Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thought Bubble 2008 - a rather long and rambly report.

I've done the short version over at the FPI blog here. Now for the long and winding version, mostly concerned with Molly's first convention experiences.....

This last weekend we spent partly in Leeds at Thought Bubble, the annual comics convention thing and partly at the local garden centre looking for a new christmas tree for my mom and dad. As exciting as the latter was, I' rather talk about the former.

Ever since reading about how good Thought Bubble 2007 was I'd been thinking it would be nice to go. After all, Leeds is only a quick sub two hour bus/train journey away and I could do it in a day. But what really clinched it was the excitement Molly showed when I brought her home the wonderful sketches I'd collected for her from the Birmingham International Comics Show (see here for reports and the sketches themselves).

Suddenly I started to think it might be possible that Molly could come along and really enjoy it. So I decided to see what Louise thought. Now Louise, bless her, is not a comic fan. She's read some, loved some, but overall, it's not her thing. And she made it clear that she didn't want to spend hours in a con. She also didn't really want to spend hours wandering around Leeds. But I convinced her, mostly on the basis that Molly would probably have had enough by lunch so after lunch I'd pop back and they'd go off shopping and have fun. It didn't quite work out that way in the end.

We'd never been to Leeds before. I know it's only an hour or so away, but in the two years we've been up here it wasn't high on the list of priorities. If we wanted a big city we could always head back to Birmingham where we could have the added bonus of catching up with friends and family. But I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by it all. It's very much a big city, but there seemed to be a nice buzz about the place and we'll be going back at some point. (If only so I can finally go and visit OK Comics, which seems to be a shop talked about it the same terms as GOSH and Page 45 so it must be good.)

Okay. So Molly and I head off to the con. She's incredibly excited and is clutching her sketchbook all the way, talking about who she's going to see, who she wants sketches from and what else she's looking out for. "Do they have cuddly toys there?" she wanted to know. I could feel the money flying out of my wallet already.

The first impressions are good. The place itself is huge, the entrance obvious and the people on the door to get passes really nice and welcoming. Then into the hall. It's packed. But packed in a very good way; not in the stifling, can't move for people and overwhelmed by the smell way that I've had at some cons in the past. This is packed but still managing to seem spacious and pleasant to walk around.

Within 30 yards she's found a cuddly toy she wants. I promise we'll go back later if she hasn't found something she wants more. I know we'll be back later. She knows she's coming back later. (We came back later).

There were a lot of Cosplayers around at this one. Far, far more than at Birmingham. Indicative perhaps that it was reaching a much younger audience? Or maybe that we have far more strange people who spend their weekends dressed up as characters from their favourite Manga?
As always, there were two types of Cosplayers. The first group made up 99% of the Cosplayers I saw; lovely, happy young folks smiling and laughing and generally full of the joys of life:

And then there was this bloke (photo via Claude at Gronk Comics - I didn't fancy getting close enough to get the picture):

Onwards to say hello to folks, press the flesh, had out business cards and generally see what's going on. First stop was the Blank Slate table to say hello to Kenny Penman and Oliver East. Kenny and Jim (another FPI director who's also a co-owner of Blank Slate) are passionate and knowledgeable about comics. Far more than I. So when Kenny formed Blank Slate and started talking about what he wanted to be: a British Fantagraphics/ Drawn & Quarterly type of publisher bringing together the best of the UK and European scene I was hopeful it was all going to work out well.
Needless to say it did. The published books are great. The upcoming books look excellent and Blank Slate are on their way.

Oliver East writes and draws Trains Are ... Mint.
Trains Are ... Mint is most likely going to be my favourite book of the year (as you can tell from the review). It may seem rather incestuous, but I have to assure you it's there purely on merit.
And meeting Oliver was a delight. He's very much an artist, rather than a comics person. That may seem strange, but just try meeting him. He's lovely though, don't get the wrong idea.
We all chatted and Oliver sketched for Molly after a little nudging from me (that was her first time actually asking for a sketch herself, after this, she found it much easier).

Of course, by this time Molly was warming up and starting to get cheeky.
"Dad..... Can I have 12 pounds.....?"
The look on Oliver's face was priceless. Not a quid, not 50p. Twelve quid. Her mind was firmly focused on that cuddly toy again. Time to head off around the place. Sadly no Blank Slate pictures. Bad photographer me.

The rest of the morning was spent wandering and looking at stuff. Molly found some nice comics, more cuddly toys and loved the sock monkeys at Sock Horror:

We stopped off to say hi to many people, and managed to miss many, many more. Sorry to all those I missed. I think I've been emailing non-stop since getting back and they all start with "sorry I didn't get to see you at Thought Bubble"

Howard Hardiman and Robin at Cute But Sad Comics were there with the adorable and almost unbearably sad Badger. The new Anthropomorphism In Action is a hit, with a tale of Badger that almost (almost) ends well for him. Robin makes very adorable crocheted Badgers. You can see where this is going can't you ........

This is Molly's Badger. Very small but absolutely lovely. Molly says that he's settling in very well and beginning to come out of his shell.

Simone Lia was our first stop after lunch. Molly's favourite strips in the DFC are Crab Lane Crew (Jim Medway), Vern & Lettuce (Sara McIntyre) and Sausage & Carrot by Simone Lia. And as much as I enjoy all three of these, I really wanted to say hi and thanks to Simone Lia for her lovely book Fluffy, one of the best of 2007.

We stopped by at D'Israeli's table to say hi and thank him for the sketch he did at Birmingham and to reassure him that Molly did actually like it. A quick apology though. Molly was rather thrown by D'Israeli asking if she wanted another sketch so said a rather quick and sharp no thanks. I'm sure D'Israeli didn't mind but I'd like to assure him it's because she didn't realise that you were allowed to get sketches from the same person twice! Next time she'll get one.

One huge surprise of the day was seeing Terry Wiley at D'Israeli's table. We hadn't seen each other for over 11 years. In fact the last time I saw him was on this memorable weekend. Memorable for being the worst comic signing there has ever been. It wasn't my fault that Diana's funeral was on that day! But it was lovely to catch up with Terry and gives me a chance to tell you that his next comics project is talked about here by Rich Johnston: a story by Rich and drawn by Terry for the upcoming (Jan) "This Is A Souvenir: The Songs Of Spearmint & Shirley Lee". Art looks absolutely wonderful:

A final stop of the day was at Emma Vieceli's table. Emma does Violet at the DFC and did a wonderful sketch of an older version of Molly. It was even more appreciated when I discovered later that she has a case of golfer's elbow (silly name, painful condition). Violet may well be the first thing Molly reads in this weeks DFC, thanks to Emma for the kindness.

Mentions as well to everone else I said hello to and said hello back: Rob Jackson, Oliver Lambden, Phil Spence, Sean Azzopardi, Dan Lester, Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, Ben Powis, Matthew Craig, Lizz Lunney, Jenika Iofredda, Selina Lock, David Baillie, Matthew Badham and many more.

Overall I thought that Thought Bubble was an absolute triumph of a comic con.

I know a lot of folks, particularly the self publishers and smaller comic companies were rather disappointed with the Birmingham Comic Show. And it's really difficult to pinpoint exactly where it went wrong at Birmingham. Because I enjoyed it at the time, but looking back on it in comparison to Thought Bubble it's obviously inferior. Yet the location was alright, the split room thing was a problem, but not insurmountable, it was well attended I thought and had a good mix of people on stalls.
Maybe Leeds won out because the room felt more open and roomy?
Maybe the greater number of comic dealers at Birmingham compared to Leeds spoilt the mood?
Hell, maybe it's because it was just a one day event and everyone came out to have fun and didn't have to think about the second day?
All I can hope is that Shane (who was at Thought Bubble) was taking notes and is reading the incredibly good feedback about Thought Bubble and working out what he can take from it to improve Birmingham. Because I'm certain Tamsin took the best bits from Birmingham and worked them into her show..

If I've failed to mention anyone from the day it's because I'm crap at this whole remembering thing. And before I finish a huge thank you to Tamsin and everyone involved in making Thought Bubble 2008 the con that everyone else should be trying to top next year. But with Bristol looking rather truncated, High-Ex being a deliberately small scale con, it's probably over to Shane and James at BICS to see whether they want to rise to the challenge!

Thought Bubble 2008 was a fantastic event. Molly and I will definitely be back in 2009.


  1. Hi! What an interesting blog- I loved your account of the day ^__^ I'm one of the cosplayers in the photo of "lovely, happy young folks" (Zelda, with the elf ears!) so I want to respectfully ask, please can I keep and use this photograph?

    Thank you, and I hope your wallet wasn't hurt too badly by the con!

    Tetra xx

  2. Hi Missytetra
    Thanks very much for that - Of course, you have full permission to keep and use the photo.
    And thank you for all being so very nice and happy!