Expo Diary: The Good, the Not-So-Good and the Plain Weird

Think back to your last London MCM Expo. There’s sure to be a highlight; a stand-out memory. 
It could be something as liberating as meeting the star you’ve always idolised.
Or as emotional as damaging your homemade prop on the way to the venue.
It might even be one of those truly “what the *beep* “moments, when something weird and wonderful has just happened but you’re not quite sure what.

This is the essence of the hugely celebrated biannual event which we movie, comic and media fans have come to love so much. Indeed, last month’s Expo (October 2012) was certainly one to remember for three of our own Buzz writers – and for very different reasons…


The Good…

It was an early start for me and my Dad, but once we got to London and began to see all the cosplayers, I started to get excited. I had been to Expo before but never slept over, so it was going to be a brilliant weekend.

We arrived at the Excel centre and made our way to the press desk so that my Dad could pick up his pass. Then we went into the main hall, and it looked awesome. There were so many stalls and so many people; it was much bigger than I remember it being last year. We managed to look at a couple of stalls: one which sold comic books and the other which sold figures, from superheroes to film characters (I wanted a Predator figure but Dad wouldn’t let me). It then wasn’t long before we had to go and interview the guys from Haven.

I was really nervous as we headed to the interview room because I had never been this close to famous people – well, except for signings, but that’s different. Also my favourite wrestler Edge (Adam Copeland) was going to be there.

When we got to the room, the stars (Eric Balfour, Lucas Bryant and Adam Copeland) were already there, and they each shook my hand as we went for our seats.

Just before the interview started, Eric said: “Hey little man, are you going to be asking us some questions?” I shook my head and he asked: “Why?” I said that I couldn’t think of anything and he said: “Okay, well how about I think of some questions for you?” I nodded. He continued: “Okay little man, why don’t you ask Lucas why he is –” “Hey!” Lucas interjected, and Eric said: “What? I was going to say ‘so damn good looking!’” Everyone laughed.

The interview was funny, because the guys went off-topic and continued to take the mickey out of each other. (Read the interview here!)

Me with Eric Balfour, Adam Copeland and Lucas Bryant

Afterwards, I had my picture taken with the stars. Adam came up to me, asked my name and said: “You didn’t get to ask me a question – do you have one now?” I asked him if he found it difficult to say goodbye to his WWE fans and he answered: “Yeah, it was hard – that was a big part of my life – but now I am doing something different and they will never be forgotten.”

With the interview over, we made our way back to the Expo and headed straight for the Comic Village. I love comics and Comic Village was awesome. There were so many tables of comic writers and artists, and I got a brilliant Flash sketch from Lee Townsend who was really friendly. (Read Dad’s interview with him here!)

There were so many people there enjoying the Expo that it seemed to take ages to get anywhere, and before we knew it, time was getting on again. We headed over to the signing area where I got to meet Dr Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) from Sanctuary, Leena (Genelle Williams) from Warehouse 13 and actor and voice artist Cas Anvar.

Shortly after, I saw a huge stall full of Marvel Select figures, which I collect. There were so many that I hadn’t seen before and eventually I managed to talk my Dad into buying me a couple. I got a special edition Iron Man, which is cool because the front of his helmet lifts up, and an awesome Wolverine which I had never seen before. Dad bought himself Deadpool! We headed to the press room to write up the day’s events… well, my Dad did. I sat there reading my comics and looking at my new toys.

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Me with Adam Copeland!

On the Sunday we got there nice and early so that we could get to the Haven signing. We were right at the front of the line, but unfortunately Eric wasn’t there and Adam was off doing a WWE signing. That was okay though, as I got to meet Lucas again. He remembered me from the day before and asked if I was enjoying myself. He then signed a picture for me and wrote ‘To Liam, Thanks for putting us out there.’ I just about had enough time to run down the other end of the Expo to get in the line for Adam’s autograph. I was really happy because he remembered me too and signed loads of stuff. He signed my Edge DVD, and even signed a picture for my little brother who is also a big fan. He did some ‘5 second poses’ with me too, which was brilliant.

This day was a lot more relaxed and we were able to sit down and enjoy our first panels of the weekend. First was the Warehouse 13 panel. I love Warehouse 13 and it was good to hear Mrs Frederick (CC Pounder) talk about the show. We even got to ask a question and they almost gave away some secrets when answering – whoops!

Next was the Eureka panel, which was really good. I had never seen Eureka before, but after that panel, hearing about all the cool inventions and storylines, I really wanted to watch it and have since started the series. I’m a big fan! I just wish I had got their autographs at the time.

We got in line for the Doctor Who Experience, which was amazing. We got to see how the Tardis looked in real life, learnt to walk like a Cyberman, and saw some Daleks. We then had our pictures taken against a green screen and the guy made it look like I was trapped in the Asylum of the Daleks. My Dad had his with Amy Pond! We even got a Tardis passport which was cool. The Doctor Who Experience led into a kind of BBC shop and I managed to talk my Dad into buying me an exclusive Rory figure. I also wanted a T-Shirt, but Dad said: “Don’t push your luck.”

Next up was the Continuum signing, which was cool because Tony Amendola gave my Dad a free T-shirt and the cast all signed it.

We then headed back to the Comic Village and after my Dad interviewed some of the comic book artists and writers, we got a chance to have a proper look around the stalls as it wasn’t as packed as it had been on Saturday. I bought figures, toys, DVDs and some presents for my Mum and brothers. And then, out of nowhere, we heard the announcement that MCM Expo was about to close. It had gone so fast and I couldn’t believe it was time to go.

The October MCM Expo was brilliant – my favourite so far. My friends are all jealous that I got to meet Edge. I can’t wait for next year.
by Liam Collins (aged 11, with a little help from his Dad, Nick)

 

…The Not-So-Good (A Cautionary Tale)…

My past experiences of MCM Expo have been the opposite of Liam’s – at least in the sense that up until now, I’ve always attended for the whole weekend. For me, these three-day stays have meant booking a hotel with friends, discussing each day’s plan over breakfast and taking a barrage of pre-Expo photos, more often than not involving some form of prop abuse (in 2010 it was a Hohenheim wig wearing glasses).

This October, however, my friend Baylea and I decided to attend at the last minute, and as any Expo-goer will know, ‘last-minute’ doesn’t exactly bode well for affordable accommodation (a golden tip for any Expo newbies out there!). So with our usual routine off the table, we decided one day was better than none and settled for Saturday.

It was a bitterly cold morning. Being the bed-hugger that I am, 7am felt like stupid-o’clock, but I still managed to get ready in an hour and we reached the train station in plenty of time. Sadly, our train wasn’t quite as courteous and we had to wait an extra half an hour, trying hard not to freeze. In the past, train journeys to Expo have been full of laughs and cringe-worthy video-diary entries, but this time Baylea and I were just thankful for a chance to thaw. We took our seats, ate our breakfast and pined after the smell of hot chocolate wafting down from the First Class carriages.

It wasn’t a fantastic start. So far, we were running late and had potentially contracted pneumonia.

Once we arrived at London Paddington, we headed underground to catch the Tube. Having stayed in London for a few months earlier this year, I felt confident that I could tackle anything its underground system had to throw at me. Unfortunately, this ‘can-do’ attitude appeared to tempt fate.

To begin with, there was the overhead announcement that the Circle line was down. Of course, this was the one we needed. Trying not to let that put us off, we cracked out my dog-eared Tube map and decided on an impromptu alternative route. Our shiny new plan was to get the Hammersmith & City line to Bow Road station and hop on the DLR from there, straight to the Excel Centre. Things were starting to look up again and our faith was largely restored when we spotted a conspicuous Luigi heading in the same direction.

We got a little worried when Luigi got off at Baker Street. Who knows, perhaps he was reconvening with Mario – or even Sherlock Holmes, if location is anything to go by. (Chances are he was actually just switching onto the Jubilee line, but I prefer the idea of a cosplay rendezvous.)

Colourful hand-crafted felt and merino wool hats. Visit this lovely lady’s shop here!

Following Luigi’s departure, things got worse. Our line ended up having a part-closure, meaning we couldn’t progress past Liverpool Street. By this point we were an hour behind schedule and panic was setting in; it was beginning to feel like we’d never get to Expo! After taking a few deep breaths (never fun underground) and asking platform security for advice, we had to backtrack to the previous station, switch onto the Central Line and board the DLR from Bank.   

By the time we’d arrived, collected my press pass and picked up Baylea’s ticket, we only had a few hours before we had to leave again. And that, my fellow Buzzites, is why staying for the whole weekend is a much better plan of action in terms of taking your time and looking around, as opposed to running about London’s underground network like a blue-arsed fly. If you do ever plan to attend Expo for just a day, heed my warning and prepare a sturdy backup plan for getting to and from the venue! Sure, we got there eventually, but it would have been much less stressful if we’d considered all our options beforehand. (Word to the wise: another way to avoid stress at October Expo is to bring hail-proof clothing…we found that out the hard way.)

Transport – and weather – woes aside, I must admit that once we were calming down and drying off in the main hall, I began to remember just why I love Expo. The atmosphere; the sights; the smells (in particular the Peko Peko Japanese Kitchen)! There were some incredible stalls around and in the hour or so I had to browse, I came across a few favourites (pictured). The unparalleled highlight of my day, however, was meeting actors Jeffrey DeMunn and Andrew Rothenberg (Dale and Jim from The Walking Dead, respectively). Dale has always been one of my fondest characters in the show and although Jeffrey DeMunn lacked Dale’s signature hat and beard, he definitely channelled the same awesome kindliness.

In some ways, Saturday had been a relentless nightmare: a late train, closed Tube lines, a hail storm and a stolen wallet (yep, this happened on the way home and is another story altogether). In others, it was the best few hours I’ve spent in a long time.

There’s a lovely sort of irony about two seasoned zombie-slayers bringing my day back to life.
by Rhiannon Rees

An especially ‘kawaii’ stall featuring candy-coloured, sparkly accessories

A wonderful selection of steampunk corsets and dresses

 

…And the Plain Weird

In the queue for coffee next to me is a young lady in a smart black suit, crisp white shirt and black tie. She wears dark, wraparound sunglasses and pinned to her lapel is a laminated identification badge, revealing her as an operative of the Men in Black. She is also wearing enough fake tan to keep Boots afloat for years to come – presumably to make her seem closer in appearance to Will Smith.

It is a bizarre situation. Her cosplay effort earns ten marks out of ten, and yet I can’t ignore its perhaps awkward connotations. We don’t talk. We don’t talk about Al Jolson, we don’t talk about Zwarte Piet, we don’t talk about understanding everything in its context – we simply queue for coffee.

This is day one and the doors have yet to officially open.

The wonderful thing about MCM Expo is that it embraces a diverse number of fandoms and their expressions. When discussing the way emotional expression and gender are treated in modern society, for example, it seems almost superfluous to mention the Brony subculture that now exists around the reinvented My Little Pony franchise. In fact, this has become such a big part of the mainstream that calling the following a ‘subculture’ no longer seems right. Certainly it is difficult to argue otherwise when the UK of Equestria/Brony Meet happens right outside the convention centre; teenagers dressed in enough multi-coloured wigs and stone washed denim to convince me that it is once again 1988.

The variety of anthropomorphic ponies I see is actually astounding, a kaleidoscope of colours, enough to shame Notting Hill in summer, their gathering a clear indication of the clash between the intended ideal for a franchise and the actual audience that responds.

The world is a colourful place, I remind myself. Colourful and sometimes awkward.

Symbolism used to generate profit can easily be sidelined within the realm of modern pop culture.

Upon the release of the film, it was proclaimed by Batman and Robin‘s director, Joel Schumacher, that the nipples present on the latex suits worn in the film were intended as being in the tradition of antiquarian sculpture. Of course, this didn’t prevent anyone not well versed in classical art to mistake this move as deliberately adding erotic flair to the design.

The point here is that even the most innocent of products can be interpreted within the language of desire. There are a thousand Hello Kitty vibrating shoulder massagers in landfill sites across Japan to testify; a thousand burnt out Harry Potter Nimbus 2000s in garages across Britain.

Whatever the intentions behind a franchise, the meaning can be appropriated.

I am a connoisseur of the unusual, I proclaim quietly to myself – a litany repeated through lips dampened with black coffee. I am a journalist on the front lines of weirdness.

Entering and walking around the Expo hall itself, announced beneath empty dakimakura pillow cases and posters depicting a variety of popular characters in a state of undress (their genitalia tastefully obfuscated by small flags and post-it-notes), it doesn’t take long for one to come across more than enough hentai comics to fill a sizeable landfill site in the north of England.

It’s hard to wonder what any of the children in attendance might make of such displays. For every child whose ears were covered during the explosive language shown in clips during the Misfits Panel, there must have been others who gained a passing understanding of the distinct difference of human anatomy in art.

I’m all for a safer, diverse pornography that sidelines the awkwardly real in favour of the obscenely artificial. 

Long live artifice, long live posthumanism.

There are numerous handmade badges on sale amongst the many tables of the convention table. Early on Friday, I spot one declaring the legend “I <3 Lolli” upon it. Casually, I ask a colleague what kind of person might be brave enough to wear such a badge.

My question is answered the following day as a young boy, maybe 16, passes me by in a frilly satin dress with the badge in question pinned to his breast.

For a moment I wonder if someone so young wearing such a badge is equivalent to my pinning a similar badge on my lapel declaring “I <3 My Own Age Group”. For a further moment, I consider asking him to be my girlfriend!

Too late; the crowds move and he is gone.

Colourful and sometimes awkward, I tell myself again.
by Jacob Milnestein

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