With their six monthly London events now the largest ‘Movie Comic Media’ events in the country, the MCM organisation is expanding its activities further around the British Isles, albeit under the now chronically over used tag of “Comic Con” rather than the older “Expo”, so it was good to see that on the weekend of 7/8 June the Province was not being left out. It is safe to say that Northern Ireland has never experienced such a large comics related event before.
Arriving the day before into Belfast City Airport it was amusing that one of the first advertising posters to assail passengers stated “Welcome To Westeros”. While this was promoting the city council’s free Game Of Thrones exhibition rather than the MCM event, given that many of the standing sets for Games of Thrones were less than half a mile away at the Titanic Studios it was perhaps more accurate than many travelers realised.
All the new venue MCMs in 2014 have been scheduled for two days, presumably after the problems caused by the huge queues at the single day MCM Scotland event in Glasgow in 2013, and for Belfast this proved to be necessary as all 5000 on-line early-bird tickets for the Saturday had sold out in advance. In practice what this meant was that anyone turning up on the Saturday to pay on the door was confronted by a queue that did not move as the venue had already reached its health and safety capacity.
Early birds could get in from 9am onwards while, in theory, the doors were opened for walk-in tickets at 11am. Of course given that 2 hours was not enough to get around the venue meaning that there was a reported wait in the outside queue after 11am of 2 hours or more – in the pouring rain. Yet locals determinedly braved the constant heavy downpour and MCM reported afterwards that 10,000 tickets were sold on the Saturday.
Knowing that all the Saturday early-bird tickets were sold out I had already settled on visiting on the Sunday and despite a queue of cars to get into the car park before joining the now infamous queue outside the venue’s cow barns, the sun and numerous cosplayers in the queue meant that the 30 minute wait went by quickly. While the event was taking place at Belfast’s King’s Hall complex the current renovation work on the main hall itself meant that to many people’s surprise the event was actually being held in a temporary pavilion space behind the historic main building.
The inside the pavilion was not as big as the main hall but was still busy albeit not as yet packed with attendees or, for that matter, dealers. While the Comic Village had sold out its 42 tables, according to the event’s website not all the dealers tables had sold meaning that tables in some parts of the venue were more widely spaced than expected. Yet all the usual merchandise was available – US comics, toys, graphic novels, anime, manga and clothing although it was interesting to note that some new attendees on social media afterwards were surprised at the lack of dealers with back issue comics having perhaps taken the event’s title of “Comic Con” rather more literally than it was being used.
MCMs often have vehicles as part of their mix and while there was only one on show over the weekend it was the obvious one for a Belfast MCM. The Back To The Future version of the Delorean DMC-12 may not be exactly to the production specification when the Delorean factory in Dunmurray, only a few miles away from the venue, originally produced them in the early 1980s, but it must have brought a smile to some of the older attendees who may have actually worked on them back then.
Captain Jack here was enthusiastically in character for adults or children alike and, as with other MCMs, cosplayers were much in evidence and whether large or small, homemade or bought, they always brought colour and a queue of photographers with them. Where else but at an event like these would parents be happy for disguised adults to point guns at their children’s heads? For that matter it was barely two decades ago when masks and guns meant something very different in Belfast and it does show how much the Provence has moved on from the dark days of The Troubles.
Guests signings and their associated panels are a big part of the MCMs and similar events across the UK and while there was a more conservative line-up in Belfast than there may have been at mainland shows, the attendees made them welcome. The major panel on the Sunday was Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge and Chris Barrie of the seemingly perpetual Red Dwarf series and the theatre area was so packed for this that people ended up standing against walls and sitting on the floor for it. When it is a single actor waiting on audience questions these panels can be strained at times but the combination of three stand-up comedians who have known each for years, as well as an audience who had never had the chance to listen to and question them before, provided an excellent hour of reminiscences that the people in the nearby Comic Village later said lead to the loudest cheers and applause of all the weekend panels.
The comics guests signing and sketching were John McCrea, Will Simpson, Glen Fabry and Simon Bisley, while the main village area included familiar names such as PJ Holden, Tanya Roberts and Destiny Blue plus a wide selection of the Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Great Britain small press, some of whom were familiar although many were not.
With the demise of the weekend 2D comic festival in Derry/Londonderry this year, MCM has filled the resultant gap and, given that the organisation reports that there were around 16,000 attendees over the event’s two days, it is unsurprising that they have already announced that they will be back in 2015 with plans to expand to cope with the demand.
- The MCM Belfast Comic Con website is here – www.mcmcomiccon.com/belfast
- The MCM Belfast Comic Con Facebook page is here – www.facebook.com/BelfastComicCon
- The Belfast Telegraph covered the event in their Saturday edition and reviewed it in their Monday edition
- Ulster Television ran this news piece on the event
- BBC Radio Ulster’s Arts Extra also attended the event