Last weekend was the Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds. What started out as a small one day event in the basement of town hall with maybe twenty five tables, has grown into a two day event with a couple of hundred tables spread out across three halls. A few years ago it relocated to a different part of the city with bigger facilities, and more space for guest talks and panels. The first year there were predominantly UK comic book creators, but now every year the organisers bring over several big names from overseas. A couple of years ago one of the biggest names was John Romita Jnr, last year it was Mark Waid and Jason Aaron, this year there were several well known creators including Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue Deconnick. As well as well known writers and artists, there were many inkers, letters and colourists, and several editors from comic book companies including Marvel, Image and Titan, who offered art portfolio reviews. So there’s a real spread of creators, and I’ve not yet mentioned the many independent comic book creators from across the UK and wider afield who were there with their books.
Thought Bubble is a purely comic book focused convention, so there are no games, TV or film people. The two day con is part of a larger week of events in the city, but the weekend is purely comic book focused. I’ve been going since the first year and have seen it grow significantly. Relative to US cons it’s still very small, and it’s smaller than some of the big London conventions that mix together comics, TV, film, video games etc, where you might get 5-10 thousand attendees over the weekend. I believe Thought Bubble is nowhere near that, but that’s fine, as it makes it a more intimate and less pressured convention. The big named creators had constant lines for signings and sketching, so they were working hard all weekend, but I suspect it was not as tense or stressful as the US cons.
Every time I speak to people about the convention they all say it has a very unique vibe to other UK comic cons and many have said it’s their favourite. Overseas visitors have also said how much fun they had and maybe it’s because there isn’t a wall between creators and fans. During the day they’re behind tables and fans are in front, but at night everyone is usually in the same place, fans and creators. Last year I stood behind Jason Aaron as he had a drink and a chat with his friends and I did the same. I could have gone up and introduced myself, said hello and that I liked his work, but I don’t know him, and I could have done that during the day. At night he was relaxing with his friends, so I didn’t bother him. People didn’t swamp any of the big names. They were there, in the crowd, talking with people and having a good time, but people just left them alone. Maybe it’s a British thing and we’re overly polite. For us it’s not uncommon to see Kieron Gillen spinning his disks and being the DJ for the party, or seeing Al Ewing shaking his stuff on the dance floor. This year I was introduced to someone by a mutual friend, I shook his hand, said I enjoyed his work and we chatted for a little bit, and then he and his friends went to the bar. He was one of the big names from this year but I’m not going to claim we’re now best buddies or that I know him. The convention certainly has an interesting dynamic, but this sort of inclusiveness is common at UK comic cons like Bristol and previously the Birmingham comic con.
For me the convention has become more about catching up with people than the comics. I like browsing the halls and seeing what’s out, but it’s at this event I’m able to catch up with a group of people I might only see once a year in person. I talk to lots of them online via social media and email, even Skype with some, but it’s just not the same. So it was great to catch up with old friends, share stories of the year gone by over a pint, speculate about the future and discuss our plans and ambitions. The convention is almost at year end, so it’s a good point for me to become a little reflective and look back over the last ten months or so. As a slight aside, although my co-host Scott and I have not hung up our podcasting microphones, and we now put out episodes as and when we want to, it was nice that several people mentioned to us that they still listen and enjoy the show. As various comic book projects creep forward, I am hopeful that by Thought Bubble next year I might be behind a table, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. As ever and when I can, I’ll post updates on various writing projects.
One year I’d like to visit one of the big US comic conventions, to experience the chaos and madness, to swim through the seemingly endless crowds and see how much they differ from UK conventions. But for now, I’m happy to spend time at UK cons like Thought Bubble which are inclusive, familiar and a great deal of fun.