Thought Bubble 2011 – The Breakdown

Welcome to an epic rundown of this years Thought Bubble Comic Con from our resident comic expert Baron Fortnightly – if you ever wondered what attending a UK comic con was like, then prepare to have your eyes well and truly opened!


World In My Eyes

I’d better state for the record that there is no way I can write an unbiased article about Thought Bubble, I have been attending for the last five years and have enjoyed it every year. I’ve always found Thought Bubble to be very well organised, with friendly and helpful volunteers and organisers who go out of their way to make sure us comic book fans, cosplayers and geeks of every clan have a very enjoyable experience; this year has been even better.

For me Thought Bubble is the perfect comic convention (with the exception of the legendary Jornadas de Avilés) and with the tweaks made to the queuing system for entry, wristbands instead of hand stamps (now work colleagues will be asking “What festival have you been to?” instead of “How did you bruise your hand”), a more intensive sketch queue capping system (no more disappointment at the end of a long wait), and the breathing room allowed by the addition of a second hall, there is pretty much nothing to complain about; In fact the only complaint I heard was from a trader who was worried that potential customers couldn’t see their wares due to a queue for sketches, a complaint that was quickly rectified by a bespectacled red-shirt (I love the fact that even volunteer “uniforms” have a geeky subtext) who moved the very apologetic artist in question so that the queue could go behind the talent tables. Alas my Dirty Dancing reference “No one puts David Aja in the corner!” was lost on the rest of the queue.


The other comment I heard a few times, which I was less a complaint and more of a query, was about the increasing price of sketches. Now this is a can of worms that I don’t really want to open, as I can see it from both points of view – comic book artists work pretty much around the clock, so by attending a con they’re giving up valuable time which could be used to produce your favourite monthly, or other more lucrative illustration work, plus it’s more likely that charging will put off people who just want to eBay the sketch. Whereas some fans feel that their continued loyalty to an artist has led to a demand for that artist’s work and in turn better opportunities and pay, and feel there’s a difference between a sketch done as a thank you for their support and one done as a commission, plus for some fans just getting to the con has cost them their savings only to find that their favourite artist wants £40 for anything more than a signature. Then you also have to think that the writers aren’t writing whilst at the con and I’ve not seen anyone yet offer them £40 to turn out a script page featuring their favourite character (although that is an idea I’ve been mulling around for the last 2 years), but both writers and artists do have an opportunity to sell comics, trades, and prints, make new fans and get feedback on their work. I really want to make a Pretty Woman analogy, but I think that could upset both artists and fans, I’ll just say that no matter how much you pay comic creators you still can’t kiss them… with the exception of Kieron Gillen ;-)

Walking In My Shoes

I think that artists shouldn’t be forced to work for free so this is my strategy for sketches – if an artist is doing free sketches, buy something from their table (I would have paid money for the free Zatanna sketch I got from Cameron Stewart, so I see the Batwoman and Cloak & Dagger prints as a Brucie bonus) plus he’s a sound guy and actually apologised to people for making them wait in the queue, if I’d had any more cash left on Sunday I would have bought everything on his table – Knight & Squire + Assassin’s Creed = why do I not own them?

If you can’t find something to buy off them offer them a drink or a sandwich, I got a mint Daredevil painting from the quiet legend that is David Aja, I was called a “jammy sod” by other queue-folk, and all if cost me was a bottle of beer. I, Baron Fortnightly swear that I will buy David Aja a beer every time I see him, and you would too if you owned this Daredevil comic.

If an artist is charging but you can’t afford it try bartering, but bear in mind that not many people can afford to work for free. Thunderbolts artist Declan Shalvey had a good compromise going, if you bought his sketchbook for £15 you got a free sketch in the front of it. His sketchbook is jam-packed and definitely value for money. Declan was also producing full-figure commissions over the weekend for a very reasonable £35, and was even knocking money off that for groups of fans who wanted a few. I heard of a few artists who were willing to drop their listed prices, but mainly for children and attractive young women. So the lesson here is to bring a child or girlfriend to queue for you, in fact I was told by one man that his girlfriend, who was not a huge comic fan, offered to stand in two queues for him over the weekend, he put her in the Barry Kitson queue on Saturday, who was doing painting for a charitable donation. I don’t know if they’ still together or if he’s now sorting visitation rights to his Nightcrawler sketch. To be fair he felt bad about it and said he wouldn’t be putting her in a queue on Sunday, at which point I attempted the queuing equivalent of “An Indecent Proposal” ;-)

Waiting For The Night

Lisa, Clark and the other organisers have surpassed last year’s not inconsiderable efforts, the decision to spread the convention over two days takes the pressure off fans who are trying to cram everything in, and spreading the convention over two halls at the Leeds Armouries means there is more room to manoeuvre. Saturday in Saviles Hall felt very much like the previous Thought Bubbles, but in the Royal Armouries Hall it was a much more sedate affair, at least until midday. Sunday morning started quietly, but soon picked up; most likely due to the late hour people were getting to bed following the Saturday night mid-con party at the Alea Casino.

It’s not often you can attend a party where Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard and Jonah Hex artist Phil WInslade are members of the band, and the DJs consist of Boo Cook (2000AD), Al Ewing (2000AD), Antony Johnston (Wasteland), Jamie McKelvie (Suburban Glamour, Phonogram), and Kieron Gillen (Phonogram, Uncanny X-Men). Somehow due to my “slightly merry” wanderings I missed out on both the Paradise Lost cover of Small Town Boy, and the Disown cover of Policy Of Truth played by Johnston, but did catch all of Al Ewing’s set which included Eve of War by Jeff Wayne, I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor, and the song that actually got me dancing sans my less merry friends, Take on Me by A-Ha, in fact it was this song that had the crowd chanting “Al!, Al!, Al!”. In the end it took two things to get my friends up dancing – an A-Team cover played by Clark, whilst McKelvie was dealing with technical problems, and the glowing dance floor beacon that was Kieron Gillen in his white linen suit – which apparently he bought in London to wear in Taiwan, completely bucking the trend of buying cheap suits in the Far East to bring back home. I either completely missed Gillen’s set or just don’t remember it due to too much “tiredness”, but I’ve been told it contained both Kenickie and Belle & Sebastian, which gets it a massive thumbs up from the back. Thought Bubble hero Clark followed Gillen, and then the set was closed out as promised by a Johnston/Gillen combo. How these guys actually make it out of bed on Sunday morning I do not know!

The Guests

As usual Thought Bubble ran a large number of workshops and panels, unfortunately despite my intention to attend a number of these I missed every one, so I can’t really talk about them, but I did get to chat to many of the great guest that were spread over the two halls that contained Thought Bubble this year including:

Cameron Stewart (Catwoman, Batman & Robin) – I met a lot of people raving about the quality of his free head sketches. They were amazing, and you could spend 15 minutes just watching the slideshow of his work on his iPad.

David Aja (Immortal Iron Fist) – such a nice guy, and an amazing talent. One story I heard a few times was of him burning the edges of an Iron Fist sketch so that it looked like the impact of his iron fist. Everyone walked away from his queue with a massive smile on their faces.

Adam Hughes (Justice League, Gen 13, and 100s of DC covers) – despite ongoing problems with people requesting sketches from Adam just to sell them for thousands on eBay, he spent a couple of hours each day doing head sketches for fans. His queue was huge, but I don’t think anyone in it went home without a sketch.

Allison Sohn (DC/Marvel & Star Wars Licensed cards) – Adam’s wife and artist in her own right, she also designed Adam’s sketchbook, which is packed with some great work.

D’Israeli (Leviathan, SVK) – not what I was expecting, a really cool guy who was happy to talk about the production of his and Warren Ellis’ unique comic SVK, a comic that reveals the characters thoughts when read under black-light.

Andy Diggle (Losers, Daredevil) – instead of talking about comics we talked about stealing stage-coaches in Red Dead and how he uses his wisdom and knowledge of Call of Duty maps to compete against the twitch reflexes of 12 year boys on COD. Cough. Camping ;-)

Olly Moss (Mondo) – I must confess that I am a total idiot! My brain did not connect the Olly Moss I was talking to about his opening titles for The Losers movie, with Olly Moss, the amazing designer whose posters I have been obsessing over for the last month. It is only now, whilst making sure I have his name spelt correctly, that I have put two and two together. I am an idiot and very angry with myself, his Star Wars posters for Mondo are genius. It is also now that I realise that all the posters I’ve seen recently like F-Bomb and funny zombie related infographics are also by Olly. I am such an idiot! I hope you come back next year so that I can correct my error.

Tony Harris (Starman, Ex Machina) – a gentle giant, he let me look at his inks for the first three issues of The Further Adventure of the Whistling Skull. The first six issues should be out in 2012, buy them, it will be good and then Tony will draw more.

Kieron Gillen (Phonogram, Uncanny X-Men) – Gillen is like the bloke in the pub who sits at the bar and will strike up a conversation with anyone about anything. He’s a legend, plus he’s remembered me every time we’ve met since that first awkward hug in Travelling Man. He once promised all Phonogram fans a hug when he promoting the series. Don’t ask.

Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Generation Hope) – He’s the saner side of the Gillen/McKelvie team-up, and he seems to know EVERYONE. He’s been on the Big Breakfast, but plays it down by saying it was during the Richard Bacon era, like anyone could get on during the Bacon era… hang on, I see your point now.

Antony Johnston (Wasteland) – Antony has been a bit quiet of late on the comics’ scene due to even multiple artists not being able to keep up with his ferocious output and the fact that he’s been flying around the world working on computer games he “can’t talk about”. I think he’s secretly a spy, and the charity ‘tash a disguise ;-)

Declan Shalvey (Thunderbolts) – Now I didn’t actually go looking for Declan, but I’m really glad I bumped into him on Sunday morning. I’ve enjoyed his work on the Thunderbolts, and it was great to chat to him about his style and influences. I’m sure he and Aja would get on brilliantly as I ended up having very similar conversations with both of them about seeing an artist’s personality come through their work, and how those artists usually do better at Marvel than DC. It doesn’t hurt that he can draw Nightcrawler without reference.

Roger Langridge (Muppets, Thor The Mighty Avenger) – New Zealand’s most famous export after Flight of the Conchords (New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk parody duo), Lord of the Rings, and Like of the Conchords (New Zealand’s third most popular folk parody duo and Flight of the Conchords tribute band). Langridge made a name for himself at Marvel writing the well received but still cancelled far too early Thor The Might Avenger. I suggest picking up the two digest sized collections of the series. Langridge also writes and draws the Muppet Show for Boom Studios – a comic that will only become more popular with the launch of the new movie.

Just Can’t Get Enough

If the preceding parts of this Thought Bubble review aren’t enough to make you attend next year, then there is something wrong with you, but just in case you need more, then how about all this…

For all the budding artists out there Thought Bubble arranged portfolio critiques with senior Marvel editor Steve Wacker, the droids from 2000AD, and indy collective Nobrow. Sunday saw the winners announced of this year’s Northern Sequential Art Competition; last year’s winners had their work published by Image Comics in the first ever Thought Bubble Anthology – available at the convention before anywhere else. The Anthology also contains short stories by some of the biggest names in comics, such as Andy Diggle, D’Isralei, Antony Johnston, Charlie Adlard, Mike Carey and Duncan Fegredo, as well as new-comers such as Tula Lotay and the amazing Frank Berant.

Exclusively available at Thought Bubble were a number of very limited edition prints, such as Dave Stevens & Laura Martin’s Rocketeer, the official festival image risograph by Becky Cloonan, and a Thought Bubble Elephantmen risograph by Tim Sale. All of these were wonderful works of art and true collector’s pieces, with each being limited to only a hundred.

People Are People

Out in force this year were two teams of Roller Derby girls, the Bruising Banditas and the Hot Wheels, who manned the entrances of the convention halls and could often be seen gliding thru the crowds with amazing grace and precision. I hope that next year the organisers find some way to include a Roller Derby match as part of the run up to Thought Bubble, especially if they could combine Cosplay.

Cosplay has been a part of Thought Bubble since its earliest days, and this year the cosplay experts from Heroes Alliance UK were out in force, with a professional photobooth available for a very small charitable donation, and the annual Thought Bubble cosplay competition. It’s not every day that you get to see Elektra, Deadpool Spider-man, Green Lantern, and one of my favourites, Harley Quinn wandering around, and the Bury Theatre was filled to capacity during the Cosplay Masquerade. Despite my love of Harley Quinn and the high quality of many costumes, there was something about the magical Zatanna that made her my favourite of the weekend and also inspired my choice of sketch from the very amiable and talented Cameron Stewart.

One advantage of Thought Bubble being spread over two days is that there’s more of a chance to buy cool and geeky things that you wouldn’t normally find on the high-street, and to have a look at the hundred of tables promoting goods and services in the two halls. Favourites of Blogomatic3000 this year included Touched Tees, who were selling cartoony stickers, magnets (now on my fridge – but I still want a Nightcrawler one!), badges, prints and t-shirts based upon popular comic and sci-fi characters; Genki Gear, a mainstay of the Leeds comic scene and creator of geek-chic t-shirts, mugs and other geek inspired paraphernalia; CreatureKebab, creators of a unique line of paper monsters, stuffed toys and snuggle hoods. Anyone thinking of having a table at a con should check out their display, very professional and very friendly. Also which snuggle hood goes best with my beard?

It wasn’t just the smaller traders represented at Thought Bubble, Travelling Man, my favourite comic shop for nearly two decades, were offering great deals on graphic novels and manga over the weekend, and OK Comics, one of Leeds best comic shops was showing “Bubblers” why they’re well known for their graphic novel deals.

Enjoy The Silence

So that’s Thought Bubble done for another year and I’m already looking forward to meeting up with fellow Bubblers next year for lots more geeky fun. I will close out by saying a big hello and thank you to all those who entertained me whilst queuing for sketches and signatures, both the writers and artists and my fellow queuers – Geordie Tom, Joe & Becky, Ian & Sam, Captain Nibbles, Amy, Dizz, Damien, Phil, and the fellow Captain Britain fan who still remembers the almost fight in the Barry Kitson queue at the first Thought Bubble, good time, good times.

To find out more about Thought Bubble and to stay informed about Thought Bubble 2012 follow this link or join the group on Facebook

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