“Ma’am – out of the way!” is all I hear before a man in a camouflage army uniform barrels past me, arms flung out to sweep bystanders from his path. A contingent of similarly-dressed men march through the middle of the aisle where I’d just been standing, followed by a wave of people clutching cameras and convention pamphlets. A ripple of clicks and flashes chases their wake, along with the buzz and murmur of gossipy interest.
The man who’d just been escorted by security across the convention hall floor was Stan Lee – the industry legend who, in the late fifties and early sixties, fathered the biggest names in Marvel’s roster, including Spider-Man. He was the guest of honour at this weekend’s Montreal Comiccon (MCC), but he was by no means the only impressive name on the guest list. In attendance was DC legend Neal Adams, James Marsters of Buffy fame, kick-ass superheroine writer Gail Simone, and the Batman and Robin actors from the eponymous sixties show – along with a host of other big names from industries spanning science fiction, bande dessinée, manga, and horror.
“Christian Bale? No. Adam West is my Batman,” enthused the middle-aged man beside me as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder ogling the 1966 Batmobile. Around us, the crowd pressed claustrophobically close, many dressed like they had stepped straight out of their respective fictional universes. Wolverine walked beside a Stormtrooper; a flock of Robins chattered as they passed; a tiny Batman trailed after his parents – the irony of which was a little heart-breaking.
In the midst of all these colourful characters, I was struck by the diversity around me. As MCC balances precariously on the edge between a local con and world-class event, so too does it inhabit the ambiguous twilight zone between various cultures and fandoms. The uniqueness of MCC as compared to, say, San Diego Comic-Con or the festivals de bandes dessinée – large comic book festivals in Europe – is that it exists within the cultural mélange of Montreal.
“The global nature of the industry means that this stuff is more or less merging,” said Thierry Labrosse, a French-Canadian comic artist and the author of Ab Irato. As an artist who exhibits at the colossal comic festivals of Europe, he explained that MCC has the potential to serve as an anchor between the North American comic scene, the East Asian graphic novel style, and the European bandes dessinées.
The Place Bonaventure hall is three times the size of the one used last year, but it was still crowded with attendees. At mid-afternoon, the admissions line looped back on itself six times in the cavernous room right outside the convention floor. While waiting in line for my media pass, I overheard MCC staff inform an irate man that they’d had to turn people away on Saturday because they were over capacity. It’s a little mind-boggling to imagine that this convention, which in 2007 reported a mere 700 attendees, swelled nearly 30 times in size to boast an attendance of over 20,000 this year.
Without fail, every exhibitor and artist I talked to said that it was their first year attending the MCC, many having heard about the success of last year’s show through the convention grapevine.
“The media coverage was good,” said Walter Durajlija, owner of Big B Comics in Hamilton. “The convention was covered by CBC, CTV, and the local papers picked it up… The organizers went all out this year.”
When I queried local artist Sanya Anwar about the MCC’s growth, she pronounced: “Montreal has been waiting for a con like this.” This thought echoed Durajlija’s opinion that while metropolitan areas like New York City and San Diego have their respective world-class cons, Montreal has always lacked one of its own. The unvoiced implication I discovered in every interview I conducted over the weekend is that, if MCC’s exponential growth continues, it may just well become Montreal’s own world-class con.