Each November they arrive: a joyful horde of comic book connoisseurs, sci-fi fanatics, obscurists, die-hards and enthusiasts line the streets of Birmingham, UK for the city's twice-yearly MCM Comic Con. Brits are well-acquainted with long queues but this one is hard to miss: Pikachu patiently waiting his turn to enter the venue next to a giant computer cursor, Buzz Lightyear in Converse All Stars, and one too many Spider-Men to count. Bug-eyed furries were there en masse offering free hugs; the Grim Reaper tried to spice things up this season with a Hawaiian flower garland.
Birmingham MCM may not be able to compete with the behemoth San Diego Comic Con in scale, or the renowned New York convention in celebrity guests. But there’s something special about a patient row of Cybermen in the rain, chatting about the weather and Matt Hancock; something untouchable about a Brummie Marge Simpson, or a Grinch tucking into a Boots meal deal. It’s a genre of “British” that is hard to beat. The convention is attended by tens of thousands across a weekend at the National Exhibition Centre, and hundreds of thousands at similar events throughout the country – an excuse to slap on some lycra and disappear into the fictional world, particularly when the real one is so disappointing. It's a spectacle of mostly online communities as they come together IRL, bringing their surreal antics with them. For some attendees, only full-on prosthetics and head-to-toe dedication to their favourite franchise will do; others simply throw on a pastel-coloured wig or a crumpled graphic tee. (Come on, guys, do better.) But the goal is always the same: to enjoy, to confuse and succumb to the weirdness. VICE photographer Chris Bethell was there this month to capture the scenes – face paint, fishnets and all.