer booths, fewer food stands and even fewer stages. It just felt… less. This show was dramatically was scaled back, for whatever reason, and as such it lacked so much of what made that area such a draw for many of the attendees.

But then that was true of most of the convention, in total – looking around and noticing that none of the big-name entertainment companies had turned up. No Sony PlayStation. No Universal Pictures. Amazingly, no Funko. Hell, there wasn’t even the usual Cinema Truck to capture people’s attention.

The only mainstream activation there was at the show for the weekend for Paramount+’s HALO TV series, which meant the only big booth doing a roaring trade – and, hoo boy, I do mean roaring – was the GENSHIN IMPACT stand, a whopping big affair that had hundreds of people all lined up waiting to enter. It was the only big stand pulling in the attendees, demonstrating either 2022 has become manga and animes year in pop culture – highly possible but, let’s be honest here, unlikely – or that the activation was the defacto draw of the weekend with the absence of anything else to capture peoples attention.

So once again, I have to question what happened to all those big names of events past? Where have they gone? It felt empty without big booths and these giants of entertainment.

What’s that famous quote? “If you book them, they will come”? Well, MCM didn’t book them and yet fans still came, thankfully because there was the hunger for a return to a super con in the UK. But that shouldn’t be seen as a win for MCM and their parent company ReedPOP: instead, it should be a warning shot that you only get away with doing a poorly organised convention like MCM London’s May event once.

After that, you start trading on your past glories and you will start to lose attendees who will begin to feel that the best years have been and gone and feel ripped off that there was nothing there for most of them. And with the cost-of-living crisis only going to worsen over the next few years, conventions – and MCM/ReedPOP in particular – need to start ensuring value for money at all their events.

Did MCM’s May event in London, their big flagship show, have value for money from the actual organisers themselves? My answer is simple: No.

Photos by Samantha Payne

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