Thursday, 27 November 2014

Review: MCM Memorabila/Comic Con Birmingham

I first went to Memorabilia about 15 years ago and continued to go to pretty much every show after that for a decade. Then I stopped. Why? Well, for the first few years things got better every time, the show increased in size, with more stalls and more guests whom I was interested in meeting. Then the reverse started to happen. There were fewer stalls and it really didn't seem worth the cost of entry. So I stopped. This was about 3 years ago.

During those last couple of years of me attending a change was happening to Memorabilia. As the stalls decreased, the amount of random other stuff increased. The Robot Wars arena was there every time, a wrestling ring, Back to the Future Delorean, all of them taking up big chunks of floor space. The name 'Comic Con' was being tagged on. This Comic Con was advertised as a separate event, with its own guests, but the ticket got you into both events, which made it all really rather confusing.

I returned on Saturday to find that the change had completed. Memorabilia is no longer Memorabilia. The name is still there, in small writing, but I can see this being gone completely by next year. It's now a definite comic con. And not a 'comics' convention either - the comics presence is really rather small - but a comic con in the vein of San Diego, i.e. a pop culture event.

In the past with Memorabilia there's been no problem with buying tickets on the day, with a minimal, if any, queue. Okay, there was always a HUGE one outside the hall before the event opened but once it did all of those people appeared to vanish into the hall and walking round, bar a couple of jams in odd corners, a relatively peaceful affair.

Not so on Saturday.

I'd read about immense problems at an event in London earlier in the year, all due to an unexpected surge in numbers. With this on my mind, I decided to prebook my ticket and I am very, very glad I did.

I arrived on Saturday morning, around 8:45am, with the event due to begin at 9am. Sensibly, queuing took place in an adjacent hall instead of filling the corridors of the NEC as it had in the past. I was put into what was basically a pen with a load of other people waiting for the doors to open, but at this point all seemed pretty much normal.

Then I looked to my left.

Over there was another giant group of people, where those who hadn't pre-bought tickets were waiting. Combining the two groups made an awful amount of people. But still, once the doors were open all these people who disappear into the vastness of the main hall, right?


The event was rammed. It was rammed at 9am and things only got worse. I half-hoped that later on things would ease a little as people went home but the thick soup of people remained all day. Getting anyway in the hall was a nightmare. Trying to see what was on the stalls was near-impossible.

I put my hand up and admit I've never been to San Diego Comic Con, but the central strip of the Bham con looked exactly how I imagine SDCC does with some big stands from large companies (namely Game). At the back were some props, vehicles (the delorean!) and 'official' costumed people. A few largeish areas taken up with food-selling stands. A steam-punk area (I didn't really look at).

In the past there have been a lot of trading card dealers, which didn't really interest me. Now the vast majority of these have been replaced with t-shirt dealers. I never knew designing and selling t-shirts was such big business!

The TV/film guests were mostly down the right of the hall. I've thought this about most of the con-type events I've been too, but the area set aside for queuing (or even simply walking round) was ridiculously small and it was very difficult to tell where one queue ended and the next began.

A flawed improvement was the use of what appeared to be a giant Michelin Man to hold the talks inside. Previously the stage area was just a sectioned off area of the main hall and thus the sound terrible, so having it cocooned like this was a good theory. Sadly, the area was way too small and people were pouring out of the sides as though the poor tyre man was being eaten alive by ants.

While I didn't buy a huge amount at the show, I did get a couple of things I'd been after for a while - namely the Playmates Star Trek Runabout & Star Trek Command (which pretty much completes my Playmates figure collection) and the Marvel Universe Death's Head figure. That was about it really. The single other thing I got was a signed picture of Hannah from S-Club 7/Primeval/S-Club 7 again. Unfortunately my exciting meeting with Hannah was ruined a bit due to me being so very tired of forcing my way through crowds. The people in front had long conversations with her. I managed to mumble 'please sign this' and shuffled off again.

I'm still trying to process whether I had a good day or not. I went away with money still in my pocket which has never happened before. I was ready to go home after an hour or so - I'd pushed my way round almost everywhere and had had enough. There were places I would have liked to have revisited, but I couldn't face fighting my way back there, it just didn't seem worth the effort. The hall could have been double the size and it still would have been crowded. The number of attendees was a giant black cloud which hung, and continues to hang, over the day.

When I set out for the NEC that morning I promised the kids that depending on how things went, I'd take them along for the next one. That just isn't going to happen. If I'd taken them on Saturday there's a good chance they'd still be lost somewhere in the bowels of the NEC.

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