This years Thought Bubble festival saw it move from its traditional home of Leeds to the picturesque spa town of Harrogate. But would this be a move be a better fir for the annual highlight of the comics calendar? Or would it see Thought Bubbie lose its unique identity?
Arriving at the Harrogate Conference centre, there was no concerns about a lack of punters, as clearly these comic fans were not going to be put off by recent flooding and transport problems in the area. With the conference centre located in the very heart of this gorgeous city, there was a four deep queue snaking along the side of the venue as we arrived and so this looked set to be a brilliantly attended event. There was also a nice mix of hardcore comic fans and the odd cosplayer who was there to give the event some colour but not dominate proceedings.
As we enterEd the main hall we were hit by the sheer scale of the venue and the convention as a whole. With four row of tables and decent sized aisles for people to move around in, the hall was packed full of creators and was buzzing with excitement even before those queuing had been let in. With the Etherington brothers front and centre by the entrance and some of the name guests along the edges, the middle area was then packed with indie and small press favourites as well as retailers and more.
Doing a lap to get our bearings was not easy. Not only did we keep bumping into familiar faces but the venue was just huge and after getting your bearings in one hall we then realised this was just one of three halls that make up the show! Moving into the second room, (the Ask For Mercy hall) itwas as big again and packed with even more fantastic creators – at least they were in the same hall as the cafe and so we were able to grab a brew and plan our day! As we went in search for coffee, we poked our head into the third hall, aka the Pride Hall, and realised there were yet more tables and exhibitors and suddenly the scale of the day really hit us and we knew we were in for a daunting task to catch up with everyone we wanted to see!
Because of the linear nature of the hall, as the event doors opened up fans and started to filter in those in the ComiXology hall had first pick of the eager fans, and so it was quite quiet in the Ask for Mercy hall fir most of the morning, but creators like Andy Conduit Turner told me this wasn’t stopping people from buying and he had had a surprisingly early sale!
Trying to list all the people we saw during the day would be impossible, but here are a few highlights:
- The never shy and retiring Matt Garvey was joined by J Francis Totti, the artist on the new issue of Prey For Us which was debuting at the show. He also had copies of Camp Bleh and the Glass Hood on his table which is packed with more and more great new comics every time we see him!
- The team from Madius Comics were in attendance and we caught up with Rob Jones, Mike Sambrook and Rosie Packwood about their fantastic new books The Exchange and The Incredible Bun #2 . While they were also able to meet up with Griff Gristle Rory Donald, how had made the trip up from Cornwall the day before!
- It was great to catch up with Matt, Sara and Laura from Improper Books and chat about the new issue of the wonderful MULP and also Laura’s new all ages prose novel.
- Tucked away in the Ask For Mercy Hall were Gateway City’s Russell Olson has able to show us some new artwork from his upcoming Study in Scarlet book which he is working on with Mad Robot Comics’ Matt Hardy.
- Next to him was Pete Taylor with the gloriously daft Seven Sagas of Silverbeard, which had arrived on our desk the day before we left for TB (complete with amazing Kickstarter extras).
- And finally in this corner was Martin Simpson, whose glorious Needleman book was one of our absolute highlights of 2018, and we got a chance to see his new book Nord which will be coming out next year.
- Bryony Evans from the Wine and Zine collective was holding the fort with a croaky voice, but it was great to talk to her about the wonderful The Silent Horns, which was one of our favourite new books of the show.
- We were intrigued by the huge doodle going on at the table of Pete Morey and we had to stop by for a chat and to check out exactly what was going on behind their table!
- Our favourite indie publisher Vault Comics, were in the UK for the first time with writers Ryan O’Sullivan (Fearscape), Ram V (These Savage Shores), and Alex Paknadel (Friendo) offering portfolio reviews. Meanwhile artist Martin Simmonds (Friendo) was there with his driver Mike Garley (who also had comics like Our Final Halloween on his table) and they were situated next to the brilliant Unbound team, where Lucy Sullivan had the uncompromising Barking on show, and Owen Michael Johnson was there with Reel Love.
- Neil Slorance was there with copies of the new issues of Pirate Fun, which we had pledged fo on Kickstarter just a couple of days before and so it was great to be able to pick those up in person and chat about his fantastic book – as well as see a parent pick up a copy of Dungeon Fun for their son as his first comic – a fantastic choice!
- MANU’s Gustavo Vargas had the complete set of original art from his amazing Peruvian cyberpunk series. It was great to see what a craftsman Gustaffo is and his artwork has such a classic feel to it, that it was great to see it done in such a traditional manner. We chatted to him about some of the unconventional layouts he has in the book and also his plans for future volumes of his Altiplano series.
- The Comchaus team were in full effect, with founders Pete Genepool and gigantic James McCulloch joined by the dapoper Stepehen Horry from Lizard Men who was sketching away while we chatted. With the new anthology available it was great to catch up with them all.
- Next to them was the Scottish powershoue Dave Cook with the new issue of the excellent Killtopia. It was great to hear about his plans for the next issues of Killtopia, as well as chat Watchmen!
- One of our favourite discoveries of the show was Will Morris whose book The Silver Darlings is a few years old now, but which has been one of those finds which you wish you had made earlier! His upcoming book with Image also look very exciting.
- It was great to see some perennial favourites like Kate Ashwin, whose Widdershins books are always a must read for us. And also John Allison whose Giant Days book have been astonishingly good this year, and it was great to get a chance to pick up the very final copy of Giant Days and have it signed.
- Katriona Chapman was flanking the Avery Hill table and so it was great to talk to her about upcoming Avery Hill releases as well as a strong year for the publisher, especially with books like Internet Crusader and The Tower In The Sea. As well as the prospect of new work from her next year.
- It was great to see so many of the fantastic creators whose books were debuting at the show such as Mat Greaves (Chip McFitz: Joint Fever), Charles Raymond (Death Inc. #3), Christopher Hazeldine (Golf Girl) and Julian Payne (Harvest)
- We were introduced to the UK’s Comics Laureate Hannah Berry, via friend of the site Marc Jackson and it was great to hear her talk about plans for her role, which we are hoping to have more info on soon.
- Our final, and perhaps favourite encounter of the day, was with the fantastic Pete and Maria Hoey from Coin Op Comics, who had travelled all the way from New York to bring their new comic to Thought Bubble. Coin Op #8 was a gloriously clever and beautiful to look at hardcover book which felt like a sublime mix of illustration and comics and was perhaps our favourite discovery of the day. As was their table which was covered with comics which were designed to look like old 45 records.
As we headed back to our hotel exhausted and our bag bulging with great new comics, we reflected on what a fantastic day it had been. With events going on that evening, and all day on the Sunday as well, we had barely scratched the surface of what was on offer at this fantastic show. There were dozens of creators we had not been to see properly and many we didn’t even find (we just saw them posting on Twitter and Instagram later in the evening!). There were panels which we had not had time to attend, not to mention a glorious city which we had only seen a brief glimpse of.
A comic convention can be made or broken by its location, and so we hope that this move to Harrogate is the start of a bright bold future for Thought Bubble. Based on what we saw, this was a fantastic event and one which can only get bigger and better in the years to come. Especially if the local community can embrace it and make it into a town wide celebration like the Lakes or Angouleme – this year at least a lot of locals just seemed slightly bewildered by the whole thing, and the local paper led with images of Marvel movie characters rather than comics, but they’ll learn we hope!
With an excellent reputation and loyal fanbase behind it, the Thought Bubble team make this event work without the bells and whistles of celebrity guests or TV cameos, and if it can maintain this emphasis on comics above all, then it looks set to continue it’s reign as the UK’s premier comic convention for comics fans!