Last week, from the 17th to the 24th of November, Thought Bubble – the Leeds comic art festival – took place at various venues across the city, culminating in the centre-piece two day convention on the 23rd and 24th at Clarence Dock. I got a chance to visit the convention on the last two days (two-day passes for the general public were a very reasonable £22, incidentally). It was the first comic book convention I have ever been to and therefore an entirely new experience for me, so I thought I’d give my views on it…
I arrived in Leeds with friends on the Friday afternoon and immediately scoped out the venue. Clarence Dock consists of New Dock Hall, Royal Armouries Hall and Allied London Hall.
New Dock Hall – Leeds’ biggest conference venue – was the main venue housing the biggest names on show, with 200 tables of exhibitors showcasing their talents, selling their merchandise and signing copies of their work for visitors – including the likes of Sean Gordon Murphy, Matt Fraction, Fiona Staples, Sean Phillips, Travelling Man Comics and OK Comics.
Royal Armouries Hall forms part of the main building of the Royal Armouries museum and played host to 100 tables of exhibitors – including the likes of Becky Cloonan, Meredith Gran, Cameron Stewart, Andy Belanger, Mindstain Comics and the University of Leeds.
Finally, Allied London Hall – purpose-built for housing exhibitors at this very convention – played host to 150 tables of exhibitors – including the likes of Jenna Whyte, Matthew Walkden, Adam Vian, Victor van Velzen, Forbidden Planet and Mother’s Basement Collectibles.
Upon arrival at the convention, it was actually quite a shock to see such a large number of people and everyone was separated in to three queues outside New Dock Hall – those who had tickets on them, those who had purchased tickets but still needed to collect them and those who had turned up without having bought tickets. I was part of the “those who had tickets but still need to collect them” group and waited about twenty minutes to get in, at which point I – like everyone else (stock permitting) – was handed a fairly substantial welcome pack of free gifts (see below) which consisted of the Thought Bubble guide, four free comics (Moloch, Guardians of the Galaxy, SelfMadeHero and X-Force), three pin badges (of the Wolverine and Star Wars variety), a fridge magnet, a couple of bookmarks, a couple of posters and some general advertising bumf – which was nice.
Upon entering the first (and main) venue – New Dock Hall – we were greeted with a friendly, welcoming atmosphere (which the entire convention boasted) and a sea of people – many of whom were cosplayers (we saw everyone from an abundance of female Lokis and Game of Thrones characters to every incarnation of The Doctor and Ghost Rider).
It immediately struck me that getting round to seeing everyone – especially given the number of guests – would be impossible, as queues for the likes of Matt Fraction, Fiona Phillips and Sean Gordon Murphy were literally taking hours to get through.
I made it a priority to find myself some bargains over the course of the weekend in the form of graphic novels at convention prices, rather than queuing up to meet people and getting signatures (I left that to my friend Paul), and ended up coming away having spent a fortune (although the total was considerably less than it would have been had I purchased them online or from a comic book shop in the high street – so if you like graphic novels, get yourself to a convention, guys). As a result, my collection of trade paperbacks now includes the likes of Avengers Vs X-Men, Age of Ultron, Final Crisis and numerous Amalgam Comics stories.
While I was wandering around free-spending, my friend Paul spent most of his time on the first day queuing to meet Sean Gordon Murphy (the American animator and comic book creator known for work on books such as Batman/Scarecrow: Year One, Teen Titans, Hellblazer: City of Demons, Shaun of the Dead, Joe the Barbarian, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest and Punk Rock Jesus) and it turned out to be well worth the wait.
Murphy turned out to be an incredibly nice guy and, as well as posing for a photo with Paul (see below), he also drew Paul a couple of sketches (one of which he was otherwise selling for £50 on the day), just because he had waited for so long. He also signed a number of Paul’s comics and generally came across as a super chap.
Paul also queued up to meet the likes of Becky Cloonan (American comic book creator, known for work published by Tokyopop and Vertigo, who became the first female artist to draw the main Batman title for DC Comics in 2012), who he became even more of a fan of after meeting her, and Declan Shalvey (Irish comic book artist who made his name with his first comic Hero Killers), who he described as a “stand-up guy”. Paul also gave props to Fiona Staples, whose queue was massive but who was signing merchandise “like a machine”.
My other friend, David, met Meredith Gran (author and writer of the likes of Octopus Pie and Adventure Time) who he had nothing but nice things to say about.
Between myself, Paul and David, we also encountered the likes of Andy Belanger (Canadian cartoonist and illustrator who has worked for such comic book publishers as DC Comics, Wildstorm, Devil’s Due and Boom!) and Brenden Fletcher (Canadian writer who has worked on the likes of the Assassin’s Creed comic and Flash titles) both of whom were an absolute hoot.
My personal highlight, however, came from my meeting with Jack Lawrence (British writer and artist who created Tinpot Hobo and has provided illustrations for the likes of A.T.O.M, Doctor Who Adventures, 2000 AD and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Jack’s interpretation of 1980′s characters (who I am such a big fan of, having been a child of the 1980′s) is second to none – the aforementioned Turtles, Masters of the Universe, ThunderCats and Transformers, for example – so David asked him to draw Donatello (see below) and I asked him to draw He-Man for me.
Jack was a great guy and the resulting pieces of art were exactly that – works of art – Donatello and He-Man (see below) looked absolutely splendid!
The two days were great, overall, and kudos has to be extended to all of the volunteers who gave up their time to oversee the event and ensure it ran smoothly (whilst wearing roller-skates, in some cases, may I add).
There were also numerous panels running, with the likes of Sean Gordon Murphy and Becky Cloonan answering guests’ questions – but neither me, Paul or David attended any of them (we did hear that they were pretty damn good though).
Even the Saturday night mid-con party, which ran in to the early hours of Sunday morning at the Corn Exchange on Call Lane in Leeds city centre, was quite the experience. Writers, artists and guests alike drank and danced the night away from 8 until late (and a shout-out must be given to the rotund Lenny Kravitz lookalike, whose waistband placement was stratospheric like Simon Cowell’s and whose dance moves were, to say the least, memorable – whether or not that was for the right reasons is completely open to debate, however). Though the fact they ran out of Coke and Red Bull meant that the Jagerbombs, Vodka and Red Bulls and Jack and Cokes suddenly became a bit stronger.
As I’ve already said, this was an entirely new experience for me, but a highly enjoyable one all the same. It brought about a startling revelation in my mind – one that I never thought I would state so openly – I am a total nerd (and proud).
And where else can you go to the bathroom and witness a man dressed as the TARDIS struggling valiantly to take a p*ss? Yes, that happened…
Get yourself to Thought Bubble next year – it’s well worth it.
So those were my thoughts of and experiences from Thought Bubble. Were you there? Would you like to go? Let us know in the comments box below.
And please feel free to follow me on Twitter!
This article was first posted on November 27, 2013