Monday, 23 November 2015

Thought Bubble 2015: bring all the people

My con report process goes something like this: 1) pre-con: I'll do a photo-post this time. Simple, effective; time-efficient. 2) Con duration: get caught up in it all and take about 10 crap pictures in the last hour of the day. 3) Post con: Perhaps a few annotations here and there; bullet-points to give it some essence. 4) Oh good lord this piece is 3000 words long, shows no signs of ending, and is as boring as fuck; end-me-now. If you've been reading any of my con reportage this year, you'll know the sheen overall has been wearing off a bit for me. I've been wondering what attending various cons can offer to the comics fan (and more specifically, to myself), as perusal of the internet can provide a similar exploration with the option of convenient purchase at the end. This year I decided I enjoyed the 2 cons I attended regularly (Thought Bubble and ELCAF) so much I'd branch out and visit more, to see what else was on offer. I ended up going to 4 cons in 2015 and it felt like 2 too many. The experiences simply weren't differentiated enough to make the time and money spent worthwhile; seeing the same things presented over and over. Unless you have particular goals in mind, I'm not sure that going to a number of events is necessary or fulfilling. I'm sure people are sick of hearing my vague ruminations on the subject, but it's something I've been turning around in my head for a good part of the year, as more comic events pop up in the UK.

So this is probably my last 'traditional' con report. I liked these two pieces I did for ELCAF and may keep on trying different angles, but I've never quite grasped what exactly I'm supposed to be reporting on: the saw this/did that formula seems inadequate and repetitive. 

Which is to say I wasn't sure how Thought Bubble would go. It's always been my favourite con (and easily the best one in the UK), but it's been an odd year in comics and as it grew closer, I couldn't help but wonder if it, too, would be affected by the subdued apprehension that seems to have marked 2015 in many ways.

To be honest, it felt like the festival benefited from that calmer atmosphere; a toning down that was helped along by the rainy weather on Saturday. Thought Bubble has gotten so big and successful that the last few years have built up a sense of 'where do we go from here' a plateauing of expectation -even though it doesn't need to go anywhere. In its 9th year (and my 6th of attending) it seems redundant to reiterate how good the festival is, but that it continues to sustain and improve upon that level of excellence is the more remarkable and noteworthy achievement. Thought Bubble knows what it is: a comics festival that celebrates the medium and its associated arts; where you can find people like Scott Snyder, David Aja, Emma Rios, Bengal, alongside Kate Beaton, Farel Dalrymple, Noelle Stevenson, and Joan Cornella; with collectives like Comic Book Slumber Party, and British cartoonists galore: Lucie Ebrey, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Becca Tobin, John Allison, and so many others. And that's where its strength lies: in presenting both the omnivorous comics fan and the more casual attendee with a smorgasbord of choice, whilst embracing and bringing together various areas of comics in a manner that's open and encompassing, and reflective of the breadth of contemporary comics today. It does this; it does it consistently, and it does it very, very well. Which is a testament to the superb job Martha Julian, Clark Burscough, Biz Stringer Horne, Lisa Wood et al. do in organising the festival.

On a personal level, what Thought Bubble brought home for me this year was how much cons are about people (I know this because I made a bullet-point list of con notes and one was 'people'). For all its problems, comics still does community unlike any other field: that at its best is affirming and reciprocal; nurturing and supportive. Comics is often an isolating job or passion for many, so to have that bedrock of immediate familiarity, of shared interest and understanding, is validating -and everyone needs a degree of validation beyond what you can provide yourself. I had an amazing time and that was just courtesy of talking to, and spending time with some great people.

I'm going to quickly spotlight the 3 artists/tables I came across that were new and interesting to me, and who you should follow and be aware of, and then a bullet-point list of random recollections with a jumble of pictures thrown in. I'd recommend reading unto the spotlights- the rest is waffle.

pic credit: Lucy Halsam's Twitter

Froglump: Froglump is an art collective made up of Seekan Hui, Lucy Haslam, Lizzie Houldsworth, and Hannah Jay. The four are all currently studying illustration at Falmouth University (which seems to be doing a very good job of turning out British cartoonists) and this was their first time tabling at Thought Bubble, although they've been making appearances at various art and zine fairs throughout the year. Thanks to Tom Oldham for pointing them out to me, because at the time on Sunday I was wandering glazedly, brain kaput, without actually taking in much. Their work just looks really fresh and inviting, attentively produced; it makes you want to pick it up. It's exciting to see young artists so passionate about comics and making  (and it makes me feel OLD). Seekan Hui's folding, cut-out comic, Me-Time, about a lady getting a facial was a highlight. You can find their online store here; I'm sad I missed out on those frog stickers.

Alessandra Cresio: All these spotlight tables are ones I came across on Sunday, which is when I spent most of my money. Laura and I were both incredibly enamoured with Alessandra Cresio's table, largely due to her amazing ceramics. I ended up buying these 2 pots, but the ceramic heads and that hamsa hand were giving me starry eyes (my purse was not). Memento Bento, her Japan travel diary, which I ended up circling back for, is frankly brilliant. Travel diaries are becoming a quietly popular genre within comics, and this one is a superior example; the quality of the illustrations, photo collages, paintings, sketches, colour, production. I really wanted the Ranma 1/2 zine to which she contributed a piece, but hard choices had to be made. When I go to cons I want to see and discover things and artists I won't find in shops, and this table was a perfect island of goodness.

Kaska Gazdowna and Kaska Klas: One of the 3 books I definitely wanted to pick up -along with Dan White's new Cindy & Biscuit, and The World by Valentin Seiche- was Kupala by Polish duo Kaska Gazdowna and Kaska Klas, as I'd seen something on Tumblr about it prior to the festival. Steve patiently accompanied me as I stalked around the Teepee  on Saturday, convinced that's where they were situated, but had forgotten the name of their table and therefore couldn't locate them. Luckily, I found them on the Sunday (they were actually in the Armouries Hall) when I had a 5-year old on one hand and a 3-year old in sulky stand-off 10 yards away, and managed to snag the second to last copy of Kupala before it sold out, and was planing to come back (sans nephews) for their other book, but that too, was all gone when I returned. As far as I can tell, the stuff I'm more drawn to is by Klas, who's the artist of the book, and whose Tumblr is full of lovely work. They had an attractive table, mixed with their own original work -troll girls and woodsfolk- and fan-art stickers and prints, but the quality of the work across the board was of  a really high standard.

  • The British Comic Awards were moved to the Friday night before the con instead of taking places on the Saturday evening, in addition to changing venue from the Armouries to the Carriageworks theater. Oliver Ristau (visiting from Germany), Steve, and I mooched along, and it was sort of delightful to see Oliver pull out his pen and notepad to note down nominees and winners; he's old school, or pointlessly masochistic. He was impressed and pleased with how short the awards were and the number of categories being kept low, which was interesting to have an 'outsider's' perspective. I missed the awards last year am unsure if the giving out of 'BCA' mugs to nominees after presenting the winner with the awards is new, but having each one come up on stage to collect a mug is a bit tone-deaf. The idea of the BCA is one I like but the process really needs looking at and refining.
  • We went to the German Christ-kindl market afterwards as it was situated directly outside; the first of 2 trips made on the weekend. The market sees various German vendors gather in Millennium Square for about 5 weeks, beginning in mid-November, and sell their wares. Lots of beer and sausages (which is the main draw), and sweets and crafts. And honey. Everything is very twinkly. There's also a merry-go-round, and this year a gigantic, life-size Frozen snowstorm globe in which you could stand and have pictures taken. Oliver was quite taken to discover a home from home (cough).
  • Had dinner with Douglas Wolk and then we went to see the Joan Cornella exhibition- it was all prints. It brought home the one-note-ness of is work. Douglas and I kept bumping into each other all weekend which was pleasant... and weird.
  • Amusing to be sat at home and read on social media of people arriving in Leeds as hailstones threw furiously down. Almost invariably when I travel away from home, I can mark my re-entry by spotting the largest greyest cloud, or by the rain hitting the windshield. It's something I have grown to strangely love but not everyone feels similarly. Saturday it rained throughout; Sunday was much warmer but still overcast, and of course on Monday the sun was shining.
  • Steve and I met at the train station, bought doughnuts and walked down along the river. I like the ritual and ease of this before all the madness. 
  • There was a lot of scaffolding at around the New Dock building which coupled with the space the Teepee was taking up made things tight to navigate. The usual queues of people waiting to get in, but that's rarely an issue as the halls are large enough to accommodate those waiting and the volunteers are swift with checking wristbands and letting people through. Seeing all the people in the morning is a good point at which to check out the cosplay. The best one was the person dressed as Adam West Batman on roller-skates, from the episode where he's running around attempting to safely get rid of a bomb. The bomb here was a cardboard cut-out and the way in which the person used their skates to wobble about in a manic panic was ingenious. I was much less keen on the horror cosplay- people dressed as Jason or Freddy holding huge knives and stood motionless atop benches, fake weapons aloft. It's a family event; use your common sense.
  • The comic panel photo booths were a great idea and so much fun- it makes for a sweet photo-opportunity. There were a few different ones: you could walk in and take your picture with a phone or camera. Here's one Steve took of J.A. Micheline and I:

J.A. Micheline and I doing very different approximations of world-dominating power

  • One of the main reasons I enjoy Thought Bubble so much is its inclusivity. Being the only, or one of a handful, person of colour in white-dominated art spaces is an issue that I've been thinking over (I don't have answers; I just think myself into knots). The atmosphere or feeling in even a friendly space is unfathomable if you haven't experienced it. It's a crude form of measurement to see who superficially 'looks' of colour, but this year I saw more diversity than ever before: extending to maybe a quarter of attendees. Seeing that grow year upon year is very satisfying. It's certainly the highest volume I've seen at a comics event. People at Thought Bubble have always been genuinely welcoming and indifferent (for want of a better word) in the absence of the 'what are you doing here' vibe, and that's instrumental in building a reputation of acceptance that spreads.
  • The Teepee is still a bit of a marvel in construction... Most of the 'big name' signings are located here, around the corners and sides with cordons and staff managing so as not to block aisles and diffuse the throngs of people. It's sort of become the dedicated signing area, and freed up New Dock Hall, but it's still tough to squeeze around, especially on the Saturday.  It makes entering and exiting difficult, too. There were so many people in there it actually felt small. And it is not small. Not sure what else they can do about signing queues, though. They're always going to exist.
  • The festival felt tighter overall this year: if that means anything to you- organised and smooth.
  • There's not enough on-site seating and food spaces. This is basic for cons now. 
  • I'm not going to lie: I feel like I sold a lot of Cinebook books just by advising (bossing) people to go buy this and that. I'm proud.
  • Saw Dilraj Mann looking as cool and collected as ever, selling stuff left, right, and center; he's been asked to take part in the Otomo exhibition at Angouleme next year which is fantastic news. I think he's considering a Domu piece.
  • Trying to get a bunch of comics people together for dinner is an arse-ache and I'm not doing it again.
  • Two thirds of Peow! Studio were present in the form of Olle Forsslöf and Elliot Alfredius. They had Valentin Seiche's new book, The World, with them which they sold out of, as well as Mathilde Kitteh's MGCL_GRL, Jane Mai's Soft, Lemon & Ket by Natalie Andrewson, and other things. It's nice to see that they're at a point of familiarity with audiences where people stop by their table specifically to pick up books and see what's new. Olle was feeling a bit under the weather, but they were both excited and nervous about their Kickstarter campaign and making more books. They've since met their target goal but if you're after superb, joyous comic books, you can't go wrong backing them. Their immediate stretch goal is to bring their artists to various comic festivals; I hope that's something they're able to do it was great to see Jane Mai at ELCAF this year.

Olle  Forsslöf and Elliot Alfredius of Peow!

  • It was Farel Dalrymple's first Thought Bubble and he was super busy all weekend. I passed by the vicinity of his table 3 times on the Saturday with a view to saying hello, but the line was always snaking out of sight. It was nice to see, because you never know what kind of reception 'indie' artists will receive. Quite often there's the bubble effect where you and your social circle all agree on something definitely and its a puzzle to see that doesn't necessarily translate widely. I eventually joined the queue when it looked manageable on the Sunday and waited half an hour. I hate queues and I hate waiting. Thanks to Jack and Joe for making it bearable.  
  • Met Becca Tobin, Lucie Ebrey, and Lottie Pencheon 'in real life' for the first time. One of the coolest things is meeting cartoonists whose work you like and respect and have them turn out to be lovely people.
  • Dan Berry has a new embossing gadget. It's got a fox and his 'Things by Dan' as a logo. It's pretty spiffy.
  • Speaking of cool, David Aja embodies the notion. Super friendly, smiley, and easy-going.
  • It rained so much the river flooded! Which was something to see. The riverside footpath had to be closed due to it being full of, um, water. Laura and I went down to take pictures:

  • I brought my nephews Abu (5) and Ali (3) along on Sunday morning. In hindsight, I should have left Ali at home as he seemed to be overwhelmed by it all which lead to him playing out. He was hell-bent on finding something Sonic-the-hedgehog related, and of course there was nothing. Things continued on a downward path when the lady who'd brought along a live owl for her Harry Potter cosplay said he didn't like to be stroked. Heartbroken sobbing ensued. Abu, though, was having a blast: Tom gave Abu a Kitaro comic, Isaac gave him a Turtles sticker, and he bought the Dungeon Fun compendium from Neil Slorance and a badge from Richard J Smith. Ali broke from sulking long enough to buy a plasticine snake. There are 2 types of people. We were disappointed to see there were no kids table and seating area like last year. With young children, it really helps to have a place for them to sit and focus. Abu did a quick drawing at the Team Ketchup table, but it was a tight spot to be stood in. I know there was a separate general 'reading and time-out' room, but having something where all the kids-related tables are was perfect.

Abu with Spider-Man. He didn't quite nail the web-shooting pose

Startlingly similar bags-under-eyes look

Zak Simmons-Hurn's table

Wai Wai Pang

Books by Wai Wai Pang, and Isaac Lenkiewicz

Eleni Kalorkoti and Matt Swann

Colours May Vary

John Allison, with resplendent banner

Esad Ribic


Marianna Madriz

Farel Dalrymple

  • I loved this table (below) for the attention to setting and layout: colour coordinated, with prints and books in wire baskets and a little bookshelf and kitty cactus planter, amongst other accessories. It didn't look like too much or out of place; instead fitting in with the aesthetic of the work on display. The naked lady prints were fab, too. I did pick up the artist's card but then promptly lost it.

Thank you to all the people who made my four-day weekend what it was: first and foremost Steve Morris, Oliver Ristau, J.A. Micheline, Laura Snapes, Hannah Chapman, Isaac Lenkiewicz, Imraz & Nav, Donya Todd, Becca Tobin, Lottie Pencheon, Lucie Ebrey, Jack Teagle, Lynn Allingham, Joe List, Andy Gray, Olle  Forsslöf, Elliot Alfredius, Julia Scheele, Tom Oldham, Emma Rios, Nico Delort, Fionnuala Doran, Al Kennedy, Claire Napier, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Louise Evans, Jonathan Edwards, John Alison, Oliver Pickles, Jack and Joe Edwards-Fox (for the banter as they say), the OK comics crew, and everybody who took the time to approach me and say they enjoyed the blog: I really appreciate it more than I can express. 

1 comment:

  1. thank you so much for the review on my stuff!! your words made me happy! :D <3