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Geeking out and about

on Jun 13, 2012

The venue was designed to create a festival atmosphere.
The venue was designed to create a festival atmosphere.
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As the first comic con to take place in the region, the team at ExtraCake PRA and its production partners Wicked Tents, Byrne, Eclipse, JR Scenic, Electra, Flow, and Quickfix has set the bar high for future events. We speak to two key figures to find out more about what it took to pull off the first Middle East Film and Comic Con.

To many people outside of the Middle East, life in Dubai revolves around a never ending cycle of partying, and sunbathing on the beach. While for a small part of the expatriate crowd that might be true, the last five years have seen a slow, but steady increase in products and events for the region’s comic book, film and gaming fans.

Perhaps the best example of this increase in exposure in geek culture was the first Middle East Film and Comic Con, which took place in April at Dubai’s International Marine Club. However, despite the rise in popularity of such events around the world since the first one launched in San Diego in the 1970s, it was still a gamble for ExtraCake, the firm behind the project.

“Obviously, we hoped it would be successful,” says managing director at ExtraCake, Ben Caddy. “We knew there was demand there, but the numbers that turned up, and the atmosphere was overwhelming. What was probably the nicest thing was every nationality, every age, every gender was there.

You only have to look at the madness of the cosplay competition. We had 50 year old Emiratis, sat next to 25 year old Indians, and whole Filipino families; all of whom were having the same experience.”

As the first event of its kind in the region, it was also a challenge from a logistics perspective. “From a production point of view, it was amazing,” says Alistair McDonald, managing director of Wicked Tents, who was also event and logistics director on the project.

“There was not one piece of equipment that was damaged. Nor was anything stolen. There was no fighting, and aside from one minor accident where a lady slipped down the stairs in front of the venue, there were no injuries. For an event that attracts 14,000 people, that’s nuts.”

McDonald is full of praise for those that attended the event. “I think it’s normal to expect collateral damage at any event of that size. You’re talking about a mass volume of people. People can be careless, and they can accidently damage things. There’s always going to be an element of that sort of thing happening around any events site.

“We were just amazed that there was hardly anything,” he adds. “It there was so little to worry about that the parking situation - which is something that at a typical event of that size would be have been at best a minor headache, ended up being one of the main things we will need to address.”

However, it isn’t just the organisers that are full of praise. A quick look at the event’s Facebook page shows that those who attended the event were similarly over the moon with its success.

“People are saying it’s the best organised event they’ve ever been too,” reveals Caddy, adding jokingly, “If they could have seen behind the scenes, they might not have been saying that.”

The reality of the event is that it was two years in the planning. Originally slated to take in Abu Dhabi duing 2011, the reality of the Arab Spring meant it wasn’t going to be possible to attract the right local talent, as well as offer the opportunity for geeks from around the region to attend. However, despite that initial set back, the extra year the firm gained allowed it to refine the concept.

“In terms of the content, there wasn’t took much that changed,” reveals Caddy. “I think the venue and the way the event was set up, as well as the partners that we were able to bring on board, changed and the impact it had upon that was dramatic. I think moving it to Dubai was absolutely the right decision.”

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