Monday, 24 March 2014

Thought Bubble announce changes to registration system, move to curation

Thought Bubble, the annual UK comics festival in Leeds, today announced significant changes to its set up, in terms of makeup and impact upon exhibitors. Thought Bubble is undoubtedly the UK's most well regarded show- something you'll hear from professionals and attendees alike, and unique also in that it's located in the North of England, where most events of any pedigree tend to center around London and the South. Furthermore it's located in my home city, and along with ELCAF, the only show I make sure to attend each year, so there's a degree of personal investment in there.

Changes were expected this year, to some degree- the festival has been growing rapidly and last year tables sold out in an unprecedented 2 hours, which led to the recruiting of a third hall in order to accommodate demand, in addition to its usual 2 spaces of New Dock Hall and Royal Armouries Hall. However, that space is now inhabited by the retail units it was originally built for, and therefore unavailable to use again, which has led to the following changes-

Table pricing has changed:
'The basic costs for tables in all halls this year will be £90 for a full table for indie creators/professional artists or £55 for a half table, and £135 per table for retailers and publishers.' The reason for the rise in table prices is because the festival is building a state-of-the-art hard-shell marquee in the main square as a third hall (The New Dock and Royal Armouries halls are located in buildings opposite one another, with a vast space in between, which is where the marquee will be situated). The other option was for the festival to move to another city entirely, but that's not something that's being considered at this point,  'The idea of leaving Leeds is a last resort to us, as we love this city, and everything that it’s brought to the festival. Without our partners, like Leeds City Council, Leeds and Bradford Libraries, and Leeds International Film Festival, Thought Bubble would change entirely and we just can’t have that.'

The show will be fully curated:
A direct impact of that growth, and presumable only being able to fit so many people into the 2 halls and the intended marquee, means the show will now be fully curated, with online registration going live on the website on Monday 31st March, and remain open for two weeks until 5pm on Monday 14th April. If unable to fit all applicants into the space allotted, the decision over who gets a table will be judged by the organisational committee, to ensure fairness. Priority will be given to 'comic books, comic book publishers and retailers, and comic book artists and writers,' - the festival has previously had a strong element of craft and print, with outfits like Mondo tabling. Successful applicants will be contacted shortly after, and payment then taken.

The mid-convention party will be charged for and ticketed:
Lastly, the mid-convention party, which takes place on the Saturday night and is free to exhibitors and the first 500 pre-ordered convention tickets, will now be charged for and ticketed separately. Tickets will be made available to buy in advance, so demand can be gauged and an appropriate venue hired.

It's difficult to see how Thought Bubble could have done anything else than enforce these changes- it's imperative to the identity of the festival to not move city at this time, and there's simply no other venue large enough to accommodate them at the moment. I don't think there'll be much fuss over the rise in table prices, as they've emphasised that they're happy for people to share, and the business and popularity of the event means that creators are generally happy to pay to be there (and tend to make their money back). Curation can make some people anxious, as the decision over their attendance rests in someone else's hands, but again, it's hard to see what other route could have been taken. A big element of what has made Thought Bubble so successful is the people behind it- Lisa Wood, Clark Burscough and others, and the way in which they've managed every aspect of the show, so I'm pretty confident that these changes will be implemented with equal care and aplomb. All in all, good news, I think, and deftly handled.