An introduction to Shanghai Comic Con 2016

What's the deal with all these people dressed as superheroes anyway?

Last year, the organisers of some of the world’s largest celebrations of geekdom, ReedPOP, brought Comic Con to Mainland China for the first time. For two days, the usually straight-laced Shanghai Convention & Exhibition Center of International Sourcing in Putuo district was transformed into whirlpool of pop culture, cosplay, comics, anime, modelling and gaming.


Encouraged by that success, the organisers have doubled their Mainland conventions this year. In June, Beijing held its inaugural Comic Con and now the Shanghai Comic Con (SHCC) returns with promises that it’ll be even bigger and better than last time out. All over the city, creators and fans are eagerly anticipating year two.


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‘There is definitely a fan base here, especially when people can dress up and get close to the stars,’ says Shanghai-based manga artist Li Yishan. Li, perhaps best known for her recent work illustrating the Buffy: The High School Years – Freaks & Geeks series, will be one of a number of local artists at this year’s SHCC, but has plenty of experience of the events, having also attended the Middle East Film and Comic Con, among others. ‘It’s massive there,’ she says of the Dubai-based showcase. ‘You can suddenly feel the globalisation. People all over get together over one interest. Comic Con is a great meeting point for cultures.’


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Li is no stranger to cross-cultural exchanges herself, having grown up in China before moving to the UK to study business. When she got out of business school, she actually wanted to work for HSBC, but shifted her focus to comics when that didn’t work out. Now, she can’t imagine being a professional artist in any other field. But she also confesses to being a fan (when we ask what she’s most looking forward to at SHCC, she names taking pictures with the green screen dragons from Game of Thrones) and is excited that Comic Con has landed in China. Read the full interview with Li here.


It’s a sentiment shared by another locally-based illustrator Billy Tan. Malaysian-born Tan moved to the US at the age of 18 and eventually worked for comic behemoths Marvel and DC Comics (for six years and three years respectively) before upping sticks to set up his own studio, Tan Comics, in Shanghai.


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Tan, who worked heavily on X-Men-related titles and says his ultimate aim is ‘to build a cultural phenomenon, a superhero universe that is originated from China or Asian countries’, sees great potential for the expansion of Western-style comics in this country. ‘It was the first time that fans were being introduced to the Western comic style and they were pretty excited about it,’ he says of last year’s SHCC. ‘They got to meet artists that they otherwise couldn’t have. Of course it’s not going to rival things that have been there for 40 or 50 years, but it’s growing at a rapid speed.’ Read the full interview with Tan here.


Indeed, this year may only be the second outing for SHCC, but organisers say that interest is such that they will be expanding to take over three floors of the convention centre this time around, having occupied two in 2015. Along with nearly 40 exhibitors, including more than 20 multinational artists, this year’s line-up includes some big names such as Nathan Fillion (of Firefly and Castle fame), Billy Boyd (Pippin in The Lord of the Rings), Amy Acker (star of Person of Interest, Angel and Alias) and the world’s most famous cosplayer, Yaya Han.


Han will be judging SHCC’s cosplay contest, an elaborate interactive affair where entrants show off the costumes they have made in the likenesses of fictional characters. Costumes will be judged on accuracy and craftsmanship, from needlework and armour construction to special effects and scale. Cosplay has become one of the most visible elements of fandom in the West and most convention attendees have dabbled in cosplay at one point or another, enjoying how it combines artistic creativity with the love they have for various characters. This is something which is easily relatable for China-based fans, with cosplay contests and activities a regular occurrence here through major conventions such as the long-running ChinaJoy as well as standalone competitions.


Yet China-born US resident Han, a veteran of Comic Cons across the globe, is keen to emphasise the non-competitive side of cosplay too. ‘The great thing about going to conventions these days is that you don’t have to compete in a contest to enjoy cosplay,’ she says. ‘From walking around the floor, to doing photoshoots, to filming videos, there are many ways for cosplayers to pass their time, and get into character.’


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But what if you’re a cosplay newbie? ‘I absolutely recommend for new cosplayers to choose a character they connect with, and simply experience the feeling of walking around as that character,’ she advises. ‘I also think they should watch the costume contest, and attend cosplay-related programming, such as Q&A panels, or crafting workshops. Bring questions, be curious, and know that everyone is accepted. Cosplay, above all, is a form of fan expression, and therefore is accessible to everyone. You don’t need advanced skills to cosplay. But if you want to learn, there are ways. China is a country famous for its arts and crafts, and it’s where many raw materials are sourced. I believe that as long as you are willing, and motivated, you can learn anything.’


Among the cosplayers hoping to have plenty of camera lenses pointing in her direction at SHCC is Shanghai resident Feiying. ‘What first fascinated me is that cosplay is able to bring me a lot of enjoyment. When I cosplay a character I think I have already become them, I am doing what they could do,’ she says. Feiying buys some of her costumes from Taobao, but also makes outfits with the help of her grandmother when she wants to cosplay less popular characters.


‘It can look a bit strange,’ she admits, ‘but I told my friends about my hobby and they were very receptive, so I am also very grateful to them.’ Han, who has turned her hobby into a globe-trotting profession, echoes these thoughts and says a sense of affinity is one of the great strengths of Comic Con. ‘It continues to amaze me how inclusive the fandom community all over the world is,’ she says. ‘Fandom extends beyond language and cultural barriers, and you can come to a Comic Con relaxed, knowing that you belong,’


But whether you’re coming in costume or plain clothes, as a comic obsessive or just a curious civilian, there’s sure to be plenty to occupy your time at SHCC 2016. ‘Everyone should visit the Artist Alley, and see the work of Western and Eastern artists. I expect there to be some really impressive booths, so take your time to browse,’ says Han. ‘And if you see a cosplayer, ask them for a photo! You’ll make their day!’


Never attended a con before? Our Convention Survival Guide is here to save the day

Stay hydrated. Entertainment conventions are crowded events – last year’s SHCC drew over 14,000 fans. Don’t forget to eat, as well. Portable snacks like crackers and dried fruit will keep your energy up, and you’ll get to avoid the overpriced food.


Travel light. Chances are you’ll be buying things at the con, so make sure you actually have room in your bag. Since you’ll be on your feet for much of the day, a lighter bag is doubly helpful.


Know your priorities. Want to see Nathan Fillion? So does everyone else. Don’t expect to get into a popular event if you show up ten minutes beforehand.


Charge your devices. You’ll be on your phone in line. You’ll be looking up series and artists on your phone. You’ll be finding your friends with your phone. You’ll be taking a lot of pictures with your phone. If you have a portable battery, bring it.


Talk to the artists in Artist Alley. Artists love to answer your questions about their work, and most of them take commissions, so you can walk away with a picture made just for you of whatever you want.


Budget. Some guests charge for autographs, some don’t. Find out if that action figure is an event exclusive, or if you can get it without a markup online. Some vendors only accept cash.


Follow the 5-2-1 rule. At least five hours of sleep, two real meals, and one shower every day of the con. You’ll have more fun, and people will have more fun around you.


See full details for Shanghai Comic Con and buy tickets below.


Additional reporting by Elysia Bagley.

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