We Need to Talk About MCM Comic Con

Yes, I have noticed that we’re a good couple of weeks into June now and most people did their MCM write-ups a while ago, but I’ve been turning my thoughts on this year’s convention over in my head and trying to decide if I should write anything at all. If you want to know what stands were there, see some excellent cosplay, this is not the place. We need to talk about MCM Comic Con – honestly.

I went to MCM for the first time when I was sixteen – a good eleven years ago. Back then manga was limited to what you could find in Waterstones or Borders, and anime to overly expensive dvds with only two to three episodes. MCM was like Narnia, a magical land of everything I could have ever wanted – and no judgement.

Eleven years on and the show has become a Behemoth. While still in the same location each year has seen it spread out more and more, taking up additional wings of the Excel Centre as it now includes a wide variety of different interest groups. The number of visitors is incredible, with tickets often selling out completely for the most popular days.

But the actual show is a mess.

While ticket prices have risen to £45 for the whole weekend (or £50 if you miss the early purchase period), the actual content of the show has not improved to reflect this. While there are a staggering number of stalls to shop at a lot of them are little better than bric-a-brac, with items that are easily recognisable as being imported from cheap mass-producers in China. It’s also difficult to tell how much of what’s on sale is legitimate or just reproductions or other people’s copyrighted material (without their knowledge). It makes the place feel cheap and it’s disheartening to walk around twenty stalls and find that five are selling the same “handcrafted” necklace, with pendants you can buy in bulk on Alibaba. Quality over quantity, please.

Continuing this theme they now have three to four different “stages” (one stage this year was just set up in the middle of the convention floor) but there’s rarely anything worth attending. A lot of the time you’re being encouraged to consume some kind of product – a new tv show, a new anime – without getting anything more from the interview than the sales pitch. When you have people who work in games, anime, comics, TV, and film why are you not mixing them together more and why aren’t you moderating some in-depth discussions about these industries and creative processes, rather than just “please buy x” or “I am a completely unknown actor in this not-even-piloted show, send help.”

MCM has basically become a three-day shopping spree, where you willingly go along and spend ridiculous amounts of money on things you could have got cheaper/better quality elsewhere, while allowing yourself to be advertised at constantly. Why would anybody go?

Because of the people.

The best part of the MCM Expo are the attendees, from the ones who put ridiculous effort into their costumes to the ones who clearly acquire those from boxes and scraps they find while they’re there. The ones who put on dance parties outside, the ones who overhear a conversation and chime in to help someone find something/someone/somewhere they’ve lost. Expo is the place you go to meet up with old friends and to make new ones, to be yourself, and to find yourself among people who don’t mind. It’s oddly wonderful and accepting, and the show would be nothing without them.

So that’s why the worst part is that the organisation of the May 2016 Expo was so hostile and excluding.

The worst part of MCM Expo – without question – is the organisation and the security. The guards themselves were often hostile and arbitrary, one minute allowing people with wristbands to get in to the show and the next telling others they had to go back and join the ticket queue. The show is so worried about people coming in without having paid that they block off every exit they don’t have the capacity to man. This also meant all the ramps and wheelchair access.

Think on that.

In 2016 I watched a woman in a wheelchair repeatedly ask a security guard for help, while he wouldn’t even look at her. All because a wheelchair access ramp had been deliberately barricaded off. I’m still sure this was illegal, but asking the guards anything invited hostility in return.

If you had a weekend wristband you could go in and out as you pleased, but if you had only a single day one if you ever left the building you had to go back to the hangar and go through the ticket area again. Despite already having paid. Despite already having a ticket. Why? Why should someone who only has a day to spend at the show have to spend more time trying to get in than someone who will be there all weekend? What makes their purchased ticket less valid? I did actually ask a security guard about this and she was clearly agitated, it had come down from the show itself and she had taken enough abuse about it. If we had a complaint, please direct it to the show organisers. So I am.

This is what it costs to go to MCM Expo for the whole weekend. (As I live so far away travelling up for a single day is exhausting and gives me little time to look around):

Weekend tickets – £45/50

Train fare – £35

Hotel – This time I was lucky and got one for £220, the one I have reserved for October’s show will be almost £700. That is now the general price for a hotel room for two people on a convention weekend – if you’re able to snap one up, which usually needs doing a year in advance. Food is not included.

And the prices keep rising. All the while the show isn’t evolving or improving and the care and respect for the attendees is getting less and less. MCM was one of the first conventions of this kind in the UK and has remained largely unchallenged, something I believe has given it the impression it does not need to change in order to be profitable. But it does.

My friends are debating not going in October, and due to changes in my circumstances I almost certainly won’t be, but I will be keeping an eye on it. For the people who will keep going regardless of the quality – because you can be who you want to be, with who you want to be – I really hope one day it lives up to you.

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