So often in this line of work, we have to make something out of nothing, with either long waits for men in suits to shake hands, or photo-calls relying heavily on the photographer’s inspiration rather than the publicist’s ideas. However, this weekend provided a welcome cure to the problem with the “London Comic Con MCM Expo” at the ExCel centre in east London.
If anything, the media preview show on Friday provided too much camera fodder so I returned for a second day on Saturday morning to shoot video and enjoy more of the fantastic costumes and concepts. These fans put so much effort into what they do and take real pride in picking the most obscure characters to base their costumes on. The main problem was that after asking the person’s name, the technically quick question of “which character are you?” often resulted in a five minute answer as the person enthused about which incarnation of Japanese anime royalty they were representing.
Spread out over two huge areas within the centre, the event provided fans and enthusiasts with the chance to buy, sell, try, pose with or even dress up as a huge range of people and things in the secure collective of like-minded types. While some costumes would just raise a smile to the average passer-by, others certainly took more guts to wear.
With most of the character names meaning slightly less than nothing to me, I did get the odd right answer such as the Portal “turret” (above), the Team Fortress characters (below) and the Portal player (2nd down on the left). Yes, I know, it’s not something most people would own up to knowing but in my teens I mildly skimmed the realms of the comic with a love of 2000AD and Judge Dredd. All very entry-level to these people but hey, I know my Judge Anderson from my D.R. & Quinch…
Arriving at this kind of event for the first time, the lazy option would be to go along the derisory route, pointing out that, yes, there are some overweight comic fans and nerds that live up to all the stereotypes, but who really cares? All I saw was people having a really good time and enjoying meeting up with friends to celebrate the things they loved. My feelings were reinforced when I saw the people coming out of the Next Top Model show next door, dressed up in the hope that they’d be “scouted”, sneering at the Comic Con guests. I’d much rather shoot the creative types than the chain store clones.
In amongst the comics and memorabilia was a stall with big banners of very androgynous looking men embracing each other. The thing that stood out though was that the customers were three rows deep, clamouring to buy the comic books and were all young teenage girls. It turns out it’s a genre called “Yaoi” which is basically gay porn in comic book form. When I asked why it was only girls buying it, one customer told me that it’d “be weird if men bought it”. She may have a shock if she wanders round SoHo in years to come…
Having heard the phrase before, I’d never witnessed Cosplay with my own eyes so it was quite a shock to find myself surrounded by so many incredible designs and costumes. It’s a serious business with fans attending classes throughout the day to hear advice on how to improve their designs and find the elements that will set them apart. After a live performance and Q&A with British Cosplay star Beckii Cruel, attendees were allowed their brief moment on stage, displaying their own costumes. With some just stepping on and posing before leaving again, others went the whole hog and mimed along to scenes that they’d carefully choreographed. It’s incredible to imagine these kids dressed as Japanese princesses and tigers running through their moves in the living room of their parents home.
On my second day at the show, the doors were opened to the general public and they packed the place to capacity. As such, there wasn’t much chance to get clean backgrounds or space to work so I opted for some off-camera flash to isolate the subject from the shoppers and browsers milling around behind. Some of this was done with a simple off-camera cable but I also opted to break out the ring flash for it’s bi-annual testing! Being fully manual, it’s a bit of a bind but once you get it set up, it’s a great effect.
Knowing that I could easily stay there all day and the next, I hit the road well before closing time but found a nice little frame to wrap it all up as I boarded the London Underground. Look out, it’s a ghost!