The wonderful thing about Thought Bubble, an annual festival in Leeds that encompasses the academic Comics Forum and a two day comics convention covering all sequential art from Bunny to Batman, is that two people can attend the event and come away with a completely different experience. So while Steve Morris brilliantly scratched the surface, the following is the tale of my adventures as I visited one of the UK’s most popular conventions for the very first time.
I hitched a ride with the fantastic Team Girl Comic ladies, an all-women comics collective from Glasgow, who not only had their comics and prints for sale in abundance, but also prevented me from getting lost in the big city. Cheers ladies! The Friday night reception was rather fun, where I met up with the lovely Maura McHugh, was surprised by the comics genius that is Cameron Stewart, and was pounced upon by the ridiculously talented Frazer Irving (a talented artist I mean, not at pouncing). In fact the entire weekend really underscored for me not only how nice everyone in the comics community is, but how generous and friendly many of the artists and writers are with their time and skills.
Setting up the next morning in the Royal Armouries Hall, the slightly smaller of the two venues, I was so very unprepared for just how busy the weekend was going to be! When the doors opened to the public, a mass stampede charged through the hall to the back wall where Kate Beaton would later be appearing. The placement of the big stars in each hall, generally up the back, worked well in the respect that people would then browse the other stalls on their way to and fro, but also meant that these artists were rather obscured from sight all weekend.
Heading across to the New Dock Hall – and gaping at how big it was with its 178 tables! – I made a beeline for the wonderful Simone Lia, at the Jonathan Cape table. Already owning the gorgeous Fluffy, and Lia’s newest title, Please God, Find Me A Husband!, I splurged on a framed Fluffy print. The Jonathan Cape table was in fact overflowing with talent, and I was later caught by Karrie Fransman, creator of The House That Groaned (which is not only a fantastic book, but a design marvel), before pouncing in turn on Hannah Berry, the ridiculously talented creator of Adamtine and Britten and Brülightly (a noir comic about one man and his teabag friend). I got myself another copy of the former so that I could get it sketched and signed, and touched by the hand of god Berry. Alison Bechdel was also there at one point doing signings but I missed her. Which on the one hand I am very sad about, and on the other hand quite relieved as I would have fangirled all over her. And nobody wants to see that, believe me.
Rushing back to the smaller hall for the first of the panels I wanted to attend, I was impressed with just how many people the Bury Theatre could actually fit inside. I think it may be employing Tardis technology. “Gosh! Comics Presents – The Best Thing I’ve Read All Year” was hosted by Gosh! man Tom Oldham, and featured the thoughts of Kate Brown, Al Ewing, Kieron Gillen, and Antony Johnston. What comics then did the experts recommend?
Kieron Gillen went for The Nao of Brown, Saga, Manhattan Projects, Hawkeye (in the “demi-mainstream”!), the reprinted Hugo Tate, Are You My Mother? with mentions for Revival and Prophet as well. Kate Brown picked the all ages anthology, The Phoenix, highlighting the “Corpse Talk” strip which is great fun (a famous corpse is interviewed about their life!), and the webcomic The Summer of Blake Sinclair. The Crossed: Wish You Were Here webcomic and Oglaf (NSFW!) also got a lot of love from the panellists, as did the utterly fantastic xkcd: Click and Drag strip.
Al Ewing was also loving webcomics this year, giving a shout out to Bad Machinery, American Barbarian, Hip Hop Family Tree, and Cameron Stewart’s wonderful, and recently concluded, Sin Titulo. Batman: Leviathan Strikes, Batman Incorporated and Gillen’s final issue of Journey into Mystery were Ewing’s other favourites, with Chris Burnham getting praise all round. Antony Johnston suggested The Trenches, particularly for the text additions sent in from readers, and Diesel Sweeties. In the small press, Ewing highlighted Philippa Rice and Paul Rainey, and Gillen was crazy for Tom Humberstone. Brown praised Becky Cloonan‘s small press works, The Mire and Wolves, and Howard Hardiman‘s The Lengths. And with that the panel sent us off to buy all of the above.
I once again attempted to traverse the larger hall, which was trickier than I anticipated as there were so many people to catch up with, and made it to the table of Becky & Frank of Tiny Kitten Teeth, who had gorgeous books and prints to sell. It was their first UK convention, and they were hugely popular. Sadly I dithered too long on whether to buy their ultra deluxe hardback, and they’d all sold by the next day. Doh. Sticking with webcomics, Tom Siddell had all volumes of my favourite webcomic, Gunnerkrigg Court, for sale and he spent the entire weekend sketching for fans.
Heading back to the theatre for the next of my chosen panels, the “2000 AD 35th Anniversary Roundtable”, hosted by Stacey Whittle and Iz McAuliffe, with the thoughts of Simon Davis, Al Ewing, Simon Fraser, Leigh Gallagher, Robbie Morrison, and Rob Williams, I was surprised to find myself sitting next to the lovely John Wagner. Wagner was at the convention to catch up with friends, and to add to the large Scottish contingency present! This was one of my favourite panels and highly entertaining – not to mention slightly surreal when I found myself being name checked when PR guru Michael Molcher mentioned my gender politics piece on Dredd 3D for the mainstream UK press.
Straight out of that panel and into another: “Comics 2.0 – Digital Comics Discussion”, hosted by Alex Fitch and featuring Kate Beaton, Becky & Frank, who discussed using the internet for the digital distribution of their traditionally created comics, Scott C, who started out with daily comics, Paul Duffield, who worked on Freakangels in a very traditional manner (full time, paid per page etc), and Mark Waid who is a huge proponent of innovative digital comics. Ketan Majmudar was the final panellist, a mobile/web designer/developer, who had some really exciting things to share on the potential future of comics, which for the most part is very hard to describe without video, but the responsive design element was particularly interesting – essentially the comic adapts to the size of the browser window, without obscuring text or losing meaning/definition. I think the next two years are going to be really pivotal with digital comics, and it was interesting to see another branch of that tree reaching out.
Both halls were very well balanced in terms of guests I think, with the smaller of the two halls hosting Kate Beaton, Scott C, Becky Cloonan, Pia Guerra, Roger Langridge, Olly Moss, and Cameron Stewart amongst others. As much as I wanted to meet Beaton, I didn’t ever manage to find the time to queue sadly, but I did peek in on Stewart occasionally to double check that, yup, he really does work that fast. Holy crap. I also managed to get my hands on a much coveted copy of Cloonan’s The Mire, and found myself tongue tied for the only time that weekend. Ahem.
By now the cosplayers were out in force, perhaps even outnumbering the number of Glaswegians at the bar. Judges mingled with X-Men, but I reckon the lady in the pink candy dress – Pinky Pie from My Little Pony – stole the show. My own nod to geekdom was in my choice of earrings, ostensibly to allow people to recognise me more easily: Happy the Horse earrings on Saturday, and Spider Jerusalem earrings on Sunday – both provided by Morag Kewell. And they worked! It was rather amusing seeing Cameron Stewart and Rian Hughes both suddenly break from what they were saying to me to stare at my ears before going, “….is that… Happy?!”
The Saturday night Mid-Convention Party was rockin’, with Kieron Gillan leading the dancefloor charge. While the music was, naturally, quite awesome, I discovered that I am quite possibly getting Too Old For This Stuff, and retreated to a quiet corner with Rian Hughes to consider the chances of the next party being held in an all night tearoom. With cake. I also caught up with Peter Doherty, who was having a whale of a time, and Frazer Irving who is basically a one man party in himself.
On Sunday, through the fog of tiredness, I was determined to catch up on everyone before the end of the day. The back wall of the larger hall, boasting guests including Phil Noto, Yanick Paquette, Mark Waid, Kieron Gillan, James McKelvie, Sean Philips and Charlie Adlard, was absolutely jam packed all weekend, but I spotted a sudden gap around David Petersen‘s table and made my pounce. The queue reformed behind me moments later, but I was able to pick up the Mouseguard Sketchbook and a sketch from the lovely artist himself. Too shy to ask for a guinea pig, I asked for pirate mouse Roarke – almost foiled by a lack of paper, but saved thanks to the generous person behind me in the queue.
Running back across the square for the final panel I attended, I was stopped in my tracks by the size of the queue! By far the busiest panel of the week, the Women in Comics Panel, hosted by leading comics academic Dr Mel Gibson (she’s heard all the jokes!), starred Kate Beaton, Alison Bechdel, Hannah Berry, Robin Furth, Simone Lia, and Fiona Stephenson. As is often the case, there was an issue of why a women in comics panel was required, though Gibson took a refreshing take on proceedings by focusing on why there were so many women in comics these days, rather than focusing on the negative. It was also pointed out that with the majority of the women on the panel being from an indie background, where gender is more balanced, it was not quite the same as having a DC/Marvel women in comics panel! Some videos are available but as the panellists weren’t informed(!) I shall skip that, and instead recommend you buy all their wonderful work instead.
Saying hello to the the dynamic duo of Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot, I spoiled myself by buying a second copy of Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes to get signed – my original copy shall go to my mum! I also got a sneak peak at Mary’s upcoming next project (which I am hugely excited about). Delighted to see this week that Dotter has been nominated for a Costa Book Award – well deserved!
Squeezing around the corner I found Sally Jane Thompson, who bowled me over recently by sending me a sketch of a guinea pig which is, my fiancé says, the best thing I have ever been sent. Ever. I picked up From and Now and Then, before moving to the work of her friend, Zarina Liew which was similarly covered in the most gorgeous things. Plumping for Le Mime, which is fantastic, Zarina offered to pop a sketch inside. She caught me later with the book and I didn’t unseal it until I got home late that night, only to find a brilliant sketch of me! There was much flailing, I can tell you. Much love to Zarina.
Jess Bradley has to get my award for Table of Cutest Things, and I attempted to buy as much as possible I must confess. Including my only superhero print of the weekend! The Rather Odd Alphabet and The Cute and the Weird are both adorable books, and I was impressed with her range of all-ages material. Plus a small print of a unicorn pooping a rainbow. Rapidly running out of my long saved up cash, I knew I could no longer delay buying the lovely The Nao of Brown as everyone at Thought Bubble was raving about it. I thought Glyn Dillon was just signing his book at the SelfMadeHero table, but I was gobsmacked to see that he was doing little watercolour sketches in each book. Nice! I wanted a FROGSLEGS so badly as well, a super cute vinyl toy (as features in Nao) designed by Dillon.
I also swung by the table of Kate Brown and Paul Duffield, to marvel over Kate’s prints. Her book, Fish + Chocolate, is one of the graphic novels I tell everyone to buy because it is so good. Just, go and buy it. Right now. Just a little further down were the Mindless Ones, who were having a great time, and I picked up a copy of ink+PAPER‘s second volume of The Strumpet which is enormous and very good value for money.
One last sweep of the smaller hall had me marvelling at the activities The Phoenix was running for younger fans, and I couldn’t resist picking up Kromatron Comics‘ Afroella. I also spotted the wonderful Tanya Roberts, artist on Clone Wars, who was there with her first creator owned comic, Forgotten Muse. I finally met up with Neil Gibson of Twisted Dark, a comic series I have raved about previously (spoiler free!), and got the much anticipated Volume 3 as well as the sample of their upcoming new title, Tabatha.
Finally, I ran back over to the larger hall to find something I had spotted earlier – the Bunny table! Bunny is another of my favourite webcomics, and Huw “Lem” Davies is a real sweetheart. I got my paws on a copy of Bunny: The Book of Random, as well as a plushie pink Bunny. I just need to find the orange one now and my world domination plans will be near complete… The last of my dwindling funds went on a copy of Hemlock Vol 1 by Josceline Fenton, while I pouted inwardly about the subsequent volumes. Never fear, for they are available to purchase on Josceline’s website, huzzah!
After an exhausting and hectic two days then, what is this newbie’s impression of Thought Bubble? BEST CONVENTION EVER. Now go and check out those links while I read my way through this mountain of books…
Credit for top photo of FROGSLEGS: (c) Guillaume Rater/SelfMadeHero
[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. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.]