Geek Pride at MCM Comic Con Northern Ireland 2016
It’s a typically wet Irish Saturday morning in June, and after a 15min train ride from Belfast to Lisburn, I find myself boarding a shuttlebus into the unknown. This year’s MCM Comic Con has made the bold decision to re-locate from the iconic Kings Hall, close to the centre of Belfast, to the site of a former prison a good distance outside of the capital which, truth be told, could be described as being in the arsehole of nowhere.
As the bus takes us further and further into the countryside, there are rumblings of discontent from some of the other passengers: “Is this thing in a bloody field?!” exclaims a parent with two young Kylo Ren dressed children in tow. “I think I should’ve brought some wellies!” responds another. As I survey the rain pouring down onto the green fields around us, it’s hard not to disagree with that sentiment.
But then 20mins into our rural odyssey, something catches my eye – an imposing grey structure suddenly jutting out of the green. As we move closer, and the scale of the building and the parking facilities around it becomes clearer, I immediately think to myself “Touché MCM, touché”. This feeling only increased when we actually entered the event.
Once the initial shock of how a venue of this size came to be in a remote location like this begins to pass, we head inside and are greeted by a massive modern all-purpose hall. It’s contents include a large café area, plenty of toilet/changing facilities, and a large stage and viewing area for the Q&A and Cosplay masquerade sections of the event – all of which were incredibly welcome, as they were sorely lacking last year.
Also, unlike the slightly decrepit Kings Hall, which felt like an airless sauna at the best of times, the Eikon centre had ample air conditioning – which was particularly helpful for cosplayers stuck under layers of foam/plastic/spandex for a few hours. Overall, the Eikon was excellently organised, with the stalls spaced in a way where there was little chance of bottlenecking and everyone had full access to the products being sold.
As with all MCM events, there were stalls to cater for all interests: from the larger vendors such as Forbidden Planet and CEX, to various smaller local independent retailers and artists, cosplay and larping helpdesks, and much much more. Once again there were only a small number of comic/graphic-novel retailers – but this was only a minor gripe, and one that (according to a member of the MCM staff) will be improved in time for next year’s event.
The event’s excellent E-Sports Arena was back with a vengeance this year, giving attendees the opportunity to pit their wits in competitive matches of e-sport staples League Of Legends and Star Craft, but with the welcome addition of the pretty decent Street Fighter V for those that simply want to inflict some quick carnage onto their friends/family.
The Comic Village also made a very welcome return, showcasing the talents of a range of local and travelling artists, including 2000AD and DC Comics stalwart Gary Erskine and Belfast comic legend John McCrea.
As always, all of the scheduled events were extremely well organised and facilitated by the events staff, and done so in a positive and pro-active manner.
To be blunt, the 2016 list of guest stars wasn’t of the usual high standard that you would expect from an MCM event. After last year’s line-up of the incredible John Noble, Arrow star Katrina Law, and British comedy icon Danny John Jules, my expectations in the run-up to this year’s event were high regarding who would be booked. When the 2016 attendees list finally turned up, to say that it was a disappointment is a bit of an understatement.
When your highest profile guest is the sort-of presenter of a niche reality TV show, you know you may have issues. Sean Kelly from Storage Hunters joins the likes of Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace (Eastenders’ Alfie Moon and Kat Slater) in the ranks of ‘stupidly random guests at a Comic-Con’. In all fairness, while I didn’t have the chance to meet him myself, I did hear from others that did take the opportunity, that Sean was extremely warm and friendly with those that attended his signing (even giving away a free t-shirt to each person who bought an autograph, which was a nice touch) – but from the lack of attendees at his Q&A session, it became painfully clear that perhaps the organisers should focus on booking guest stars that better reflect the target demographic of the attendees.
Thank god for Ian Beattie and Peter Davison!
Comic-Con regular and the man responsible for bringing cricket whites to 1980s sci-fi TV during his run as the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison brought his usual wit and panache to proceedings. During a lively Q&A, he discussed in detail his own experiences as the Doctor, as well as the difficulties that the show seemed to face during the 1980s (“…lack of production money, lack of quality writers, abysmal effects, and an influx of American TV shows plaguing the British airwaves.”), while also discussing his love of the recent rebooted series – particularly the shows starring his real life son-in-law David Tennant.
The presence of the Game of Thrones star and Belfast native, Ian Beattie, was an extremely welcome one. He had an excellent Q&A session, covering everything from the beginnings of his acting career (at 11 years old, as a clown in the local circus that his uncle ran) right up to his starring role as Ser Meryn Trant, naming his favourite GOT episode (‘Battle Of Bastards’, of course) and character (Cersei Lannister), and even his feelings on the recent Brexit vote, and it’s potential impact on the Northern Irish film industry. All questions were answered with genuine warmth and humour – and this was quickly followed up with a free signing session for attendees – which went down like a house on fire.
Highlights and Lowlights
- The new location and facilities are excellent. Yes, it is a bit of a trek outside of Belfast – but with plenty of parking spaces and the convenient shuttlebus service put on by the organisers, getting to the site was easy. Plus – why does every event need to be in the centre of Belfast?!
- The range of vendors/stalls continues to improve. Seeing more and more local vendors given the chance to sell their wares is excellent to see. We still need to see more stalls selling actual comics though…it is a ‘Comic’-Con after all!
- The staff could not be more friendly and helpful – a pleasure to deal with, really helped to contribute to the positive atmosphere.
- Ian Beattie and Peter Davison – legends! The other guest stars not so much.
All in all, another excellent MCM Comic Con in Northern Ireland – proving that last year’s success was not just a flash in the pan. If the large and varied crowd in attendance was anything to go by, the countdown to next year’s event has already started. Bring it on!