Mumbai Film & Comics Convention: A viewpoint on what needs to change

Mumbai Comic Con
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Pumped up with energy and enthusiasm, the  financial capital’s youngsters were all geared and wired up, awaiting one of India’s biggest pop culture events Mumbai Film and Comics Convention which was to take place on 19 and 20 December 2015 at the Bombay Exhibition Centre. And most who took the time out to visit and lounge about at the get-together went away with a satisfied grin of happiness on their faces. However, hardcore comic lovers expressed that there needs to be more of comics in Comic Con.

Started back in 2011 as the Express edition, Mumbai Comic Con has grown exponentially over the years, not just in size but also in bringing more guests, stalls and footfalls. This year the first thing that we observed was the fact that the Con, which generally goes on for three days, was cut down to two days. But at the same time the organisers left no stone unturned to make it the best weekend ever. As we entered the venue, volunteers were in place and were seen helping everyone to locate the ticket counters which were crowded with visitors even as early as 10:45 am. The gates for the Con opened at around 11:00 am. Hi-fives, fist bumps, and joyful greetings for every visitor set the tone for the day that was to come. Even as every one was manually frisked by security after going through the metal detector doorways, we believe that x-ray scanning of everyone’s belongings could become a precursor to entry, considering the number of terrorist and dangerous acts taking place in major cities worldwide.

On moving ahead, we could observe that the show floor size was enormous with about 120 stalls, five Special Zones, two stages for international guest to go on an autographing spree, and the main stage. Being a ‘comic’ con, we expected to see a lot more comics publishers but after going around the whole expo area, we were startled to witness that apart from few comics, everything else was on display.

The arena seemed more like a shopping market rather than a ‘Comic’ Con. Only a few comic publishers could be seen in the special area called the Indian Comics Village: World Comics, Yali Dream Creations, Holy Cow Entertainment, and Pulpocracy.   Other comic/graphic novel publishers like Kini Merch (Angry Maushi), Orange Radius, Vimanika Comics, Campfire Graphic Novels, Graphic India, Random House India (selling DC, Dark Horse and Vertigo Comics), Crossword, Scholastic and Harper Collins  were spread out in different locations at the venue.

Mumbai Comic Con
Photo Credits: Comic Con India FaceBook page

So out of the 120 stalls, only 13 of them displayed comic/graphic novels out of which only nine were selling Indian comics. (As compared to Mumbai, Delhi had about 20 comic/graphic novel exhibitors.) These numbers give a realistic representation of the current state of Comic Con India; what was started as a platform for the indie comic artists and publishers is slowly taking the low road and becoming a merchandisers market. We agree that many people who visit Comic Con might not be comic fans, so promoting merchandise sales is not a bad idea after all. But there should be a filter wherein only stalls that sell comic related merchandises or who sell original artworks should be more in number. Here, we could observe more than half the stalls selling T-shirts and very few were selling innovative and creative products.

We did spot few game-oriented stalls like Games The Shop, Desi BS, G2A.com, Apar Games and apart from that there were three different exhibitors who were showcasing Virtual Reality (VR).  What was heartening was the number of artists who had putup their drawing and painting skills on display and for sale. Sand animation artist Manisha Swarnkar  stood out from the rest of the artist pack in the Artist Alley as she churned out creative characters after characters.

Coming down to the major attraction which many were anticipating- The Star Wars gaming zone! Being the weekend when Star Wars: Force Awakens movie was released internationally, fans were excited to see the installation but were met with disappointment. Unlike last year where a walkthrough was made with cosplayers dressed carrying light sabers, this time there was just a gaming pod installed where at a time a visitor could play the game and two storm troopers statues were placed in that zone. This was a major let down for Star Wars’ fans as the feeling of entering another universe was missing which was quite a bummer for us as well.

Mumbai Comic Con
Photo Credits: Comic Con India FaceBook page

Although there were a few let downs, one thing that was a big plus were the cosplayers. Mumbai Comic Con had an overwhelming number of cosplayers participating this year. What was delightful was that they had really upped their game. Cosplayers were happy to see the growing number of fellow beings and had a great time meeting new like minded people. They just had a small complaint that there should be a green room provided to get dressed and rest as people don’t leave them alone even during their rest time.

The pricing of tickets was another major setback as most of the visitors were young adults who have limited purchasing power. So, after forking out a steep Rs 350 on a day ticket, their budget to spend also reduces. And as for exhibitors, specially indie artists, the prices of stalls are ever increasing even though the days are less and fewer comics are being launched at the various Comic Cons nationally.

We had addressed these concerns earlier to founder  Jatin Varma and he had a quick response to give.

“We are looking at a structure wherein we sign a bond with independent publishers, which will see to it that they turn up for all events organised by Comic Con India with fresher and more vibrant content,” he said. “They will end up getting a sizeable discount on booth space in return at all the Cons throughout the year.”

To Comic Con’s credit is the opportunity it is providing to Indian cosplayers. The nascent cosplay industry can only grow and expand in India as well with the event’s continued support in the coming editions and years.

That Comic Con provides many indie comic publishers and artists a platform to exhibit their works and share knowledge with one another is a given now. Yet, the organizers need to figure out what they need to do to give a further boost to the niche yet vibrant comic industry.

The convention also draws attention by bringing in many international guests with curated sessions, which is a good way to make people aware of what’s happening across the globe. But, it would also be great if this kind of platform is given to Indian veterans like Sanjay Gupta, Anupam Sinha, Archana Amberkar, Mukesh Singh. This would make Indians aware of the richness of talent that is there in the Indian comic industry. Additionally, it would encourage the next gen to take this profession seriously and learn from the best.

Bangalore Comic Con
Photo Credits: Comic Con India FaceBook page

Another addon could be art installations which was seen in the Bengaluru Comic Con wherein visitors were seen clicking pictures with the Game of Thrones ‘Iron Throne’, the huge standees that had various comic based movie characters. Having these installations not only helps attracts visitors but also adds to the Comic Con package.

As opposed to Delhi Comic Con, Mumbai was a much better event in terms of sales, promotion, footfall, crowd as well as location and though there were fewer comic publishers, Mumbai is slowly taking a liking towards comics which was reflected in the comic sale numbers.

The organization is gearing up for its Pune Express edition which is scheduled to take place in February for most probably two days. All we can hope is that it considers the feedback and brings in more creative aspects along with giving equal importance to comic artists, publishers and other independent artists.

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