The annual Lanka Comic-Con convention was held on the weekend of August 26th and 27th at the Exhibition and Conference Centre by Lake Beira in downtown Colombo. I slouched in late in the afternoon of the 26th, mainly because a live-music session had been organised from five to seven o’clock to round off the convention’s first day. One of the three bands lined up to perform was the Sri Lankan heavy metal outfit Stigmata, whom I’d heard a lot about and was keen to hear.
I felt less interested in Comic-Con’s main focus, i.e. comic-books and other popular media of the science-fiction and fantasy variety. I like comics, but I’ve become jaded at how so many of them have metamorphised lately – like Bruce Banner swelling up into the Incredible Hulk – into lumbering multi-media franchises whose main strands are blockbuster movies: movies that I find simplistic and unsatisfying compared to the comic-book originals. And neither am I a massive fan of most of the non-comics sci-fi / fantasy franchises that feature heavily at such conventions the world over, like Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc.
That said, I was glad I arrived a while before the music kicked off because it was worth taking in the event’s atmosphere. The Conference and Exhibition Centre isn’t the most prepossessing of venues, consisting of a long room with a low ceiling, bunker-like slits of windows at the tops of its walls and worn blue matting on the floor, but the organisers did their best with it. One thoroughfare of stalls was called ‘Artists’ Alley’ and featured a number of local artists selling samples of their work. Most of them, it must be said, were depictions of Western popular-culture icons like Darth Vader, the Joker and Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. I hope those artists draw the Western stuff to pay their rents whilst getting a chance in their free time to work on their own, possibly more Sri Lanka-centric material.
And I had to applaud the many Sri Lankan attendees who arrived in intricately, and ingeniously, devised costumes to cosplay their favourite comic-book, TV and movie characters. In fact, at about half-past-four, a stage at the end of the hall hosted a weird and wonderful cosplayer fashion show. We got a guy dressed as Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th movies who turned up with a skateboard and insisted on skateboarding across the stage; a hulking and credible-looking portrayal of the red-skinned Ron Perlman character from the Hellboy movies; a World of Warcraft character so heavily armoured and spiked he resembled a humanoid horned-lizard-cum-armadillo; a young lady dressed (or bandaged) as the French-Algerian actress Sofia Boutella in this year’s Tom Cruise film remake of The Mummy – from all accounts a terrible movie, but this cosplay mummy looked really good; and a familiar-looking piratical character whom the cosplay-show compere welcomed onstage with the declaration, “And now the hero of every tuk-tuk driver in Sri Lanka… Captain Jack Sparrow!” Actually, Captain Jack got the biggest cheer of the afternoon. Maybe there were a lot of off-duty tuk-tuk drivers among the audience.
The oddest moment came when no fewer than seven cosplayers beetled onstage dressed as the title-character of the comic-book and 2016 movie Deadpool. The bemused compere suggested that the seven of them perform a dance, which they did. Disconcertingly, the one at the end wore a black-and-red-striped sweater and a fedora and was apparently a Deadpool-Freddy Krueger hybrid. Meanwhile, the moment I found most depressing was when a Sri Lankan guy marched onstage dressed as ‘Old Logan’ from this year’s final instalment in the X-Men movies and I realised that Old Logan looked young enough for me to qualify as Old Logan’s dad. (If I ever had to cosplay myself, I guess the only options open to me would either be Saruman from the Lord of the Rings movies or Stan Lee as he is now, all 94 years of him.)
A lovely moment occurred when a Sri Lankan lady came on as Wonder Woman – one of two Wonder Women present at the convention – and someone informed the crowd that it was her birthday. Immediately, everybody started singing, “Happy birthday to you… Happy birthday to you… Happy birthday, dear Wonder Woman…” There was a major sequel to this, which I’ll talk about in a moment.
And finally, on to the live music, which took place on a different stage along one of the room’s sidewalls. A sudden rash of Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Scorpions and AC/DC T-shirts had appeared among the crowd there, suggesting I wasn’t the only person turning up for the music rather than the standard Comic-Con stuff. However, before Stigmata, two other bands performed. Number one was an outfit called Ursula and the Odyssey, blessed with two excellent singers – a lady (Ursula, presumably) and a bloke. They did a splendid version of Where did you Sleep Last Night, the old Leadbelly song that Nirvana covered memorably on their 1994 Unplugged album. The second band was a young, brisk, poppy-punk one called the Fallen boys who sounded fine but suffered a painful indignity. Just as they came onstage, someone announced over the PA system that prizes were being given out to the best cosplayers at the other stage, at the top end of the hall. And suddenly, about two-thirds of the Fallen Boys’ audience evaporated.
I had no complaints about the music of Stigmata, when they did their set. They generated a pleasing noise that combined the best of Iron Maiden and Sepultura. However, between songs, their vocalist Suresh De Silva did tend to talk… and talk… and talk. Now I realise Sri Lankans enjoy a good natter (totally unlike the Irish), but seeing as there wasn’t a lot of time allotted to their slot I would have liked fewer anecdotes and jokes and less mucking around; and more in the way of actual songs. Then again, admission to Comic-Con that day was only a hundred rupees and that included the live-music session. Which meant I was seeing one of the country’s top metal bands for the equivalent of about 50 pence… So I can’t really complain.
I said there was a sequel to Wonder Woman’s appearance at the convention. A week later, international news and cultural outlets like the BBC and the New Musical Express were reporting how the birthday girl who attended the convention cosplaying Wonder Woman, Amaya Suriyapperuma, and her friend Seshani Cooray, who’d also turned up dressed as Wonder Woman, had been subjected to masses of abuse, insults and trolling from online scumbags after they’d posted photos of themselves in costume on Facebook.
Happily though, Amaya and Seshani subsequently received backing from some unexpected and powerful quarters. Word of the abuse they’d received reached Hollywood; and both the star and director of this year’s Wonder Woman movie, actress Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins, were moved to tweet their support to the Sri Lankan duo.
I shall briefly add Blood and Porridge’s tuppence-worth to the incident. Amaya and Sesahani, pay no attention to those online dickheads. The pair of you looked great. And any Internet wanker who claims otherwise isn’t fit to kiss your stripy Wonder Woman boots.