Thought Bubble in words and pictures

Published On November 15, 2016 | By James Bacon | Comics, Conventions and events

Thought Bubble is the best comic festival in Britain, celebrating so much about Comics and bringing together great people. The event continues to set impressive standards, and the stunning amount of comics and creators available at the Thought Bubble convention made it an incredible experience.

Erica Henderson and Mike Mignola were the names many were talking about, but there were just so many creators present, enjoying themselves, engaging with fans, it was just fabulous.

Thought Bubble seems to encompass so many more events now, in its tenth year, with activities for a whole eight days, an art exhibition, events in London, an academic conference, parties, workshops, talks, discussions and film screenings and there is really something on for everyone.

The trip to Leeds is filled with excitement and expectations, one never knows what one will find, and it just turned out to be a gangbusters time finding new work and buying new. The main two day convention takes place at the Armouries in Leeds, utilising two halls and a massive marquee, each venue with its own queue, fans, many in cosplay knowing who or what they are after.

As soon as I walked into the Marquee I was confronted by some very nicely drawn images, made especially for the convention by Ian Kennedy (below) who is like his artwork, stylish, classy and very pleasant. Kennedy was in great form, his Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and Dan Dare pictures seemed to be very popular. He expressed great joy as he’s only really recently been going to conventions and he’s really finding the experience pleasing, meeting fans, signing and obviously humbled by his popularity with fans who he gets the chance to engage with.


(Ian Kennedy with a fine selection of his work)

I was very impressed to see display books out and available from so many artists and I was taken that the price range could match pockets, with one artist offering a stack of published pages priced from £50 to £300, while prints, post cards and of course sketches were very much on offer, it’s lovely to be able to buy something from a favourite creator, but especially nice to have a piece of original art. To see what went into the creation of a comic, to see pencils faint or blue, rubbed and replaced by inks, and whitening used to correct or highlight, and although one has to be careful, there is a tactility to the art, that is visible to the eye and can be felt deftly and delicately by the hand.

I was very taken by Keith Burns’ artwork from Johnny Red, written by Garth Ennis; it’s been a wonderful sequel to a classic comic, really neatly done. Burns who has exhibited in the RAF Club and is recognised for his aviation art, for me, is one of the better military comic artists in the business at the moment, and his work is fastidious in his desire to make every sketch, and indeed every page perfect, although he is humble and in fairness, was himself so pleased that he’d get to meet Ian Kennedy, one of his artistic heroes, which was lovely (you can read an interview with Keith and Garth about Johnny Red here on the blog).


(Keith Burns, with poised brush)

Posters and prints are a very popular thing at the moment, a number of stalls had some really beautiful ones, and the Travelling Man stall had some exceptional ones on sale, tied in with the artists who were attending, limited editions and numbered prints were in demand and a thing of beauty. Later in the day I noted that popularity is well managed here, there were well worked out queuing systems, and indeed I’d thought about getting my copy of Briggs Land signed by Tula Lotay but I’d miss the cut off.

The staff in red shirts at all times are helpful and keen to be of assistance; they sometimes have a tough job, explaining to fans that they are the end of a queue or that a creator is off to lunch and yet I frequently saw this occurring in a pleasant and friendly way, genuinely sorry to let a fan down, and that’s indicative of the whole operation. You feel like so much care has gone into the convention. The three spaces were well worked out and it was buzzing all day, while the panels seemed very popular with queues forming before hand, and one could see the waves of people coming and going to them.


(Above:Stacey from Dewsbury cosplaying as Contstantine, below: Holly and Amy)


Thought Bubble must work exceptionally hard to maximise the density and productivity of their tables. I noted that seventy-five tables were split between two creators or publishers, effectively increasing the product that is available. This means for me, that I get the chance to see more comics, more art and more unusual and unexpected wares. This is good work.

It’s damn hard I feel, having to stand or sit and sell your wares, encouraging passers by softly to have a look or browse. The hard sell can do more damage than good, while engaging smoothly can create interest, but I frequently wonder how hard that is for those more introverted or uncomfortable, another facet they need to have, not enough to be a beautiful artist or inspired writer, but also perfect salesperson.

I purposely look for comics that will interest, writing about the ones that really impressed, and I think that supporting the creators is right for me, and I think that integrity is important so I spent some time looking around the whole festival for good reads, but must admit here and now, that I did not get to see the whole Festival!


(Korinna Mei Veropoulou)

‘Sapro II’ is a neat horror story, it’s got a lovely manga style to it, strong black inks and a fluidity of ink that is very descriptive, the artist uses neon pink as its only colouring, to pleasing visual effect, as shading as well as highlight, and it surprised me how delicately and boldly that it could be deployed in this comic. A straight forward horror story that is subtle in its depiction, this is a wordless story, just images, a real test of an artists ability to display a sequential story artistically and I thought that Korinna Mei Veropoulou excelled at layout, an element that can really test the eye on a story like this.

Lucy Bellwood combines two amazing abilities together. Lucy is a tall ship sailor and a fabulous cartoonist. On sale were some lovely postcards, a beautiful hardback comic, and a slip-cased set of three notebooks, beautifully finished that contain a scale facsimile of all her entries for the One Hundred Day project, illustrating and writing a brief page about a hundred meaningful objects.


(Lucy Bellwood)

I picked up ‘Down to the Seas Again’ which documents Lucy’s sailing adventure on the Charles M. Morgan, the last wooden whaling sailing ship, which was restored to sea-going status in 2014 and had it’s 38th Voyage recently. This is presented in a beautifully full-coloured style. Lucy went aboard in Boston and documented her short time afloat. I was really very impressed with the accuracy of the ships, a number feature in this comic, and Lucy has a real grasp of their aesthetics, as well as demonstrating how at home she is on a wooden deck. Her depiction of the whales in the Stellwagen marine sanctuary are great. Lucy also had Baggywrinkles: a Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea on sale, a very nice hardback which looked even more impressive.

Another find of the weekend was the work of Jacob V. Joyce.  I met Jacob and collaborator Rudy Loewe and stuck for choice at their table. I picked up ‘The Alphabetical Anthology of White Liberal Proverbs’, a wonderfully-produced illustrated version of a poem by Joyce. I was stunned by the beauty, the art pieces accompanying each entry are mixed media with colour illustrations, collages and photos, creating a clear understanding of what is meant. The print quality is of a high standard, yet it is the text that resonates so had. It is a difficult and challenging work, a personal perspective of Joyce’s lived experiences of racism in every day conversation and in popular culture.


(above, art for White Liberal Proverbs, below Rudy Loewe and Jacob V Joyce)


There is a raw energy and anger that has to be respected, and indeed in this art form truly appreciated. The entries are poignant and challenging, J is for Just Joking, H is for Have you heard the plight of the White Irish, X is for Expats instead of Immigrants. I thought it was fabulous, addressing directly and honestly the subtle, but so consequential issues that one can find in comics or society, but in a more robust and personal way, from All Lives matter to Be the change you want in society. It is amazing how Joyce can so effectively illustrate literally the derailing sentences, the quips and responses that stunt and control the flow of conversation, and visually demonstrate how they are inherently a racist response generally or to the issue of societal racism.

I interpreted as being things Joyce is just tired of, in the context of how it is effectively a tool of racism, or eases racism or creates a block to more true equity, another de-railer in an ongoing fight. That it may be unintentional is irrelevant, for it is about the stifling of a struggle for true equity and justice, and Joyce’s poetry brings the reader to see things from his perspective, and once seen, understood. This is very telling and there is an inspired ability here.

I was not surprised to see that Joyce is a singer of queer anti-colonial punk band Screaming Toenail. Although I was sorry that I did not pick up ‘Fear Brown Queers’ another lovely-looking publication, where Joyce brought together artists, poets and quotes from Queer Trans People of Colour, offering a personal commentary about integration and the white-centric art world in the UK.

Space Captain: Captain of Space by Michael Park and Chris Baldie is a beautiful fun science fictional story. Space Captain is awoken on a distant planet, found by a prospector and so his adventure begins, one that is a far way from earth, which he left for two weeks, some time ago, and in his absence, some things appear to have changed. I loved this story, a great sense of humour and quite a quick-paced read. The art is really well done, with a nod to older European styles, cleanly drawn and nicely coloured, there is a lot to this comic, one gets a decent amount of pages. I picked up the first issue of three and will continue with it and also look for other comics from Never Ever press, as it was such an excellent standard (here’s a review of issue 1 by Richard).


(Above: Chris Baldie; below: Charlot Kistensen)


Black women in History by Charlot Kristensen caught my eye because of the striking art style. An illustrated book, nearly square, opens with each woman getting a double page spread, the painted style utilising highlighting deftly which seems so well suited to this format. When I opened up the page for Bessie Brave sitting on the wing of a propeller biplane, the artwork really stood out. Bessie ‘Brave’ Coleman studied French in Chicago and travelled to Paris on November 20, 1920, so she could earn her pilot license. She became the first woman of African American and Native American descent to earn an aviation pilot’s license; her father was part Cherokee and her mother African American.


The book covers nine important black women in history, and it is fascinating to see the beautiful picture of Mae Jemison who was the first black woman to become a NASA astronaut and make it into space in 1992, aboard STS-47, the 50th shuttle mission. Reportedly Jemison took a photo of Bessie Brave on her flight, and fascinatingly said ‘I point to Bessie Coleman and say without hesitation that here is a woman, a being, who exemplifies and serves as a model to all humanity; the very definition of strength, dignity, courage, integrity and beauty’. Jemison (below) was also inspired by Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols to join NASA; how wonderful that science fiction we adore would inspire someone to almost literally reach for the stars. I adore works that provoke thought, search and investigation, and this is one such work but was taken by the art and now must seek out Shell Shock, another work by Charlot.


Skies of Fire‘ is a comic that I have been waiting for ever since I played Crimson Skies, read The War of the Skylords and Warlord of the Air, it’s a wonderful concept, a world that features diesel powered Airships and biplanes.

Feeling fresh, vibrant and well-thought through, the protagonist and storyline caught me. A totally new world, mapped out brilliantly by a cartographer, we follow Captain Helen Pierce, a brave and brash Airship Captain in the Aquillian Empire as we first get introduced to the world, where an ongoing continuous violent storm in a given geographical area known as The Expanse is both dangerous and a naturally vast stronghold for Raiders and their airships to hide in. The reader is quickly taken to the Imperial Court and introduced to the myriad of hints at political elements in a hearing following the failure to strike down a raider attack. So Captain Pierce is ordered to hunt down the notorious raider Delmonte by all means at her disposal.


The artwork is incredible, it’s brought together by a truly international team, but it really works brilliantly. The calibre is better than many mainstream comics, the lines are perfect, perspectives and characterisations really skilfully done, tricky, going from a sword fight to an airship battle with the features of a dreadnoughts, and the colours are perfect. Each issue has a number of additional elements, creating an epistolary work, as well as the beautiful map work, sheet music, adverts, a treaty, with seals in cursive writing, a calendar, of 15 months, messages, prison records, reports, newspaper and magazine pages, al creating a wonderfully full picture of the world, giving the reader many details and building up the story and world. I really enjoyed this comic and was pleased to meet Vincenzo Ferriero at Thought Bubble, now on issue 3, I am chomping at the bit to get more issues.


(Above: Vincent Ferriero, below: Amber Hsu)


Thought Bubble attracts a wide variety of creators, and I was pleased to meet Amber Hsu, who was working on her Remington Model 5 Portable typewriter. This is a beautiful machine which was smoothly and quietly operated by Amber. The machine itself is a fine piece, made from October 1932 until August 1939, selling for $65 in the 1930s ($1,098 in today’s money) it was a robust but small sized machine as used by Aldous Huxley Allen Ginsberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Tennessee Williams who all favoured the 5. Amber is a writer, filmmaker, visual artist, and small press publisher.

Here Amber was producing one-minute poetry, which is an incredible skill, happy to take any subject or suggestion and create, under some pressure I imagine, but not showing it, a poem on an A-6 piece of decorative edged fine paper. Amber also had a selection of stationary, all decoratively printed with lovely words or images available and it is indicative of Thought Bubble that here we find this type of immediate art available and desired. One is reminded of Harlan Ellison who has often sat in the window of a bookstore taking subjects from passers-by and crafting short stories then and there from the ideas.


(Summer Du Plessis)

Summer Du Plessis had a lovely, fully-painted illustrated booklet available about the Chelsea Hotel. Although I know of the hotel it was nice to see it’s history visually portrayed with images of the various famous people who had spent time at the hotel, be it Dylan Tomas who was transported from the Hotel to hospital to pass away, or Natalie Portman who was filmed acting a scene in Leon in the hotel. The sharp and blocky cover artwork is stunning, stylishly done capturing the angles of the hotel simply but effectively. The artwork itself spreads across double pages, strong and bold colours giving a distinctive feel, while washes help with shading or to illustrate a nuance in the story of the hotel, like al of the comics so far, a very high quality of printing was to be found.

It was interesting to see how many portfolio reviews were taking place. The apprehension and indeed utter joy at the prospect of showing Shelly Bond a portfolio was expressed in quiet but eager tones, by one fan, while I know 2000AD were doing reviews, and I hoped that new artists were making the best of these opportunities.


(Lee and Amy add some mystically based cosplaying at Thought Bubble)

I picked up Dave Hendrick‘s anthology, ‘Guys, Delusions, Disasters’ which has three neat stories. I was very taken by the clean black and white artwork of Rapha Lobosco, on ‘One Last Dink’ who really knows how to work shadows, keep a story that has a lot of depth and detail, clean and not busy, and has a spectacular eye for architecture and perspective. A pan of the Ha’penny Bridge and the quays in Dublin being a beautiful start to this nice story. The other two stories offered more in depth and both had really nice artwork, again black and white, but with differing styles, Luca Pizzari who drew ‘Steal or Starve’ has a nice heavier feel to his work, which worked well for the dark criminal story and his facial features are quite descriptive and key to this story, very nice stuff, while Evan ‘Doc’ Shaner had a very light and finely drawn line, which worked smartly with this interesting alternative history, time travel piece, entitled ‘Stolen Time’.


(Dave Hendrick and Ben Hennessy)

Again a distinctive and individual style, but exceptional professional and lovely to see in a limited edition small press comic. Altogether a really good purchase for me, I was impressed with the calibre. The art of a story well told in a short space is difficult, and here three excellent renderers of fine black and white comic art, while the stories all did the artwork real justice, a nice quick but delightful snapshot of the dynamic capabilities of Hendrick.

Next to Dave Hendrick was Ben Hennessy, working on some art. Hennessy was like a number of creators, showing his artwork, making it available. What stopped me in my tracks was the fully coloured comic on display on his iPad. ‘Carrie and Rufus’ is beautifully slick comic with a hint of cartoon style, a zombie story with a wonderful protagonist Carrie and her dog Rufus. Set in Wexford, I was caught wondering where the hell was this comic?

Hennessy has worked as a storyboard artist and character designer for Cbeebies, Nickelodeon, iPad & Wii and one could see the animation side of Hennessy skillset coming through in the style and the colours, were which were stunning and made this a very pleasing comic on the eye. Hennessey was quick to let me know the colours were by Ciaran Lucas as they were very well done, and the story looked smashing. This was a recurring theme for me at Thought Bubble, meeting and seeing, new to me, artists and writers demonstrating the fantastic abilities that are out there.

I stopped to chat to John McCrea, and later to Declan Shalvey, and in both cases, spoke about the recent loss to the comics industry of Steve Dillon. Dillon was doing the covers for DC Comics Six Pack & Dog Welder Hard Travelin Heroz drawn by McRea and written by Garth Ennis, and Shalvey is doing the covers for Marvels Punisher, as written by Becky Cloonan and drawn by Steve.


(Kulbir, Mark and Kyle are no match for the awesome powers of young Jack’s mini Flash!)

As I wandered I met Triona Tree Farrell, Anthea West and Wayne Talbot, all from Ireland and it was nice to see such representation from home here at Thought Bubble. It gets worse I realised, Charlot Kristensen lived in Belfast and Dublin, Jacob V. Joyce’s mom is from Monaghan, Keith Burns is originally from Dublin, I started to ponder whether there may be some sort of Irish Comics Mafia potential, and wasn’t Stephen Mooney, Ciarán Marcantonio and Cormac Hughes all working hard and I didn’t even get to say hello, yet alone a chance to look at Red Sands, Stoat, A Clockwork Universe, Project Cross Roads and Con Jobs. Feck.

I hoped that people from various other places felt as welcome and are as well represented. I love finding and seeing new creators and work, especially as an immigrant here in Britain, its great to see the welcome people from home receive. And it’s a proper Leeds and Thought Bubble welcome, comic fans enjoying themselves, laughing, dressing up, buying and chatting about comics.


(Amber Keegan)

As time counted down I was stopped as I walked by a lady called Liz dressed as Peggy Carter, who possibly is the master of the gentle but positive sell, and spoke highly of her friend Amber Keegan,  and her comic Marionette. Soon I had a copy of Marionette Issue one in my bag, signed by Amber. This is a wonderful comic, part one of nine. Fully painted in a created world where we find rebels infiltrating an imperial army to seek the overthrow of a brutal regime, we meet Aeron Marloes who is tasked with playing a long game of going up the ranks and ultimately assassinating the Emperor, all while masquerading as a man. The comic is steadily paced, taking its time to give lovely pieces of information and intrigue and the attention to detail with the uniforms is fabulous, set in 1787 it appears to be alternate version of France, called Gallia, and the historical feel to this book anchors it somewhat, and makes it very enjoyable.


(Above: Vannesa R Del Rey, below: Robin Pierce)


Too soon my day was over, I got the chance to get Hit 1955 signed by Vanessa R. Del Ray, got to see Robin Pierce‘s collected edition of Curio Regis, bringing together the first eleven beautiful full colour chapters and enjoyed chatting with 2000AD’s PR droid and host of the 2000 AD Thrillcast Michael Molcher as we share an interest in Cromwellian history, but the end of the day came way too soon, I had yet to make it to the FutureQuake stand, where I knew that a new issue of Zarjaz! number 27 was waiting. Too soon, it was all over.


(Mike Molcher and Matt Smith at the 2000 AD stall)

A terrific time, as ever Thought Bubble was a brilliantly run event, I enjoyed it way too much and was quite taken with the Irish synchronisity this year, and loved how the convention remembered Steve Dillon.


(Oliver Longstaffe as Magic Man and Lexie as Cardcaptor Sakura)

Many thanks to Dr. Emma J. King who took a number of the photos above, to the Thought bubble team for doing such a great job, and our own Richard Bruton for sorting me out with press access.

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About The Author

James Bacon

James Bacon is a train Driver working in London but originally from Dublin. He also loves comics, theatre, history and books, runs conventions, writes about these activities and has edited a Hugo-winning Fanzine.

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