28th Nov2013

Thought Bubble 2013 Field Report

by Mark Allen


Over for another year, this weekend’s Thought Bubble was the biggest in its short history, and it definitely felt it. While I didn’t attend every panel or get every signature that I wanted to, my days were still jam-packed with awkward fan-worship of idolised writers, wonderful small press discoveries and comfortable reprieves in the plush Bury Theatre in which writers and artists waxed lyrical about their work and industry.

On arriving at New Dock, I and a couple of friends navigated the main hall as best we could, but the first morning of Thought Bubble is always (in my experience) the busiest, and I may have slightly regretted packing my decade-old, ramshackle rucksack to the brim with quite as many comics and trades as it made me something of an obstacle to all beside and behind, especially when we stopped to gawk at a table’s wares.

Might as well get this out of the way as quickly as possible: Despite my overflowing backpack and enthusiasm for many of the con’s attendees, I got almost nothing signed aside from a few choice Matt Fraction picks (whom I attempted to talk to briefly about ’70s paranoid thrillers before suffering from a keen awareness of both my own encroaching hero worship and the dozen-strong queue of like-minded fans behind me) and the first issue of Six-Gun Gorilla, which artist Jeff Stokely scrawled on for me in between having his ear talked off by an overenthusiastic middle-aged gentleman.

[I did talk to the book’s writer, Si Spurrier, on a couple of occasions, but never actually had his comics on me when I needed to. Same goes for about ten other creators.]

You could say I failed the entire weekend right there – and you’d be correct, frankly – but while I may have forever crippled by back for no good reason whatsoever, I certainly didn’t waste my time.

The first panel I attended was a sketching session including Annie Wu, Joe Quinones, Meredith Gran and Declan Shalvey, all of whom spoke eloquently about their craft while practicing it in a few different character studies for the audience to see. I’m no artist, and seeing someone practice their skill as one is always going to engender both admiration and intense loathing in me. So yeah, they were all great.

Talented bastards, the lot of them.

Both the Image Independence in the U.K. and the Marvel Q&A sessions were defined by humour, especially the latter, with Matt Fraction, Si Spurrier and Kieron Gillen providing many of the laughs and plenty of jokes about Young Avengers artist Jamie McKelvie dying (it’s okay, though; Kelly Sue DeConnick defended him, and I have it on good authority from the man himself that he wouldn’t have anyone else in his corner). You had to be there.

There was also a lot of emotion in the Marvel panel, too, as a few questions were directed towards creators’ gratification and ‘proudest moments’ questions (there was also a ‘what was your least proud moment?’ question too, which led to some wonderfully disparaging yet uplifting stories from the group). Fraction summed up the panel’s feelings by stating that – at the risk of being corny – the audience is the best thing about what he does, because the dialogue between fans and creators and “seeing someone running around dressed as a character that you play around with all day” is, apparently, pretty great.

Other highlights included Fraction and Hawkeye artist David Aja riffing on the origin of the now-infamous ‘Dog Issue’ (“It started as a game of chicken and no-one blinked”) and sparring verbally with their editor Stephen Wacker – also moderating the panel – when the topic of the lateness of some of their issues arose. DeConnick answered that perpetual question about writer’s block by succinctly redefining it as “courage block”, which most of the other panelists nodded sagely at. Gillen said that anyone who suffers from it’s probably just lazy.

As the day wound down, I was looking forward to the mid-con party, but having to leave the sketching panel early and the battery on my phone dying meant I was separated from my compatriots until well into the Doctor Who 50th anniversary show, at which point rum was consumed, anger was expressed at Steven Moffat’s inability to write in anything but tropes and we finally made our way to the Corn Exchange, where a one-in-one-out policy was in place and we were left in the cold for a good 45 minutes with little to warm us but the alcohol in our bellies and the embarrassment of having mistaken one female cartoonist for another – to her face, no less – while congratulating her on what a great sketch she did earlier on. The less said about that, the better, I think.

But then we were allowed in the comics world’s Valhalla. Records were digitally scratched, drinks were drunk, dances were overly enthusiastic and, yes, Gillen did start his set with Be My Baby by The Ronettes, because how could he not?

And that’s all that needs to be said about that. Because writing about an artist’s DJ set is like dancing about his house, right?

Sunday’s From Stands to Screen panel was the only one I managed to attend due to a killer combination of poor planning ahead, taking a somewhat zig-zaggy route through central Leeds to the Armouries and enjoying myself far too much at the mid-con bash the previous night…

All that aside, the panel was very illuminating and broad-ranging, featuring editors from Marvel, Vertigo, 2000 AD in addition to a representative from Mondo and the co-creator of the sublime comic Axe Cop Ethan Nicolle. Most of the conversation centred around the problematic nature of adapting a comic to a very different medium such as film and several of the panelists extolled the virtues of TV as a superior method of adapting long-running stories like those found in ongoing series.

One audience member asked about the likelihood of a future female-led superhero movie, and the (entirely male) panel danced around the issue somewhat, with CB Cebulski (Marvel) speaking of the issue as an ongoing conversation and citing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as having a “predominantly female cast”, a seemingly statement that’s demonstrably false: there are six lead characters in AoS. Three of them are women. Not so much predominant as equal, which is surely a more positive statement to make? The editor from Vertigo, wry throughout proceedings, joked about not being willing to make a comment before mentioning that he’d love to see a Wonder Woman movie but there wasn’t a whole lot that could be done until the stars aligned.

That brings up one of my issues with these kinds of panels; while they’re normally compelling enough for the duration (especially when more creators who’ve had something of theirs adapted, as in last year’s counterpart panel with Jock and Charlie Adlard), they don’t leave me feeling like I learned anything more than the fact that a Kickstarter campaign for a Dredd sequel probably wouldn’t work. There’s something of a distance between the comics people and the movie industry, and we’re only getting insights from one side of the fence, which makes for a lot of agreement and not much genuine discussion. In a perfect world we’d be able to hear just as much from someone adapting a book as someone having theirs adapted and have the sense that maybe there’s a dialogue occurring between the two and not just grumbling from the sidelines.

As that was the last panel of the day – and, indeed, Thought Bubble’s final event at the Armouries – I retired to the solace of much-needed pizza and the dread of public transport, certain in the knowledge that I’d be aching and weary for days to come. My back was already close to giving out, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

See you next year.

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