This weekend saw the first ever MCM Expo held at the Manchester Central convention centre in Manchester, England. The organisers have been running expos across the country for several years but this was the first time the event has ventured into the north of England, filling a surprising void in the sci-fi and fantasy events calendar for the region. Enormous crowds showed up for the show, seemingly far more than the organisers anticipated, causing some organisational flaws to be sadly drawn to the fore, marring what was otherwise a great day out.
Early entry tickets allowed those willing to pay a little extra access from 9.30am however general admission was to be from 11am. I have seen several negative comments from parents regarding the early access tickets. One of the main points made in the advertising for this expo was that children aged 10 and under would be admitted free. However this only applied to general entry tickets, meaning those who were already paying out extra for early entry were forced to pay again for their children at the same price as adults. For a family of four, this could mean the difference between the event costing £10 ($16) for arrival at 11am, to its costing £32 ($53) for arrival a mere 90 minutes earlier – a significant price difference to a family who may well be budgeting carefully given the current financial climate. Naturally no one had to buy these early access tickets but dedicated collectors would certainly be interested in order to get to the stalls before the big crowds and this would be extremely off putting for those wanting to make a family day out of the event.
By 11am, the queue for entry was stretching well out of the centre and around the building. The vast majority of attendees were buying their tickets on the door and so a bottleneck had formed due to only four ticket booths being open and only one of these accepting card payments – even those with pre-bought tickets were unnecessarily forced into this line. Once through the ticket booths, attendees were herded into a very long line that was winding around the vast area of the convention centre that had been left empty (the expo was crammed into a small space at one end of the hall). The staff was sending everyone into this queue even though those with pre-bought tickets should have been granted immediate access, as they were not checking tickets. We found ourselves stuck in this non-moving queue for around 45 minutes, until well after the event was supposed to have opened for general admission, and were never given any explanation for the hold up. When my friend and I left the building to get lunch in the city centre at 1.30pm, we were shocked to see that people were still queuing all the way out of the building and across the plaza outside, now two and a half hours after opening.
Inside the main expo room, more organisational flaws were apparent. Popular stalls had been placed right by the only entrance to the room causing huge difficulties to traffic flow and the event had been squeezed into such a small floor space that simply moving around the room was often impossible. Considering the difficulties I faced moving around as an able bodied adult, I felt for anyone attending the event with a disability and have seen several comments regarding the problems faced by wheelchair users from attendees on Twitter. Several celebrities were attending to sign autographs including Warwick Davis and Kenny Baker, but their tables had been placed in the centre of the room on narrow walkways opposite stalls and no handlers were present to organise the lines, causing large obstructions to form. Finally, a small stage area had been erected in one corner but the tiny number of seats was not nearly large enough when any of the special guests took to the stage so many people were simply standing in the walkways to watch. Eventually some staff began making people who were not in the designated area keep moving but this often seemed rather ineffectual.
Despite this seemingly inexhaustible list of negatives, MCM Expo Manchester was for me, and the majority of attendees who have since tweeted, a very enjoyable day. The exhibitors were all friendly and happy to spend time discussing their merchandise, helping us to hunt through vast binders of trading cards, giving out contact details if you were searching for an item they did not have with them and advising on getting the best prices. Many comic artists were present drawing on-the-spot sketches for attendees and signing their prints and comics and the celebrities were all full of smiles, they seemed genuinely happy to be there with their fans. Everywhere I looked I saw people in costumes, often posing for photographs wherever they could find a space to stand, everybody smiling, laughing and happy as they made my Dana Scully cosplay (and my companion’s Kate Beckett) look like we had barely put in any effort at all. I came away with my bags heavier and my purse lighter, my only regret being that I missed out on celebrity talks up on the stage due to the lack of a published schedule – well, that and not being able to justify the £50 ($82) asking price for a signed Nathan Fillion Firefly trading card!
One of the most popular celebrity guests was Anjili Mohindra, star of Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. Whenever I passed her table, a line was snaking away from it, often comprised of many children with their parents. I found myself near the stage as she came out to answer questions from fans and saw a large crowd of children sat listening and asking questions. Also popular was the “Robot Wars” arena where attendees could bring along their own robots to put them to the test, battling against one another. Less popular by far from what I saw were the tables featuring sports stars; for some reason, the expo had been coupled with a Sports Memorabilia show and a number of local sporting stars from the Manchester United and Manchester City football teams were signing autographs. The tables for this were packed into a quiet corner and had been completely vacated by halfway through the show, I’m not sure there’s much crossover between cosplayers, comic fans and football fans.
There is already talk of next year’s expo and judging by the crowds this weekend, it cannot fail to be a success. The organisers need to take time to listen to the comments made by this year’s attendees, learn from their mistakes and make next year’s show that much better. A few simple changes such as using more of the available space to spread stalls out, adding many more seats to the theatre area and placing signing tables out of the way of main thoroughfares would make all the difference to the feel of the event and make it more appealing to guests, especially those who may struggle with moving through thick crowds such as those in wheelchairs or pushing young children in strollers. There are relatively few of these conventions, especially in the north of England, and if lessons are learned from this weekend, MCM Expo Manchester could well be on many people’s “must-do”.
A ticket to this event was provided free of charge by the organisers.
1 thought on “MCM Expo Hits Manchester”
i thought the show was a huge disapointment,there was hardly any movie merchandise(save star wars) and too much manga and trading cards.also there should of been more staff to keeps the teens from shouting and dramaring everything up.no room to move,oh i did i say too much manga,manga manga manga.
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