The man on the mic does his best to work the crowd: “Something something something, something something Avengers something.” Then riotous applause and rapturous “Aahs.” This is what it is like sometimes when you visit a comic convention in Shanghai. If I knew better Chinese, I’d try for a more direct translation; as it is I can only report “something something,” just a snapshot of one of my experiences during my brief time visiting the 2015 Shanghai Comic Con.
Billed as the “first ever official Shanghai Comic Con,” SHCC was brought to you by the folks of ReedPOP (New York Comic Con, Emerald City Comic Con) and who seem to be branching out for international venues, including Vienna and upcoming shows in Paris and Hyderabad and Delhi. There was no way I was going to miss this, despite a very busy weekend with some other commitments. As a regular attender to San Diego’s Comic Con and a Marvel junkie (I prefer the more specific term Jarvis-Head) it was just a given.
Part of the excitement comes from not knowing exactly what to expect. Superheroes are just as big of business in China as anywhere, and both Marvel and DC movies are met with equal aplomb. While not officially released through state media, most tech savvy young people are up to date on the latest episodes of The Flash, and this was also the same weekend as Avengers 2: Age of Ultron enjoyed its China release. Fevers were high, and this was exotic new territory. Anything could happen! (Even this really boring promo poster!)
And yet I was still running late on Saturday morning. I finally managed to get my act together and traverse the town to arrive by taxi at 11:30ish. Knowing the floor opened at 11am, and that presale tickets were long ago sold out, I was fearing for the worst, flashing back to San Diego, of course. Seeing the number of cars backed up along the entrance made me want to hop out of the taxi a block early, but no, it was just a red light up ahead. I got dropped off right in front of the gated queue!
But this wasn’t right. The only signs (bilingual, thankfully) indicated it was for presale/Internet sales. I asked the white guy hanging around in front but he had no clue either, and was waiting for his friend anyway. Okay, then, better try my bilingual skills on the attendant in front of the barricades.
He escorted me through the queue to a small tent where I bought my tickets directly and exited straight into the turnstile. I jumped all those suckers paying for presale! What followed was an X-ray and metal detector that’s a shade more intense than your average rock concert but typical for what you’d find at every subway entrance here, and I was inside a very spacious, and new, convention center in the western part of the city.
I had time to walk the vendor floor, which took up the entire first level. (Well, maybe 90%. There’s not *that* many vendors.) The emphasis here was on merchandise and hero-related products. Some entertainment options were there, such as a film school with live movie-makeup demos and Chinese TV branding, but most were toys and figures and apparel. There was one very popular booth for a League of Legends-style multi-player, and an X-Box One/Kinect demo with gleeful players flinging their arms in order to be Fruit Ninjas.
I wanted to be on time to see some of the guests, one of the firsts being David Finch, and made my way up to the third level for the conference rooms. I estimate over 300 people came to see Mr. Finch, making it standing room only. Via an interpreter of course, Finch talked about his own work and asked for fledging artists in the audience, giving some advice and encouragement. Something about initiative and self-discipline. I wonder how certain aspects of his talk meshed with the clash of cultures, but it wasn’t merely locals; there were significant numbers of expats in the audience. During the Q&A, the audience came up with only a few softball questions, like if he uses reference material, who’s his favorite writers, and so on, but there were a few pretty good ones, too, often with surprising results. Asked how does it feel to both write and draw your story, Finch said he prefers a close relationship with a writer rather than do both, and he got applause after the answer was interpreted. What did that mean, exactly? At one point, a questioner took the mic and went for so long the audience started booing, hissing until he wrapped it up. I’d like to have seen that happen at some previous panels I’ve attended, I assure you.
The real weirdness was from being in a situation I was so familiar with from before, attending a convention panel, and yet to have it so completely re-contexted, having it be in Shanghai. Certain things I take for granted, like suffering through weird questions, waiting for the presentation to begin etc., came crashing into other things I take for granted, like theater etiquette culture-clash. Surreal.
Continuing to wander the levels, I noticed a few more bugs that surprised me for a big event like this. There were technically only two food stalls, plus a coffee stall and a juice stall, and only two banks of restrooms on each level. On one end of the hall, the escalators was out of commission, and on the other side, one bank was out of commission at least twice. In/out privileges were regulated, and the exit was at the rear of the hall, separate from the entrance entirely.
The second level had more space, this one for meet and greets/artist alleys. The main stage separated the seating area (about 500 seats, VIP only) from the rest of the crowd, even though the seats were never filled close to 50%, even with the headliners. I caught the interview with Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin/Oswald from the Gotham TV series) which was almost entirely softball questions, but both Taylor and the crowd were enjoying themselves enormously. Anytime the crowd recognized a name, even “Flash” or “Avengers,” they would holler in delight.
Overall, though, there was so much space on this level it was almost creepy. Echoes that made it difficult to hear the microphone, one line stretching for an hour to visit one table while others have no one. The official meet-and-greets with autographs demanded a special queue, and official price. Taking a photo with a celebrity could cost you over $125 US, and autographs started around $50.
The real stars, though, were the cosplayers. Whole flows of traffic would be disrupted once someone agreed to pause for pictures, and it would not be strange to see more than a dozen photographers becoming paparazzi for several minutes or more, or as long as the cosplayer would put up with it. Multiply that excitement exponentially whenever two related characters happened to cross paths.
I’ve also lived in Japan, and as expert as that place is with cosplay, I saw so many here that could give the best of Tokyo a run for their money. Part of it might be the lack of precedent— I doubt many people would let a Green Arrow in, one that has an actual bow and real arrows, but there was some real attention to detail, including a girl dressed as Captain America in padded armor like the movies and a large shield that was near perfect, and a Winter Soldier who could have stepped out of the movie reel. There were even characters I wouldn’t have expected, like a Lady Deadpool and a female Loki.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend the whole day there, and had to end up leaving long before I could see the Gail Simone panel, which was at the top of my list.
Ah, well. You never know when I’ll end up in New York or San Diego again. Or maybe people will want to return to Shanghai. Judging from the response last weekend, we all will be waiting with open arms, and ready cameras.