This isn’t a convention write-up. Instead, it’s a review roundup of every new comic I came across at Thought Bubble 2013. Because I want to share them with as many people as possible, and as part apology for forcing people at the event to go and pick up everything I had come across and loved the most!
Thought Bubble is quite possibly the biggest convention on the UK calendar – not perhaps in sheer numbers alone, but certainly in the measures of anticipation and fondness. This year it grew bigger than ever before, experiencing some growing pains in the process, but the overall feeling was one of mad excitement and terrifying exhaustion, as per usual.
Everyone’s write-up of the convention is different, uniquely personal, and the same is true of one’s convention haul. Ten people can go to a convention, spend a fortune, and have completely different books at the end of it. So I thought instead of sharing my own take on the event as a whole (which was mostly a blur truth be told), I shall share what I got, what I thought of each title, and where you can buy them if you so desire.
Listed only by the order in which they came to hand.
Klaus – Richard Short
Short, generally four-panel strips set in the world of a philosophising cat and his peculiar friends – including some particularly amusing looking humanoid rats. In the little collection from Impossible Books, Klaus ponders on nature, music, loving, dreams, and peace, with an unmistakeable touch of Charles Schulz to the dark humoured musings.
This is a case of a comic standing out to me by its striking cover alone – I was purchasing other comics at the table, and the vaguely Tove Jansson feel of Klaus’s cover and my love of cats compelled me to pick it up and flick through, and I found myself tickled by the contents. There is an interesting playfulness with the comics form itself, characters breaking the traditional illustrative rules in order to drive home their narrative points, and let’s face it – Klaus himself is simply adorable.
Long Lost Lempi – Adam Vian
Having been put in mind of Jansson’s Moomins, I next reached for the two volumes of Long Lost Lempi that I picked up – another comic I had not seen before. Charmed by the sheer number of panels squeezed on to each page, with incredibly fine detail and lovely clean figures, I had not hesitated in purchasing the double pack of comics.
Following the adventures of young girl Lempi and her pals Ermin and Melisse across a fantastical yet somehow mundane world (Moomins!), the second volume, Upon Which a Great Deal of Dust Has Settled, follows on directly from the first, In Which a Rain Dance is Quite Perfectly Performed.
The action is dynamic while the dialogue remains loquacious, an intriguing mix that is complimented by the figures and speech balloons often bursting from the confines of their rigid panel structure. The best description for the series is possibly whimsical, in that lovely classical all-ages comics way; a comic that charms adults while enthralling younger readers (@SFBDim)
Haunted Bowels – Craig Collins
Now for a drastic change of scenery as I picked up the work of Craig Collins at last. Of his other books I also read Metrodome, a wonderful experiment in unconstrained creativity, and Roachwell and Crawl Hole, two of the most wonderful discomfiting comics I have read in a long time! Those three surreal horror fests also come from the twisted mind of Iain Laurie, one of the many artists in Haunted Bowels, which also serves as the first volume of Collins’ collected comics.
Be warned that Collins’ work is not for the faint of heart, but if – like me – you prefer your black comedy to be so far into the darkness that all light is extinguished, then definitely get your paws on this. Collecting Collins’ work from numerous sources, this book features the pretty art of Robert Thomson, the instantly recognisable work of Dave Alexander, the aforementioned master of gross Iain Laurie, and one of my favourite of favourite underground artists, the amazing Rob Miller.
There are a lot of different writing styles going on here, from three-panel gag strips to longer form surreal fantasies. Stand out strips have to be The Lonely Ballad of Pistol Nipples, Spectrum is Red (and Sore) which made me snort out loud, and The Amazing Cider-Man featuring the unbeatable line, “Aw baws, nearly ootay web fluid.” Some are big, some are clever, and those that ain’t will make you grin.
Most worryingly of all, Craig is a complete sweetheart. It’s always the quiet ones… (@CraigComicsEtc)
Blackout – PM Buchan
Staying with the dark theme then, I moved on to the highly praised Blackout and Blackout II YOLO, full colour comic anthologies fresh from the underground and co-created by Jack Fallows and Phillip Marsden, with guest contributions by Andrew Waugh, Mike Barnes, Chris Doherty, Trystan Mitchell and Joe Whiteford. One strip that straddles both volumes is The Object of My Affection, a particularly disturbing and on point look at misogyny – a delight to see in such a collection!
The overall quality of the books, both in writing and art, is incredibly high. The majority of the comic strips use a traditional many-panel grid layout, but with the variety of styles going on, this uniformity is soothing to eyes desperate to absorb more wickedness from the page. Philip Marsden is a revelation in the second volume, batting between three separate styles as easily as if he was in fact three completely separate artists. Spooky.
Special mention goes to People Ain’t No Good by Buchan and Jack Fallows, a wonderfully rendered slice of insanity – I’d love to see a full comic with Fallow’s dynamic cartooning which reminded me a little of Meredith Gran’s Octopus Pie characters. Similarly Trystan Mitchell knocks it out of the park with Romance is Dead and The Frog King – those colours! Love.
I also picked up Buchan’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci, chapters 1 and 2, with art by Karen Yumi Lusted. The manga style took a little getting used to here, but the story (stories!) is strong, and I loved the essay at the back of the first chapter (by Miranda Brennan of Bad Reputation expounding upon this adaptation of Keats work) and the prose story at the back of the second chapter which expands upon the life of one side character.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of both series. (@PMBuchan)
Filmish – Edward Ross
Now these comics I had seen before at conventions but for some reason had never managed to stop and pick one up (those familiar with the Laura shaped blur at UK conventions can perhaps hazard a guess!). But the premise of comic book essays on film theory was simply too tempting to resist! As someone who is, incredibly, in comics academia, I find the frequency in which the worlds of comic theory and film theory collide both exciting and intriguing. As an amateur film buff I keep meaning to dig into film theory more, but outside of feminist approaches it hasn’t quite happened.
Of the four issues of Filmish published I now have two: Technology and Technophobia which digs into our fascination and fear of all things tech throughout the age of cinema, from Chaplin to Videodrome, and Jurassic Park to Primer; and Food on Film, which bends from the obvious Annie Hall to the subversive Romero and the perplexing The Phantom of Liberty.
Throughout this fascinating history and theory lesson, Ross presides alongside the narrative in true Scott McCloud style, and makes me wonder once more why all history and theory books can’t be told in this form! Of course one could then apply comics criticism and theory to Ross’ message of film criticism and theory, compelled to do so once more within the comics medium, but I fear being drowned in meta-theory… (@edward_ross)
Botany – Lem
Last year at Thought Bubble, visting Lem’s table was top of my agenda. Creator of the wonderful Bunny, I not only picked up a collection of one of my favourite webcomics, but a plushie of Bunny himself. This time around of course I couldn’t resist picking up a blue Bunny to match… plus Lem’s latest comic.
A departure from the cute and angsty furry hero of old, Botany is sci-fi of the horror flavour set against the bleak backdrop of the infinite expanse of space. It’s fitting then that the comic itself makes great use of this emptiness, filled with oppressive ink that quite literally weighs down upon the characters.
There is a real sense of terror within these pages, but to reveal too much is to spoil the surprises… I will say though that I love the various pop culture references which help lighten the mood at times, and that the book leaves you desperately wanting more. (@happymrlocust)
Fever – Adam Murphy
A small cheat on this one as I ordered it after I had been to Thought Bubble, realising that I had forgotten to pick it up! Thankfully Murphy set up his online shop not long after and it arrived with lightning speed. Even better, I got a rude robot doodled on the inside.
A collection of small strips, Murphy has a pleasingly unique approach and a particular mastery of slow transitions and controlling movement, and a loving embrace of wobbly lines. A cacophony of distinct styles flood the pages, from pared back pen and ink etchings to strips virtually bursting with life and colour.
Particular highlights are the opening comic, Marine Biology, with beautiful use of colours, the obscene take on Romeo and Juliet which gave me a fit of the giggles, and the surreal skeleton adventure. But almost every trip will prompt a giggle or belly laugh while remaining quite touching all the while. (Does On the Menu bring Quentin Blake to mind for anyone else? Lovely stuff.) (@Adam_T_Murphy)
Team Girl Comic #9
This all-female collective from Glasgow are particular favourites of mine, and not just because they keep sneaking me down to Thought Bubble with them. The group has been going for three years now and are already on their 9th issue – a huge achievement, and testament to the thriving indie comics scene.
Team Girl have recently branched out into webcomics on their site too, a clever move as more than a few new customers had been introduced to the comics anthology via the website. All anthologies can be a little hit and miss, but this particular collection is almost entirely full of winners.
Edited by Gill Hatcher and Claire Yvette, three strips in particular stood out to me for very high praise: Accountant Squid, a surreal and amusing art strip by Elenor Einhorn; The T-Shirt, a simple but effective two-page comic with a huge emotional punch by Coleen Campbell and Claire Yvette; and Re-Creation Myth by Jay Gray, another surreal and imaginative art strip.
The Firelight Isle – Paul Duffield
Paul is perhaps best known for his work with Warren Ellis on Freakangels, and his gorgeous book Signal (as my-non-comics-reading partner remarked upon seeing the latter, “ah – proper art!”).
The little preview book was every bit as beautiful as I expected, and contains some very clever tricks with panel structure and sound effects – I mean, jesus. Just look at it.
Not even the preview though is as fun as reading it online in loooooong page form – a stylistic choice that is both more engaging for the reader, and more dynamic in terms of page structure and how events unfold. And it’s just beautiful dammit. A real labour of love with epic world-building skills and, and… sigh.
A tiny blurb like this could never do it proper justice so just… just go read it.
Spandex – Martin Eden
So of course I had heard of Spandex – I have the HC collection which I have told everyone to buy because it is AMAZING, but for some unknown reason I had not thought to look and see if there were any more issues. Which of course there are! The HC collects #1-3. And there are, in total, 7 issues and a special. I am a doofus. But on the plus side, more Spandex!
However, that does give me 8 books to try and encapsulate in one short blurb, argh. Basically, Spandex is brilliant and fun, with outrageous colours and costumes that are most pleasing to the eye. It’s interesting to see Eden’s art progress throughout the issues, but the storytelling remains strong throughout.
The reader gains genuine affection for each character, no matter how troubled. And I particularly loved the little cheeky glimpses of well known heroes in some background scenes (I see you Wolverine). But mostly yay for superheroes who aren’t just straight white men! (@SpandexComic)
It Girl – Jessica Martin
Now here’s a comic I almost missed completely, until I happened to see fellow comics aficionado Xander at Jessica’s table. With a vague sense that his taste in comics is pretty good (:P), I had a quick peek. And lo and behold I found one of my favourite comics of the weekend. Martin is best known as an actor, comedian, singer and dancer here in the UK – particularly to fans of Spitting Image (she’s the Queen!).
It Girl is Martin’s first comic, and I don’t mean her first time scripting a comic – this is entirely her own work. Some people are just too talented, hmph. The comic tells the story of Clara Bow, a lady with an interesting life indeed, but this telling is particularly captivating. Told in black and white, as befits the time period, the use of various tight transitions to control pacing with clever (and non-intrusive) use of captions, I would never have guessed that this comic is a debut creation.
Only 12 pages long, I genuinely came away feeling like I had read an entire book on Clara Bow – and as a bonus there are 8 pages after that (all just for £3, not bad) that preview Martin’s upcoming graphic novel, Elsie Harris Picture Palace.
And one more point of note – Martin draws gorgeous and realistic women! (@jessica7martin)
Travels With Albert – Rikke Hollænder
Translated into English (though I’m not sure where it can be purchased online), this little Danish masterpiece is something quite special. One man, in a tiny spaceship, hurtling through the cosmos with no memory of how he got there or where he is going. His companion, a solitary goldfish named Albert.
A study in solitude and the human mind, along with an exploration of the terror that a lonely person can experience as they start to lose their grip on reality, this comic is punctuated by very little dialogue. Instead, many of the speech bubbles are filled with pictograms, desperate expressions of basic human needs and desires, and a penetrating focus on base bodily functions – eating, abstaining from food, and that tiny bathroom.
The layouts, traditional at first, begin to expand and warp alongside the man’s mind. It’s quite the trip. (@Ostopat)
Looking Glass Heights #1 – David Allison
Mindless One and comics critic David Allison has produced something of a winner here, combining comics and essays into a powerful zine. Truthfully, the comic is not entirely to my taste, revelling in the harsh lines and fervent blacks that reminded me of Frank Miller, but with the essays that put the work into context, this zine is in fact something I would like to see much more of from various creators.
The comic itself, The Blowdown of Barry Brown, follow grumblings of an ex housing officer as he climbs the stairs of a building and… well, you’ll have to read to find out! But following that is an essay on the various racist and classist assumptions about housing estates, and the pitfalls that arise when trying to correct such bigotry – ie accidentally falling into that bigotry yourself.
Reality War – Us vs Them is a powerful piece based on personal experience, and touches a cause very close to my own heart. To come across it unexpectedly in a pile of comics was… pretty amazing actually, and a real shout of the punk politics that the comics and zine mediums can manifest.
A second essay is a critical look at the works of Eddie Campbell and Frank Miller, Flowers in a Foreground, and how that analysis ties into the writer’s own comic. And one final piece, a breakdown of the comic at the beginning looking at the creation and failings of the work.
In short then – one comic, one essay into the sociopolitical message behind it, one essay that critiques comics that have influenced the comic, and a critique of the comic itself. Jesus christ, if more comic creators did this I would be an extremely happy bunny! Though I’d also be out of a job… (@illogicalvolume)
For the other comics I picked up:
Thank Goodness for Herald Owlett by Nikki Stu, a series that shows enormous potential, particularly in the few coloured pages included amongst the black and white. The shading and depth within the colours really does set it apart from the monochrome pages which can be a tad hard to follow, and the colour underscores the very cute and creative character design.
Numbercruncher by Si Spurrier, PJ Holden, and Jordie Bellaire from Titan is a comic that I enjoyed immensely, both for the premise itself, the great characters and the wonderful noirish b&w art that segues into colour at opportune moments. You can see a preview here on The Beat in fact.
A Comics Anthology and Jonah by Edieop are two interesting little books, the second more of a picture book than comic. The anthology employs an interesting mix of coloured pencils (or crayons possibly?) with watercolours, dipping into collage at points. The Great Tree is a standout strip, and the devil character that bookends the comic is very appealing. Jonah is especially good, with a very unique style and macabre humour throughout.
Windowpane and Windowpane 2 by Joe Kessler have been reviewed here and here on The Beat by Jessica Lee. They are indeed beautiful books, not my usual cup of tea, but the collaboration with Reuben Mwaura which spans both books is incredible – very stripped down art, almost taking a back seat to the brutal (and true) story. Kawanishi’s Greenhouse and its meandering philosophy amongst the gorgeous foliage appealed to me too… overall I think perhaps the second book is the more accessible though this may be because it leans more towards the surreal than the abstract, the former being a more frequent friend of mine.
Death Sentence by Montynero and Mike Dowling, is a comic I’ve been meaning to pick up for some time so I bought the first two issues alongside Numbercruncher above. I had heard good things but was very pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed the comic. The premise is sound and shiny – a new sexually transmitted virus has hit society which kills you within 6 months but imbues you with superhuman skills before you expire. Just how that effects the various cast members, all troubled people in different ways, is portrayed with a subtlety that many ‘grim and gritty’ comics are seemingly incapable of. Good stuff, more please!
Points on a Graph and Everyone’s Felt Like This Once by Scott McAllister are funny wee pixelated strips, the first about office life and in particular the life of a man now trapped in a robot body, and the second about a group of 20-somethings. There are shades of both Jonbot Vs Martha and diesel sweeties (though less hipsterish) but I think it’s definitely the kind of thing I’d prefer to read as a webcomic? Mind you, I felt the same about the diesel sweeties collection! Some fab dialogue in these though, and great characters.
Youthful Attack by Douglas Noble is an always timely look at war but in Noble’s signature complex and challenging way. And funnily enough I also recently popped Darren Cullen’s controversial Join the Army on my review list. Something in the air perhaps…
Oh and of course I also picked up physical copies of COMIC OF THE CONVENTION Raygun Roads by Owen Michael Johnson and Indio, ALL-AGES COMIC OF THE CONVENTION Dungeon Fun by Neil Slorrance and Colin Bell, and I would have picked up GRAPHIC NOVEL OF THE CONVENTION The Lengths by Howard Hardiman had I not already bought it. Yes those are my own awards, no arguing :P
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.