x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Beasts no burden here

The Middle East Film & Comic Con has survived a potentially tricky move to a new venue at Dubai World Trade Centre. Here are some of our favourite highlights from this year’s show.

Rafat Anter of the UAE, left, as Beastman and Randolph Costilow of the United States as Skeletor at the Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Rafat Anter of the UAE, left, as Beastman and Randolph Costilow of the United States as Skeletor at the Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

So the Middle East Film & Comic Con (MEFCC) is over for another year, and judging by the overwhelmingly positive responses and undying love pouring forth from Twitter, it’s survived a potentially tricky move to a new venue at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) with some style. Here are some of our favourite things about this year’s show.

Location, location, location

We’d heard a lot of concern from Comic Con fans in the run-up to this year’s event that moving the event from the scenic surroundings of the International Marine Club to the more prosaic DWTC would somehow take away from the event’s festival feel, particularly that of the popular outdoor stage. We’re pleased to report that the fears were unfounded. A new outdoor area proved just as popular and seemed to come with more shaded areas, which was great for hiding from both Friday and Saturday’s beating sun, and the torrential downpour that greeted visitors on Thursday’s schools and VIP day.

Storming for charity

MEFCC has traditionally held a charity auction and this year’s was a bit special with the Stormtrooper helmets local artists had decorated for Art Wars Dubai going under the hammer. The auction raised more than Dh50,000, with Yasmine Richie’s Into My Eyes You Must Look taking top honours for achieving a Dh10,000 sale.

I am legend

It’s not every day you get to be involved in Skype conversation with possibly the most famous name in comic book history, Marvel Comic’s Stan Lee, the creator of characters such as Spider-Man, Thor, Hulk and many more. During the chat, Lee discussed the importance of reading, movie adaptations of his works, and how Spider-Man could easily have been Flyman, as well as jokingly dismissing rival DC Comics characters such as Batman as “OK, but not Marvel.” The biggest cheer of the night, though, came for: “I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to be talking to you halfway around the world, to be talking to fans, it’s a great honour for me and it seems to me you’re about the greatest fans anyone could ever have.”

Rediscovering local talent

The Dubai Culture-supported Artists’ Alley was a welcome reminder of the wealth of artistic talent in the region, from Emiratis such as the Manga collaborator Mo Abedin, who unveiled his new work Raiiken, to expats such as the Xpanse CGI animator and FX guru Ashraf Ghori, whose limited, 500-run coffee table book Vault: The Digital Art of Ashraf Ghori was flying off the shelves when we stopped by his stand. These were just two of almost 200 regional artists’ stands, serving as testament to the region’s rapidly growing creative industries.

And discovering new ones

Perhaps even more exciting, the UAE could soon have its very own Marvel artist. Dubai Moving Image Museum’s One Page Comic Competition winner, Yasser Alireza, was at the event with his winning comic, which was critiqued by Marvel’s chief talent scout and the vice president of creator content development, C B Cebulski. His verdict? “I was really impressed. He told a story inspired by the shadows and light he saw at the museum, on a single page, coherently – I didn’t even have to read the word balloons to understand the story. For someone with so little experience who has a day job and just draws comics as a passion to come up with something of such a professional standard is brilliant.” Asked whether a job offer would be in the post, Cebulski added: “We’re going to be sending him some sample scripts, so we’ll see.”

Incredible rarities

Would you pay US$800,000 (Dh2.9 million) for a comic? You’d have to if you wanted to pick up the very first appearance of Batman on Metropolis Collectibles’ stall. Ammar Alaradi, Metroplis’s representative in the region, explained: “We have some serious collectors flying in from all over the Gulf for this event, but collecting comics is still pretty new to the Middle East and a lot of people see it as an amateur hobby, so they’re surprised when they come to the stand and see a comic with a thousands-of-dollars price tag. Part of our job is very much educating the public in the region about the comic world and collecting because it’s still so novel here.” For the cheapskates out there, alternatives on Metroplis’s stand included a first issue of Superman for $600,000, or a Hulk #1, for a mere $200,000.

• For our full Comic Con coverage and photo galleries, go to www.thenational.ae/arts-culture