A host of mystical creatures unleash their creative spirit on Basel city at Switzerland’s first fantasy festival.
At the entrance to Basel expo centre Pokémon character Magnemite is grappling with the shoelace that holds her eyeball together. A little teamwork sees the bipedal peeper skip away with a day of joyous ogling before her. And there’s plenty to take in…
Over three days Switzerland’s first fantasy festival sees Basel city flooded with twenty thousand sci-fi and fantasy fans spanning the gamut of games, comics, books and movies.
Walking among slack-jawed punters such as myself, cosplayers manifest the weird and wonderful characters of their imaginations with rollicking enthusiasm. Link from the Legend of Zelda describes her love of Cosplay. “For me it’s about expressing yourself,” she says, eyes twinkling with otherworldly delight between a pair of elven ears. She confides that the festival is the chance to “finally be the character that guided you through your childhood”.
Superstars Yaya Han and Kamui Cosplay mingle among local heroes Folkenstal and Kenika, performing double duty as the judging panel for the ’Cosplay of the day‘ awards. Other walking acts, the Fright Guys, add a touch of horror to an otherwise balmy day in their ghoulish garb. The Swiss Ghostbusters keep an obnoxious green slimer at bay, while Stormtroopers from the Swiss Garrison of Star Wars’ 501st Legion do battle with passing Jedi knights. With so much weaponry around it’s no wonder a bemused security detail are screening shark-shaped bazookas, elven blades and replica machine guns for hidden dangers.
Plenty of floor space is devoted to in situ game play here at Fantasy Basel. On the digital front, League of Legends gamers are trying their luck against Swiss eSport team mYinsanity in a series of live matches, while Nintendo fans play Super Smash Bros. on giant curved LCD screens. Card and board game hobbyists have gravitated to hall 4.0 where hours of play await them. Here, Warhammer fans stage battles between undead armies on landscaped tabletops, taking time-out to compete in miniature speed painting competitions. And in a quiet corner, players of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) discuss and trade exquisitely illustrated cards with muted absorption.
Festival organisers have lived up to their promises, giving art buffs an immersive behind-the-scenes experience of fantasy and sci-fi art in all its transportive glory – from museums to individual artists.
Marc Atallah from Maison d’Ailleurs – a sci-fi gallery in Yverdon-les-Bains – is at the expo showcasing the work of illustrator Aleksi Briclot, renowned for his illustrations on MTG playing cards. Atallah is proud of the innovative qualities of sci-fi and fantasy art, generally dismissed by fine art critics. “It’s almost impossible to expose in European galleries,” he says.
Over at the stall for the H. R. Giger Museum, curator Marco Witzig argues for another kind of credibility. Witzig firmly rejects the “fantasy art” label, aligning the work of the Aliens designer with sci-fi’s visionary outlook. “He [Giger] always had the problem that he was too much appropriated by the underground,” Witzig says. Fans of the late surrealist’s work can learn more about Giger’s philosophies and life from Dark Star, a biographical film released this year.
As I meander through the festival’s Artist Alley politics gives way to pure joy. Dozens of illustrators carry out live workshops, demonstrations and commissions, giving punters an inside look into the captivating world of fantasy and sci-fi art. Among internationally renowned figures such as Maurizio Manzieri and Ulrich Schröder, lesser-known artists explore new frontiers in illustration.
Designer-author Silas Quirill Bitterli conjures up mystical characters at lightning speed using a graphics tablet and Photoshop. Australian artist Sutu demoes his innovative augmented reality comic Modern Polaxis using an iPad to reveal hidden animations on the pages. Sutu’s motivations have wandered a long way from previous employment as a helicopter flight simulations designer for the Australian military.
At the end of a jam-packed day I may safely state that Switzerland’s fantasy underground is thriving thanks to the enthusiastic creativity of its patrons and fans.
On leaving the festival fellow attendee Kathrin Lange from Germany remarks: “It’s a bit like coming from another planet, back into the real world.” But die-hard fans need not despair. Fantasy Basel returns in 2016, bringing with it another electrifying hit of sci-fi and fantasy culture.
You can find more of Kim’s work on her website at meyerbyname.com