Since its beginnings in the basement of Leeds Town Hall in 2007, Thought Bubble comics convention has grown and grown. Thomas Chalk visited.
Having interviewed founder Lisa Wood, I wanted to have a look for myself at the annual Thought Bubble convention. I should confess to not being a comics aficionado – I spent a few years in my teens keeping up with Akira and the short-lived monthly compendium Strip, and count Watchmen and Fungus the Bogeyman among my all-time favourite books, but don’t follow the current scene.
Thought Bubble is very much about comics – this is not a convention in thrall to the more-mainstream medium of cinema. Occupying several venues, including the Town Hall, The Carriageworks Theatre and three large marquees, attendees could meet writers and artists who amongst them tell a vast range of stories. Stalls nestled together featuring well-known and unknown superheroes, every shade of sci-fi and fantasy you can think of, and a strong showing of more ‘realistic’ subject matter. Artists produced illustrations at many of these stalls, sometimes bespoke for money and sometimes, it seemed, simply because they were doing what they loved. Original art, limited and unlimited prints, and – naturally – comics were all for sale, along with assorted merchandise and memorabilia.
There is a cosplay element to Thought Bubble, too, with a number of attendees dressing up. Whether or not I recognised the character each person was portraying, I had to admire the craft and creativity that went into making the costumes. There is something wonderfully celebratory about being amongst people who are enjoying themselves in an environment that celebrates rather than merely tolerates it. Prize categories at the cosplay masquerade require that costumes are handmade or altered by at least 50%, but anyone can take part in the masquerade even with an off-the-peg outfit. This feels a very inclusive position to take – underlining Thought Bubble’s commitment to an ethos that celebrates diversity.
To the casual visitor (i.e. me), it felt a little hard to pick my way through and find the bits that speak to me most, but it would be fair to say that I am not Thought Bubble’s target audience. This is no bad thing – the convention’s inclusivity is in welcoming comics fans of all stripes rather than trying to ‘convert’ the rest of us to the medium. And I did come away with a list of titles to explore once payday comes around.
The extensive programme of panel discussions and interactive workshops covered such diverse topics as the creative processes of comics creators, ‘sex, erotica and censorship in comics’, and a chance to pitch a story to be made into one of 2000AD’s Future Shocks shorts. I found a panel discussion on ‘comics for everyone’, about children’s and “all ages” comics, particularly fascinating. The guest speakers discussed their own and others’ work in relation to the question of what would be off limits for a publication aimed partly or wholly at children or young people: swearing, sex (though not sexuality) and graphic violence were held to be the key things to avoid – but dark and difficult subject matter was agreed not to be inherently taboo. Indeed, comics can render difficult topics more accessible; and in representing diverse characters can provide young people with validation and identification that they may not find so easily in real life (to the question of representing LGBT characters in all ages comics, the point was made that these happen in the wider context of every Disney kiss ever – the occasional queer representation is hardly a takeover).
A prior appointment meant I had to leave before the cosplay masquerade, unfortunately. On the bus on the way home, I found myself sitting behind a man and his daughter discussing a comic one of them had bought. “He’s a superhero who fights bad guys,” said the father, “but he’s also got cancer and he’s dealing with that”.
Here’s Thomas’ conversation with Tula Lotay.