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Thought Bubble 2013

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.

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November update

I’ve not posted in a bit as ever since I came back from WFC I’ve been pretty busy with various projects. So just a quick round up of what’s going on at the moment.

The game is still in the testing phase, I just received a message to download another version for me to play with. So it’s still moving forward which is great, and I’m 99% it will be out next year. More info when I have it.

The day after I got back from WFC I received the next round of edits from my agent on the novel. So I’m currently hip deep in them, whittling, chopping, refinishing and polishing for all I’m worth. Lots of massaging stuff, trimming out extra bits that, at the time I thought were cool, but now they’re just extra weight and they slow down the main story. Not sure how long I will need for this, but I’m aiming to get it all done before the Christmas holidays so I can switch off this part of my brain for a few days.

killianApparently not content with the number of existing comic book projects I had on the go, I approached my co-writer on Flux, Pete Rogers, with another idea. We bashed it around, whipped it into shape and then approached an artist we’d both been chatting to for a couple of years via social media. We told him about the idea and what we wanted to do with it, and that was it, he was onboard. He’s currently working on another project, but that hasn’t stopped him from doing character sketches for us in his spare moments. So I’m delighted to say Pete and I are now working with Near Death artist from Image comics, Simone Guglielmini. So, above is a rough character sketch from Simone for a cop called Killian. At this early stage I can’t share too much, but I can say it’s a creator owned action thriller mini series written by Pete and myself. We’ll be submitting it to publishers next year.

Flux, the second project co-written with Pete is still moving forward. Our artist Maysam is busy working on issue 1. I previously posted a part of artwork so dig back through previous posts for that if you want to see it.

Comic project 3 – This is the new project with Adam Bolton. Very early stages. We bashed around various ideas until we settled on something we both liked. It’s wacky, weird, and a lot of fun. Currently waiting for Adam to come back with some preliminary sketches. Thought Bubble, the comic book convention in Leeds takes place in two weeks, so I’m hoping to have a catch up in person with Adam who is attending the event for the first time.

Comic project 4 – This is a supernatural crime mini series, and again, I’ve developed it to the point where the artist attached is now working on the cover for issue 1 and the first 5 pages to create a submission packet. We’ll be submitting this next year to publishers.

So, as ever, there are lots of things ticking along and I poke various projects to keep them all moving. Also a couple of other longshot, long-term projects are ticking along, but right now most of my spare time is focused on the novel, getting my head back into that space, going through it at a micro level but also a macro level. Stepping back and saying, does this make sense? Does this flow? Do I really need this or do I just want it? Lots of angst, chewing my nails and anxiety. Fun!

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Bring Me My Red Shirt

There’s an old joke I remember from my childhood about a brave pirate. Whenever his ship is about to be attacked he calls for his red shirt which he wears over his other clothes and then fights as hard as he can. The idea being that no one will know if he is wounded because the blood won’t show. Then one day they are attacked by several ships at once and he calls for his brown trousers.

Anyway, the story is apt as I’m now approaching the critical red shirt stage. I’m not quite at stage two yet, but I think that will be next year when projects are no longer under my control and are in the hands of readers! This week, my artist partner in crime, Adam Bolton, will be at the New York Comic Con. Adam is the artist for an all ages book called ‘Where’s My Shoggoth?’ which came out about two weeks ago from Archaia and he will be signing copies at the Archaia booth. So if you are going to the show, please drop by and say Cthulhu at him and jibber and rave about monsters from the sea. He’ll appreciate that. And buy a copy of Shoggoth as well please. Anyway, Adam is also armed with about ten pages of Empyre (the four issue series which I wrote and he drew) which he will be showing to various people. While he is doing that I’m going to be sat here in the UK, biting my nails down to the quick, checking my phone every ten seconds to see if he’s sent me a text. And if not, why not? Should I text him? When is it appropriate to text him? After the first hour? First two hours? How many times can I text him before I become a nuisance? and so on. As I said, red shirt time.

Next month in the UK, is the Thought Bubble comic book convention, and Pete Rogers and I will be armed with completed pages from Flux, the mini series we have co-written. Maysam Barza, the artist, has been doing a remarkable job and I am very impressed with his work. Both Pete and I are confident that we have something quite special, so now it’s our turn not to mess it up and speak about it with both passion and clarity. The schedule for Thought Bubble was released yesterday and there is more of a focus on creator owned comics and Image comics than in previous years which is very encouraging. Eric Stephenson, the publisher of Image comics, and several Image creators will be attending, so I’ll be taking notes and listening closely to conversations throughout the weekend.

I think there’s definitely been a shift in the comics industry in the last two years, more so in the last ten months. More established creators are getting involved in creator owned projects, crowd funded projects and digital only projects. I could talk at length about that but I won’t here. The relevance to me is that readers are more open, now more so than ever before, to new voices, new characters and new publishers. For every well established creator working at the Big2, there are now two dozen names I’m vaguely familiar with who are slowly building their own following, through their creator owned and work for hire comics. Three years ago no one knew who Scott Snyder was, but now he is a rising star and his name is very familiar. Equally Jeff Lemire was known to some for his creator owned work like Essex County, and his Vertigo book Sweet Tooth, but it was his step into the mainstream with Animal Man that put him on the radar of many mainstream readers. There have always been new faces (artists and writers) at both companies, but there’s definitely been a bit of a change lately, or at least it seems that way to me.

Online digital platforms and catalogues like Comixology mean that once a reader has gone through their usual stack, there are so many other comics they can try with just a click of a button. Some people, retailers in particular, are very afraid of digital but in my opinion it’s another flavour, not something that will completely replace print. Nothing digital will ever be able to compare to a glorious hardback, super sized, collected edition with a sketch and signatures from the creators. IDW have been publishing some amazing art books that are glorious artefacts that would be inferior, in my opinion, if read on smart phone or tablet.

So the market is shifting and constantly evolving, and I’m trying to wade in and tread water and it is both terrifying and exciting. I’m really looking forward to what happens in the next few months and what 2013 will bring, which could see writing posts about when a comic book project will be published, rather than if it will be published. That’s when I move out of the red shirt phase.

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