Major international players from the film, television, gaming, anime and comic worlds – and legions of their fans – are due to descend on Dubai this weekend for the first Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC).
The fan fest has been organised by ExtraCake PR in partnership with New York Comic Con and will be held at Dubai International Marine Club, Mina Seyahi, on Friday and Saturday.
Since the first Comic Con was held in San Diego, California, in 1970, the exhibitions have become a colourful, worldwide phenomenon, with spin-off events in various cities attracting outlandishly dressed fans and celebrities promoting their releases alike.
Individual Comic Con events usually attract significant media attention; this year the shows are the subject of the film Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, from the American documentary maker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me).
When Comic Con starts in Dubai this weekend, it will feature more than 100 representatives selling merchandise from the worlds of science fiction, fantasy films, television, animation, comic books, anime, manga and pop art.
Autograph seekers will have top creative talent to choose from: among the confirmed guests are the actors Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), John Rhys Davis (The Lord of the Rings); the comic-book artist Lee Townsend (Superman, Judge Dredd); the Malaysian manga artist Sonia Leong; the Emirati filmmaker Ali Mostafa (City of Life) and the Emirati graphic novelist Qais Sedki (The Gold Ring).
Max Landis, a young up-and-coming Hollywood screenwriter behind this year's sci-fi hit film Chronicle, was looking forward to making the trek over from his home in the US for the event, calling the emirate the ideal setting for Comic Con.
"Dubai, to people in America, is a kind of Narnian paradise," he said. "We know about it, and the very elite may have even been there, but for most people it's a distant, Emerald City dream universe. The notion of visiting this place, mixed of course with comics and film, my two favourite things, was irresistible to me."
Sheikha Wafa bint Hasher Al Maktoum, who will inaugurate the event, spoke about her passion for creativity and the reasons that drew her involvement in the forthcoming event.
The local scene is growing and evolving with the UAE "already making a mark in the art world", said Sheikha Wafa, who founded the FN Designs firm, which has supported projects such as the Fakie Skateboarding art exhibition in February. Comic Con also provides opportunity for artists, directors, animators and more to showcase their talent to their peers and the local and international industry.
"Film, gaming and manga, for example, are very popular in our part of the world and like the organisers, I wanted to help in supporting a new generation of talent wherever possible," said Sheikha Wafa. "With the guests who are coming to the event, it's a great opportunity for people to be inspired for the future."
The panel discussions on offer include What's the Manga With You?, The Art of Telling the Story and Can Fantasy Survive in Europe Alone?. Visitors will also be treated to several, still-secret sneak previews as well as screenings of popular films including The 99 and Star Wars.
The format is to be similar to others held around the world and will have largely the same activities and type of content, said Ben Caddy, the managing director of ExtraCake.
The Artist Alley will host more than 70 individual artists or growing companies, with 30 additional exhibitors throughout the venue, including some of the world's biggest entertainment companies.
"This type of event is so popular around the world and we want to build this into a landmark event for the region over time," said Caddy. "We really believe that between MEFCC in 2012 and the next one in 2013, we are going to see a number of companies established and some exciting new characters and projects off the ground."
Visitors can also take part in various workshops with industry professionals, learning how to make their own action figures, or the art of manga drawing and digital painting. A game zone is to feature brands such as PS3, Nintendo and Xbox and competitions, while an SAE Institute, Dubai, green screen will allow fans to get their photos taken alongside favourite characters.
The Jashanmal Comics Village will be buzzing with some of the largest comics publishers and artists, on hand to sign autographs or comic books.
"As a lifelong comic book, sci-fi and fantasy novel fan who grew up in this region and lived with the frustrating lack of available products, it's great to see something like MEFCC and to be part of it," said Narain Jashanmal, who is sponsoring the Comics Village. "The range of graphic novel and sci-fi/fantasy book titles that will be available under one roof, along with the atmosphere that the Con will offer, is unlike anything we've had out here before."
Given that it's the inaugural edition, Mr Jashanmal is looking forward to seeing how local residents react.
"The stories told in these books tap into very fundamental aspects of the human experience," he said. "Right now, I think the most important thing is that it lays the foundation for and stokes people's interest in not just reading and collecting comic books and memorabilia, but also creating them."
Caddy said the idea for a local Comic Con took shape on the back of a noticeable surge in available merchandise and content from both regional and international companies.
"With projects such as Freej and City of Life being so successful, we decided that now would be a good time to give regional talent some support while also sharing what we love ourselves with others," said Caddy.
Feedback, he added, has already been positive with fans expected to fly in from Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.
"We've even had interest from Iran, Pakistan and the US, so our hope is the venue is going to be full with excited fans," said Caddy.
One of the great features of any Comic Con is the elaborate costumes worn by visitors or on display. Those who skip dressing up as their favourite character only to regret it at the venue can stop by the Dubai-based Mr Ben's Costume Closet booth and rent a sci-fi or film costume.
Another confirmed guest is Sohaib Awan, the founder of the US-based Jabal Entertainment and the host of Fictional Frontiers, a weekly radio show dedicated to discussions on pop culture. Awan will be launching the company's first digital comic, Jinnrise, which blends comic books, animation, film and literature styles.
"The Middle East Film and Comic Con is our most important event in 2012," says Awan. "Jabal Entertainment was created to bridge the gap between the storytelling sensibilities of the East and West. This can only be accomplished through collaborative events such as the Con, where cultural exchanges occur at the grassroots level."
And underneath it all, he says, the event is really a "celebration of storytelling".
"Storytelling has always served to inform and entertain," he says. "Being part of an industry that reminds us of our shared heritage, the human saga... what more could you ask for? Rubbing shoulders with fans and those behind modern myths not only leads to mutual respect, but creative excitement for everyone."
A one-day pass to Middle East Film and Comic Con at Dubai International Marine Club, Mina Seyahi this weekend is Dh55. Weekend passes are Dh100 and VIP versions are Dh500 and available at TimeOut Tickets, Virgin Megastore, Jashanmal Books and Wild Peeta. Timings: Friday VIP 10am to 10pm. Regular ticket holders from 12pm to 10pm. Saturday VIP 10am to 10pm and regular ticket holders 11am-10pm. For more information visit www.mefcc.com