Well, it's happened.  Last year the MCM London Expo became the London Comic Con MCM Expo, and this year it has become the MCM London Comic Con.  The implication is obvious, the MCM Group are positioning the event as the UK equivalent of the world-famous San Diego Comic Con, but it with the American event clocking up around twice as many attendees and the biggest names in film and TV, is this hubris on MCM's part or a sign of its ambition?

It is true that the MCM London Comic Con has grown exponentially over the last few years, clocking up record attendance numbers with each London event and spawning sister shows in Telford, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow.  However, it has rarely attracted the big name guests that major overseas shows do, something that shows signs of changing this time round.

  As always the event is held at the ExCel Centre in London's docklands from the Friday to the Sunday of the last weekend of May.  The biggest name on the bill for this May's event is probably Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright, who will be hosting a panel on his latest film The Worlds End.  TV guests include the stars of US series Teen Wolf, Once Upon a Time and NCIS LA, whilst stars from UK shows Merlin and Primeval will also be attending signings and Q&A sessions.  As usual there promises to be game companies galore, with the likes of Capcom, Bandai Namco, Activision, Ubisoft, NIS, Nintendo and

Tecmo Koei previewing major forthcoming titles including Tales of Xillia, Remember Me, The Last of Us, Dynasty Warriors 8, Deadpool and One Piece Pirate Warriors 2.  In fact one of the biggest surprises from a gaming point of view - apart from the exclusive demo of the forthcoming Deadpool game - is the attendance of Hideo Baba-san, producer of Bandai Namco's popular 'Tales of' RPG series.  Baba-san will be appearing on the main stage presenting Tales of Xillia and judging a cosplay competition for the crossover 3DS title Project X Zone, as well as picking the three biggest 'Tales of' fans he can find and giving them the chance to win a limited edition Tales of Xillia PS3!

Surprisingly Baba-san is not the only Japanese guest at the MCM London Comic Con, and the other one is even more exciting.  It is very rare for any Japanese directors to come to UK shows, but new anime distributor Anime Limited have teamed up with MVM to bring Shinichiro Watanabe to our shores.  Watanabe is the director behind anime classics Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo and the forthcoming Kids on the Slope and will be presenting an episode of Kids on the Slope on the Friday as well as taking part in Q&A sessions and signings on the Friday and Saturday.  The event will also be the first that Anime Limited will attend, and they will be promoting their forthcoming titles as well as taking part in the Manga UK live podcasts which will be recorded on the Saturday and Sunday.  The podcast recordings and anime panels promise some major license announcements from Manga, MVM and Anime Limited so are unmissable for any self-respecting anime fan!  Manga UK will have a big presence at the event as always, selling their latest titles and bargains from their stalls as well as Comic Con exclusive editions of the hotly anticipated One Piece Collection 1 and the High School of the Dead: Drifters of the Dead OVA.  They will also have their own free Cosplay photo booth where they are offering prizes for the best costumes, as well as hosting a special prize draw to win a host of anime goodies worth a whopping 1000!  MVM will also be on hand selling various collectibles and artbooks through their Anime-On-Line stall as well as having exclusive deals on their own releases and selling some well ahead of their official release.

As always there's plenty on hand to part you from your money. The anime distributors are joined by manga publisher VIZ Media plus numerous independent retailers ranging from the DVDs, merchandise and manga of United Publications to clothing from Genki Gear and figure and model kits from Neon Martian, Kamika-Z and Gundam Nation.  There are tonnes of retailers and stalls, but you have to keep your eyes open for bootlegs on some stalls, so keep you wits about you.  It's not all commerce though, there's plenty of other anime-related things to keep you occupied both inside and outside of the event hall.  Once again the Totally Cosplay and Japan Ex areas return with their own stage area and schedule of events which range from music performances and dancing to workshops, Q&A sessions and mini-cosplay masquerades.  These areas form their own 'Japanese Quarter', and with import retailers, food stalls and arts and crafts groups all on hand it will certainly feel like it!  It also promises to be a mecca for cosplayers with various workshops and the superb cosplay help desk returning to

help fix and last minute costume failures.  Also returning is the EuroCosplay Championship qualifiers, which sees the cream of the UK's cosplayers compete for one of our two spots in October's Finals where they will face more than 40 competitors from all over Europe.  These may only be the UK qualifiers, but the level of competition is extremely high - a UK has won once and been in the top three for each EuroCosplay Final so far - so this is bound to be a hot ticket!

The anime-related goodness is not just limited to the 'Japanese Quarter' though, elsewhere there are anime computer games to play, as well as the Letraset Manga Alley where you can have a go at drawing your own anime-inspired art and card gaming areas featuring the likes of Yu-Gi-Oh!  Even when you leave the hall there's stuff to do, the area outside the ExCel Centre is given over to the Expo Fringe, which consists of a number of fan-run events ranging from simple photoshoots to fan meets, stage performances and even mass dance-offs.  The Fringe can be a bit erratic, but there's often some interesting things going on - check out the Comic Con forum for more details.  The MCM London Comic Con looks on paper good enough to live up to its ambition, it's growing year on year and has started to pull in some big names and some gaming exclusives.  As always it promises a great atmosphere and plenty to see and do... and spend your money on.  All of the UK anime distributors have big announcements to make and with rare UK appearances for both Shinichiro Watanabe and Hideo Baba-san there's added incentive to go too.  One of the best things about the MCM London Comic Con is that you can just turn up on the day, pay your money and go in.  There's no need to pre-register and you can just get a day ticket, something that is very welcome considering the prohibitive cost of hotels in the Docklands area on the weekend of the event.  As usual be ready for some epic queuing and heavy crowding - particularly on the Saturday - and be sure to grab your (free) EuroCosplay tickets from the Totally Cosplay area as early as possible as there are only limited audience spaces available.  The majority of attendees come on the Saturday so if you want a quieter time the Friday or Sunday are the best days to go, check out the Comic Con website for details - click here.  Unusually there is only minor disruption planned on the London Underground during the event, with some closures on the Central and Northern lines, and the Dockland Light Railway is set to be running normally.  It's still worth keeping an eye on the travel status to avoid any major snags - Check here for details.

The London Comic Con MCM Expo is held in the ExCel Centre in London's Docklands on the last weekend of May (Friday 24th - Sunday 26th).  Ticket prices start from 10 per day for adults and 5 for children, with children under 11 entering for free.  Early entry tickets are available at a flat rate of 16 per day regardless of age, or 29 for a weekend pass which includes entry on the Friday.  For more information visit www.mcmcomiccon.com