Extolling the virtues of a comic convention to the uninitiated is a bit like trying to convince a vegan to visit an abattoir. Far too much prejudice pervades the perception of geek culture, dismissed as it often is as an immature obsession for the socially inert. Anyone who has ever attended Comic Con and sampled the rich flavours of its culture and community knows this to be bogus. Conventions, such as the one which arrived in Oxford at the end of 0th Week, exist not only to showcase the limits and forms of human creativity but to provide a cordial setting in which people can bond in mutual admiration of cultural achievement.
Oxford may seem an unlikely venue for such an esoteric institution. Transforming the puritanically imposing surroundings of Exam Schools, where so many dreams and aspirations have been laid to rest, into a colourful irruption of creative vibrancy is certainly no mean feat. Indeed, it is downright surreal, bordering on unsettling, to step into the gilded hall of North School to be met by Stormtroopers and anime cosplayers posing languidly underneath the portraits of Oxford’s Victorian alumni.
At its heart, OxCon is about celebrating creative expression in all its splendid hues.
The more you think about it, however, the more appropriate the juxtaposition seems to become. At its heart, OxCon is about celebrating creative expression in all its splendid hues. Marrying the relatively novel features of our cultural landscape, such as video games and television, with Oxford’s immutable ambience helpfully collapses the arbitrary and snobbish distinction between “high” and “low” culture. Personally, this is what I find so heartening about Comic Con. Almost everyone, even my decrepit father (I know you’re reading this), plays some form of video game (yes, dad, ‘2048’ counts) whilst television has already been an established household institution for decades. Yet these cultural activities in which we all take part still lack the recognition of classical painting, music and film. Comic Con quite rightly encourages us to celebrate what we already take for granted.
It is also worth stressing that Comic Con is not just one thing. From the outside looking in, it is understandable why some may find the preponderance of costumes from obscure subcultures a little intimidating, but the beauty of the convention lies in the diversity of its attractions. For instance, at OxCon I was finally able to try a VR headset. Although I did not succumb to violent motion sickness, as many do, translating all of my senses to a virtual plane was disorientating in a way which I have never experienced before. The most surreal part is looking down at a body which isn’t your own and then feeling your brain painfully cogitate, like a rusty machine, to process what is going on. The experience was made all the more pleasurable by the presence of affable staff who were keen to impart their infectious enthusiasm for everything at the convention.
Perhaps the most heartwarming sight at OxCon was of the families who had come in costumes together. More than just being unbearably adorable, it is a touching reminder that these conventions are far from the preserve of the incurably anti-social. OxCon was, in fact, about forming connections with people over shared interests. You’ll find few other places where it is so easy to converse with complete strangers. Whatever you may think of the artistic merits of Star Wars, this is surely a phenomenon to be nurtured and respected.