Well, Thought Bubble was Thought Bubble, by which I mean it was very probably the biggest collection of comic talent assembled in the UK this year. Lisa, Clark, Martha and the team really do an incredible job in putting together a diverse collection of international and UK guests each year, and alongside so many wonderful volunteer red-shirts the whole thing really does seem to go off without a hitch. Now in it’s 9th year, Thought Bubble really is the UK’s premier comics event.
Thing is, this year, I wasn’t particularly feeling it. Many reasons why, too complicated and weird to mention here, but as family Bruton hit the three main show areas, I couldn’t help feeling that I’d seen it all before. This is no reflection on the actual show, more an analysis of where UK comics feels to me right now. Others may disagree, but as I wandered the halls of both the Royal Armouries and New Dock, alongside the very spacious feeling TB marquee sitting in the plaza between them this year, I felt that I’d honestly either seen it before or had seen something very similar. Yes, my position in UK comics here means I may well have seen so much of what these incredibly talented artists produce before, but even the new stuff felt familiar, variations on a theme.
Christ, could I be just that little burnt out on comics right now? It happens sure, but I never felt it would happen to me. Trouble is, situations change, lives change, and there’s just that nagging suspicion that my life has spinned, uncontrollably perhaps, just outside of the orbit of UK comics. Over the next few months I’ll still be here on the FPI Blog, but I’ll certainly be reappraising what I do, deciding where I’ll be going with it in 2016.
Anyway, Thought Bubble 2015…
Bloody excellent 2-day convention. Perfectly organised, loads of great comics people across three main areas; the cavernous New Dock Hall, the slightly more cosy Armouries Hall and the in the middle of it all the Marquee, although that really doesn’t do justice to the massive space, gleaming white, smack in the middle of the Armouries Plaza. The rain came down on Saturday, and to a lesser degree on Sunday, but it didn’t really seem to spoil anyone’s fun.
As I’m old I didn’t head for the traditional Saturday night party, this year back at the Corn Exchange. And this year, alongside the now de rigueur DJ sets from the great and the good of comics, there was even a VERY special guest… Darryl McDaniels was at the convention this year representing his comic company, Darryl Makes Comics. Yeah. D M C. As in RUN DMC. Bloody hell. That’s superstar cool right there. And seeing him at the con in the Armouries, he seemed like a great, great bloke, constantly posing for photos with fans. At the after party he took to the floor and rapped over It’s Tricky and Walk This Way. Yeah. VERY cool.
For a way better idea of what the night was like … see Kieron Gillen’s report on it here. Sounds like the BEST night.
But all in all, I had a great time, possibly because I didn’t do my usual thing of rushing around making sure I talked to everyone, feeling guilty I didn’t hand out cards and generally do the good journo thing. No, instead we had a rather more chilled time, and it worked for me. And as usual, there’s the standard apologies from me about not getting to see everyone I meant to see but hey… email me. Nope, this year it was all about a relaxed couple of days, even taking in a panel (2000AD, ably hosted by the ever wonderful Iz and Stace), something I rarely manage to do.
Sure, I still think it was a bit light on wonderful NEW things, but taking off my world weary, seen it all before goggles, I imagine anyone doing Thought Bubble for the very first time would have been absolutely blown away by it all, the number of guests, the big names, the sheer range of comic greatness on display is something quite magnificent. I’m just being an old git about it all perhaps (perhaps? nah… definitely.)
I’m always fascinated to ask how people think it’s gone this year, and I kept hearing some wildly different views, some saying it was quieter than previous years, others saying it was busier, some more saying although they thought it was a bit quieter they’d taken far more money. So, who the hell knows. One day some convention somewhere will be damn brave and actually get their attendees to publish takings, just to make everything crystal clear but I can’t imagine that happening anytime soon.
The thing about Thought Bubble, when you really boil it down to the basics, is that it’s simply the very best of UK comics, with a massive injection of all that is good about US comics at the same time.
Now, any convention report isn’t complete with some criticism… but hopefully this is genuinely constructive criticism.
There was no Tea-Bubs this year, the massive space for a chill out/ drinks / tea & coffee / soup and food area this. Completely beyond the control of the TB organisers, as the space that was an empty site is now being developed for forthcoming retail. But it did mean that the convention was lacking somewhere to chill. Yes, there was the area in the main Dock Hall atrium, but that’s just too damn busy, too connected to the absolute chaos of the convention itself, it was never an option for simply chilling out. So hopefully, next year they can sort out some sort of proper chill out area, a place to get a cuppa, a little bit of food maybe, just somewhere to take the weight off your feet and plan what you’re doing next.
Also, there simply isn’t isn’t enough food available. In 2014 there were two street food vendors; burgers and fish & chips. This was great, and both vendors were massively busy throughout. This year we only had the fish & chips. Surely we need more options, not less, more vendors, more choice, more lovely hot food to enjoy. In a simple economic formula, the Bruton family wanted something nice for lunch, so we had to leave Thought Bubble and take a 15-minute each way walk into Leeds to find a really fabulous sandwich place (Carlos – next to the Adelphi pub – absolutely brilliant drinks, food, service, excellent all round). This meant we were at least an hour, maybe more away from the site and away from spending cash with the comic people. So, more food on site is a must, as is somewhere to sit and relax and enjoy it. Yes, this may be difficult to organise, but it really adds to the experience.
BUT…. these few things are minor things, and I have complete faith in Lisa Woods and her brilliant team that they’re already thinking about these things already. And despite my poor showing this year, despite my slight world weariness about it all… Thought Bubble is THE best comic convention in the UK. and I have no doubt it will be in 2016 as well.
So… 2016… there’s rumours it might be in September. But whether it’s then or it’s the traditional November it honestly doesn’t matter. Thought Bubble 2016 will still be the definitive UK comic convention. Again, thank you to Lisa Woods, Clark Burscough, Martha Julian and EVERYONE else involved in Thought Bubble… THE best comic convention in the UK, long may it continue.
Now… photos…. Armouries Hall…
New Dock Hall … that grinning man in the suit is Rob Davis, winner of the British Comic Award for best book for the quite brilliant The Motherless Oven, and also the man I spent a good hour on Saturday night drinking Guinness with and righting the ways of the comics world. Very enjoyable….
The Thought Bubble Marquee:
The creator pics …. Chris Baldie of the awesome Space Captain..
Sarah Gordon, sharing table space with Howard Hardiman, with whom she has a new comic out in 2016, Deeds Not Words, which we’ve already covered lots here. She also had the quite magnificent Strip comic… one of my best of 2015 for sure.
Adam Cadwell and Rachael Smith…
The lovely Hitsville UK boys, John Riordan and Dan Cox:
The lovely folk from the Phoenix Comic…
Noelle Stephenson… whose signing lines were pretty much always right out the door and then some.
Ramzee… of Triangle, who spent all of Saturday when I saw him on his feet and absolutely engaging with folks, exactly how it should be done! Here it was fairly early Sunday, and even he was taking a rest.
Dan White… of the great Cindy And Biscuit…
Bolt-01 and son of FutureQuake…
And finally… the hope for the future … Team Ketchup, a comics making collective of young folks from Skipton Library.. wonderful to see them there…
Now… the other side of Thought Bubble, the cosplay. I’ve really grown to love and appreciate the cosplay over the years of coming here. It’s a wonderful part of it, and the people involved are ace, all of them part of a massive tribe, positive, encouraging, vibrant, loving what they do. A real credit to young people everywhere, as most of them are under 30 from what I can see, at least here. There were some great costumes, these are merely the ones I caught…