The Middle East Film and Comic Con has exploded into one of the most spectacular events in Dubai, and a mainstay in the annual calendar, after just four years. Here’s what makes it great.

Cosplay Cat Woman Middle East Film & Comic Con

I attended the first ever Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) in Dubai four years ago at small but extremely tightly packed venue in the Marina area. Unfortunately I had to miss the next two, but got to attend this weekend’s fourth annual edition at a massive, but even more tightly packed venue on Friday.

Being a Star Trek fan I just had to anyway, seeing as they’d pulled off something of a massive coup by getting none other than Captain Kirk (William Shatner) himself to attend – and the one-hour of listening to him talk and answer questions was more than worth the massive lines, crushing crowds and exorbitantly priced and tasteless sandwiches at the indoor cafe.

William Shatner at Middle East Film & Comic Con

But it wasn’t just Shatner that aided the allure of this incredible and hugely successful event – and I mean true success, not ‘PR success’ as almost every event in the UAE manages to somehow achieve. This is the sort of success where you end up spending far longer (and far too much money) than you intend to, come back home exhausted but elated, and can’t wait for it to come round again next year.

It’s called the Film & Comic Con, known as Comic Con for short, but that really doesn’t sufficiently describe the event – it is so much more. It’s a celebration of entertainment and pop-culture, happily and easily embracing comics and movies yes, but also games, cartoons, art, writing and hobbies such as collecting merch and memorabilia plus of course Cosplay – designing, creating and wearing costumes (often along with enacting the more popular traits of the characters depicted).

Iron Man and Captain America at Middle East Film & Comic Con

The Comic Con concept (well established in other countries, but relatively new in our part of the world) has grown with a fervour and frenzy unmatched by anything to my knowledge (except maybe our old Motoring Middle East car meets!), and I really believe it to be firmly established already.

I’ve been thinking about what makes MEFCC so popular, and why people can’t now wait for MEFCC 2016 even as the sweepers are only just moving in to clean up after this year’s edition.

Chewbacca at Middle East Film & Comic Con

1. Everyone’s a fan

It’s not just for geeks, for nerds, for gamers, for bearded film buffs, for spotty boys or natural born exhibitionists. It’s literally for everyone. Because almost all of us have watched a movie, played a video game, bought a comic, read a book, hung a piece of art on the wall or looked up at the stars and wondered: surely we can’t be alone?

Filipinos, Westerners, Arabs, Asians as well as others (and perhaps even aliens – well you’d never know would you?), whatever their ages, of both genders (and maybe even some indeterminate ones) are represented at this event – in a way a wonderful celebration of Dubai itself as one of, if not the most cosmopolitan and multi-cultural cities in the entire region.

Horror Cosplay at Middle East Film & Comic Con

Not only do the common interests and fandom break down any barriers that may exist, but there is an atmosphere of immense camaraderie and friendliness – everyone is approachable (yes, even if they’re dressed as a zombie with half their face chewed off). And despite the potentially maddening crowds and long lines for everything, it’s a relaxed, fun and intoxicating atmosphere.

2. Show your talent

Many years ago, a delusional younger version of yours truly had visions of becoming a Comic book script writer. I even did a course and self-published a couple of, what would then be known as, ‘Small Press’ comics.

Maleficent and at Middle East Film & Comic Con

Essentially this would involve me and a couple of equally aspirant artists I had teamed up with, spending hours down the photocopy shop, printing out pages, and assembling and stapling the comics ourselves, then trying to sell them at the next convention. You can even still read one of them here.

So it’s very heartening to see row after row of talented young writers and artists, many home-grown from right here in the region, offering for sale comic books or comic art that wouldn’t look out of place with a Marvel or DC logo on them.

Art at Middle East Film & Comic Con

The standard of art, creativity and skills is just astounding – it’s a good thing I visited this section after I had paid for the overpriced sandwiches, or I wouldn’t be able to afford them later.

But the point is that it’s a unique and marvellous opportunity for creators to pitch directly to consumers – knowledgeable and enthusiastic consumers, the kind of consumers who are always looking for something fresh, different and exciting.

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3. Live your fantasy

Cosplay is a mainstay of such conventions nowadays and astoundingly popular. Whether it is just a mask over your face, or an incredibly intricate and full-working costume depicting a character you might have thought impossible to dress up as (such as General Grievous from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – who was a Cosplay winner this year by the way), anyone can be anything.

And that I think is the appeal – yes there is a competitive element to it (although only a fraction of the multitude of those who dressed up, actually took part in the competition), and yes it’s fun to be your favourite character or go as a bunch of friends dressed up as fictional beings.

Middle East Film & Comic Con

However I think it’s more than that. It is actually a direct extension of the same reason we engage in popular entertainment – escapism. Except that this form of it feels as real as it can get. You have a chance to break from the boring and banal stressful mundanity of your everyday existence and for a day or two, live a fantasy.

You can be superhero, you can be a villain, you can make up a character or mix them up (Lady Thor, Darth Vader in a tie, or British bobby in a mirrored full-face visor, with nunchuks and a cape – yes really).

You can wear a skin-tight one-piece, very little at all or sweat beneath a heaving over-sized outfit; you can wear astonishing makeup and be unrecognisable or completely hide your face; you can carry seemingly lethal weapons like swords, daggers and guns; you can growl and snarl at people and they’ll love you for it.

Gandalf the Grey at Middle East Film & Comic Con

You could be lauded and feted, respected and appreciated and everyone will want to get a selfie with you. You can shed social norms and accepted conventions, even in a relatively conservative place like this, and you can be a superstar, and for a few hours, you can feel like one too.

My little princesss – 10-year Leena – went dressed as Maleficent and we lost track of the number of times people took pictures of her, or asked to take pictures with her.

It’s genius actually, and very appealing the more I think about it.

at Middle East Film & Comic Con

In fact, my only one disappointment at Comic Con was that whilst there was an overload of Star Wars stuff, it was sadly lacking in Star Trek memorabilia and characters, despite Kirk being in attendance, Leonard Nimoy (Spock) sadly having left us recently, and the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek being soon upon us.

So I’m thinking next year I might indulge in bit of Star Trek Cosplay myself – who do you think I should go as?

Either way – I can’t wait for #MEFCC2016

My full album from #MEFCC2015 here

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