Lucca Comics & Games Festival Draws Hollywood Majors to Geek Mecca

Tuscan confab mingles Hollywood majors with manga masters

Welcome to the Western world’s biggest geek meet.

Some 254,000 ticket-buying fans descended last year upon Lucca Comics & Games, for comics fans with a European twist held within the medieval walls of the Tuscan town of Lucca, which Henry James once described as “overflowing with everything.”

Numerically the four-day Lucca fest/convention dedicated to fandom, cosplay, role- playing games, and the whole cross-media universe of comics — comprising movies, TV and music — is the second-largest geek culture event after Tokyo’s Comiket, which boasts 550,000 fans. That’s almost twice as many as Comic-Com in San Diego, though access to both is limited.

Just like Comic-Con, Lucca Comics started decades ago as a comic book convention. And somewhat similarly it’s now become an integral part of the Hollywood studios’ promotional push in Europe, including Disney’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Fox’s “The Peanuts Movie” and Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2,” which Universal Pictures Intl. Italy is distribbing in the country.

“Five years ago we approached Lucca to start the film section and from the start the Hollywood majors have been very responsive, bringing strong content,” says Giovanni Cova, topper of Milan-based entertainment marketing company QMI. Italian distributors and TV broadcasters also attend in full force.

That said, Japanese manga mania dominates in the Renaissance-era gem, a town known for its pink-hued churches and 16th-century walls, where a dedicated quarter turns into Japan Town during the shindig. Asian pop culture is a deeply entrenched aspect of the unique immersive experience sought by the thousands of fans who flock to the event.

Accordingly, Japanese anime and manga director Mamoru Oshii will make the trek to Lucca to screen his live action/CG effects hybrid “Garm Wars: The Last Druid,” hold a master class and receive a prize, with his producer and longtime collaborator Mitsuhisa Ishikawa in tow.

Ishikawa is co-founder and CEO of Tokyo-based anime production powerhouse Production I.G., which, like Lucca Comics, is also involved in television series, video games and music.

Known for philosophical storytelling, Oshii is among the world’s most respected anime-auteurs. He is the only one to have made the cut for competition at Cannes with “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence,” his sequel of sorts to seminal cyberpunk pic “Ghost in the Shell,” about a cyborg desperately seeking the meaning of existence.

The search for meaning is also a theme in Oshii’s “Garm Wars,” about a war fought by three tribes of clones (“Garms”) during which a female clone leaves the battlefield to undertake an existential journey.

But aside from the various geek cultures at play, what really defines Lucca Comics is the venue.

“Lucca has a soul,” says Renato Genovese, the event’s topper. “It’s a unique pop universe where everyone comes to share an experience in the streets, the gardens and piazzas, the cafes, the pizzerias, all within the walls of a medieval city which is like an island.”

Among its plethora of events and initiatives Genovese is particularly proud of the fact that Lucca Comics recently launched a crowdfunding portal for projects with comic world ties and that spawned standout Italian content such as “Getalive” a Web series spoofing role-playing gamers.

Tipsheet
What: Lucca Intl. Festival of Comics, Animation, Illustration and Games
When: Oct. 29-Nov. 1
Where: Lucca, Italy
Web: luccacomics andgames.com

Highlights
A major exhibition titled “The Fantastic World of Peanuts” will celebrate the 65th anniversary of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and other Charles Schultz characters. Besides original drawings and strips, grouped both chronologically and thematically, it will have a multimedia component.

Oct. 29, 2 p.m. Japan Town stage: Filmmaker Mamoru Oshii and his producer Mitsuhisa Ishikawa will meet fans during an onstage conversation and also a master class.

Oct. 30, 6:30 p.m. Astra Movie Theatre: “Doctor Who” showrunner Steven Moffat and scribe Jamie Mathieson will be on hand for a Q&A following the Italian premiere of the show’s “The Magician’s Apprentice” episode that opens the ninth series.

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