One of my favourite things at Birmingham Comic Con was, surprisingly, seeing how many kids were there. I’ve never been particularly maternal, and I don’t often go gooey-eyed over seeing a sprog, but something about seeing clumsy toddlers totter around in tiny Batman capes had me tugging at the sleeves of the other NUBI writers to point out the cuddly little cosplayers. Don’t even get me started on the family group costumes. Mummy Misty, Papa Ash and a baby in a Pikachu onesie? Be slow, my beating heart.
You can imagine my dismay, then, when I spotted (amongst the sweet families, and little girls dressed as Avengers) a small corridor surrounded by temporary walls with “18 and above ONLY” plastered across it. Sure, there had been little smatterings of more adult material – the large breasted anime characters of Dakimakura spring to mind – but mostly, things had been family-friendly: Pokémon plushies, beanie hats, and more Totoros than you can shake a stick at. So to see a strictly adult area seemed a little jarring in such a brightly-lit and clean arena.
Stepping inside didn’t help dissuade that slight feeling of wrong. A large bouncer in an intimidating uniform stepped forward to ask for our IDs – well, mine at least (damn this youthful baby-fresh face). After giving us a grunt and a hand gesture that I assume meant we could step forward, we were in.
And boy, had we fell down a rabbit hole.
Gone were the colourful merchandise stands; now we were met with a corridor of women, stationed carefully behind desks in tight outfits that barely covered the essentials. A couple of the models had got a little into the spirit, with Ann Summers style superhero costumes. There was one anatomically accurate Jessica Rabbit lookalike. One ‘Batgirl’ was bursting out of her costume in a way that made me wonder how she’d fit into the Batmobile with breasts like that. Honestly, I was a little in awe.
When I read about the ‘Glamour Zone’ attraction on the Comic Con website, I had imagined that it would work in a similar way to the rest of the guest attendances. I thought perhaps they would be out in the open, sat at little desks next to large security members, giving out autographs and the occasional selfie. I did not expect they’d be hidden away in a temporary room that gave off the vibe of a seedy backstreet shop.
Given the goods they were selling though, it’s not surprising it needed to be hidden from young eyes. The first shiny photo print I spotted was a topless shot, with cunningly placed diamantes. I assumed the rest would be as carefully censored, but nope. #FreeTheNipple indeed. The images were being perused by a few shady characters, who gave me the most startled look and guiltily glanced away.
Then there was the little set they had tucked away and sectioned off with a rope. It was a surprisingly luxurious set-up, with a nice looking sofa covered in white furs and rugs. I can’t entirely claim what it was for, but a part of me suspects it was there for people who wished to purchase a professional photo with the pin-up of their dreams.
Now, I have no issue with nudity. I don’t judge if you choose to be a Page 3 or Penthouse model. Each to their own. It doesn’t affect me, so who am I to judge? The only thing that rubbed me up the wrong way about this whole thing was how startlingly out-of-place it felt in the mostly family-friendly convention hall.
With issues of sexual harassment at previous Comic Cons becoming more and more frequent, should there really still remain a sexualised element at the conventions? Were not most of the founding elements of Comic Con – specifically the comics – made originally for children? Yes, the comics have grown up now and turned into the darker graphic novels of today, and it’s almost impossible to play an Xbox game without a female character thrusting her well-endowed self towards you, but having a specific, sexually-related corridor seems far too out of place. Especially as the large open doors at each end allowed any passers-by an easy eyeful.
Regardless of your opinion of glamour models, the question has to be raised: is Comic Con really still the place to include them?