MCM is a massive British comics convention operation that has, over the past few years, dipped its toe into Ireland as part of a notable international expansion. Ireland Comic Con shows both the advantages and disadvantages of that heritage.
The primary advantage MCM brings to the table is a set of long standing relationships with regular guests that means they can deliver arguably the biggest, highest profile set of guests Ireland has seen thus far. Slightly shockingly, none of the Doctors from Doctor Who have attended events in Ireland before this (though they’ve made appearances across the border in Northern Ireland) but Ireland Comic Con 2016 saw not just one, but two – with Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy both in attendance, as well as classic companion Sophie “Ace” Aldred. Add to that science fiction legend Nichelle Nichols – Star Trek’s very own Uhura – and you have some serious star power for the likes of other guests like the Hillywood Show, Luke Pasqualino and Bob Layton to orbit around. This also meant an MC who was very adept and slick at bringing guests through their careers and most well oiled anecdotes at the various panels.
But this slickness is, in a way, also MCM’s main disadvantage. While most Irish conventions feel like products of love and dedication from groups of fans determined to share their love with a wider audience, or serve their fellow geeks, MCM Ireland most definitely comes across as a solid, practical business operation. This lends it a slightly impersonal feel and, one suspects, if you’ve been to one MCM con, you’ve been to them all, with only the line-up of guests from the MCM family changing from one to the next. It also means, since so much apparent emphasis is given to leasing out floor space to retailers, that there’s very little to do, between signing sessions and panels other than wander the con floor window shopping.
This acute business sense even bled into one of the panels where what had promised to be a discussion on Anime turned out to be quite a hard sell from one particular anime distributor on the brilliance of their products. It was a line tread much more successfully by Hilly and Hannah of the Hillywood Show, who’d come to Ireland to make people laugh and to sell some cool hats, and were epically successful at both. There’s was one of those panels where you sense a third of the room had wandered in slightly by accident, but were so charmed and impressed that they were hitting “subscribe” on their YouTube app even as they left the hall.
It seems churlish to compare MCM Ireland to its main rival, the home-grown Dublin Comic Con, but it’s an unavoidable contrast. While you could attend DCC and, even if there wasn’t a single guest you were interested in, still fill at least one day with adventures and happy experiences, your enjoyment of MCM will depend entirely on your interest in the guests.
Fortunately for your trusty blogger, my interest in this year’s guests was high.
Meeting a member of the original Star Trek crew was something that, for someone in drizzly, over-flown Ireland might have seemed like a bucket list item doomed never to be ticked off. Yet thanks to MCM, the Enterprise’s own Lt. Uhura came to town for what feels like it must be one of her last transatlantic conventions. At 83 years of age, she’s lost none of her passion for acting, fans or the civil rights movement but was sometimes confused by questions or lost track of her train of thought mid-answer. Having to deal with thick local accents from every corner of the island of Ireland during her Q&A was an understandable challenge too.
The Irish accent was no issue for Sylvester McCoy, who revealed at his panel alongside Sophie Aldred that, while Scottish born and bred, he’d spent a noteworthy chunk of his childhood living in Dublin’s own Sandymount area, just around the corner from the Royal Dublin Society complex we were sitting in. He even broke into an accurate southside Dublin accent at one point, winning a lot of affection from the crowd, while telling tales of how, on his return to Scotland he “used to stand on the table in [his] kilt, with a glorious Dublin accent and all the women would go ‘aww’.”
That accent may have faded with time, but his rapport with co-star Sophie Aldred is plainly undiminished from a friendship that was solid from the start. “When I got Doctor Who, I decided that anyone who came to MY series wouldn’t be lonely. When Sophie joined I told her The Rule – she was going to have fun!” Sylvester McCoy playfully suggested his favourite moment in all his time on Doctor Who “was meeting a young woman called Sophie Aldred” before promptly hitting her up for a £100 loan. But the former Doctor is also pretty honest about his time on the show, telling of how he’d wanted to bow out after three seasons but was told he could sign up for four, or be dumped after two (“I had an obligation to the fans – and my bank manager – to stay”).
Honesty - sometimes brutal honesty - was a hallmark of the panels. McCoy’s fellow former Doctor Peter Davison admitting, for instance, that he still hasn’t gotten around to watching the most recent series of Doctor Who after feeling Peter Capaldi was poorly served as an actor by his first. While legendary Iron Man writer and artist Bob Layton spoke frankly about the state of the comics industry and about his view on the Marvel films. Pulling up a young Captain Marvel cosplayer and her even younger Ms. Marvel sidekick he called them the future of fandom but that “it’s not comics bringing them in, it’s movies, it’s television shows” blaming the fact that comics used to cost “40c, but now it costs as much to buy an issue of Daredevil as to rent the entire S1 of Daredevil on Netflix. The jumping on point has changed. [But] the business model hasn’t changed in 75 years. Someone smarter than me must change it.”
Cosplayers were thick on the ground, as always, with the 501st Emerald Garrison and local Rebel Legion (now with a cool new insignia playing up Ireland’s own Skellig Michael’s status as a Jedi Temple in the new films) continuing as a mainstay of the Irish convention scene. But the world of DC Comics, and most particularly the DC TV universe, was strongly represented. Even more this year than their Marvel rivals (I counted a mere five Deadpools, an all time low). Green Arrows, Supergirls, Black Canaries and even a Reverse-Flash all made the round of the main floor, as well as their big screen cousins based on Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad and other variations from across the DC multiverse.
Doctor Who, too, was well represented with a sudden, but welcome, resurgence of Patrick Troughton cosplays as well as the more standard Tennants, Smiths and Capaldis. And for those willing to pay for the privilege there was a full scale Iron Throne replica to sit upon – leading not just to Daenerys cosplayers taking their rightful place as Queens of the Seven Kingdoms but some delightful mashups such as iZombie’s Liv Moore, Captain Marvel and the Doctor becoming the rulers of Westeros.
Particularly nice to see was so much AbbyShot about. In addition to my proudly worn AbbyShot celery, there were AbbyShot question mark umbrellas well represented in honour of the Seventh Doctor’s presence, as well as scarves and question mark pullovers from sister licensee Lovarzi. By the end of the convention, even Peter Davison was an AbbyShotter, having being presented with his own celery on AbbyShot’s behalf. Bemused and touched in equal measure, he mused at the idea of “official BBC celery!” before noting that “Every time you think you’ve been just about forgotten about as the Doctor, something like this happens and they bring out your celery, or your sonic screwdriver, or some reminder that you’re still a part of it.”
And his final word as a renowned connoisseur of decorative vegetables – “So long as I don’t have to eat it!”
Written by: Peter Nolan