Celebrating the Ninth Art: a Conversation with Lisa Wood of Thought Bubble
Over the last few months the Forbidden Planet International blog, Down the Tubes and Fictions have been cross-posting Q&As by Matt Badham with the organisers of various British comic conventions. Our aim is to give the conventions themselves some well-deserved publicity and also to, hopefully, spark a wider debate about what’s good and bad about the convention circuit in this country. (Answers have been edited only in terms of spelling, punctuation and grammar, and not for style or content.)
For this ninth instalment of the series, Matt chatted to Lisa Wood of the Thought Bubble comic convention, just head of this year’s Thought Bubble, which kicks off this weekend in Leeds. (NB: this will be the last of these interviews for the foreseeable future)
MB: Please tell us about a little about the history of the Thought Bubble.
Lisa: Thought Bubble started in 2007. I had been toying with the idea of running some kind of comics based exhibition or a series of workshops and the idea grew from there. I was really keen to bring a comics festival to the UK that was in the same vein as some of the European festivals; something that wasn’t just a convention but a celebration of comics on lots of different levels.
I feel really passionately that comics should be recognized as a valid art form like in France, when they are called the ninth art and regarded very highly. The public’s perception of comics and graphic novels is changing at the moment due to the popularity of comics-based movies. We are not only seeing superhero comic movies at the moment but films such as Road to Perdition, Scott Pilgrim and A History of Violence too, which are all based on great graphic novels.
MB: How is the Thought Bubble funded, by ticket sales, the exhibitors, a grant, some other means or a combination of these?
Lisa: Thought Bubble is funded by Ticket sales and exhibitors. We have also just found out that we have Arts Council funding which is amazing! It is great to know serious funding bodies such as The Arts Council are recognizing the benefits of comic books for learning and literacy. Hopefully this is the beginning of something really special.
MB: What are Thought Bubble’s overall aims?
Lisa: Our aim has always been to bring comics and graphic novels to the mainstream, and to show they can be an excellent educational tool to be embraced by libraries, schools and local councils. We want to put on a great show celebrating the amazing art and writing in comics.
MB: Who is Thought Bubble aimed at? What sort of punters do you hope to attract? Are you family-friendly?
Lisa: We are very family-friendly. We pretty much aim the con at everyone! We try and programme events that will appeal to all ages and types. At our Alea event we host panels, screenings and talks, which are for adults. However, we also run lots of workshops and events especially for young people! We recognise the importance of introducing young people to comic books so the art form can keep growing and growing.
(Yishan Li taking the first Thought Bubble workshop of 2009, pic borrowed from the TB blog)
MB: How effective have you been in getting those kind of people to attend?
Lisa: Because we run as part of the Leeds International Film Festival we tend to get a wide range of people attending our events. We also tend to get people coming along who are just curious, which is great for us because we have the chance to introduce newcomers to this wonderful art-form, this is what we always intended to do.
MB: Can you give a projected (or actual) attendance figure for the Thought Bubble?
Lisa: Figures for our festival and one day convention were: first year convention 500, festival as a whole 1100, our second year convention was 1500, festival as a whole 2500 and we are hoping this year will be 2200 for our convention and 3000 for our festival as a whole.
MB: What lessons have you learned during your time running Thought Bubble, in terms of its marketing and advertising?
Lisa: I think we are still learning how best to approach these areas. We will probably concentrate more on online advertising this year rather than printed matter, just because costs can be so high. The way we have approached this in the past is where possible find in-kind sponsorship. We have worked with various magazines to promote ourselves and in return we have helped promote them. We also work with various shops around West Yorkshire to promote our event as much as possible. Getting people on board to help us spread the word and our brand is invaluable.
MB: Do you use emerging technologies to spread the word about Thought Bubble? Do you have a website or blog, or use email mailing lists?
Lisa: We are really into using social networking sites to spread the word. We are also currently setting up a Youtube account, where we can post our favourite clips and hold competitions. We also have a WordPress blog that is updated daily at the moment and a Twitter. Our next goal is to record all of our workshops and talks to build up an online library of educational information for anyone and everyone to access.
MB: What about print? Do you use print advertising, have a newsletter, anything like that?
Lisa: Because these cost tend to be fairly high we try and avoid buying adverts in magazines and work on in-kind deals as I mentioned before
MB: What’s the mix in terms of exhibitors at your con? Do you even have exhibitors?
Lisa: We have over 170 exhibitors. The mix is usually, small press 50%, guests and pros 20% and retailers 30%. It changes year on year though.
(last year’s over-16s comic art competition winner by and (c) Kristyna Baczynski)
MB: What are your thoughts on the small press comics scene in this country? Does Thought Bubble support the small press and what form does that support take?
Lisa: We absolutely support the small press scene. We love it! We hold weekly small press features on our blog, highlighting some of our favourite small press people.
MB: How much are the tickets for the Thought Bubble? How did you arrive at that price? Please tell us about any concessions.
Lisa: Our tickets are £8 full price this year, half price for cosplayers and under-12s are free. For this price you get to spend the whole day listening to various talks and have the chance to take part in workshops, watch screenings, meet artists and writers and ask for sketches. It is a tough call trying to keep prices low. venue costs can be really high. There are also lots of hidden costs such as insurance and trading licence, the stage, tables. Running a convention can end up being very pricey. When dealing with ticket prices you need to look at your own costs and what your competition is charging.
(Dan Lester and Oliver Lambden at TB, pic from Richard’s 2008 report)
MB: How much are exhibitor tables for the Thought Bubble? Again, how did you arrive at that figure?
Lisa: Again we try and keep this low where possible, especially for small press as most of the time they end up losing money attending cons. Our small press and professional tables are £40, retailer and publisher tables are £60.
MB: Do you run workshops/events/panels at the Thought Bubble? Please tell us about those and how they are organised.
Lisa: Most or our programme is full of free workshops for young people and adults, our Arts Council funding helps us to do this. We invite industry professionals to come along and let people know how they write or draw and how to get in to the business. Our workshops have been incredibly successful, with most of them selling out before our brochure comes out. So far workshops have been run on a voluntary basis by industry professionals who are kind enough to give us and the public their time.
MB: As you’ve been kind enough to answer these questions, please fell free to big the Thought Bubble up a bit. Tell us what you do well, what the Thought Bubble’s main attractions are and why our readers should attend the next one.
Lisa: Thought Bubble is a four-day annual event which celebrates sequential art in all its forms, including everything from superheroes to independent small press. We are a non-profit making organisation dedicated to promoting comics and graphic novels as an important cultural art form. Taking place at a variety of venues across the city, our aim is to cater to both long-time comic book fans and those who have never picked up a graphic novel before!
Thought Bubble will take place 19th – 22nd November 2009 with a centrepiece one-day convention on Saturday 21st. Thought Bubble will include art and writing based workshops for young people and adults, panels and talks lead by industry professionals and a programme of sequential art related film screenings. The special one-day convention includes an incredible line up of leading artists and writers, and over 150 tables selling comics and merchandise. The day will also feature portfolio viewings and competitions. This promises to be one of the best events of its kind in the UK, where you’ll be able to meet some of your favourite comic book creators and browse the huge selection of memorabilia on sale – brought to you by the biggest and best exhibitors and dealers from across the country. Keep an eye on the website for more updates, or join us on MySpace or Facebook to share your thoughts and ideas.
FPI would like to thank Lisa for taking time out from a busy schedule to talk to us and Matt for a fascinating series of interviews. This year’s Thought Bubble takes place in Leeds from the 19th to the 22nd of December (you can read Richard’s report on last year’s TB here on the blog). You can read the previous Q&As with other British comics con organisers in this series here on the blog: Comica’s Paul Gravett, Patrick Findlay of the UK Web’n’Mini Comix Thing, Jimi Gherkin of the Alternative Fair Press chats with Matt, Matt talks with Bristol’s Mike Allwood, Hi-Ex’s Vicky Stonebridge, BICS’ Shane Chebsey, Caption’s Jay Eales and LUC’s Oli Smith.
Just as we were preparing this interview the Thought Bubble crew updated us on a whole raft of (mostly free) comics classes that will be running during the weekend for children and adults:
Digital Colouring Masterclass with Peter Doherty. 14:00-15:00, Carrigeworks, FREE, 16+. Famous for his work on The Wachowski Brothers’ Shaolin Cowboy, and Judge Death, Peter will take participants through the stages of how to digitally colour line art in photoshop. A basic understanding of photoshop is required. Places are limited, book soon to avoid disappointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sequential Art and Literacy Workshop. 14:00-15:30, Leeds Art Gallery, 12-18 year olds, FREE. Award-winning artist, curator, and academic Sarah Lightman, who trained at ‘Slade School of Art’, will go through the stages of creating your very own publication. She will explain how young people can use the comic format to reflect their own feelings and experiences. Places are limited, book soon to avoid disappointment, email email@example.com
Yishan Studio Shojo Manga Workshop with Yishan Li. 14:30-15:30, Leeds Central Library, 7-12 year olds, FREE. Yishan Li, a leading manga artist, and creator of the Yishan Studio ‘How To Draw Manga’ books, will run this fun workshop for younger children. Yishan will take them through the steps of how to create characters and figures. Places are limited, book soon to avoid disappointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Creation of Computer Game Concept Design. 14:50-16:50, Leeds Central Library, 16+, FREE. Steve Beaumont, character design and storyboard artist, will look at how the two are produced within the video games industry. There will be an opportunity to work from a typical client brief to create a gaming character. Steve will also touch on what the gaming industry looks for to give you a heads up in this ever growing field. Places are limited, book soon to avoid disappointment, email email@example.com
Manga Character Art Workshop with Emma Vieceli. 14:50-15:50, Leeds Central Library, 12-18 year olds, FREE. Sweatdrop Studios’ Emma, is well known for her presenting on Anime Network, and her fantastic art on the Manga Shakespeare series. In this session, Emma will demonstrate techniques used in manga styled pages and show participants the foundations needed to create their own characters. This workshop will be fun and informal. Places are limited, book soon to avoid disappointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Frank Quitely Art Masterclass. 15:15-16:45, Carriageworks, 16+, £5 Entry. Thought Bubble is delighted to welcome Frank Quitely, one of the world’s most respected comic book artists, for a special insider look at his art. Frank is best known for his work on Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, Batman and Robin, and We3. Talking to Peter Dohert of 2000AD fame, Frank will reveal the creative process he employs in this fascinating masterclass. For tickets go to www.thoughtbubblefestival.com
Young People’s Comics Writing Masterclass with Adam Lowe. 16:00-17:00, Leeds Central Library, 12-18 year olds, FREE. Local author Adam Lowe’s first novel, Troglodyte Rose, mixes sequential art and prose. In this workshop for young people, he gives tips on writing scripts for comics, including dialogue, pace, and visual cues in this fun and informal masterclass. Places are limited, book soon to avoid disappointment, email email@example.com