It is not every day that young Saudis wander down the street dressed as the Hulk or Doctor Doom.
But for three days over the weekend, some 20,000 Saudis decked out in costumes and face paint queued to get into the kingdom’s first-ever Comic Con, where robots, video games and giant anime figures filled a tent in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The global comics expo was held under the auspices of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, which has hosted a series of festivals, comedy shows and concerts this year.
Saudi Arabia is trying to boost its entertainment sector as part of an economic and social reform drive aimed at creating jobs and weaning the country off its dependence on oil.
“The level of entertainment has risen so much from previous years. There used to be no public places like this for families, there was no gender mixing, there was no entertainment, there were no shows,” said Modah al-Bakheet, a Jeddah resident.
Comic Con started in 1970 when a group of about 100 science fiction fans in San Diego got together to swap comic books.
It has since grown into a globally recognised set of fantasy celebrations, drawing over 130,000 fans to events in London, Moscow, Delhi, Sydney and Dubai.
Inside the crowded tent in Jeddah, participants mingled around pop art booths and took part in video game competitions together.
Obada Awad, whose Riyadh-based Time Entertainment organised the event, said: “It was better than expected. We prepared so many scenarios for every possible thing that could happen, but this was the best possible turnout.”