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.