A Virtual Convention in a Closed World

Last year I was fortunate to attend my first Comic Con convention at London’s Excel centre, an amazing experience imbuing a sense of solidarity amongst those in attendance having an environment to express themselves openly away from the public derision it can entail. This year, a variety of events have been postponed or cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic around the globe, the latest MCM Comic Con that was due to be held in May now pushed back to the first weekend in July as a provisional date. With the Excel Centre in London being transformed into a temporary medical facility to combat this virus, it’s a visible reminder how a location destined to provide this source of entertainment can radically transform to become a place of care and comfort. The impact of course beyond the delay in attending the event is the cost to the various traders and merchants who rely on these events to expand and grow their brands and businesses.

Inspired entirely by Kim at Later Level’s posts on a virtual Gaming Market and EGX Rezzed Exhibit, a series of posts detailing the exhibitors, games and merchants that were due to exhibit at these shows, with some experience from last years conventions and shows, I felt it would be fun to run a similar virtual convention of my own, ‘inviting’ and highlighting vendors I had experienced and looking forward to visiting against when the opportunity presents itself. Also reminiscing about some of the guests and stars that attended the exhibitions last year, and who I am looking forward to meeting if the autumn and winter shows go ahead. With the adoption of social distancing and isolation, even when these restrictive measures are lifted it will take a while to go back to normal, being comfortable to be amongst large crowds and in close proximity to others.

With the May event postponed, I wanted to share some of the traders that were due to attend to give them some exposure and credit for the products they’ve designed and created. This isn’t a definitive list but those that caught my attention and inspired a purchase so high praise indeed. Right now the notion of attending a large crowd event is daunting, we’ve become attuned in a short space and time to be averse to being close to others, one of the lasting memories of attending last year were the large crowds and queues for the more popular stands and areas. It will be interesting to see how quickly we go back to being comfortable in the presence of others when this lingering viral strain has been controlled to acceptable levels. So I hope you enjoy this virtual convention, my own little space in the digital ether to highlight some great, talented people.

‘What’re ya buying?’ ‘What’re ya selling?’

Patrick’s Art Room

I found Patrick’s store at EGX at the Excel Centre in September last year, a talented artist who creates original and unique designs on canvas, cushions and amazing terrariums, see through orbs detailing unique and distinct Pokemon themed environments. He sell’s these items online through his Etsy store but was due to attend the MCM event in May. I love the style used here, it has an edge to it that borders on street art with its use of bold primary colours and almost steampunk styled design creating these distinct pop culture images. On my visit I opted for this fantastic Game of Thrones inspired design featuring three iconic gaming protagonists centered around the Iron Throne. I was a little wary about buying a household item but the prices are reasonable and the finished product is a nice high quality and feel, it doesn’t feel like a cheap cushion and is nice to actually use. Made even better by the fact its got an awesome game themed design to it.

All the items are of a high quality and have a must own feel to them. The terrariums look amazing and have some weight to them, given the individual designs they aren’t mass produced so you do feel you buying something quite special, a slightly higher price than the cushions and prints but justified with the finish and quality of the product. Having visited the Pokemon Store in London last year where an umbrella was around £20 and the Nintendo store in New York where the temptation to go wild is ever present, I can safely observe these items in an official capacity would cost a lot more buy with a sticker and label attached. Everything is reasonable and if you are a fan of gaming and these iconic mascots in particular I would highly recommend checking out this artist and store as there are some amazing and unique designs and items to buy.

Nerd’s Retreat

With your home furnishings sorted its best to look the part for a convention, thankfully, this culture of ours has that part sorted with some amazing, inspired designs. Firstly, the creative talents of graphic designer Charlotte de Valmency and her Nerd’s Retreat store. I was a little taken aback when I first saw her stand at EGX as I’ll readily admit, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at. Charlotte usings a geometric design process to create gaming inspired merchandise that visually stands out more than a lot of shirts and prints I’ve found. It allows you to wear and showcase a print without, the stigma or unease of wearing gaming merchandise in the wider public and the subsequent judgement. The shirts feel like a premium item, the material and finish doesn’t feel cheap which is always a positive sign of quality merchandise.

On this visit I opted for the Zelda inspired shirt, with the exception of the Hyrule wording and the triforce icon there is little to suggest its connections to this franchise whilst printing an interesting and distinct shape pattern on the black background using the slightly off white colouring of the lettering. They aren’t especially tight with a little give which is always a blessing, and if you want to praise their social kudos, they all come packaged in eco friendly paper packaging, the guilt of opening that cool new shirt and being left with excess waste or vacuum sealed plastic is thankfully offset by these guys proving cool, hip gaming inspired clothing that doesn’t leave as big an impact on the environment around you. They have about a half dozen designs covering recent releases, a great brand to check out.

We’ll come back to the merchandise a little later…

‘You’re gonna see some serious sh*t’

Film Promotions

The bigger the exhibit, the more potential to reach a larger audience and the temptation for studios to advertise their latest releases. During MCM, the focus was on the upcoming releases of It Chapter 2, X-Men Dark Phoenix and the next chapter in The Conjuring cinematic universe with the release of Annabelle Comes Home. You had a sense of the importance of these events with the money and impetus to create memorable stands and platforms to get your product into the minds of the audience. The X-Men stand was a great example with a green screen motion capture platform allowing you to recreate a scene with Jean Grey in her more destructive dark phoenix persona. Sadly, my acting skills were a little off on that occasion but its a bit of good fun and good humour. Sometimes, there is even an exclusive poster or merchandise, here a great poster being given to those who queued for a picture.

Last year was definitely about the motion capture promotions, in contrast to the heroic exploits of the X-Men, there was a visible platform for Annabelle with a jump scare in place if you weren’t paying attention. Thankfully I was, and kept my nerve. The highlight for me as a long time fan of IT having watched the original TV adaptation at probably to young an age, and the promotion for the second chapter with a series of floating red balloons. The moving image video captured you from multiple angles creating this old style moving image that fit in the universe of IT. Of course when you are a bit of a giant, the fear of the ghastly figure hidden amongst the red balloons is somewhat tempered by a tall blond figure stand upright. Still, a fun experience.

The smaller conventions may not have the same draw and appeal of the larger events, the LFCC convention for example had a lot of stars to meet but no real studio presence with only the sponsored banners giving indication there was some wider interest. However, there were a number of photo opportunities to tempt you to part with your money, used often in conjunction with photo shoots but also available to get a picture taken, for a price of course. At this event, the chance to set in a replica of the Delorean from Back To The Future. I’ve seen a few of these types of attractions, this one had a great attention to detail and warranted a quick photo I felt. It may not be the original vehicle, but it looked like the real deal. This had been brought in for pictures with Bob Gale, sitting right beside a recreation of the President’s Office for a photo session with Martin Sheen. Two worlds colliding I wouldn’t often associate together.

With a captive audience, the potential to make a bit of extra money is always tempting, I can understand and respect why these smaller events may give opportunity to these vendors and partners to make some money away from their primary purpose. The sets have been provided for the photo shoots, it gives fans a chance to enjoy them to. There’s no hard push to sit in someone’s Delorean or a plastic version of the Iron Throne, visually however it looks pretty cool and preserves the memory of the day. It’s fun to guess when you see the line up of guests with the premium shoots what sets or photo potentials will be available for the day. And for the purpose of clarity I usually take that bear on my travels as it makes a great ice breaker when you are overseas and people notice you taking beautifully shot, framed photographs with a bear in the way.

‘Got some rare things on sale stranger’

Unit 13 Originals

Some discoveries are made entirely by happenstance, this find was one such event. When attending London Film and Comic Con last year, the format of the show is centred around the photo and autograph sessions, with guests on occasion delivering sit down interviews of varying lengths. I was fortunate to attend a panel on the now cancelled Iron Fist Netflix series with the shows main stars which was a treat, at its conclusion as the main stars were being escorted away I had to move out of the way quickly to avoid a collision and discovered Unit 13 Originals, a original t shirt designs inspired by film and tv. Quite often these types of brands sell very familiar or well known shirts, the recognition I suppose is the temptation but I was impressed with their more obscure choices to choose from. It’s easy to find a Jaws or Jurassic Park inspired top, but what about some of the more iconic movies from the 80s, my childhood films.

My first, shared cinematic universe experience, these two designs caught my eye, I went personally for the Duke & Duke shirt, the more obscure my geek reference, the better though given its age I’d be impressed if the majority of people got the McDowells reference. Still, I enjoyed these more obscure tops and designs as they appeal to those of my age group and generation, even looking through their website designs I’d say at least half vere towards the more obscure of pulp culture references. Ideal for me then but I’m guessing I’m not alone here otherwise thats a niche audience. Check out their designs though.

Viz

Now I’ll accept Viz aren’t a small independent trader but I will show some love towards them as they rewarded me with one of my most memorable experiences at Comic Con last year. They are a retail company specialising in the sales of Manga and Anime, at the convention scene usually showcasing a variety of series and comics to enjoy. Given my enjoyment of random Zelda merchandise, the Manga Zelda series they were selling caught my eye, perhaps a somewhat indgulent purchase but one I decided to make. As a reward for being one of the first 100 buyers of the day I had the opportunity to meet the artists behind this series who Viz had arranged to come and do autographs at the convention. It was a surreal experience to say the least, thrust into the heart of manga and zelda comic culture with fans dressed in convincing Zelda attire around me.

I appreciate the extremely fortuitous position to be in to buy your first Manga comic book, and for that small outlay to meet the artists, receive an additional poster and card print and have your book signed by the two authors in a sweet green Zelda tote bag. And credit to Viz for arranging this, given the visible demand during the signing, and a number of obvious Zelda fans in full costume who were turned away they could have easily sold this package to actual invested anime fans I enjoy Zelda, I feel I demonstrated my credentials with my Nintendo Zelda shirt from New York, but still, when I was queueing even I felt others deserved that spot more than me. It goes to show the amazing experiences you can have at a convention.

Closing Time

I wanted to take you on brief virtual experience of a convention and some of the great companies that attend, that hopefully have a chance to reach a wider audience this year against the backdrop of this virus that has decimated the global economy to the extent it has. Whether there will be an appetite for a typical gathering of its size until the chance of infection and illness has passed remains to be seen, the skeptic in me says people won’t be rushing out immediately to resume life is normal straight away, even I’m hesitant to commit in the short term but these are some great companies and ones I’ve supported myself and would urge others to explore their products. The geek culture we strive towards having mainstream cultural acceptance has embraced creative means to subvert typical expectations of how this community is viewed. Designers taking elements such as the triforce logo and creating geometric structured shirts or slate coasters that give no indication what their original purpose was.

I look forward to the conventions beginning again, I do worry that perhaps the landscape will have shifted significantly when we next come together with many of the small traders who rely on the income from these events unable to go for financial reasons. In this time, for those able to afford to support these smaller traders and designers I will do my part to keep highlighting ones I find interesting, making the odd purchase here and there to show my appreciation. I had planned to attend with a group of childhood friends, our first convention experience together, if all goes to plan and we emerge from this challenging period hopefully July will give opportunity to go. From a purely selfish perspective, it would be a shame to have finally found the courage and motivation to attend a convention only to see them all cancelled, hopefully this isn’t a goodbye, it’s an until next time.

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