After a few years of going to Thought Bubble, I think we can safely say that it’s become the best comics festival in the UK.
My heart will always have a soft spot for the British International Comics Show, seeing as it was held in my lovely Birmingham. And one day I’ll manage to get to Angouleme, but until then, there’s a weekend in November in Leeds marked off every year.
Thought Bubble seems to have it all; a diverse mix of guests from the UK, Europe, and the US, lots of varied panels and events stretching out over the whole weekend and beyond, seamless organisation across both days and both main venues, and best of all a sense of complete inclusion for all and a wonderful mix of all ages of comic fans, male and female, young and old.
So many people go to Thought Bubble, and from the looks I saw on faces all around throughout the two days, they all had a lot of fun.
Last year I worried beforehand that they may have expanded too much, doubling up to two venues over two days too much perhaps was my thinking. But I was wrong, last year was great.
And from the chats I had with a lot of people over the weekend, this year was the best ever, full of people, loads of sales going on, a great variety of exhibitors to see on the way round, and more than ever before, a ridiculously high quality of material on offer. I spent far, far too much, although a lot of that was down to my junior assistant Molly, who seemed determined to blow any semblance of sensible budgeting for the weekend.
Also thanks to Molly, Thought Bubble became ThoBubs.
Yeah, Tho Bubs. No idea who started that one off as a shortened version of Thought Bubble this year, but Molly heard it somewhere and kept saying it. Somehow, despite it being a little bit crap, the name has stuck chez Bruton.
(Update – Matthew Craig gets in touch to claim the dubious honour of coining the Tho Bubs phrase!)
Right, lets have a few pics..
First up – Dock Hall, the bigger of the two venues (194 tables)….
(Nice shot looking up the row of tables – Marc Ellerby signing a copy of Ellerbisms – one of many convention sell-outs over the weekend, Tom Humblestone, Julia Scheele visible)
(SelfMadeHero had a considerable presence at TB – including Glyn Dillon (left) and Frederik Peeters (right))
(And here’s Ian Culbard and Chris Lackey – artist and writer on Deadbeats, launched and sold out at TB)
(Jonathan Edwards and Louise Evans – Felt Mistress. They were launching Felt Mistress’ new book Creature Couture)
(Creature Couture, as edited by the ever-dapper Woodrow Phoenix, here with Bridget Hannigan, part of the Blank Slate Books tables for the festival)
(a favourite of Molly – Moo and Keo artist Matt Dyson)
As last year, the convention was split across two venues, The New Dock Hall with nearly 200 exhibitors, and the smaller Armouries Hall with another 100 being the two official venues. Then there’s the Holiday Inn Express bar, between the two venues, and usually host of at least three or four famous comic people at any one time.
True fact, I was two feet away from special unexpected guest John Wagner at one point on Sunday afternoon, having a much needed coffee break with Molly in the Holiday Inn. That’s a familiar man talking to Frazer Irving thinks I, wonder who it is thinks I. I have such a terrible memory for faces. Damn. That would have been a great moment.
But one very important venue for Thought Bubble is actually the open air plaze between the Armouries Hall and the New Dock Hall. It’s important because that’s where Leeds gets to see one truly great aspect of Thought Bubble; the wonderful, friendly, happy, imaginative, original, and just plain nice cosplayers.
I’ve gone from being mildly sniffy about cosplayers a few years back to absolutely loving them now. They add so much to the event. For every slight inconvenience of a teen with a huge sword crashing into you there’s at least five friendly, smiling faces wanting to share their enjoyment of the day. And that sharing is a big part of Thought Bubble, the sense of inclusion is everywhere. This isn’t a festival for the few. This is a festival for anyone who wants to be included.
And after the number of dumb comments we’ve seen recently regarding conventions and attendees, inclusion on this level is both vital and refreshing to see. Thought Bubble always attracts cosplayers, some old, a lot young, some wearing spectacularly good costumes, some just throwing together something to join in the fun. But they’re all having (or so it seemed to me looking on) a great time, playing along, having a laugh with their friends, being a lovely tribe, happily posing for pictures, showing off to the crowds watching them.
So thank you every single one of you who dressed up, who cme to be seen, who entertained by your very prescence. I hope you enjoyed the weekend as much as we enjoyed seeing you.
Okay, quick break again for a little of the outdoors action
…. meeting all those wonderful cosplayers:
(Best cosplay of the weekend – Judges Martin and Frankie – Day Of Chaos has hit the Justice Dept. hard – cardboard now the material of choice for the Judges’ outfits)
(Dalek, Doctor, Donna, and special guest Sam, son of artist Joe Decie, whose book The Accidental Salad was up for a British Comic Award – Best Comic award.)
(Al Ewing, cosplaying as Al Ewing, or merely wandering across the plaza?)
I met up with so many people over Saturday and Sunday, but as is usual, I seem to have missed far more talented people than I managed to meet, a good sign in a way. To those who I failed to meet, my sincerest apologies.
As is usual, any desire to get close to the special overseas guests was thwarted by voluminous queues. There were big, big queues for most people across both days, in both halls, and especially in the bigger Dock Hall this did cause problems with queuing punters blocking off exhibitors stalls. It’s the one badly organised thing of the whole show. When it was smaller a few years back they actually arranged the room with queuing space. But that’s impossible. Could Thought Bubble actually need a third room, a big queue guests room? Would that work? If anyone could make it work, I bet Lisa, Clark and the rest of the ThoBubs gang could.
Whilst on the subject of big name guests I have to mention Kate Beaton. I managed to get a few shots of her during her signing on Sunday, when she worked her way solidly through a queue that snaked its way back and forth through most of the hall. In none of these shots does she stay still, and I’ve never been one to jump a queue waving some imaginary press credentials around and asking the artists to stop signing and pay attention to me. Not my style. I’m far more comfortable skulking and being embarrassed around all the talented people.
And a great pleasure to meet up with fellow FPI contributors Zainab and James Bacon for drinks and chat on Saturday. Before we knew it, we’d put the comics world to rights, and seen our numbers bolstered by journalist Matt Badham.
A fair bit of Saturday was of course taken up with the first annual British Comic Awards, a report on which you’ll find somewhere else on the FPI Blog. Needless to say, all involved were just a touch nervy about making this bloody great. We think we pulled it off. And we’re all damn proud of the winners and the nominees, all of whom show the British comic industry to be in real good fighting form. After which festivities we all ventured forth to Leeds Corn Exchange, a spectacular venue for an after-show party, lights sparkling in the St. Paul’s style roof space, comic fans dancing the night away on the dance-floor, with tunes provided by the usual cast of reprobate DJs: Gillen, McKelvie, Johnson, Ewing, Cook – they all had their wicked way with the music.
So, I get to the end of day 1, and realise neither Molly or I have actually set foot in the second hall,the smaller Armouries Hall, holding just 99 tables… that would be Sunday’s job…
Sunday’s job – The Armouries Hall…
The Armouries has become, quite naturally a place where the more child friendly stalls congregate, thanks to the anchoring of a general children’s fun area. Last year Sarah McIntyre and Cinebook held sway. This year Cinebook’s position in the corner meant they couldn’t really do the same sort of outreach programme they did last year, and Sarah McIntyre was sadly missing (Molly was bereft at this when she found out). Instead, the Phoenix Comic stepped up to the plate, with a big, big stand, stretching across many, many tables. It included this trio of talented fellows:
(That’s Mssrs Neill Cameron, Gary Northfield, and Dave Shelton, all in front of the very full Phoenix Zoo Of Awesome)
(Neill Cameron holding one of many sessions with children, including the great Phoenix wheel of awesome)
The rest of the Armouries Hall was full of wonderful artists, and felt just as busy on Sunday as the Dock Hall had felt on Saturday. Unfortunately, this meant more very long queues for the big names, blocking some smaller exhibitors. Like I said earlier, it’s the one thing they get slightly wrong.
Sadly, I didn’t grab many photos from the event, but trust me on this, it was good.
(Cadwell and Ball. Not the crap comedy double act from the 80s, but Warwick Johnson-Cadwell and Robert Ball – fine artists both.)
Now, as well as managing to miss more people than I care to think about, I also managed, as every other Thought Bubble I’ve been to, to miss the varied and interesting panel schedule. One day I’ll get in there and sit down, but not this year. I even missed out on the premiere of the Judge Minty fan film. The trail and the ads for it looked absolutely stunning, 25-minutes of brilliance. ECBT 2000AD have an interview with director Steven Sterlacchini, and a quick run-down of their thoughts on Minty).
But despite missing stuff, despite being super-busy all weekend, it was a wonderful time.
All in all everyone we met all weekend seemed to be having a fantastic time. Molly and I had a great weekend, met lots of lovely people. Thought Bubble is, when you distill it down to the absolute essence of the festival, simply a wonderful representation of everything that we should be proud of in the UK comics industry. It’s inclusive, it’s vibrant, it’s full of hugely talented people producing some truly great works. And it’s just plain fun.
One final thing. A big, big thank you; to Lisa Woods and Clark Burscough and all the wonderful red-shirted volunteers who make the entire Thought Bubble festival the number one comic festival in the UK. Thank you all for a great TB 2012.
See you all in 2013!
(Thank you – all the volunteers who make it all work so well – photo from Vicky Stonebridge)