MCM London Comic Con illustrations

Commissioned artwork from London Comic Con, showing cartoon scene of characters out in public.

In the first quarter of 2017, I was commissioned by MCM Comic Con to create some cartoon illustrations for their upcoming London Comic Con expo. London Comic Con is the largest pop-culture event in Europe, and the third largest comic convention event in the world. Last year, over 133,000 people attended the London event: a celebration of sci-fi, film, comic books and gaming.

London Comic Con event 2016 panorama
Image credit: original photo taken by big-ashb.

A major part of comic con events is cosplay the practice of wearing costumes to represent a favourite fictional character. Cosplayers have become such a visible part of comic con events that MCM wanted me to draw scenes featuring cosplay as a visual motif.

DC Comics cosplay trio: female Captain America, Superman, Supergirl
Image info: original photo taken by Pietro Zuco.

Inspired by a scene from Rat Park

The commission originated with an MCM staff member seeing the final page of my Rat Park comic, showing my depiction of a Vancouver streetscape. It is a blend of cartoony and realistic, presented in my distinctive monochrome style.

Black and white cartoon of Vancouver skyline. Cartoon man crossing the road, drawing of homeless man pushing shopping cart. Mountains and Harbour Centre in the background.
Image credit: the final double-page spread of my Rat Park comic (2013).

“Be your own hero”

The MCM staff member thought it would be a distinctive image to have a coloured cosplayer in the middle of this black and white scene. They would stand out from the rest of the ‘boring’ scene, simply because they were the only element drawn in colour.

The concept, therefore, was people choosing to wear cosplay as part of their everyday lives. And, importantly, having this decision being seen as an unremarkable decision by the others around them. A fashion choice that was totally accepted by other members of society.

How to avoid copyright issues?

We created a shortlist of characters and scenarios that we wanted to feature in the scenes. We had to be careful not to violate copyright by drawing trademarked characters like Spiderman or Chewbacca. To get around legal issues, we had three options:

  • draw characters that are in the public domain. e.g. Cthulhu, Nosferatu, Dracula. (These are surprisingly rare, due to the insanely long copyright horizons that Hollywood studios have secured. Even stock characters like the neck-bolted Frankenstein’s Monster are still protected by copyright law).
  • draw genericised costumes that merely allude to a popular character (e.g. someone with a red and blue caped costume similar to Superman, but without the ‘S’ on the chest).
  • gender-bending a character, or blending two characters: Gender-bending is a common element of cosplay. This is an idea dilutes the concept of character, and genericises it – similar to the second bullet point. (We ended up using a female dressing up as Naruto Uzumaki in our London Tube scene).

Gender bending Super Mario and Luigi - Maria and Lucia photograph.
Image info: original photo taken by RyC – Behind The Lens.

Dropping down from six to two scenes

The original plan to was to draw six scenes that could be used for a variety of promotional purposes, such as bus stop posters, billboards, and fliers.

We were pushing up against time constraints. It was only one month until the London Comic Con event, and I had an Easter holiday already booked.

Because of these factors, we only ended up drawing two of the six scenes that we originally planned.

Scene 1: Office meeting scene

MCM wanted a scene of a middle-aged woman giving a presentation to her workmates during an office meeting. The workmates would be dressed in normal work attire and shown in black and white. The woman would be in a Supergirl costume, and shown in colour.

Portrait ratio of this scene

This scene was designed for a poster advertisement that was in portrait (vertical) ratio. This was a factor that constrained the way that I could show this scene within my illustration.

I could only imagine two ways to showing this scene in a portrait aspect ratio. My two rough drafts are shown below.

Supergirl in the office: draft version, option 1Supergirl in the office: draft version, option 2

We ended up using the second option, as it allows us to see the flip chart, so that it is clear that she is doing a presentation in a meeting.

Cramming in the Office Space references

I wanted to sneak pop-culture references into my artwork for this project. So, I decided to draw lots of references to the cult comedy film Office Space. Lumbergh, TPS reports, PC LOAD LETTER, the Jump to Conclusions Mat, pieces of flair, Initech versus Intertrode. Even the Milton’s red stapler makes an appearance.

Cartoon cosplay Supergirl giving a presentation at a flip chart in an office meeting. Other people dressed as Office Space film characters: Bill Lumbergh, Milton Waddams, Nina.

Scene 2: London Tube scene

My favourite completed scene from this project is the London Tube scene. Instead of just one out-of-place cosplayer, this time there were two cosplayers surrounding a ‘normal’ British gent on his daily commute.

Draft version

The perspective and framing of these scene was obvious from the get-go. A front-on shot showing the three people sitting on a bench of a tube car.

The only question was which characters to put on either side of the man? My first draft had Sona from League of Legends (particularly inspired by this cosplayer) on one side, and Cthulhu on the other.

Draft London Tube scene, featuring Sona (League of Legends) and Cthulhu.

Instead of this, MCM requested a revised version with a female version of Naruto Uzumaki on the left side, and a man with a genericised Superman costume on the right.

I am happier with this tube scene more so than the office meeting scene. A major reason is because the landscape (horizontal) orientation allowed me to show a wider view of the scene being depicted. Unfortunately there was an amount of ‘dead space’ within the portrait (vertical) arrangement of the office meeting scene.

The other reason that I like the tube scene better than the office scene is that it is out in public, rather than in a drab meeting room. This gave me better ability to draw in details like advertising signage, and pedestrians in the background.

London Tube scene: British man in bowler hat with umbrella sitting in tube car, with cosplayers on both sides of him. Sneaking a look at a newspaper.

I like the way that the British gent (attired, of course, with a bowler hat and umbrella) is stealthily sneaking a read of Superman’s newspaper!

Mad Magazine references

I’ll admit it: I’m not especially knowledgeable about superhero comics, or anime characters. I have not seen any of the current rush of Marvel and DC Comics films, and do not watch any anime series.

But I do have a strong interest in the broader possibilities of comics, as well as an interest in aspects of comic nerdom.

For me, Mad Magazine represents as aspect of nerdom that I wanted to depict in my illustration. So I snuck in references to Alfred E. Neuman, Spy vs. Spy, Max Korn, “What, Me Worry?”, Roger Kaputnik, the Mad Zeppelin, 43-Man Squamish, the Blivet, and “blecch!

Mad magazine references: Mad Zeppelin, Spy vs Spy, Kaputnik

Good fun. I also made sure that the sports pages made reference to fictitious sports. As well as the legendary 43-Man Squamish from Mad Magazine, I also included references to Calvinball (Calvin & Hobbes) and Quidditch (Harry Potter).

Sports page of newspaper: Quidditch, Calvinball, 43-Man Squamish in the headlines

Click here to see a large version of the entire London Tube scene.