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Fame and celebrity

First China Stan Lee Comic Universe event disappoints Marvel fans with lack of content and no Lee

Shanghai outing included a cosplay competition, booths, sculptures and billboards, but Marvel's Stan Lee was absent, and very few visitors dressed up in costume

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 6:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 11:21am

The first edition of the Stan Lee Comic Universe event in Shanghai opened to a small crowd on Monday, the beginning of China’s “golden week” holiday, but the lack of content related to Lee’s Marvel Comics empire left fans disappointed.

The three-day event at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Centre – not to be confused with the annual Shanghai Comic Convention, to be held in late October – is the comic book giant’s inaugural foray into China, and organisers hope it will be the first of many more conventions to come.

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The event has been staged in Los Angeles since 2012 and Lee himself served on the panel last year. But Chinese fans were disappointed to learn last month that the 95-year-old comics legend would not be making the trip to Shanghai.

“It is quite a shame to not be able to see him in person and that we only get to see [Hong Kong singer] G. E. M instead,” said Ni, a visitor to the event.

For an event that aimed to introduce Chinese fans to the Marvel Comics legend, there was surprisingly little about Lee and his creations at the convention. One area devoted to Lee contains colourful billboards displaying some of his iconic characters with text describing his career development, and a video of an interview with Lee plays on a loop on the main stage.

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The large exhibition hall contained a small array of booths, many of which were unrelated to Lee, Marvel or even comics for that matter, such as a crossover between Pepsi and fashion label Evisu, sports trading cards company Panini, board game sellers and even a phone case booth.

A scarily realistic bust of Jack Ma – chairman of the Alibaba Group, which owns the South China Morning Post – was displayed alongside sculptures of Avengers character Thanos and the aquatic beast from Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017) – but none were for sale. There was little Marvel merchandise available and, while one booth sold Marvel comics, popular titles such as Iron Man and Avengers sold out on the first day of the event.

“I expected individual booths about the comic characters Lee has designed and sculptures I could take photos with. But most things at the event are not related to Marvel,” said one visitor, surnamed Zhang.

One highlight of the event was a cosplay competition, featuring more than a dozen participants – including two versions of superhero Bucky Barnes, a chubby Thanos and other characters from random video games and anime. One of the exhibitors, cinema company Imax, also hired cosplayers to dress up as superheroes. But few visitors came dressed up, as fans usually do at similar events.

“The atmosphere is quite poor,” said a visitor named Li, who came dressed as Batman character Harley Quinn and felt slightly embarrassed that no one else was dressing up. “I am surprised to see everyone in casual clothes. The organiser should have urged people to come in costumes.”

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One of the goals of the event, said Shane Duffy, chief executive officer of co-organiser Pow! Entertainment, was to expose Chinese creative talent to people in the industry that are “making it happen”. Speakers at the event included industry veterans such as Hiroshi Nagahama, a Japanese animator best known for directing the anime Mushishi, and comic artist Jeffrey Moy, who has drawn covers for Powerpuff Girls comic covers.

Another, bigger aim the organisers had in mind was to find the next Stan Lee. “We are looking for the next big creators, people who have a vision that’s different from what’s out there, from artists to people who write and produce. So looking for the next Stan Lee is our way of saying, ‘Bring out your best and showcase it’. We hope to help put these people out there,” says Duffy.

“If we see somebody who’s really super talented, we are going to bring that person on board not only to our China offices, but possibly also North America,” he adds.

Lee filed a lawsuit against Pow! Entertainment – which was acquired by Hong Kong-based Camsing International in 2017 – for stealing his name and likeness in May this year but dropped the case in July.