Thought Bubble 2012
I stop a pair of strangers in Leeds train station and ask them if they are going to Thought Bubble.It’s a brisk but clear morning, and as trains arrive on this November Saturday morning to disgorge people for their day in the city, some indicators, be it just the style of clothes, the laughter and excitement in groups, iconic images on bags, or badges all give subtle hints that many people are heading towards the Armouries Square. Others, in wigs and colourful clothing, are more obvious. But back to the couple—the lady, Steph is wearing a black dress with a selection of Batman Logos adorning it. Together they exude the essence of Thought Bubble, a relaxed confidence and sophistication in their appreciation of comics and a good sense of fun.
The Thought Bubble Comic Festival now spans over a week and has connected events taking place in nearby cities, with the centrepiece of the festival being a two day convention in the Clarence Dock area of Leeds, at the Royal Armouries Hall and New Dock Hall. Between both halls there are some 286 tables of comics and creators,
This year, I think there has been a real narrowing between the sales proposition that smaller independents, individuals with initiative and small presses are making with that of what might be considered as professional outfits. Although DC and Marvel are not exactly here, and I am unsure where they would go, their wares are available on many Comic Shop tables. While comics come in many genres and of course have transcended the mainstream market, there is still a clear distinction to me, between the people who are doing things out of love and aspiration or who are starting their business and those that are established going concerns. Of course I am grateful to Image comics for their assistance with the Thought Bubble comic, which is the first purchase of the day.
The impression I get is that what one might consider a professional appearance and proposition is available to all who are creating comics and it is working. I spend some time chatting to some of the creators at these stunning stands.
Fallen Heroes is a novel by Barry Nugent but he has gone on to develop a co-operative franchise around this one book. Last year, he had the graphic novel Unseen Shadows available and based on its success he now has another graphic novel, Tales of the Forgotten, this year. I got chatting to Barry and he is keen to emphasise that he was approached by others to work on characters and he likes this, while being able to keep it in canon. The books and graphic novels stand alone, despite inherent connection. Barry is one half of the very popular Geek Syndicate with David Monteith. Obviously this is very different from blogging and he explained that he doesn’t get to meet as many creators at cons, and that with 30 people involved in the business that it’s quite busy, and he is just not interested in a mainstream. He is pretty proud of the fact that Fallen Heroes at one stage was the Kindle no. 1 in action adventure category, and he likes the freedom but is careful to point out how he adheres to a very professional approach, including having his own novel professionally edited. But then it seems to have worked, and he even sold the rights for a TV show. Not one to rest, he is planning on releasing a new book next year entitled Forgotten Warriors.
The queues outside are pleasant and orderly, and there are a number of them. Some people already have their wrist bands while others need to buy them, and lines stretch away into the distance impressively. There are no shortage of Thought Bubble staff on hand to assist and ensure that everyone has a good time and gets processed as promptly as they can, while the whole of the Hot Wheel Roller Derby Team are on hand in New Dock Hall to ensure that everyone has their wrist band, and impressively dangerous they look too.
I manage to scoot between both halls and as the doors open watch as the fans stream in, making a beeline directly to the tables of their favourite creators. Olly Moss, who has a Mondo exhibition on in Leeds concurrently as part of the festival, straight away has a queue as does Charlie Adlard. Adlard, who looks like he should have a Gitane cigarette and open top sports car, suave, artistic looking and super pleasant to the fans has the longest queue I reckon. Adlard is happy to sign and sketch and he is just very nice and engaging. For the man who drew a single comic that sold over 300,000 copies, there is not a hint of anything but respect and appreciation for the fans.
Image Comics have a strong presence here, Charlie is obviously one of their stars with his run on Walking Dead, and not far from Adlard a pair of creators who have a continual queue are David Hine and Doug Braithwaite. Both gentlemen are also terribly pleasant. Doug always seems to be smiling when he isn’t concentrating on artwork, and the men are here the same week that the first issue of Storm Dogs has been released by Image Comics. It’s a great comic, truly science fictional, set in another world. It bears the hallmarks of a classic science fictional work, something that has been missing in comics outside of mainland Europe and in the pages of 2000AD, and one can feel the excitement as they unpack the cellophane wrapped block of comics to sell to greedy and hungry comic fans.
Once the lines are processed, which takes a while as people continually turn up, and I am left wondering how many people are actually here for the weekend, the central plaza between the two halls becomes a space for cosplayers to gather and talk and jump around. Although there is a coffee shop as part of the lobbies to both halls, for the chaotic spontaneity that these guys feed off open spaces seem to be what is desired.
I am impressed by some of the costumes. I meet Colin and Danielle dressed as Kick Ass and Hit Girl, and they look incredible. Danielle is 12 and Colin is her dad who is also involved with the
Galactic Knights Costume Club. They look superb.
The opportunity for juxtaposition of the wondrous world that is comics presents itself when I get chatting to Izzy, who is a Disney cosplayer. She admits that it is a small but growing group, and that she is better known for other characters, but she pulls it off very well. She and her Disney inspired friends have met through Cosplayisland.co.uk. As a huge man dressed as Bane gently passes by, I get the opportunity to ask him to stand next to Izzy and soon I also have the Red Skull, who never smiles. It is quite a triptych.
Again I am stopped in front of a stunning looking stand, banners proudly announcing Clockwork Watch, and I soon get talking to Yomi about this steampunk world that he is involved with. He has been spreading the narrative with the graphic novel The Arrival which sets the scene for a transmedia experience. The Arrival has a non-colonial slant on steam punk starring an India based kinetic engineer. Queen Victoria needs Indian expertise and this tilting of power and balance changes the world. The graphic novel The Arrival was crowd-funded, but the variety of activities that is emanating from the project is very interesting. There was a nine hour interactive event in Arches underneath London Bridge train station which interacted with an online element creating a world through which another element, an online newspaper called The London Gazette, involves everyone in universe building. This also is a platform for others to tell their own stories as the online world is licensed under Creative Commons.
I like the move away from UK-centric steampunk and bid Yomi and his companions Corey Brotherson and Jennie Gyllblad adieu.
Also here at the convention pressing the flesh and selling comics is Dublin’s own Robert Curley with a heavily stacked table of comics, all from Atomic Dinner. Rob talks enthusiastically about Eirtakon which occurred the weekend before in DCU, where he is happy to report that he sold over one hundred comics, exceeding his expectations and noting that the 1,900 people who turned up is a phenomenal amount. He seems to have really loved the crowd, describing it as being very ‘positive’ and all in for it. Maura McHugh, from Galway is also here and I hear that Issues 3 of both Jennifer Wilde and Rosin Dubh are on the way, which pleases me no end. I must admit considerable pride to see this Irish element present.
I note a couple of Roller Derby girls in costume, and they are from the Bruising Banditas, who are guarding the doors in the Armouries Hall. Gary Erskine is nearby selling the 52-page comic magazine Roller Grrrls which ‘features the Thrills, Spills and Action of Roller Derby… both on and off the track!’ It’s a very impressive publication created by Anna Malady and Gary Erskine, with Yel Zamor on colours and Abby Ryder on Lil Rollers and who can complain that this sporting activity seems to have become so solidly connected to comics, such really nice folk.
There is possibly too much to buy at Thought Bubble. I get the feeling that I need to pick up all the flyers and cards, as there is so much appealing, while the diversity of products available is wide: jewellery, art prints, small homemade comics that are just so intricate in their detail. I slowly browse every stand. As I proceed, I am wrenched by a really stunning image of Captain America, and soon I am talking to the delightful Brogan Coral Kingsley. This is her first ever event, and she seemed to be loving it and rather busy with it too. She has done some very nice Art Nouveau interpretations of comic heroes, and I just thought that her Captain America was really smart, while encompassing all that is the obvious influence of Alphonse Mucha and the artistic style of Art Nouveau, the geometry, traditional layout, and pose. It also had a modern and very polished feeling to the illustration the colours and drawing very clean and crisp but not synthetic, and it felt just right, a hard balance I reckoned and I immediately bought some of the images. It was perhaps my ‘buy’ of the weekend.
There is a great sense of fun here, perhaps the fact that everyone I met was interesting or just enjoying themselves and the celebration of comics and creativity that surrounded us all. It always felt busy, and as a frequent visitor to Thought Bubble, I don’t know if the new Dock Hall was ever as busy. Even as the day wore on, more people arrived, and some of the cosplay was just stunning. I stopped and spoke with Heather, who had made a Wonder Woman costume in an incredibly short amount of time, and her friend Helen who was a human rendition of Pinky Pie from My Little Pony.
Another real find for me was the illustrated book Celebrity Homes: a book of words and pictures about awesome houses and the legendary people who lived in them. This is a gorgeous piece of work by the very talented Lydia Wysocki. The book is full of black and white line drawings of the houses of famous people including Lenny Bruce, George Orwell, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and so on. Each building, for there is such a variety, has a piece of writing to go with it and I was taken by the delicate nature of the architectural line work despite it being freehand. There is even a preview available online. Another very happy creator, pleased with how the weekend had gone.
I decided that some socialising was in order and was soon ensconced in the bar next door to the New Dock Hall in the Holiday Inn Hotel. Pints were a a reasonable £2.50, and again the atmosphere was very pleasant. I got chatting to journalist Laura Sneddon and 2000 AD comic artist Colin MacNeil who excited me way too much with news of a future project. He is without doubt one of my favourite comic artists, and I really liked Insurrection, so Comic Buzz readers may understand my pleasure at meeting him in person. He made mention of his work on the third instalment of Insurrection, which Dan Abnett had spoken of online and it is a work I am looking forward to.
The craic was ninety, and I was pleased to chat with Stacey Whittle, who was one of the judges on the 1st Annual British Comics awards that were also taking place at Thought Bubble. Stacey, as well as being an SFX blogger, a comic anthology editor and 2000AD expert, is involved with The Canny Comic Con in Newcastle.
I reckoned that John Wagner’s huge Judge Dredd event, Day of Chaos, must have caused some writers a bit of heartache. Here they are with a well known world and suddenly it is turned upside down with this massive world changing story, spread over some 48 episodes. Of course, I could have gone across to the other bar, where John Wagner was but by this stage it felt too far away, and anyhow, Al Ewing was suddenly on hand to politely debunk my theory and point out that it was indeed rather exciting and good fun as a writer. I had to apologise to Stacey and also Forbidden Planet Blogger Richard Bruton who I was sure were wrong in their assertion that it was a good thing.
Richard was with fellow Forbidden Planet Blogger Zainab, who had been buying even more comics than I had, and who had been anticipating the convention with a certain relish. There was just such a vast selection to purchase. As evening turned to night, the awards, the party and a whole new day were ahead for some and of course the fantastic Thought Bubble Comic, which is required reading on the train on the way home for me, and I had not even gotten to all the creators, like Bryan Talbot, David Llyod and Kate Beaton, or to The Phoenix fun section for kids and many of the talks, there is so much wondrousnous going on.
The convention felt like everyone was there. Company directors, publishers, creators—it was brimful with people in the industry. It was all just a fantastic convention, the people were all really nice, everyone was having the craic and it was just great to be so immersed in everything that is the best about comics.
The winners of the 1st annual British Comic Book Awards.
BEST BOOK: NELSON
Edited by Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix.
BEST COMIC; Bad Machinery
Written and drawn by John Allison.
EMERGING TALENT; Josceline Fenton
YOUNG PEOPLE’S COMIC AWARD; Hilda and the Midnight Giant
Written and drawn by Luke Pearson.
HALL OF FAME AWARD; Raymond Briggs
Comic Buzz would like to thank Lisa Wood, Clark Burscough and Sarah of Thought Bubble who all looked after James very well.