Age of Comic Con



Avengers: Age of Ul­tron broke box-of­fice records in China by earn­ing $33.9 mil­lion on its open­ing day, push­ing global ticket sales for the movie past the $1 bil­lion mark within a week.

At around the same time, a ver­i­ta­ble galaxy of su­per­heroes in­vaded Shang­hai as Comic Con (SHCC) de­buted in the city on May 16, at­tract­ing over 14,000 fans from all over the coun­try.

They helped turn the 13,000-square-me­ter ex­hi­bi­tion space on the left bank of the city’s Suzhou Creek into a comic car­ni­val cel­e­brated by mon­sters, princesses, and char­ac­ters from the lat­est Hol­ly­wood block­buster.

The two-day event also in­cluded 42 ex­hibitors and over 30 artists flown in from the United States and other places for au­to­graph sign­ings, pho­tos and dis­cus­sions.

No­table guests in­cluded Mads Mikkelsen, who starred in the popular US TV show Han­ni­bal, Luke Evans from the movie The Hob­bit, and Robin Lord Tay­lor, who played the Pen­guin in the Fox spin-off Gotham.

Although the in­au­gu­ral SHCC was small in scope com­pared to its New York pro­gen­i­tor — the largest comic-in­spired fair of its kind in North Amer­ica — it was hailed as a suc­cess with enor­mous po­ten­tial.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly or­ga­nized and fans are sur­pris­ingly in­formed,” said David Finch, the Canadian-born illustrator be­hind New Avengers, Bat­man: Dark Knight and other clas­sic works.

It was Finch’s first time in China but he said he was over­whelmed by the re­cep­tion he got from lo­cal fans, many of whom treated him as an old friend. Finch is one of the world’s best­selling sketch­ers. He now works ex­clu­sively for DC Comics, Inc.

“It was a sur­prise,” he said. “I didn’t know what to ex­pect here. Truth­fully, at lots of con­ven­tions, I can see when peo­ple rec­og­nized me but they didn’t say any­thing. But here, they would say, ‘It’s David Finch,’ and try to talk and take pic­tures with me.”

Hav­ing em­barked on his ca­reer 20 years ago, Finch said he watched comic book sales drop steadily for the first decade of his ca­reer.

“The fol­low­ing years saw sales grad­u­ally pick­ing up, mostly be­cause of the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, and mostly thanks to the Hol­ly­wood movies,” he said.

SHCC is at the be­gin­ning of “an ex­cit­ing jour­ney”, ac­cord­ing to Lance Fen­ster­man, founder of New York Comic Con and global vice pres­i­dent of Reed Ex­hi­bi­tions, which in­tro­duced Comic Con to Shang­hai.

“Chi­nese fans have world­class knowl­edge of global and lo­cal comic cul­ture and fol­low the trends closely,” said Fen­ster­man, who plans to bring the event to more cities in the coun­try.

“The gen­uine popular comic cul­ture needs such fans, and th­ese fans de­serve their own comic events,” he said.

Chi­nese fans have proven to be knowl­edge­able, pa­tient and ded­i­cated.

VIP tick­ets and

two-day passes for event sold out months ear­lier. They cost 1,888 yuan ($305) and 288 yuan, re­spec­tively.

Some waited out­side the ex­hi­bi­tion cen­ter from 4am, five hours be­fore the doors opened, just to get a day pass, ac­cord­ing to se­cu­rity guards at the Shang­hai Con­ven­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­ter of In­ter­na­tional Sourc­ing, where the event was hosted.

Tick­ets were all gone by noon, cre­at­ing room for scalpers to push up prices by 200 per­cent.

In­side the cen­ter, col­lectibles and au­tho­rized edi­tions of comic books sold out more quickly than the tick­ets.

“It just feels sooth­ing to be around some­thing I have been read­ing and fan­ta­siz­ing about ev­ery day for years,” said Yu Fang, a 14-year-old stu­dent who came with her class­mate.

Their in­ter­est in Amer­i­can comics was piqued by Iron Man, which hit lo­cal the­aters three years ago. At last week­end’s fair, Yu spent 500 yuan on posters, mugs and cof­fee ta­ble books fea­tur­ing high-res pho­tos of Luke Evans. It cost her two months’ pocket money and that day’s lunch bud­get, she said.

And yet she could be con­sid­ered thrifty com­pared to many of the fans who formed long lines to get their mer­chan­dise signed by the likes of Evans and Mikkelsen, who were equally happy dispensing hand­shakes and hugs. Fans paid 800 yuan to at­tend the sign­ing event with the two stars.

“One doesn’t bar­gain when get­ting the chance to meet Mads,” said Lei Xiaolin, who trav­eled from Hong Kong. The 20-year-old col­lege stu­dent opted for the au­to­graph-sign­ing booth in­stead of the photo booth be­cause the for­mer al­lowed just 400 peo­ple in dur­ing three hours, while the lat­ter ad­mit­ted 700 dur­ing two hours.

She wanted those pre­cious ex­tra mo­ments with Mikkel­son that the booth promised, she said.

Wang Maomao, the Bei­jing artist be­hind China’s most widely used emoti­con Tuzki, was less im­pressed with the af­fair. For Wang, it was less fun and too much like a trade fair.

“It’s sup­posed to be a party. It of­fers a rare chance to bring an imag­i­nary world to life and dress up like some­one or some­thing from that world. But most peo­ple here are just buy­ing mer­chan­dise and spend­ing money rather than tap­ping into their cre­ativ­ity,” she said.

The 30-year-old re­cently fin­ished her mas­ter’s de­gree in ex­per­i­men­tal an­i­ma­tion at the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Arts. Her iconic bunny emoti­cons were re­cently in­tro­duced on Face­book.

Like mil­lions of young Chi­nese born af­ter the 1980s, Wang grew up watch­ing and read­ing comics from neigh­bor­ing coun­tries like Ja­pan and South Korea.

“They have cul­ti­vated our habit of read­ing comics just as Star­bucks has cul­ti­vated our con­sump­tion of take­away cof­fee,” she said. “But the im­pact of Hol­ly­wood su­per­hero films has cre­ated a new era.”


Elab­o­rate cos­tumes at­tracted as much at­ten­tion at Shang­hai's first-ever Comic Con as its A-list celebrity guests.


Robin Lord Tay­lor is af­fec­tion­ately nick­named "The Lit­tle Pen­guin" by Chi­nese fans for his role in Fox's spin-off Gotham.

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