Thought Bubble has been and gone for another year, and we thought we'd take some time to review what we regard as the absolute BEST comic convention in the UK...
This is the second year that the weekend convention - the grand finale of what is in fact a week long festival of comics/sequential art/graphic narrative/whatever you want to call them - took up station in the centre of Leeds and it was every bit as glorious as last year.
Previously the convention had been housed on the edge of the City Centre, partly in New Dock Hall, partly in the Royal Armories and partly in a massive marquee pitched between the two. This year the con lived inside the gigantic Comixology Marquee which dominated Millenium Square, the Originals Marquee which covered Cookridge Street, the somewhat menacingly named Ask for Mercy Marquee sitting at the bottom of the Town Hall Steps and the glorious Victoria Hall inside the Town Hall itself - with other events dotted around the Museum and Art Gallery.
This move has had two major effects. It has made the event much easier for non-comics fans to find. I don't know how many people just found it by accident, bought a wristband and wandered in, but I bet there were a few, which can only be a good thing - if people are going to find comics for the first time it's good that they should see us at our best, and Thought Bubble is certainly that.
The other effect of the move has been to create a serious headache for the wedding photographers of Leeds. The Town Hall is, after all, a wedding venue, and Saturday is the hot day for marriages to take place - which means that both this year and last year a string of increasingly frustrated photographers could be observed trying to take pictures of the Bride and Groom on the Town Hall steps without getting Batman or a dozen anime characters in the back of the shot.
It probably makes me a bad person, but I can't help finding it funny...
As we* stood behind the table looking out it was the magnificence of the cosplay that really caught our eye.
It's not just that so much of it was so good. It's not just that there was an insane amount of skill and effort on display in so many costumes - although that's a factor. Take a look at this example:
This is the cosplayer known as "Tiny Tigress"** rocking the Captain Marvel look in a costume that is 100% home made. I mean 100%. She stitched the catsuit. She stitched the gloves and the foot covers. She worked and painted the foam.
If, like me, you have ever had to sew Lycra I'm assuming that your jaw is on the floor. And this is just one example - for more I would point you at Thought Bubble's Facebook page, which has many images of more intricate costumes for your viewing astonishment.
Of course, impressive as that is, there is more to cosplay that skill with a needle or a hot glue gun - impressive as they are. Some costumes are put together from regular clothes from the cosplayers' own wardrobe (or acquired specifically for the purpose) but applied with a bit of creativity.
Early on Saturday, for example, I was surprised by a visit from an old Uni friend and her partner. They were both dressed in forties reporter style garb - suits, ties, trenchcoats, fedoras. Not quite their style, I thought, but then I am quite slow on the uptake. Grinning they presented their business cards. She was "Clara Kent - Reporter". He was "Louis Lane - Reporter", both working for the Daily Planet. It was only then that I noticed that the top three of four buttons of her shirt were unbuttoned to reveal a Superman t shirt and the penny finally dropped.
But Thought Bubble is, at it's warm and fuzzy heart, all about comics, the people who make them and the people who love them - and there were a lot of those about.
Of course, one of the drawbacks of "tableing" at a con like this is that you can't get around to see everything because, sort of by definition, you're kinda stuck behind your table. So I missed the talk given by star guest and all 'round comics god Warren Ellis, and I missed most of the signings and stuff. But I was able to meet the brilliant Magdalene Visaggio (writer of Dazzler, Kim & Kim and Eternity Girl amongst other things) and get her to sign my copy of Kim & Kim #1.
Thanks to the brilliant Hat and Steve I was also able to get around and throw business cards at various small press creators whose work I'd like to stock, and catch up with people like Rachael Smith, Sarah Millman and Bevis Musson, whose work we stock already.
And of course, one of the joys of having been attending cons for a quarter of a century is that you make a lot of friends who you only ever see at conventions - and over the years some of them go on to have awesome careers.
I'm fairly sure I first met artist Mike Collins at my first UKCAC back in '93, when I confused him by asking him to draw me a cat, but we got to know each other better during the decade when the Bristol Comics Festival was the main UK con. Mike was the artist on the phenomenally good graphic novel Apollo, which tells the story of the first Moon landing, but more importantly (at least right now) he is also the storyboard artist for a little known BBC science fiction show called Doctor Who.
I regret to report that I tried, I really did, but Mike is an honourable man - and indeed a man who has signed a non-disclosure agreement and who would like to work for the BBC in the future - so I was unable to prise any info about the new series out of him. However, as well as being involved in Doctor Who as a professional he's also a fan, and while he remained dutifully tight lipped, he was grinning from ear to ear. It would seem that the reign of the 13th Doctor will be a good one...
And then, of course, seated in what will surely become their traditional spot at the entrance to the Comixology Marquee there were the irrepressible Etherington Brothers, the eternally enthusiastic Robin and Lorenzo. I first met these two incredibly creative and dedicated guys at a Bristol con in the early 2000s***, and they really are an example of what can be achieved in comics if you believe in what you're doing and are prepared to work incredibly hard.****
Their first self published comic, Malcolm Magic was the story of an alcoholic rabbit - the eponymous Malcolm, and his long suffering friends. They did everything. Robin wrote, Lorenzo drew. They both sat in their flat and stapled comics together. More than that, when they'd done enough issues to produce a collected edition, they bound them together by hand themselves.
At the time I thought they were crazy. To be honest I still do. But they've forged a formidable career in comics on the back of that effort and recently had the most successful comics related kickstarter of all time with their textbook How to think when you draw. They're very much the essence of what makes comics so great - a pair of relentlessly positive mavericks who made their thing and threw their full weight behind it. A shining example of what can be done.
And that's what I took away from Thought Bubble, in the end. There's a tendency to talk about comics as an industry - and for sure there is an industry in comics. But comics are not an industry, any more than novels or poetry is. Comics are a medium, an art form that would flourish even if there were no money involved, because it's clear that most of the small press creators who were there would be making their comics even if there were no money to be made (because for most of them, there isn't - they're lucky if they break even.)
It's a medium full of mavericks, rebels, enthusiasts and creative people who just want to share their passion. Why else would the army of red shirted volunteers have given up their weekends for no reward except being part of it? Why else would creators have travelled from across the country, even from across the world, at great expense, just to share their comics with people? Why else would people spend hours hand stitching spandex to create their fantastic costumes?
Our slogan here at Desties is "Love Comics". Thought Bubble proves that people do. Long may it prosper.
*This is not a "royal we" - Customer and Geeks at the Gates Podcast regular Hat joined Team Venus on Saturday, with Customer, occasional Saturday Boy and Geeks at the Gates regular Steve stepping in on Sunday, with packing down assistance from Customer Dinesh at wrap up. Huge thanks to all of them.
**Who is a customer and an awesome human being. Because all our customers are awesome human beings.
***I'm sure it was 2002, they insist it was 2003. I guess it doesn't really matter...
****And, and this is pretty crucial, you posess genuine talent and great ideas...