The first MCM Expo in Manchester last Saturday was a surprising, humbling and thoughtful day but most of all a really great time.
I think it’s safe to say no-one, even the organisers, could have expected how busy it would be. I hadn’t planned to bring a lot of comics with me, I didn’t have anything new, I hadn’t reprinted Blood Blokes in time for the show, or even thought to do so. I considered bringing card to draw Little Portraits on but it slipped my mind and I didn’t even consider bringing flyers for the Manchester Drink ‘n’ Draw that I organise until the morning of the show, by which point it was too late to get hold of some. But none of that bothered me that morning because I fully expected it to be a quiet show, being the first time the MCM Expo had come to Manchester. The late promotion of the event didn’t encourage any of the artists attending either. I wasn’t alone in thinking we’d be twiddling our thumbs for the Early Bird entry time between 9:30 and 11am and then it might get a touch busier later if we were lucky. I couldn’t have been more wrong about how the day turned out.
It got me thinking about what brought about this uncharacteristic pessimism. Part of it is from my role as founder of the Manchester Comix Collective. Aside from the BIG Drink ‘n’ Draw last month which went brilliantly with a great turn out and even won an award as part of the Not Part Festival, most of the things I promote and try to organise through the MCC are met with almost silent response. You’d think in a large city with a lack of comic shows and events, comic fans would be eager for any news or chance to participate in something but over the last year or so I’m not seeing much enthusiasm outside of the small circle of creators, comic shop folk and DnD attendees. So my expectations of the turn out for the MCM Expo were low.
Just the week before I was asked by Alex Fitch of the Panel Borders radio show to round up Manchester comic creators for a group interview about the local scene and how it influenced our work. I managed to rope in John Allison, Joe List and Chris Doherty and over the course of the discussion we touched on the apathy of the public and other creative scenes towards comics in Manchester. We touched on the lack of female creators in the city and the lack of any younger talent coming through. The MCM Expo was brought up and none of us had high expectations for an enthusiastic crowd. As Joe said to me after the Expo “If only we’d recorded an interview about the local scene a week after the show.”
As myself and Marc Ellerby entered the swanky new Manchester Central (previously the G-Mex) that Saturday morning we maneuvered our way around a costumed queue of easily 2000 people who surged into the somewhat undersized hall as soon as the doors opened at 9:30. Our mouths may have been agape. Slightly late we set up as soon as we could and the aisles were packed from the get go. Thousands of cosplayers had turned up in force, with all the gusto and imagination of the London MCM Expo crowds. To my right Marc was shifting comics and t-shirts right from the off and Leigh Gallagher to my left had an ever present queue for sketches that often eclipsed my table. He managed 20+ sketches before breaking for lunch sometime after 12. I instantly regretting not bringing my pad and Little Portraits sign. As the event opened to general entry at 11am, more and more families arrived taking advantage of the free entry for children and low £5 entry fee for adults. They were joined by older comic fans there to see guys like Marc, Leigh, Anthony Johnston and John McCrea. I was shaking my head that I hadn’t brought a stack of Drink ‘n’ Draw flyers, teasingly sat in the Sandbar’s flyer rack not a mile away.
I popped outside around midday to grab some food and to meet Kayla who had kindly brought Marc’s pad of paper from home for me to use for sketches. It was a gloriously hot day and I was stunned to see another thousand or so people queuing in the heat to get into the show, entertained by the now obligatory Darth Vader, Boba Fett and Stormtroopers along with hundreds of brightly coloured cosplayers.
The show remained super busy and crowded until about 4pm. Marc sold out of comics, Leigh got a sore back and I got my act together and did Little Portraits for people. There’s photos of 6 of them in the slideshow below.
In the end I had a great show. I probably made more money than at any other show because I didn’t have to pay for the table, transport or a hotel, so every sale was profit! I’d also like to thank Gary from the Comic Village team for making sure we were okay throughout the day, from introducing himself right at the start to seeing how our day went at the end.
The rest of the evening was a great night too as I’d booked a large table at a chinese for a big group of us and then Gareth at the Lass O’Gowrie had kindly ensured the Snug Room was reserved for us too. Cheers Gareth! Everyone seemed to be having a good time and I’d like to think that everyone left with a good impression of Manchester too.
Marc mentioned that he’d noticed I’d gotten a touch lazy when it came to shows, just coming along and seeing how I’d sell, and he’s right; I’ve been more interesting in seeing my pals than wowing the crowds, at least until I start the big push for Blood Blokes. I was pessimistic about the first big show to come to Manchester in a long time when, as Mr. MCC, I should have been the one person making the very best of it and encouraging others to embrace it too (I did publicise it on the MCC blog and Twitter to little response). Sure, the large amount of cosplayers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you can’t deny the positivity, effort and money they bring to such events. Marc noted that these Expos wouldn’t exist without the dedication of the teenagers who dress up and come out to every single show. We’re guests at their show, not the other way around.
I let the apathy towards comics that I and others in the “scene” sensed from the wider populace of the city affect me and influence my own approach to what turned out to be a superb day for comics in Manchester. I am very glad that I was proven wrong. I’d much prefer to try too much and fail than to not bother and be proven right. Next year I’ll be making the Manchester MCM Expo a key event in my schedule of appearances.
To end, here’s a slideshow of my photos from the day including 6 people awkwardly holding the Little Portraits they got from me. Thanks to everyone who stopped by my table, said nice things about The Everyday and picked up Paper Science for The King of Things.