There’s something magical about conventions, a shared experience that transcends the actual subject matter of the convention itself. I’ve been to comics and anime conventions and it’s like stepping into another reality for two days. Suddenly you walk in a colourful world filled with something you love, and populated by people who also love it. It’s a pretty good experience all round. Not just true of comics and anime either, the things we think of as ‘classic’ geek. I’ve had a sewing/handicraft convention described to me and the person going was using the same language I would use about an anime or comics convention. Passion is passion, whatever you’re impassioned about.
So this weekend just gone I was at the Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds. It was set in the Royal Armouries, New Block and some events in the Alea Casino (nothing like making me feel sophisticated in my jeans and tee-shirt). Between the buildings was a plaza that found a lot of cos-players congregating for photos or just Good Times. With two large halls dedicated to selling and showcasing comics, there really was something for everyone. I was especially stoked to find the Tigerbuttah table, being a huge fan of Becky’s work, right next to the Bad Machinery table. If you’ve never seen any of Becky Dreistadt’s art, you’re really missing out.
The presence of Kate Beaton was generally indicated by a large queue rambling up to her table, which was in a line shared with Scott C, Lee Garburtt and Olly Moss. There was always quite a crowd down that end of the hall, whatever the time or day. It was mirrored in the extraordinary queue for each panel she was on, notably the Women in Comics panel, for which the queue went completely around the hall. That isn’t even an exaggeration. From our position about half way down it, we could see the tail on the opposite side of the hall. We feared we would not get in, but perhaps that was underestimating the capacity of the Royal Armouries Theatre. That place has a second floor that can be put to use, and so it was.
The Women in Comics panel was easily the best one I attended. It was hosted by Dr Mel Gibson, with the panel made up by Robin Furth, Fiona Stephenson, Kate Beaton, Alison Bechdel, Simone Lia and Hannah Berry. It’s always an interesting kind of panel to go to, though I think we’re all waiting for the day that the ‘comics industry’ panels have as many women on them as men. That’s when we know we’re evolving as a society. Out of this panel came the Great Guidelines for creators thinking of making their own comics or writing a novel.
Keep the faith
Creativity is a gift, not to you, but to the audience
Network (be friendly with people)
That advice will get you very far in most situations.
Out of this also came a quote I really want on a poster or something. When asked if it’s okay for a man to identify as a feminist, Kate Beaton said “yeah, it’s okay”. Maybe you had to be there.
No write-up of mine would really be complete without at least acknowledging the ‘after party’, held in the Corn Exchange in Leeds city centre. A beautiful building with an amazing arched roof studded with little lights. The dance floor filled up pretty quickly, which my feet regretted the next day. Thought Bubble’s after party is whimsically hosted on the Saturday evening in a hold-over from the days when it used to be a single day convention. This does mean that for the guests and speakers and a portion of the con-goers, Sunday is necessarily more relaxed. By relaxed, I mean tender and please to be keeping your voices down, shhhhh. Because it’s less busy, there was a lot more time to stop and chat with people without feeling awkward about holding up the line. It’s a good time to catch up on the sketches you missed the day before because of the queues.
Thought Bubble’s strength is that it is solely a comic convention, no movies, no games. This means that virtually every kind of comic can be represented, from the beloved classics like Asterix, to children’s adventure in the Phoenix comics, to superheroes supplied by Marvel and DC, to independents who are everything and anything and can’t really be compartmentalised. This means the panels and the guests are focused completely to comics and the world of publishing and creating them.
On the subject of the world of comics, the first British Comics Awards were held at Thought Bubble, presided over by Adam Cadwell, the founder, in his very snappy suit. The winners are well worthy of the praise, but check out the runners-up too, there are some beautiful art styles and stories in the short lists.
The British Comics Awards
Winner: John Allison for Bad Machinery: The Case of the Fire Inside
John Alison writes the voices of children with extraordinary skill, as someone who’s worked with children, it’s a pleasure to hear the way they talk captured so freshly. His style is clear, clean and whimsical. A genuine treat and recognition long overdue for such a talented creator.
Runners up: Joe Decie – “Accidental Salad”
Josceline Fenton – “Hemlock”
Will Kirkby – “Tuk Tuk”
Andrew Tunney – “Girl & Boy”
Winner: Josceline Fenton
Fenton has a stark, visually impactive style that just oozes attention to details without overloading the viewer with minutiae. Someone to watch.
Runners up: Will Kirkby
Young Peoples’ Comic
Winner: Hilda and the Midnight Giant
Even the cover evokes my own childhood of reading Asterix and Tintin comics with art that calls back to the past again and again. Clearly it is still a style and approach that attracts the young, this category is voted for by children themselves, so this award is straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Runners up: Bad Machinery: The Case of the Fire Inside
Gum Girl vol 1
The Lost Boy
A huge compilation work covering days in the life of Nel, edited (and presumably wept over occasionally) by Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix.
Runners up: Don Quixote
Hilda and the Midnight Giant
Hall of Fame
Does ‘The Snowman’ mean anything to you? Yes? Then that’s why.
Northern Sequential Arts Competition
First place: Jack Land – Darren’s Dentist of Doom
Second place: Ato Chan – Rise of the Planet of the Apps
Third Place: Zoom Rockman – Kebab Shop of Horrors
First place: David Parkinson – Believe in Yourself
Second place: Emily Kimbell – Mittens
Third place: Chris and Keith McDonald – The Bounty Hunters
All entrants can be viewed here.