Of all the places I have dragged my kids to in the cause of beijingkids, I think it’s safe to say Beijing Comic Con was their favourite. The convention, now in its second year, occupied a huge hall in the New China International Exhibition Center, and drew hordes of fans over two days, from June 9-10.
The term “Comic Convention” is something of a misnomer. Although there were comics for sale there, and comic artists, they only form one ingredient of a pop culture stew, where anything to do with superheroes, sci-fi, and fantasy is chucked into the pot. One of the first thing which greeted us on arrival was a replica of the Iron Throne, which allowed me to indulge my Westeros obsession in front of my embarrassed children. “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or die…”
Noah (age 10) was fascinated by the finely detailed models of superheroes; I was stunned by the prices. There were bookshops, demonstrations of VR glasses, an area for tabletop games. Along Artists’ Alley you could meet comic book artists, buy their work or even get them to draw something specially for you.
It was perhaps inevitable though that the video games should draw my children’s attention. They played Street Fighter, and were shocked when I beat them easily, having wasted many hours of my youth on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). There were also independent games, and Joseph (7) gazed longingly at a ferocious four-way robot battle. I was concerned; he has not yet arrived at an age where he accepts defeat with good grace.
However he was determined, so we both sat down to play. After a couple of minutes my robot exploded. “You have been fragged by Player 4.”
“Well done, Joseph! You got me!”
I rejoined the game.
“Oh, you got me again. And again. And again.”
In fact, when the game ended, Joseph had beaten not only me, but the two teenagers who were the other players. He was so pleased with himself that he spent the rest of the afternoon reliving the battle in a non-stop monologue.
“And then I fired my rockets and you blew up and I flew away and saw the other robots and I shot at them with my lasers…”
I dragged the boys away from the games and we went to see what else was on offer. 3D printers created models as we watched; Noah was particularly amused by a Maitreya Buddha with the head of Yoda from Star Wars. Nearby was a stall dedicated to a baffling and slightly disturbing Japanese cartoon called Kobitos:
(No, I have no idea. Yes, I’m scared too.)
“Do your family want their picture taken with Kobitos?” a nice lady asked. Noah was already backing away, fear in his eyes. What about you, Joseph?
“And then I flew over to the health pack and went back and I could see the big robot like a tank so I dived down and started attacking it…”
However, undoubtedly the most striking feature of the day was the “cosplayers”: people who dress up as characters from comics and films. It’s easy to mock cosplayers… easy, and shallow. I recently came across an internet meme which said, “If you go to support your local sports team in a replica jersey, everyone thinks that’s normal. But dress up as your favorite fictional character and people think you’re weird.”
Cosplayers don’t just buy their costumes from a store, they spend hours painstakingly sewing them, building props, constructing prosthetic wings or pointed elf ears, putting on make up. Although there was a competition at the convention, for the most part they do it purely out of enthusiasm, and are happy to admire each others’ costumes and to have their picture taken with people.
One of the things I found most endearing about the cosplayers was how non-binary they were. If you want to be a female Loki or a male Chun-Li, then no one is going to judge you on the genetic accident of your birth, only on what you have made of yourself through your skill and dedication.
And this inclusiveness is just one manifestation of a wider truth about this scene. I suggested earlier that the “comics” part is a misnomer. A more accurate name is “fan culture”, and the motto of the fan is “I’m really into this! So you like it too? That’s cool!” It’s an immensely positive creed. And the things they’re into are creative, imaginative, and complex. It should not be for fan culture to have to justify itself to the wider world. Rather, the real world, with its cynicism, bullying, and negativity, should have to justify itself to fandom.
That’s what I think, anyway. What do you think, Joseph?
“And then at the end it said Player 4 wins and I didn’t know who Player 4 was and then I realized it was me and I’d beaten everybody and I was the winner…”
OK, I’ll come back to you on that.
Photos: single eye, Andrew Killeen, Joseph Killeen, kobitos.com, Kyle Mullin