Superheroes' mash-up thrills fans

Spider-Man met his match in Spider-Gwen at the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention last weekend.
Spider-Man met his match in Spider-Gwen at the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention last weekend.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Spider-Man, Wolverine and other comic characters converged at the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention, where they had a smashing time

Drifting through the crowd, his black robes whipping behind him, Kylo Ren - the antagonist of last year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens - knocks into Wolverine.

They laugh, lift their chins briefly in acknowledgement and continue on their separate paths, cosying up to starry-eyed fans and striking pose after pose for the cameras.

Disparate universes collided at Marina Bay Sands last weekend as anime characters rubbed shoulders with Stormtroopers and superheroes and villains slung their arms around one another for photographs.

At the annual Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention (STGCC), magic happens.

Sales manager Karen Tan - who dubs herself a "convention virgin" - says: "Anything can happen here, even things you would never imagine in your entire life. I just walked past the Joker eating a hot dog next to a character from Naruto. Isn't that the weirdest and most amazing thing?"

A first-timer at the convention, she found herself getting swept along by the excitement of the crowd.

"Everybody is really open and ready to talk and rave to one another about their favourite books and characters. I'm normally quite shy but since nobody else is feeling paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassed), how can I?" says Ms Tan, 29, who first got into comics early last year.

Organisers were expecting a turn-out of more than 45,000 and throngs of fans answered the siren call of the two-day pop culture extravaganza.

They had the chance to get up close to popular cosplayers such as Taiwanese veteran King, who has for the past 16 years made her name dressing up as male anime characters, as well as meet big names in the comics scene, such as writer Nick Spencer, the man who turned Captain America evil, and Brooke Allen, the artist and co-creator of cult favourite series Lumberjanes.

Independent artists also had their share of the limelight, showing off and selling their works at the convention's Artist Alley.

This year, there were 263 exhibitors from 20 countries, with 195 exclusive and new products up for grabs.

A winding queue formed for the SJ50 My First Be@rbrick B@by, a limited-edition version of the popular bear-shaped toy to commemorate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Japan.

Says Mr Alex Chua, head of sales and marketing for Big Box International, which owns retailer ActionCity and represents brands such as Hot Toys and Medicom Toy: "Movie-related toys have always been popular, because there's a mass-market appeal to back them.

"But we've seen a growing trend in people buying designer toys, like Be@rbricks, which don't have an entire film and comic machinery behind them.

"I think conventions such as this one have created a very strong culture of appreciation for artists. Fans come here, interact with artists and get curious about the stories behind their designs."

The convention, now in its ninth edition, is steadily gaining steam, with the number of visitors and exhibitors both increasing.

In 2014, 40,000 people attended the event and last year saw the number go up to 45,000.

Ms Lin Koh, assistant project director of organiser Reed Exhibitions, cites the rise of the superhero genre as a factor in its growing reach.

Comics are no longer a niche interest. They have, with the help of film and television adaptations - most boasting star-studded casts - become an international phenomenon.

And while the convention has reeled in fans from South-east Asia, it has in recent years seen a bump in visitors from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia, who are drawn to exclusive product launches and big-name personalities.

Ms Koh adds: "We have observed that collectors or even visitors with more disposable income have been coming to the convention annually to get their hands on exclusive merchandise, splurging close to $6,000 in a day."

The convention also stays relevant by keeping a keen eye on what is trending in the pop culture scene - for instance, inviting Spencer, whose "Internet-breaking" Captain America twist whipped fans into a frenzy - to give it "the edge in terms of pertinence in the pop culture scene", says Ms Koh.

Moreover, organisers are always on the lookout for feedback from fans on what more they can bring in.

Requests for more gaming elements, for one thing, have not gone unanswered: This time around, the convention had its first PC gaming tournament, the Overwatch STGCC eSports - Mountain Dew Cup 2016.

Programmer Caleb Goh stood riveted as the tournament kicked off, leaving his wife Sarah to navigate the crowd alone.

The couple, both 34, have, for the past four years made their "annual pilgrimage" across the Causeway for the convention. They met in university and fell in love over their mutual passion for comics.

But while her husband is an avid gamer, Mrs Goh, a restaurant manager, is not.

"He was super excited when he heard about this tournament, but I was like, 'You can sit there and stare at the screen yourself.'"

She adds with a laugh: "I actually had quite a lot of fun walking around by myself. He didn't keep stopping to ask me to take photos of him with cosplaying girls."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2016, with the headline 'Superheroes' mash-up thrills fans'. Print Edition | Subscribe