ByKit Simpson Browne, writer at Creators.co
Staff Writer, Superheroes, Star Wars and such. Bad jokes aplenty. Can be gently prodded on Twitter at @kitsb1
Kit Simpson Browne

Thought Comic-Con was weird this year? Well, you haven't see anything yet. The San Diego Comic-Con - widely accepted King of the 'Cons - may have been around since 1970, but that doesn't mean it was the first convention - or the most out there.

For that, you have to go all the way back to London, 1891 - and to the Victorian era. Now, things were different back then. England's queen was getting on a bit, and her controversial son was widely expected to take over in the near future. The President of the United States was struggling to put through controversial legislation amid equally-controversial levels of government spending. Near enough everyone was concerned with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. A modernizing Pope was setting about adapting the Catholic Church to the Modern age, a series of revolutions were almost constantly in the news, and people worldwide were becoming increasingly interested in Soccer.

"Ahem" - Tim Howard.
"Ahem" - Tim Howard.

So, OK, it wasn't all that different to today.

Except, that is, in the sense that no-one had ever heard of anything quite like the show Dr. Herbert Tibbitts, the founder of London's West End Hospital and School of Massage and Electricity, was about to put on.

That show, the Coming Race Bazaar, was set to run at the Royal Albert Hall in London between March 5 and 7 - and was as eagerly anticipated as Comic-Con is today. And why? Because Tibbitts, an experienced and experimental fundraiser for his hospital, was about to put on his greatest and most outlandish event to date - a science fiction extravaganza, with costumes, entertainment and stalls.

"Ahem" - Everyone
"Ahem" - Everyone

The show was inspired by Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1871 novel Vril: The Power of The Coming Race, in which an American adventurer encounters a race of super-powered beings, each of whom could easily destroy the world if they put their mind and powers to it. A bit like The Avengers, except underground.

And with fewer green rage monsters.
And with fewer green rage monsters.

By 1891, the novel had become a major part of the cultural underpinnings of society, in a similar fashion to Star Wars today - thus the widespread excitement.

That excitement went into overdrive when people arrived for the grand opening (on a Thursday, natch), and found themselves in the middle of an astonishing blend of stalls selling music, dolls, clothes, paintings, perfumes and strange tasting drinks. Surrounding those stalls were countless society ladies in all manner of strange outfits...

Just think Felicia Day.
Just think Felicia Day.

...as well as concerts, magic shows and mannequins representing characters from the books flying overhead.

Best of all, they had celebrity guests lined up to appear: For instance, Princess Beatrice of Battenberg - a sort of 19th century equivalent of Katee Sackhoff. Only with slightly less geek cred (although a little girl did apparently faint when meeting her).

Not pictured: Princess Beatrice of Battenberg.
Not pictured: Princess Beatrice of Battenberg.

The only problem?

That whole love-in over the first day didn't last all that long.

Sure, critics raved about the performance of the young woman role-playing as The Coming Race's Princess Zee, and in particular "her uniquely creative winged costume of black satin and a silver flower tiara that glowed with electric lights", but that, it seems, wasn't enough.

Critics soon dubbed the whole show "a very sorry affair, inartistic, stupid ... a vulgar entertainment in the name of charity", suggesting that the attendees were simply there to ogle celebrities, and criticizing their "unseemly gawping". The costumes, too, came in for a mauling, with many deriding them as too out there, and other mocking them for being prohibitively expensive.

"Ahem" - anyone who can't sew.
"Ahem" - anyone who can't sew.

The final nail in the coffin came when Dr. Tibbitts himself was accused of financial impropriety, and of misleading the public in several key ways. Just. Like. DashCon. 2014.

And so, the Coming Race Bazaar came to an inglorious and largely-forgotten close - and it took almost 80 years for San Diego Comic-Con to take up its mantel, and try again.

But with more comics, and fewer clothes.
But with more comics, and fewer clothes.

And to then proceed to recreate it about as faithfully as humanly possible.

Only this time, with Robert Downey Jr, so everything should be fine.

Or at least snappily dressed.
Or at least snappily dressed.

Want to read about more crazy things that have actually happened? Check out some of the best Insane Trivia the internet has to offer.

Poll

What do you guys reckon? Wish you'd been around in 1891?

via io9

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