Opinion Piece

Granite City Comic-Con 2016 – Why Is Batman Hanging Out With Deadpool?

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Held at the lavish Hilton Treetops hotel it’s fair to say that Aberdeen’s second Granite City Comic-Con stepped up its venue this year from its humble beginning at Transition Extreme. Spanning a full two days and with entry now costing this year was truly the make or break moment. With entry being free to the last event thousands upon thousands of people descended upon a ‘Con that only had a few vendors, artists and publishers attending, but with tickets for this year requiring folk to fork out money this was the true test to see if the community was willing to support a local Comic-Con.

Yup. They were.

While I could never quite describe it as being packed with people, there were a lot of comic fans who invaded the hotel, intent on picking up some sweet loot and admiring the many amazing costumes on display. I’ll be curious to see what the official numbers are once the event is over, but I’m confident it was a complete success given how all pre-sale tickets were sold out well in advance. Arriving at the door I snagged my press pass and began getting a lay of the land before hordes of people were unleashed upon the unsuspecting hotel staff and guests. I have to say that a highlight of my day was watching the slightly stunned expression of an older lady sitting in the foyer as comic fans traipsed through the door. Priceless.

The day could have gone slightly south, though, as I was briefly arrested by the attending Judges who were acting as police for the event, stomping up and down the lines, demanding to see tickets and ushering cars out of the way. Clearly enjoying their roles and their impressive costumes the Judges cut imposing figures amidst the other cosplayers, both helpful to those who needed it and utterly belligerent to everyone else as they told citizens to move along. Having snagged a quick pic of one of them guarding the front door I was slapped in handcuffs for my impertinence. Then things went a tad downhill as one of the two Judges quietly admitted that he couldn’t find the key. Cue a few minutes of frantically checking many pockets and pouches and the other Judge idly thinking he should have gotten multiple copies of his own key made just in case. I didn’t mind too much, though – I was already writing an article in my head about what it was like to attend a ‘Con in handcuffs. Might have made getting pictures a touch more challenging, however.

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Freed of my bonds and with an apologetic Judge’s words echoing in my mind cavern I ventured forth into the ‘Con proper having spent a few minutes snapping pictures of the line which was forming, and simply enjoying the sight of loads of cosplayers being in one place. Shockingly a hotel isn’t exactly a huge place for a ‘Con, but compared to last year there was a veritable feast of things to look at and people to chat to. It’s still much smaller than the MCM Glasgow event I covered last year, yet considering this is just year two Granite City Comic-Con has already grown massively, and it was a genuine pleasure to feel like that I was, in a tiny way, a part of that growth by simply turning up to the first event to show my support. Returning a year later to see how much it had already improved was an honor. There’s also something to be said about the more intimate and quieter nature of this ‘Con over Glasgow. at the MCM event last year it was so crowded and busy that merely moving from one stall to another was a tedious, annoying process as it meant have to dodge a pile of people, get bumped around, wait patiently for a gap to open and then have that gap stolen.

Inside the hotel there was one large hall and one small room devoted to stalls selling their wares and comic book artists/creators looking to amaze people with their books. Even John Wagner, the man who created Judge Dredd, was present throughout the day, happily signing things for free and chatting to anyone willing to stop by. The stalls were a varied bunch, ranging from simple things like comics, figures and POP! Vinyls to other stuff such as steampunk apparel, loads of artwork from some seriously talented individuals who were happy to do commissions, and even tiny top hats that could be pinned in your hair. As always I love looking at all the geeky merchandise and wanted so badly to come home with some art or a Dark Knight Batman & Superman figure pack that looked beautiful, but alas money was tight and I was aiming to pick up some comics to review, just like I did at Glasgow last year. And that was probably the best part of the entire ‘Con for me; friendly comic artists and writers who were willing to stop and chat. Glasgow was a huge and impressive event, but the sheer volume of people made it difficult to stop and talk to the creators themselves. At Aberdeen, though, there was time to learn about the books on offer, their history and whether it seemed like something I was interested in reviewing. On that topic I did come away with a few books; Moon, Bust, Death Sentence amd Western Noir. Keep an eye out for reviews in the next week or two, plus hopefully some simple Q&A sessions with the writers themselves. It was fantastic getting to pick these guy’s brains and learn more about their work. I even found out that the writer of Bust actually spent ten years in videogame journalism, including writing for VG24/7.

Over in another room there were several panels hosted across the weekend. Saturday kicked off with international Cosplayer Cosplex giving a talk about what it’s like to take part in Cosplay competitions around the world. Slightly hesitant she nevertheless cut a striking figure and delivered an interesting panel regarding a topic I know largely nothing about. Seriously, I just turned up in a Batman shirt and jeans. It’s crazy to think that Cosplay has now gained so much traction with the community and become a massive, substantial part of the Comic-con experience. There were so many wonderful costumes to be found at Granite City ‘Con, from the terrifying mixture of Captain America and the Predator to Iron Man wearing a kilt (Iron Min) and so much more it was a wall of stunning eye candy. The talent on display was supreme, and I’m deeply saddened to have missed the Cosplay competition that was held on Sunday. Looking at the many pictures adorning the events official Facebook page it looks as though I missed some staggeringly talented people. But anyway, Cosplex’s panel was followed by her delivering a Cosplay workshop outside in the marquee. The next panel was the Star Wars panel which was hosted by Shane Rimmer, Paul Blake and Garrick Hagon. If those names are instantly familiar to you then don’t be shocked; they played a Rebel fighter pilot,  Greedo and Biggs Darklighter respectively in Star Wars: A New Hope. While I have no intention of sounding crass or unappreciative it’s also fair to say that the played very small roles in one of the biggest franchises of all time, and yet the fans didn’t give a damn, filling the room and enjoying panel. Shane Rimmer was frankly showing his age a bit as he struggled to hear some of the questions, but his sense of humor and personality shone through. It was Paul Blake who really held everything together, delivering a superb panel alongside Garrick Hagon. They have a natural chemistry together, and wonderful voices that are easy to listen to. The next panel would be by Dr. Sketchy, presenting a performance and life drawing session which I ultimately had to miss on account of heading to the hotel restaurant in order to do horrible things to a delicious pizza. Not only was the food quite enjoyable, if very expensive, but the bar was brimming with Cosplayers and it was a pleasure to drink in the sight of various anime characters eating lunch or having a pint. Staggering back into the hall with a belly full of pizza and Pepsi it was time to attend the panel entitled “Getting into the Business” where a number of convention business owners talked about the ‘Con industry, how its growing, their experiences within it and more. There was more, though, as Phil Vaughan took  to the stage to chat about how comics, videogames and animation crossover, discussing working on a Marvel game, how the videogame industry is shaping up in the UK and so much more. Naturally I was into this panel and Vaughan did a good job, even if its clear he’s not a natural at talking to a crowd. His hesitation was more than made up for by his insight.

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The star attraction of the panels, at least to my mind, was Robert Llewellyn, best known for playing Kryton in Red Dwarf and presenting Scrapheap Challenge. Witty, informative and clearly happy to interact with his fans he delivered a near hour-long panel where he chatted about shooting two new series of Red Dwarf, his days on Scrapheap Challenge, his books and much more. He also answered a variety of questions from the audience, and even gracefully rose from his seat at the command of General Zod who ascended to the stage. No power on Earth, however, could make Llewellyn kneel before Zod. His years of presenting TV shows were showing as Llewellyn was clear perfectly comfortable being on stage and chatting to a crowd, happily pulling faces and imitating his Red Dwarf castmates. It was a brilliant panel from start to finish that the crowd seemed to love. Llewellyn also made himself available in the signing room for anyone that want to come along and meet him, and perhaps pick up a signed copy of one of his many novels. As the event wound down I got the pleasure of spending a few minutes chatting to the man himself, and found him to be incredibly relaxing to be around.

As wonderfully enjoyable as browsing the stalls and watching the panels is, however, it’s ultimately just being in a crowd of people who are there for the same reason as you that makes going to a ‘Con worthwhile. You’ll rarely meet a friendlier bunch because ultimately everyone feels accepted, bonded together by going to event that the world at large sees as the ultimately pinnacle of geekery. It doesn’t matter what your background, race or religion is, everyone is here because they love comics or anime or cosplay or all of those things, and that creates a palpable sense of friendship, regardless of whether you’re an outgoing person who speaks to as many people as possible or someone who prefers to keep quiet and just absorb the atmosphere while admiring the many costumes. I fall firmly into the second category, and yet there was never a moment when I wasn’t enjoying myself by simply soaking everything up. To see some many people gather in one area to celebrate a medium I adore and to support an event  was satisfying beyond words

I can’t really comment about the Sunday since I was unable to attend the event for the entire weekend, and even had to miss the after-party on Saturday night which I hear was a blast from start to finish. Having seen people chatting about the Sunday and the photos popping up all over social media I’m really sorry that I had to miss it. But hey, there’s always next year.

Monday played host to a game day courtesy of local company ABZ Games where Magic the Gathering and Star Wars: X-Wing tournaments were held alongside a painting competition and open tables where folk could simply set up a game and play with the many people who attended. While the hall wasn’t packed full of eager gamers the turnout was respectable, and the people friendly. And that friendliness is exactly why I ended up playing a lengthy game of Star Wars: Armada where I got my ass royally kicked by somebody who was playing their very first game. I love tactical games, but I never claimed to be great at them. Still, I must commend the man on a well-fought battle and his knowledge of the rules, which were better than my own despite having reviewed the game six months or so ago. It was a great day that only got better when I followed up my epic defeat by catching Captain America: Civil War at the local cinema. My only regret is that it was only gamers that turned up – I was hoping to see a lot more people from the actual ‘Con arrive and hopefully become interested in one of my favorite hobbies.

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Beyond a doubt Granite City Comic-Con 2016 was a rousing success, and a gloriously good time. It’s one of those events that goes beyond words; you need to be there to appreciate it. And go you should. If you’ve ever had a love of comics then seek out your nearest local Comic-con and just go. Better yet the larger events have incorportated movies, TV shows and videogames into their world, and while that does mean that the original idea of these events being for comic book fans has gotten somewhat lost it’s nice to see everybody come together to share their passions. Plus, that’s what the smaller events like Granite City Comic-Con are for, focusing more on comics than anything else.

Stepping back perhaps what I find most interesting about attending ‘Cons at the moment being able to stop and think about how things have changed. Born in the early 90’s and having been a geek since pretty much day one I’ve lived through a strange transition where comic book fans were once at the very bottom of the social ladder, derided by almost everyone and their mothers. Now, though, being a “geek” has become a mainstream thing, and is even somewhat regarded as being fashionable. The hobbies I once was pushed aside for are now front and centre in movies and TV shows such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and the juggernaut that is the Marvel movies, which isn’t even to mention the success of The Big Bang Theory, a TV show focused on nerd stereotypes. If I stop by the pub I’m no longer the only one wearing a Batman T-shirt or something with a quote from Firefly. With all of this now hitting the mainstream there’s a fascinating and clearly visible divide between the people attending ‘Cons, albeit not a bad divide in the traditional sense because there’s absolutely no hostility or awkwardness stemming from it. On the one-hand you’ve got the lifelong geeks like me that have always read comics, play videogames and boardgames and adored movies. On the other hand you’ve got those that have been brought into the fold through the Marvel cinematic universe, the DC movies and the TV shows. Quite often these folk have only read a handful of comics and have little knowledge of the characters outside of the movies, and yet they’re embraced wholeheartedly. There’s no room for snobbish behavior in geek culture. We all know what it’s like to be made fun of for enjoying things that are regarded with disdain, and have no desire to put anybody else through that. People at a ‘Con are just happy to see new fans entering the fold, fans that have arrived because of an age of acceptance. I suppose there’s some small, selfish part of my mind hiding away that misses being part of a small, tightly knit club that stuck together because nobody else had our back. The rest of me, though, appreciates all the new friends just waiting to be made. Y’know, from a distance. From behind something big. Because people are scary, man.

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