x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dig out the Star Wars uniform: Film & Comic Con coming to the capital

Organisers behind the first international comics convention to be held in the Middle East aim to lure 25,000 fans to the event.

Recognise any of your favourite comic book or manga heroes? Ben Caddy, left, and Arafaat Ali Khan say interest in their planned comic-con is huge even before they set an official date.
Recognise any of your favourite comic book or manga heroes? Ben Caddy, left, and Arafaat Ali Khan say interest in their planned comic-con is huge even before they set an official date.

ABU DHABI // Prepare to iron that Cylon War-era uniform from Battlestar Galactica. An international comics convention is coming to the capital, the first time such an event will be held in the Middle East. There, nerds are sure to rule. The organisers of Middle East Film & Comic Con, a planned showcase of cult entertainment and general geekdom, are devoting the event to genres including manga, anime and video games, as well as science fiction, fantasy, horror, action figures and graphic novels.

They hope up to 25,000 diehard fans and more casual attendees will visit the convention over the course of the weekend. Tentatively scheduled for next March at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, the comic-con will be a place where fashion meets fantasy. Voracious fanboys and girls will be encouraged to participate in "cosplay" - short for costume role play - by dressing up as their preferred woodland creature, anime vampire hunter, video-game assassin or Harry Potter wizard.

"We live in the age of the geek," said Ben Caddy, a Star Wars fanatic and managing director of ExtraCake, the Dubai-based events management and advertising agency that is organising the expo. "The industry has grown significantly. Bookstores here have increased their manga sections tenfold. You're starting to see the demand for something like this." Many major cities in the world already host annual comic-cons and the largest is held in San Diego. But so far this region has been left behind, Mr Caddy reasoned.

"Of course there's San Diego, Toronto has one, New York has the second biggest, Chicago, Florida, London, Tokyo. But in the Middle East? Nothing." The region deserved more, said his managing partner, Arafaat Khan, who has a collection of more than 2,000 comics. "So we're looking at the top people from the comic-book industry, the anime and manga industry, from TV and films," said Mr Khan. A Facebook page for the event has already been bombarded with hundreds of views, supportive messages and enquiries.

"People are already asking: 'What can I wear? Should I bring weapons?' We're like, no! But you can bring fake weapons if you want to," Mr Caddy said, laughing. The organisers have already contacted several likely candidates, in the hopes of drawing them to the capital to make appearances - a hallmark of other comic-con events. One is Stan Lee, the American comics legend who co-created the Spider-Man and X-Men characters.

"I'm actually going in October to meet Stan Lee at the New York Comic Con," said Mr Caddy. "And that's at his request, as in, 'I'm interested, I want to talk to you, please come and meet me in New York'." William Shatner, the Canadian actor best known for portraying Captain James T Kirk in the original Star Trek television series, has also expressed interest. Plans are afoot to include regional talent among guest speakers, too. The organisers are also pursuing Dr Naif al Mutawa, creator of The 99, the first comic series based upon Islamic archetypes, for a possible Q&A session.

"And we've met some Emirati girls who can illustrate manga to an international level," Mr Caddy said. While the passion is there, comic-con would provide a much-needed marketplace, Mr Khan added. "These people produce their own comic books, like eight-pagers, and at their own cost, but they don't have an outlet to sell these things," he said. The business partners are thrilled about the groundswell of enthusiasm, considering they have yet to announce their plans officially. Ticket details are still being decided and the firm is welcoming investors.

"But some people are already saying: 'Oh yeah, I'm probably going to have my preview book at the Middle East comic-con'," Mr Khan said. "We haven't even sent out our press release." Whether or not he will be invited as a guest or exhibitor, Qais Sedki, the Emirati author of the Gold Ring manga series, will be there. He first heard the buzz about the convention over Twitter. "At the absolute minimum, I'm definitely attending," he said. "I'd love to be involved. I used to be into more of the US comics like Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Top Cow."

Volume 2 of Gold Ring, which chronicles the adventures of a young falconer, could even be launched at the convention, he said. Ashraf Ghori, the Dubai-based creator of the XeroError computer-animated short about a cyborg, mused about the convention as a possible platform to tease a feature-length film about his character. "I would love it if Todd McFarlane, the guy who created Spawn, would be there for a signing, but I won't miss this for the world," he said.

Abdelrahmaan Mohamed, the Emirati owner of a video games lounge in Dubai Mall, hoped to set up a gaming zone at the event. "The timing is perfect for this thing," he said. "It's the time when movies these days are all about comic books. It's the rise of the geek era. It's all about us." For more information, visit www.mefilmandcomiccon.com. @Email:mkwong@thenational.ae