Thought Bubble 2013 Report
Thought Bubble seems like the thing everything was building to this year. It may just be me not getting out much, but everything in the comics world seems to build towards this end of year show. Heck, even the BBC got involved and put the new Doctor Who on specially for the first night.
Oh, for those that don’t know, Thought Bubble is the week long comics festival capped off with a two day convention that happens in Leeds every November. It started fairly small, but over the last few years has grown in size going from a one hall one day convention to the current weekend with a staggering three halls, complete with nearly 450 exhibitor tables.
It’s become THE end of year show, with a reputation as being the place to exhibit. There’s a cosmopolitan feel, big and small names sharing table space, the really big names a great mix of artists, working in many genres, this is no superhero dominated convention with Marvel and DC ruling the day, there’s genuinely a little bit of everything at Thought Bubble, and I pretty much guarantee your next favourite thing is somewhere in the three halls. It’s fun, it’s relaxed, it’s super well organised. Thought Bubble is just great.
I never manage to get to any of the events in the week leading up to Thought Bubble (one has to work!) but this year I was absolutely determined to get along to the Young People’s Comic Awards at Leeds Council House on Friday afternoon. The award is part of the British Comic Awards, with the children from primary and secondary schools deciding the eventual winner. I’ve heard it was a great afternoon with lots of very enthusiastic children and delighted nominees (eventual report here). Sadly I didn’t make it. I tried. I really did. So despite my best intentions, myself and the family headed out early Saturday morning for a great weekend. It started out oh so well, on the bus to York to catch the early train and I realise I’ve left the damn camera charging at home. Great. So from here on in, I’m either relying on Molly’s ipod camera or grabbing pics from other people’s reports.
This was the scene that met our gaze as we rounded the corner and looked over the Armouries plaza…
(The view from outside Dock Hall on Saturday morning)
Big, big queue. A lot of people looking forward to getting in. But as with all things Thought Bubble, full of happy, excited people, looking forward to a great weekend.
In the end, all three Brutons; myself, Louise and Molly ended up wandering round all weekend. For those that don’t know, Louise’s inclusion here is something of a major event. Mrs B may read the occasional comic, and last year she did venture as far as the Holiday Inn Express bar between the venues, but for her to actually get a pass and walk around all three main rooms this year speaks wonders for just how right Thought Bubble gets it.
As is traditional at this point I have to make some mention of those I didn’t see, didn’t talk to, didn’t meet, didn’t buy comics from… I could go through the Thought Bubble programme and work out how few people I actually managed to talk to and cringe at my failure, but I wont. I will merely apologise here to everyone I failed to meet, whether those I knew or those I did not.
Apologies over, let’s get on with the show, and it’s such a great show. As I said, one big draw for Thought Bubble is a sense of complete inclusion, there’s no individual star area, no superhero section, no alt-comics section. Everything is integrated, and this integration means the many, many punters who made the two day comic con were experiencing the full range of what the comics medium can offer, and certainly got a great idea of just how broad and strong the UK comics scene is right now.
Thought Bubble this year was bigger than ever, with close to 8000 through the doors on the weekend, and near 15000 for the festival as a whole. Wow.
The now traditional aircraft hanger of Dock Hall was still there, as was the lighter, airier but smaller Royal Armouries Hall. Each had a good mix of bigger names; Matt Fraction, David Aja, Ramon Perez, Brandon Graham, Sean Gordon Murphy, and many more were spread evenly between the two main halls. Incidentally it’s either indicative of how terrible I am at these things or how brilliantly full of other things Thought Bubble is that I didn’t see any of those big names I’ve just listed on either day.
Alongside them we had the major companies of the UK scene; Blank Slate, Cinebook, Nobrow, SelfMadeHero, as well as up and coming names; Improper Books, Great Beast et al. And in between we had artists, writers, comic makers galore. As has become traditional the Armouries Hall had a giant kids area, with lots of drawing and colouring and comic making going on with The Phoenix Comics, Art Heroes, Cinebook, Playful Leeds, HexJibber and more. All in all these two halls had a great vibe.
The only small problem with this integrated system is the queues for the really popular artists. It was obvious from the moment the Bruton family ventured down the back of the Dock Hall first thing, a wall of people queuing for some artist or other, early-birds getting in quick for that sketch, completely blocking off the bottom end of one of the aisles. It’s something I’ve heard from various people when chatting about the show, queues too intrusive, a nuisance in both main halls etc etc. Having said that, no-one I talked to who mentioned it said it ruined their weekend, just an obvious thing to improve. The solution? a difficult one, as the obvious solution of removing the big names to another space defeats the object of integration, likewise the idea of making the end of the room a big name zone, with queue spaces and roped off areas causes problems. However, it’s something I’m sure Lisa and her team will be thinking about for next year
The third hall this year was added on as an extra, after demand for exhibitor tables meant Dock Hall and Armouries Hall sold out their 295 tables in a couple of hours. The Allied London Hall came about purely as the Armouries area of Leeds is a dead zone for retail, empty units all around. It was a cavernous space, and had something of a rough and ready look about it, packed with comic creators, portable strip lights and room heaters, occasional spray painted comic murals on the walls to make it look a little less like the empty and unfinished industrial unit it so obviously was. On the plus side, it meant we got to see another 130+ exhibitors, including a few more unusual tables selling masks, jewellery, crafters, art supplies. But it did have the air of a bolted on extra, and several artists made mention of the dust that seemed to be ever-present and that it seemed quieter than the other halls.
(The Allied London Hall)
Previous years had seen a rather disappointing coffee bar area in the foyer of the Dock Hall, but this year, taking advantage of another big, empty unit, we had Tea Bubs (see what they did there?), a large space kitted out with sofas, comfy chairs, tables, alongside a full bar and coffee stall, where you could take the weight off your feet, relax, have a look through some of your purchases and catch up with friends. The panel areas changed slightly this year as well, with the Bury Theatre in the Armouries Hall still there providing the full on lecture theatre vibe, but the Alea Casino, venue for some panels in previous years, had shut up shop (see what I mean about the Armouries being that retail dead zone?). Just as with Allied Hall and Tea Bubs, the Thought Bubble team have taken full advantage of all then empty space around and re-purposed another empty concrete lined room into a stripped down panel room. Speech Bubble panel area was a delight to be honest, the bare concrete walls, the simple layout, chairs for the panellists, a simple wooden tiered audience seating area, it all made the focus on the discussion. Perfect case of making more than the best from limited resources.
And yes, I did make a panel this year. Which is, with everything going on, frankly nothing short of a miracle. Having missed the three I wanted to see on Saturday, I was determined to make the early Sunday panel; the excellent Comics For Everyone hosted by Matt Badham and featuring Nathan Fox, Maris Wicks, Neill Cameron and Roger Langridge. Fascinating to hear what they all thought about all-ages comics. 40 minutes that could easily have been a couple of hours.
Saturday Night was all about the second annual British Comic Awards, hosted by Adam Cadwell and David Monteith. An hour of celebrating the very strong British comics scene, where many of the nominees helped to fill the venue alongside fellow artists and casual observers (again, that integration thing happening all over the place). The event went smoothly, the awards were given out, everyone seemed to have a great time. The winners photo (borrowed from Sarah McIntyre’s great TB write-up):
(L to R: Adam Cadwell, with Young People’s Comic Award for Garen Ewing, Glyn Dillon, Will Morris, Rob Ball, and Jacky Fleming, picking up the Hall Of Fame award for her friend Leo Baxendale.)
We wrote up the results here, but it was lovely to see so many of the nominees in attendance, and great to see how pleased all of the winners were. Sadly Garen Ewing, winner of the Young People’s Comic Award couldn’t make it to the show, but he had been at the far more important awards ceremony the previous day, where some of the children who judged his book to be the winner were present. Again, report here.
Quick reminder of the results…
Best Comic: Winter’s Knight: Day One – Robert M Ball (Great Beast/self published)
Best Book: The Nao of Brown – Glyn Dillon (Self Made Hero)
Young People’s Comic Award: The Complete Rainbow Orchid – Garen Ewing (Egmont)
Emerging Talent: Will Morris (The Silver Darlings)
Hall of Fame: Leo Baxendale
Jacky Fleming’s acceptance speech on behalf of Leo Baxendale was wonderful, first reading out a very brief email he’d sent to accept the award, and then telling us a wonderful anecdote to give us a measure of the wonderful artist, wherein he took great delight one day in refusing, at length, an invitation to a garden party at Buck Palace in recognition of his work in cartooning. Against that, the couple of lines in his email to accept the British Comic Award Hall Of Fame position showed us just how appreciated it was. Many wonderful things were said about Baxendale’s genius, but one thing everyone kept coming back to was the amazement that there isn’t some lasting collection of his work. It’s a damning indictment of UK publishing that so much of the great works of the past are not more readily available. Baxendale et al need to be appreciated.
The second BCA ceremony went rather well, all seemed to enjoy their moment, the winners were happy, the nominees accepted their loss with great grace, and even young master Decie, obviously upset at his father’s second loss in as many years was cheered by the wonderful BCA biscuits in his goodie bag:
One of the reasons I did make the Sunday morning panel was that I chose not to venture out on the Saturday evening, instead heading back to the hotel post British Comic Awards to watch Doctor Who with the family, followed by a very pleasant evening in the hotel bar. Others who did venture out to the traditional Mid-Con Party at Leeds’ Corn Exchange report it being massively busy, with numerous guests and artists being turned away at the door. Thing is, they’ve no-one to blame but themselves – every year we read about how wonderful the after show party is – is it any wonder everyone wants to get in!?
Sunday seemed just as busy, just as enjoyable as Saturday, albeit with a fair few of the exhibitors looking a little worse for wear from the excitement of the night before.
I’ve banged on quite enough. By now I hope you’ve some idea of just what a wonderful, inclusive, and very enjoyable weekend of comics Thought Bubble has become. This year may have been bigger than ever, but everything seemed to run so smoothly and it never felt as big as it was. Finally thanks must go to TB organiser in chief Lisa Wood, and her expert team including Clark Burscough, Martha Julian and the small army of red-shirted volunteers without whom something this big and complicated just wouldn’t be possible.
Next year will be interesting. The Allied London Hall, Tea Bubs cafe, and Speech Bubble areas are all obviously marked for redevelopment, so may not be available. If they are, it would be wonderful, but at some point, we’ll be looking at going back to simply the Dock Hall and Armouries Hall, with just Bury Theatre for panels. This would be a huge shame and would bring up a difficult decision for the organisers. Given that it’s fair to assume that the exhibitor spaces will sell out in record time once more, is it going to work just doing first come first served? One possible avenue to explore would be to turn TB into a curated festival a la TCAF. But this may limit the exhibitors too much, and deny us punters the sheer fun of discovering something new and wonderful.
Whatever happens, I think the organisers will deliver another good convention, just as they have every year. We’ll be back in 2014. Hopefully we’ll see you there?
Right, time for a few photos….
(Rachael Smith – much featured on the blog, and having a good time at her first Thought Bubble)
Finally caught up with Daniel Clifford and Lee Robinson of Art Heroes, after many misses over the last few years!
Team Blank Slate Books; L to R – Woodrow Phoenix, Martin Steenton, Darryl Cunningham (looking away) and the out of focus young man in the blue jumper is Will Morris, winner of Emerging Talent award at the British Comic Awards. As with many of the publishers, Blank Slate had chosen Thought Bubble to debut books – but no other publisher managed an incredible six new releases!
And here’s Joe on Sunday… fresh from that second British Comic Awards where The Listening Agent was nominated….
We like to think of it as twice nominated, but hey… next year?
The very talented Adam Murphy and his wife. Adam is best known for his work each week in the Phoenix, but here at TB he débuted the decidedly NOT all-ages Fever Dreams.
Speaking of the Phoenix, just across from Adam in the Dock Hall, manning the Phoenix stall was Will Fickling and Lizzie. The Phoenix also had their bigger stand in the children’s zone in the Armouries Hall.
Isabel Greenberg – whose new release from Great Beast, Tall Tales and Outrageous Adventures: The Snow Queen and Other Stories sold out by early Sunday, as had copies of her Encyclopedia Of Early Earth – a huge success.
Katie Green, who was there selling copies of her Green Bean zine and her excellent (I must get a review done!) Lighter Than My Shadow.
Kate Ashwin – artist on Widdershins and Darken – more art online at the link.
Robin Pierce – artist of Curia Regis – one I must look into more – the comic describes itself as “an 18th Century adventure drama. You can catch up with Curia Regis online, I’m looking forward to diving into her world already.
Maris Wicks, artist on the great looking Primates, who very kindly donated a copy to the school library after we chatted about it at the all-ages panel.
And likewise, Nathan Fox, whose new book Dogs Of War, was something James Bacon had already shown me in the bar the previous day. It looks fantastic, and again, thanks to Nathan for donating copies to the school library!
Another lovely pic – that’s the daughter, Molly, posing with Jessica Martin holding her new book It Girl, something all three Brutons are looking forward to reading!
And another pic of darling daughter… one of the great Sarah McIntyre, who once again, made Molly’s day!
We’ll end with a lovely pic of the family Bruton enjoying themselves, plus Zainab Aktar, ex of these parts, now blogging over at the great Comics and Cola. Pic courtesy of the great Sarah McIntyre, there as a punter this year during the day, and later as part of the judging panel for the 2nd British Comic Awards.
In some ways that really captures what TB meant for so many people, us included. It was a great time, loads of fun. See you in 2014.