Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Thought Bubble 2014: holistic comics therapy

I decided to take a different approach to Thought Bubble this year. Previously, I've tried to see and consume as much as I can; focusing on getting around to as many tables as possible, buying a LOT of comics, taking pictures, talking to people- generally feeling like I have to catch as much as possible in order to get the best experience and to better report back on how the festival went.  Last year, although I tabled with OK Comics, I wasn't there much- constantly leaving the table to go check something or the other out. So I made an intention that 2014 would be about the quality of experience. I saw Frank Santoro's CAB piece  on Friday, and the simple effectiveness of it reinforced my decision to be more laidback.

On Saturday, I tabled with OK again (that's Lizzy, Mark and I in the picture Jared took, above, in a rubbish attempt to get our posing faces on. Jared took a bunch of other photos which you can see here.). Got there for 9:30, said hello to everyone, Jared grabbed his coffee, I an Irn-Bru, and we went for a quick wander. We went into the Tee-Pee first- and it blew me away. I wasn't really sure what to expect when the festival announced they'd be putting up a large hard-shell tent for extra space- a gazebo?- but it was magnificent- it had windows and doors and bouncy carpet and ventilation (you can see a picture of it here when empty). Jared bought comics while I gaped at the marvel of it- really impressive design and construction (Robin McConnell pointed out it wasn't technically a teepee, but a super-tent, and I pointed out how un-fun TB Tent was to say). Perhaps most importantly, the 'big name' creators, people like Scott Snyder, Emma Rios, Tim Sale, etc that draw huge signing queues were all put in here, with cordons and signs as to where to queue and in which direction. Previously these have been located at the very back of New Dock Hall, so the only real option was for queues to then snake back down past other exhibitors tables, making it difficult for others to get to those tables- although I guess some of those queuing perused what was around them while waiting. This re-allocation was a smart decision- the Tee-Pee effectively became a designated area for the signings, whilst remaining spacious enough to house more exhibitors also. There was a marked improvement in terms of accessibility and flow in New Dock Hall, and yet it was still busy, too.

Steve reminded me that I'd wanted to buy some of Philippa Rice's ace hand-made toy figures, so I got in there early to get my pick. Philippa's book Soppy is released in the US in December, I believe and then in the UK in January. I always find it a little weird when publishers do this -and have found it usually tends to be when book publishers are involved- as anybody wanting to purchase at first flush will do so on the Internet if the book has been published, leaving comic retailers and fans in a bit of a quandary. I imagine a few people may be getting that for Christmas- it's a really nice smaller sized hardback.

Hand-made toy figures by Philippa Rice

Beautiful diorama by Philippa Rice

I spent the rest of the day at the OK table and it was fantastic- selling comics and chatting to people- lots of families: children in cosplay are the best-, getting to see customers who I hadn't met since I left the shop, seeing the amazing costumes, being behind the table with a group of really awesome people. We sold out of both The Wrenchies and Beautiful Darkness. I got to chat and hang with the cool Dilraj Mann a bit more as his table was to the back of ours, and he's still working away at his book with Nobrow- really can't wait for that one. It was the most time I'd spent in one place on a con floor, and it was a very different, concentrated, positive experience. I think what makes it such for me is that I don't really have family or friends who are into comics on any level, so joining OK last year and having Jared and Oliver be so welcoming and inclusive (and continuing to be so), and having the shop as a hub I can visit within my immediate vicinity has been a big deal for me. A lot of my time is spent writing about comics and interacting with people online who are (appear) lovely, but I don't get to meet, so OK and Thought Bubble are integral to my feeling less isolated and part of a real community. 

Thought Bubble is a dense enough festival with enough to offer that you can approach it in a variety of ways. I imagine ti may be overwhelming for new or first-time attendees -it is still somewhat overwhelming to me!- but the strength of it such is that you don't have to see or experience everything to have an excellent time. Holistically it was just what I needed; I've been chatting to David Brothers about how making active decisions to keep yourself happy and healthy and functioning extends to within comics as well. Craig Collins, for example was actually saying that he'd bought but not read Beautiful Darkness yet because he was a bit worried it would be dark and get him into a funk, and I think that's absolutely acceptable- gauging when you're in the mood to be able to ingest material that's going to lean one way or another. 

The undisputed best thing about Thought Bubble -superb curation and organisiation aside- is the people. I met Douglas Wolk, Laura Snapes, Robin McConnel, Emily Carroll, Emma Rios, John Allison, Joe Decie, Biz Stringer-Horne, Claire Napier, Clark and I had our annual-in-the-flesh-hello, Isaac Lenkiewicz, the family Bruton, Benjamin Wright, Jack Teagle, Donya Todd, Simon Gurr, Phillip 'Bucky' Buchan, Hannah Chapman, Louise  Evans, Jonathan Edwards, Mo Ali, and a number of people who came to tell me they enjoyed the blog. and had affirming interactions with each of them. The sheer, genuine niceness of other people made me think of myself and how I come across, and made me want to be as good, to be better. I don't think it was only me though- the whole vibe of the festival felt warmer and more encompassing, and like it stepped up another level.

Mo Ali and Andy Bloor with their new book, Midnight Man

One of the highlights of the weekend was finally getting to meet all 3 Peow! guys in person- I'd briefly met Patrick at ELCAF earlier in the year, but it was my first time seeing Olle Forsslöf and Elliot Alfredius in the flesh. They're incredibly friendly and approachable and very exacting in relation to their work, applying the same level of detail and attention seen in their books and production, to everything else they do. They went out and bought a lamp so that people would be able to better see the prints and books they had on display, as the corner they were in was casting a shadow when someone came close. Peow! have hit the festival circuit this year- they were at TCAF, ELCAF, Stockholm and CAB, but all 3 agreed this was the biggest festival they'd attended in terms of scale. It looks like next year they probably wont be doing many (if any) cons or festivals, as they concentrate on making and publishing new books as 'there's no point in going to festivals with the same books; people want to see what's new.'

On the Sunday, I bought my 4 year old nephew along for his first comics convention, as there were several kids workshops and activities taking place and also because Abu had seen my Philippa Rice figures and declared he wanted his own 'cutie pie.' We did a quick circuit and nabbed out cutie pie and then hit the Jampires event with Sarah McIntyre and David O'Connell. Abu drew his own comic 'I'm stuck on the roof and somebody has to save me,' munched a jammie dodger, and then bought a copy of 'There's a Shark in the Bath,' for Sarah to draw and sign for him. He was fascinated to watch her draw, as you can see below. We hit up a story-telling session of Beowulf, and tried to convince Abu to make lantern, but he wasn't having any. The lanterns were being created throughout the week at free all-ages workshops, and then displayed at the festival as woodland light installation and looked lovely. 

Abu watches, entranced, as Sarah McIntyre draws inside his book
Lanterns at the Kodama Woods installation

I spent the next two hours working myself into a nervous wreck about moderating the 'Spotlight on Gotham Panel' with Becky Cloonan, Scott Snyder, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, and Cameron Stewart- it was at 2 o'clock and most of Sunday was spent cursing Clark for asking me to do it and myself for agreeing. If you're wondering why I was worried -or why I agreed to do it- it was the first panel I'd ever participated on in any capacity. I'm not being 'modest' or anything, but I'm not very good at either public speaking or thinking on my feet in terms of responding to questions, but I want to get better, and the only way to do that is to put yourself into uncomfortable situations and hope to improve. It started off a little rocky, but I think it went okay- all 5 were great guests to have, and I'll particularly remember Brenden Fletcher who really took the time out to speak to me before and after, which helped to reassure me somewhat.

I was so glad that was over, that by the time the Comics Journalism panel rolled around with Dan Berry, Laura Snapes and Douglas Wolk, I'm pretty sure I said some stupid stuff- just out of loose relief.  I also felt a little bit out of my depth with Douglas and Laura who are both amazing writers and very articulate, but very nice too, so it's difficult to hold it against them. It was an interesting panel, and it highlighted for me the differences in approach if you're writing professionally as a job and for someone, as opposed to a blog, like me. A guy at the end asked a great question as to why people need writers/critics/reviewers in the internet age of accessibility where artists can communicate directly with an audience, and I gave a stupid answer I'm still kicking myself over now. Laura was right- the more perspective you can get on anything, the better. I'm glad I did the panels, though; it boosted my confidence, and I feel I know what to expect should I do any further ones.

'Of course I'm prepared- look at this paper I have right here with questions on it'

I've been going to Thought Bubble for 4 years now and, while it has always been a welcoming and inclusive festival, it has been a pleasure to see the diversity of attendees significantly increase year by year. I don't keep a count of these things, but as many people of colour will tell you- I do look around to see the make-up of the audience, even more so in places where there tends to be a greater volume of white people (going to the theater is fab for this). I saw more people of colour than ever this year - a charming Arab father being pulled along by his son who stopped by to say hello, and there was an awesome Kate Bishop cosplay by a young girl in a headscarf-  enough that it felt close to 'mixed' to me for the first time. I take positive note from this, as I ascribe it more meaning considering Thought Bubble is an event you have to pay for, so a correlation between attendance and an interest in comics is likely. I hope that upward trend continues.

Going to wrap this up with a few traditional pictures of the haul, which is much smaller than normal, but I'm chuffed with- feels more manageable:

These are the 3 cuties I ended up taking home from Philippa Rice- it was SUCH a hard choice (technically, the little blue sweetie on the left is Abu's but he forgot to take it home, so she's staying with me for the time being).

Got all the 3 new Breakdown Press books: Generous Bosom by Conor Stechschulte, Sindicalismo 89 by  Inés Estrada, and Janus by Lala Albert. I am probably starting to sound like a broken record, but they are simply producing some of the best comics around at the moment, and if you're not reading at least some of them, you really are missing out.

Peow! stash: Mathilde Kitteh's MGCL_GRL, postcard and landscape prints, Devil's Slice of Life by Patrick Crotty, and a great Peow! tote the guys gave me 'to advertise' :-)

The new Comic Book Slumber Party anthology: Fairytales for Bad Bitches looks flat-out amazing, and Queue by Dilraj Mann, as well as a pack of 3 notebooks featuring covers printed with his illustrations.

Year of the Comics by Benjamin Wright, Lookout Bawang by Isaac Lenkiewicz, and a set of character cards for the Afterschool Brutes Club, who Lenkiewicz is planning to work into a comic at some point.

John Allison was kind enough to do me this little sketch (and a bottle of water when I needed it the most- thanks, John!)- I bought the nifty 2-part print edition of Expecting to Fly, for my friend Saad, who I gave it to as he was right there. Oh, and the best thing- a Blacksad sketch from Boulet (you can read the story behind the sketch here). An amazing weekend.