Thought Bubble is a comics convention based in Leeds, England, and it’s a show I’ve not heard a bad word about. Recognised by large publishers (this year was notable for Image not having a booth) and creators of all audiences and sales performances, it’s got the atmosphere of legitimacy and an all-ages attendance record. This was my third year.
An eight-hour train-based mess better left undocumented. Cleared up in the evening; Wayne’s World double bill at the Holiday Inn. Excellent.
An early start and bright intentions are marred by dual failing of phone signal and Sky News’ partiality. In the year begun by a lot of for-fuck-sakeing over cartoonists’ use of hashtag-jesuischarlie, Islamophobic “experts” given free range to speculate on what they’d said shouldn’t be speculated about regarding the individuals who affected the Paris murders weren’t the best start to a day of high-concentration, in-person communication. Will I have to get in any fights today? That was the question at the front of my brain. Holiday Inn breakfasts are okay; could use some grilled tomato. No limit on baked bean application is great.
I have to say that my presence at the con began in less than ideal circumstances. The location for wristband pickup was confusing and poorly laid out: one person on either side of the doorway to the reception area, who were selling tickets on the door. Explaining to somebody who doesn’t care (because they have a job to do) that you’re press, only to have to go somewhere else and join an ill-defined queue and explain it again, is unpleasant. It feels bad! It feels like boasting. The tables for pre-bought and press pass handouts were facing away from the doors, after a left turn… hard to see, hard to navigate, bad for anxiety. I hate this section of the day.
Royal Armouries Square has a number of space-breaking features, which I appreciate. Beyond the big marquee housing a lot of the creator tables, which isn’t a permanent fixture, there are a railing or two and some square stone benches, various different layers. This is good. There is always somewhere to stand, or lean, somewhere to rest without feeling like a clay pigeon. Resting my face after all that internal grimacing, leaning over a railing while my sweetie went to chat with some friends of friends, Alison Sampson found me. Hurrah! A friendly face, a familiar person. She’d just been in for a portfolio review with Vertigo—no deals to report yet, but it sounds like things went well. Which is obvious, really, if you take a look at Sampson’s work for one second and think back to the height of Vertigo’s aesthetic success. Genesis (which won her the Emerging Talent award at the British Comic Awards last year) was a poorly written book, but it looked like prime, emotionally intellectual, horror-fantasy. Colourist Jason Wordie with Alison Sampson on your choice of Vertigo book—what would it be?
This is how my approach to shows has evolved: I no longer try to start well. Now I start smart. Thought Bubble is made up of three large rooms: Royal Armouries Hall, the TB Marquee, and New Dock Hall. None of these halls use natural lighting at all; all of them are hot and full and noisy. Thought Bubble, like all conventions, is essentially terrible to experience. Of course, I love it! But the best part is in the having experienced it, and the chats with friends you’ve made outside and afterwards. While you’re there, in the thick of it, you just have to make do and battle through it. I do a circuit of each room. Look only at the tables, never at the faces, because people will use their eye magic and human accessibility to trick you into thinking you owe them your custom right now, right now. It’s not malicious, it’s nothing to hate. It’s just you being a nice person and them not looking creepy. But it’s dangerous, pet. Keep an eye on that budget. Keep an eye on the time. You can come back later. Really!
Going round without stopping also lets you clock where those people are whom you need to visit. It’s not so good to stop at the first one, have a good chat (or, worse! An awkward one!) and then find yourself exhausted. Feeling like you must visit everybody as soon as you can puts a lot of pressure on an already stressed out individual. Knowing exactly where your friends, favourites, and Twitter acquaintances are in a more concrete way than having found them on the map gives a much firmer ground from which to plan your sociality on. Unfortunately it also tells you who is missing. Asia Alfasi, who I wanted to commission and who I always enjoy seeing, wasn’t at her assigned table either Saturday or Sunday. Her online presence isn’t great, so I don’t know how to reach her, but I hope she’s alright and that missing the show doesn’t knock her trajectory too much. I want to see her comics in shops.
I think that every year Thought Bubble gets bigger. Maybe younger. Definitely busier. I heard from Francine and Jeremy at the Slimgiltsoul Comics table that they heard attendees talking about how TB is becoming more like an MCM-style con—this, I think, is taking it a bit far. It does seem slicker. There are definitely more cosplayers, and possibly fewer attendees in directly relevant costume; there is manga for sale at manga-shop tables, but very few mangaka guest at Thought Bubble. To be fair there were daily screenings of recent-classic anime, but on the other hand there were many Marvel Cinematics characters to be seen, but no screenings to reflect that. This is not so much a criticism as an attempt to grapple with the slight sense of mismatch that I perceived, and that several people I spoke to seemed to perceive, between tablers and visitors.
Speaking of mismatch, the closer we got to the show the more this year’s logo illustration bothered me. Do you see the misalignment here? It’s November. We’re in Leeds. (That’s our J.A. Micheline)
I overheard a fair bit of talk this year about how the show “should” be moved, too. Nearer to the centre, somewhere with bigger rooms, etc etc. I think a poorly chosen move could kill it, and I’m happy with the Armouries location. It’s really nice to have a museum on-site, it’s really nice to see people who live around the perimeter or who are also staying in the on-site hotels wandering through the outdoor areas of the convention. It was nicer before the marquee filled up so much of that central space, I’ll admit, and every year more businesses have filled the buildings along the walkway between Square and Tesco, meaning that panels and quiet rooms have had to be moved as well. But they have been, they’re upstairs (accessibly by stairs or lift) above the Royal Armouries Hall, so what’s the problem? It’s nice for a comics convention to be so closely associated with another cultural draw. Unlike the Expo shows at the London Docks Excel Centre, which are sterile with their reservation for conferences and convention shows, Thought Bubble seems like somewhere that it’s normal for people to go. Conventions can feel a bit circus-like, a little fake, when they’re isolated.
All of a sudden I saw J.A and her friend Kat, and every expense a convention incurs melted away~
It was time for pizza. There’s a Pizza Express right next to New Dock Hall. Those canny bastards must make a mint from Thought Bubble weekend.
Back in for round two of the three-room circle dance: meet’n’greet. You wanna see some floor pictures? Course you do. There was plenty going on and I missed most of it, but ain’t that just the way? There was plenty I didn’t miss at all. Artists to watch:
Pretty much dropping from doing the rounds, being on our feet all day, trying to talk up reluctant creators and introducing myself in the face of “who are you?”s, post-con snacking became a big clotted straggle of my sweetie and I, J.A. and Kat, Steve from Comics Alliance, a Scottish woman who shared her chips with me, Zainab from Comics&Cola (the only time I got with her all weekend! Life), and Elliot and Olle of Peow Studios. Have you ever been to Trinity Kitchen in Leeds centre? It’s like the Crystal Maze. But for food. (So… better?)
Zainab, maybe a tiny bit fed up of being Tour Guide Leeds, let me eat half of her pizza and took us all to the German Christmas Market. It’s good to spend time with comics people and talk about things other than comics. Like NeoGeo, correct carbonated drinks, and fake Minions. Olle and Elliot are Swedish, and my goodness their humour was dry. What a gift to this world! You can say anything, and they’ll know when it’s a joke, and vice versa. After puzzling over Que Sera Sera sung by a woodgrain-painted tent full of November Christmas attendees, Zainab took Peow off to find a cab to their hostel (would they have beds or would they not have beds, was the question of the night—everybody troubles with travel, apparently), Steve steered us well to the station, and the remainder of the evening was spent puzzling over the appalling dismality that is Lewis.
Alright, let’s talk about money. Getting to Thought Bubble is expensive.
A weekend pass is £27, and a press or exhibitors’ pass gets you in for free. That’s base-level expense; what comes next is: how do I get there? Where do I sleep? What do I eat? How much is travel between the show and my bunk? Do I buy stuff when I’m on the con floor? Here are my expenditures:
- £90 open return to Leeds (x2)
- £187 three-night stay at Holiday Inn, Oulton
- £2.20 (plus half-hour walk between station & Inn) train, Leeds to Oulton (x2)
- £2.20 train, Leeds to Oulton (x2)
- £2.60 taxi, Woodlesford Station to Oulton
- £2.20 (plus half-hour walk between station & Inn) train, Oulton to Leeds (x2)
- £8.80 (x2) -£11.60 taxi between Oulton and Royal Armouries/Leeds city centre
- £2.40 Desperados beer
- £3.50 sausage roll & chips
- £13.15 Pizza Express
- £2-ish? Cherry float
- £7.00 M&S deli combo meal deal (trapped in B’ham New Street station)
That, reader, is an anomaly in my budget. We packed homemade food, we brought a wee squash-concentrate pod, and still! Ching ching bling bling. It costs a lot to have fun. But this is why I notice so keenly when the TB organisers make allowances for their visits’ budgets. Inside the vestibule area leading to the New Dock Hall tabling areas was the above vision of heaven: £3.50 for a meat pastry and decent load of chips is far, far more strap-friendly than Pizza Express (or even Tesco Metro—chips served warm satisfy better than cold pre-prep curry). In real life, it’s not great, but what can you do. Having somewhere to buy a cuppa and even sit down, that wasn’t too far out of the way or too grand in its layout (the hay bales and shiny cows of 2013’s TB kitchen were good looking, but kind of overstimulating) was a real boon to my Sunday. Finding some more of those good strong twitter acquaintances to sit and eat chips with, talking about wrestling and Amalgam Comics and watching J.A. learn about the 90s’ grossest X-Men made Sunday 2015 the least stressful Thought Bubble moment I’ve experienced so far.
And fancy, leaving a two-hour conversation about comics but mostly wrestling, to go and do some work, i.e. leave some questions with Breakdown Press about their Generous Bosom, volumes 1 & 2, only to fall into a forty-five minute conversation with Tom Oldham, publisher, partially about avant-garde comics but mostly about wrestling. This is marvellous, I thought. Look at us both. Our carefully chosen glasses. The capital-A Art Comics which began our mutual relevancy spread out between us. And we’re talking like near-grown pups who’ve seen owner go for his overcoat, about how much we love William Regal, whether or not Rob Van Dam is a quality entertainer (I’m for no) and this fella‘s golden jumpsuit. This fine world. This fine world!
People start to leave to get home at around three; it’s bittersweet. We dropped back in to say so long to Peow, get a little info about their current Kickstarter, and to document the cuteness of their table. Sunday night was spent checking out his haul and chatting with Markk, also known as Anaseed Man—the first friend we made at the first Thought Bubble we went to. From “so… you like Kamen Rider, huh?” to “Bro, lemme use your complimentary teabags ok thanks;” in the space of three years my social experience of the convention’s grown as exponentially as WWAC has grown. Coincidence?
Thanks for the confidence, thanks for the relevance, and thanks for the scene. See you next year, yeah?