2012 Middle East Film & Comic Con
By Aaron Noah M.
Location:Dubai, UAE

Sheldon: You know, in difficult times like this, I often turn to a force stronger than myself.
Amy: Religion?
Sheldon: Star Trek.

— The Big Bang Theory (Episode: The Alien Parasite Hypothesis)

We know who you are.  We know you’ve been hiding out for quite some time.  We’ve spotted you in bookstores all over Dubai, desperately searching for those precious missing volumes and issues.  We’ve seen your collection of dragon candle holders, your Official Klingon Dictionary, and your complete Star Wars DVD Box Set (knowing full well that Episodes I, II, and III kind of suck).  We know that the leather boots and cape in your closet are NOT for costume parties or Halloween.

Hark!  Hide no longer!  Comic, gaming, fantasy, and sci-fi geeks…your moment has finally arrived.

Well, actually, it just came and went.  So if you were on another planet or possibly another dimension last weekend (20-21 April, 2012) and failed to make it to the first Comic Con to come to this region, then read on.

My last comic book purchase was probably about twenty five years ago, and yet the steady childhood diet of Marvel Comics and Mad Magazines certainly made a lasting impression on me.  My original comic collection is still intact, each issue carefully sealed in acid-free polypropylene bags, all stacked upright in two purpose-built cases, and safely tucked away at my parents’ house (much to their dismay!).  Also, having dabbled in cartooning and illustration myself, I’ve always appreciated the craft of these arts.

As for other nerdy endeavors, I’m definitely not a full-blooded Trekkie (or “Trekker “ if you’re more refined) but, like many people, I’m well-versed on much of the television sci-fi out there.  In the fantasy realm, I used to play Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, and I have read several book series, including those by Jordan (Wheel of Time) and R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones).  I’m weakest in the gaming sector.  The last video game I was thoroughly into was World of Warcraft…version 1 from 1994!

Luke Habibi I Am Your Father

An Arab Darth Vadar

Even without my comic book history, this would be the first event of its kind in the region, and reason enough for me to visit.  The organizers carefully titled it, “The Middle East Film & Comic Con” and I’m guessing the “film” part was added to rope in as much of the entertainment fringe element as possible.  I can’t blame them.  After all, how many comic book fans could there REALLY be in the UAE?

As it turns out, there are heaps of them.  When I turned up with my one day pass (AED 55), the convention area (Dubai International Marine Club) was packed.  In a city known for its pretentious trend seekers and VIP-obsessed minions, it was a pleasant surprise to suddenly find myself swimming in an oasis of geekiness.  It was a mixed crowd of venerable comic buffs, families, and packs of school kids.  Most of us were not dressed up (as is the tradition in other established Comic Cons), but there were enough folks in costume to give the place the right atmosphere.

Middle East Film & Comic Con

Photo ops with an Elf chick

The Comic Con venue had both indoor and outdoor elements.  The ground floor of the Marine Club was dedicated to the larger stands.  Marvel, Sony, Kinokuniya Books, Jashanmal Books, and Topps Trading Company were all there, as well as a “Comic Village” (with names such as Arachaia Comics and Top Cow Comics) and a “Manga Town” section.  The first floor was populated with many smaller artists and vendors, with the exception of the gaming area, which featured the likes of Nintendo, Sony, Activision, and EA Games.  Outside was more for relaxing, with a grassy stage area, various food stalls, a movie tent, a Freej cartoon bouncy castle, and a beer garden.

The general setup was well organized and I was happy to see the many artists at tables, inking and autographing panels.  There was also a full schedule of activities to keep fans busy, including workshops, stage shows, stand-up comedy, cinema, and opportunities to meet a few comic and Hollywood celebs.  Notable appearances were made by Jeremy Halin (Darkness, Artifacts), Ali F. Mostafa (City of Life), Conor Mc Creery (Kill Shakespeare), Anthony Del Col (Kill Shakespeare), Lee Townsend (Spiderman, Judge Dredd), Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Conan The Barbarbian), Luciana Carro (Battlestar Galatica, Falling Skies), and John Rhys Davies (Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones), to name just a few.

John Rhys Davies

John Rhys Davies

I also noticed some aspects of the event that could be improved for next year.  The two guys I saw on the main stage attempting a comedy act were barely tolerable, and the other acts weren’t much better (although I understand most of it was geared for kids, and they seemed to like it).

The absence of DC Comics was also conspicuous, and for what little Marvel Comics presented, they might as well been a no-show as well.  Marvel had a stand right at the front entrance, and all they could conjure up was a few panel graphics and an LCD screen (propped up on the floor) looped with a preview of the upcoming Avengers movie.  Evidently these two comic giants had decided that there would not be enough interest in the region to invest in this event.  After seeing the crowds this year, maybe they’ll have more of a presence next time around.

Amazing Fantasy #15

ONLY AED 50,000!

For a comic convention, there was a surprising lack of actual comics.  The two biggest vendors, Kinokuniya and Jashanmal, are both bookstores, and they supplied most of the mainstream stuff, which is primarily re-released material in the form of graphic novels (which can be found in their stores everyday at the same prices).  Individual issues and special deals were hard to come by.  I was hoping to locate some offbeat items by the artist Art Crumb, but I soon realized that this Comic Con is not quite ready for that kind of request.  However, I did spot one old gem: a 1962 copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, which is the first appearance and origin story of Spider Man…and it was signed by Stan Lee!  During all of my years of comic collecting I had always wanted to see this issue in person, up close…and for only AED 50,000 ($13,625) I could have taken it home.  But that’s nothing.  If it had been in better condition, it would have been worth much, much more.  A near-mint copy (CGC graded 9.6) sold for 1.1 million (yes, million) US dollars back in 2011!

I can’t really blame the Middle East Film &Comic Con for lack of material.  Right now in Dubai the biggest comic book sellers are bookstores, not dedicated comic shops.  One of the benefits of grouping all of these fans together in an event like this is to check out the real demand for comic merchandise.  I think vendors have taken notice on this year’s numbers.  One table I visited sold artsy posters of popular video games.  The guy running it said that he had only brought in 3 framed versions of each design because he didn’t expect much traffic, but after the first day he had already filled 100 backorders on one design only!

Middle East Film & Comic Con

Dubai Int. Marine Club

For a first outing I believe the 2012 Middle East Film &Comic Con was a successful venture.  While the event was not quite at the level of other larger Comic Cons across the globe, this initial attempt offered  an excellent variety of merchandise, artists, and activities that should create a solid base for the future.  And if the volume of fan support this year was anything to go by…

…that future looks bright.  ‘Nuff said.

Click on the thumbnails below to see more photos of the event: