It's hard to believe it's been six years since the Middle East Film and Comic Con first took over the Dubai International Marine Club with its debut line-up, including a pre-DC Extended Universe Jason Momoa, exhibitors including the ever-present Marvel Comics, and an attendance of about 20,000 eager comic and movie fans.
A clutch of conventions later, the event has moved to Dubai World Trade Centre and expanded its remit to include the likes of gaming and toys, and last year saw a near tripling of visitors from the first event, with 70,000 attending. The aim, however, remains the same – to offer fans of pop culture their annual fix of celebrity guests, entertainment, workshops, dressing up, shopping, food and fun all under one roof.
So without further ado, here's our guide to the geekiest weekend of the year, aka Comic Con.
The talks, meet-and-greets and panels with celebs from film, TV and beyond are always a big draw at Comic Con, and this year is no exception. Late additions Ezra Miller, aka DC's The Flash, and Dr Who's assistant Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, have topped up an already star-studded line-up, and doubtless helped soothe any disappointment felt following the late withdrawal of Game of Thrones' Red Witch, Carice van Houten and another Dr Who assistant Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan.
Miller and Coleman join Karl Urban, the face behind the helmet of Judge Dredd and also Bones McCoy in Star Trek; Game of Thrones's Hodor, also known as actor Kristian Nairn and Power Ranger Jason David Frank.
Also on the bill are Streetfighter: Assassin's Fist duo Gaku Space and Christian Howard, video game voice actors Ray Chase and Robbie Daymond, and professional cosplayer Alodia Gosiengfiao.
Netflix, meanwhile, always keen to go one better, will be bringing not just the star from one of its most eagerly anticipated shows, but the entire main cast from Lost in Space, which drops on the service next weekend. All of the Robinsons, played by Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Maxwell Jenkins, Taylor Russell and Mina Sundwall will be on hand on the Netflix stand on Friday for autographs and photographs.
It wouldn't be a comic con without comic artists, and you'll find big names from Marvel, DC, IDW, Dark Horse, Manga and beyond at the show. This year's guests include Arthur Suydam, who is widely given partial credit for the zombie phenomenon thanks to his work on the 2005 Marvel Zombies series; Bob Layton, whose reinvention of the Iron Man comics spawned the successful movies; and Phil Ortiz, who created characters for The Simpsons and Muppet Babies TV shows. Ortiz will be taking workshops on Friday on how to draw a Simpsons character – and, having created more than 200 of them for the show, he should know what he's talking about.
Away from the big names, check out Artists Alley, where regional designers, artists, comic creators, animators and more display their work in the hopes of one day joining the bigwigs at a future show. If you feel like investing in comic art, check out The Pop Art Collective, who are bringing their Fine Art Gallery Experience to MEFCC for the first time.
Collectors will have access to an unprecedented collection of original and limited-edition artwork, including the Joe Shuster drawing of Superman from 1937, worth Dh39,000.
If sums like that make your head spin, don’t worry – the collective promises comic art originals from as little as Dh25.
The Wavo Main Stage
We’re usually guaranteed great weather at Comic Con, and there’s no better way to while away a few sunny hours than checking out the weird and wonderful goings-on at the outdoor main stage.
The annual cosplay competition is always a highlight, with the costumes visitors wear ranging from quirky, to genius and downright bizarre. With huge cash prizes on offer, these guys take their cosplaying seriously, and the group competition in particular has offered some amazing sights over the last few years.
This year's other intriguing-looking offerings include a comedy show from some of the voices of Spiderman, Noctis and Saitama – Robbie Daymond, Ray Chase and Max Mittelman, aka the LAVA comedy troupe – and a DJ set from GOT's Hodor himself.
The Roxy Cineclub
The MEFCC Cineclub will be screening movies and shows from local and international content creators all weekend. Dubai’s Comic Con always likes to offer something a little special to visitors in the Cineclub too.
Last year the Cineclub brought us the premiere of the trailer for Luc Besson's fantastical Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets, and this year it has delivered again – the MEFCC audience will have the opportunity to watch episode one of Netflix's new Lost in Space reboot a full week before it launches to the rest of the streaming world on Friday, April 13.
Comic Con draws all kinds of traders to its vast exhibition within the Trade Centre's halls. From entertainment corporates such as Marvel, which will be celebrating 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on its stand this year, and show debutant Netflix, to local one-man traders flogging retro gaming consoles and everywhere in between.
Add a wealth of comic stalls where you can pick up everything from the latest Manga offerings to early editions of classic Marvel and DC titles, and it's safe to say your wallet could take a beating if you don't pay attention.
The pick of the rest
There’s something for everyone at Comic Con. Ever wanted to control a friend as they fly through the air attached to a giant mechanical claw? Head to the Virgin Mobile Human Claw. A fan of escape-room challenges? Tackle the Jumble Maze. Do model cars fire you up? Join in a race at the Otaku ME Circuit.
There is also a vintage arcade of sorts in the form of Laban Up Arcade, as well as plenty of opportunity for multiplayer gaming at the Games Con Esports Arena.
You’ll also find workshops and talks with local and international industry pros, free makeovers from NYX, Redken and Ted Morgan Salon, plenty of kids’ activities and all sorts of things, from the sublime to the ridiculous, that you probably didn’t even realise existed until you arrived at Comic Con.
One of the best things about MEFCC is just wandering aimlessly and asking: “Did I really just see that?”
When should I go?
MEFCC opens to the public at 2pm today (Power Pass, VIP and Super VIP ticket holders can access the venue from noon) and the whole thing closes at 10pm. On Friday and Saturday, the venue opens at 11am, closing at 10pm on Friday and 9pm on Saturday.
How much will it cost me?
Tickets range from Dh110 for an advance single-day pass to Dh300 for a weekend pass at the door. VIP tickets have sold out. Visit www.mefcc.com to purchase tickets in advance.
How do I get there?
Dubai Metro will drop you right by the venue at the World Trade Centre Station. Parking is available but with up to 70,000 people expected, you’ll have to get there early to find space.
What should I take with me?
If you’re planning on stocking up on comics and memorabilia, take plenty of money and a sturdy bag. If you’re planning on cosplaying as Catwoman in six-inch stilettos, you might want some flat shoes after 11 hours pacing the halls. A phone and battery charger is definitely useful as it’s easy to lose friends in the packed halls, especially if they, like 200 other people, are dressed as stormtroopers.
Where can I eat?
The festival area, where the Main Stage is situated, is also home to its food village, which is always stocked with a variety of F&B options, usually including themed meals featuring your favourite characters. There are also plenty of food options within the Trade Centre, and at the two adjoining hotels, although we’re pleased to report that, on past experience, the food in Comic Con is tasty and plentiful. Plus, for an event with a captive audience, the prices are as reasonable as anywhere else you’ll find in the vicinity.
Who? What? Where? When?
With so many activities to timetable, and guests still being announced, the final schedule still wasn’t ready at the time of writing, but the organisers have promised us that ticket holders will receive one by email, and that it will be on the website, “before the show opens”. Remember, there are always a few last-minute changes over such a packed weekend.