Thought Bubble Festival

The Thought Bubble Festival is a new convention celebrating comic books in Leeds West Yorkshire. Thought Bubble is part of the 21st annual Leeds International Film Festival .

This year Lisa Wood & Co have added comic books into the mix Sabrina Peyton had a chance to sit down with Lisa Wood and Tamsin Isles to discuss what brought on Thought Bubble and the idea that girls are just as into comics as the boys are.

How did the Thought Bubble Festival come about?

Lisa: I feel really passionate about comics. I think the medium is fantastic, and since I’ve been at Travelling Man I’ve wanted the mainstream to take comic books more seriously. Our goal here is to have bright airy shops to bring people off the street, so I wanted to translate that into a festival that would look that way as well. Without the UK comic conventions today Thought Bubble wouldn’t be able to happen. However, when I attend Bristol, although it is a great event and caters perfectly to what people want, I just feel that with comic cons especially there is a perception of what the mainstream public think happens there. I think it might put them off attending. I wanted to create a festival that would be more about celebrating the literature and incredible art you get in comics. Something that shows how comics can be wonderful, really well written and intelligent; something to be respected. I think many comic book conventions are about celebrating comics if you already love comics, and are more about the fun stuff. I like the fun! But I also want Thought Bubble to be more about education of the art form and bringing it to a new audience, as well as catering to the current one. This is why I called Thought Bubble ‘The Sequential Art Festival’, rather than comic convention. This title suggests comics are important, sequential art as a phrase sounds impressive and I want people who come across this title to want to find out more, the every day people who love art and books but would not necessarily pick up a comic or graphic novel. We feel it is vital for the life of comics to get as many people to read them as possible.

Thought Bubble

I think at the moment with children especially there is this whole culture built around video games and TV. I think comic books are a great way to get children to read more, they are a fantastic learning tool for children to embrace and I want to promote that. The people who read comics at the moment tend to be teenagers or adults, and I want to help bring this medium back to children so they’ll grow up loving them. I don’t think it’s coincidence that as children have been reading less and less comics, literacy rates have dropped. It’s partly our goal at Thought Bubble to get more teachers and schools to recognise this.

How did you get involved Tamsin?

Tamsin: Lisa asked and I said yes. I’ve been buying comic books for at least 12 years or so now, and it’s just something that is of great importance to me. I think it’s great that we are trying to branch it out to people who wouldn’t necessarily look at it or take it seriously in the first instance, and we’re trying to get schools involved so they can forward the information on to children. I think there is a lot of snobbery in art education that tells you that comic book art or comic books are not “real art.” I must have heard that line so many times when I was young. I had such a passion for and interest in comic books, and I was always told: “You can draw, why are you wasting it on this?” I think it would be really nice that as it becomes more mainstream, for the snobbery that surrounds it to diminish. I think people would be a lot less snobbish and more accepting of it once they realise that there is good business and good money to be made working in comics.

Lisa: I studied art at University, and it was like that the whole way through my art degree, it was just terrible! I’ve always been heavily into comics and have also had my art teacher express what Tamsin just mentioned. Then in the same breath they would praise someone who’s just dipping their hand in paint and rubbing it on the canvas, it’s really sad.

Tamsin: One thing we should mention that relates to this is at the Leeds City Art Gallery at the moment they have an exhibition on called “Cult Fiction.” They’re exploring the link between fine art and comic book art, and they have a collection of art from contemporary artists and comic book artists. I think it is really nice to see that sort of thing, it will be in Leeds for a month and is touring the country. I think it’s really important that some of the proper institutions, as it were, are taking heed of the fact that people are interested in comics.

Lisa: Regarding the attitudes of some educational institutions to comic book art, Paul Gravett of Comica was saying that it comes down to size. It’s just most comic artists who create art tend to do it on an A3 board, or around that size, and it doesn’t make that much of an impression in a gallery in that size.

Tamsin: But Salvador Dali painted his images very small. I think it’s about galleries taking a new approach to how they treat this kind of work when displaying it.

It’s nice now that comics are picking up interest, there are a lot of art collectors now who are looking at comic book art as an extremely good thing to collect, because it appreciates well and it holds its value.

Tamsin you’ve been reading comics for a long while, Lisa have you been reading a while also?

Lisa: Well, I had a bit of a gap actually, but it started when I was really little and it was basically the Marvel titles. My favourite still is Daredevil, I started on the Frank Miller Daredevil stuff, especially the Elektra story, and I just loved it. My dad used to take me down to Batley Market because they had a stall with really cheap comics and that’s where I picked all of my stuff up. But I never had an entire story, so it was the artwork that really pulled me in with snippets of what was happening with Daredevil and Elektra. I was really into Spider-man and the X-men, too! Then, when I finished school, I stopped reading for a while. I got back into it with Shade the Changing Man, and I’ve been reading comics since then, tonnes of different comics-I just love them all! They’re fantastic. My favourites at the moment are Chris Ware’s stuff, Sam Hiti, Paul Pope and Anders Neilson, I read a lot of indy stuff. I also love the Bendis and Brubaker Daredevil Runs. Brubaker’s Catwoman with Darwin Cooke was great, too.

You two are unusual in the comic world, most of the girls that are at the comic conventions are just dragged their by their significant others and some of us found it much later in life but you working in a shop you’ve probably see the girl tagging along with the boy friend. Does it seem that way to you or do you have a different view?

Lisa: I’ve been working in comics shops for about 13 or 14 years now, since I was at University. I would always be the only girl in the shop, and if another girl came in they usually looked uncomfortable. Since the years have gone by and I’ve moved from shop to shop, there has been a real change happening more so right now. I would say that the Travelling Man customer base is probably 40/60. I think that is down to a lot of independent comics and Manga. I don’t know if girls have completely embraced super heroes yet. With DC there is the new line, the Minx line, and you know, some of the Marvel girl friendly comics are pulling them in as well. All the movies at the moment are helping to raise the profile of comics and that will help get girls involved, too. It’s definitely getting better.

Tamsin: When I first started shopping for comics I remember it was this store that I came to, I was about 13 and one of their only female customers. I was a bit of an anomaly, there just weren’t other girls there and I was really excited about comics. I liked Top Cow, Image and Marvel books. The first book I ever picked up was Uncanny X-Men and I just thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I have definitely noticed a shift in the market recently, there are a lot more girls getting involved for the reasons that Lisa mentioned.

Adi Granov artwork that will be raffelled off

What about at the convention will there be girl friendly tables there?

Tamsin: I’m a bit wary of deliberately marketing stuff at girls, I think that comes with its own complications. I think it is tempering that macho element, the attitude that can sometimes be present at conventions, that it doesn’t need to look nice and it doesn’t need to smell good, it just has to be practical (no offence guys)! We really want to make an atmosphere that people come in to and feel welcomed by, and that if someone is a newcomer to comic books we don’t want them to feel intimidated by it. I feel that there is that element of “Oh, she’s a girl, she doesn’t know anything about it.” I’ve actually had someone I was introduced to at a comic convention look me up and down and say “You’re obviously not interested in comics, what are you doing here?” That sort of prejudice is amazing (and sad) to me. There aren’t many, but some people do add that unpleasant element in comics, it’s just as bad as the attitude to comics some art and educational institutions have. I’m always reminded of walking into a comic shop and hearing some guys discussing whether or not Superman could lift Thor’s hammer, and looking down upon those people who would honestly reply “I don’t know”. I think it would be really nice to get people in who can start to look at comics and enjoy them in an atmosphere where they don’t feel put off and can feel at ease.

Lisa: I think Thought Bubble is about comics being taken seriously, I think that’s what it all about. Comic conventions are great fun, and I want to create a festival that is of interest to a diverse audience, as well as the comic book fans.

Tamsin: And while she focuses on that I focus on the fun bit, because I like the fun.

One of the things you find at comic conventions is not just Marvel and DC, but a lot of small press, stuff you may not have heard of before. We have some great small press people who are putting out their own stuff, they’re very talented and they create their own merchandise to sell alongside it. I love that at most conventions the small press people get a chance to showcase their work. If you’re coming to the show I highly recommend you take your time looking at the individual creators and their work, there is some fantastically inventive stuff there.

Lisa: New Think will be at Thought Bubble, along with some other great independent press. There’s a full list of all the exhibitors on the website.

So thought bubble will cover the small press aspect as well then?

Lisa: Just creativity in general; anything that can be linked into sequential art.

Tamsin: We are looking into arts and crafts as well. We have people who sell really great prints, toys, clothes, crafts, manga, anime, graphic novels, back issues and so much more. We want to have variety. That way you can aim to satisfy the really hardcore people who want to complete their collection, but also something for people who don’t know much about the comic book universe and can find something there to relate to.

Tells us what else TB will have going on beyond the trading tables?

Lisa: We’re partnered with the Leeds International Film Festival, which is why we have the opportunity to show a number of amazing comic book and graphic novel related screenings over the weekend. There is some fantastic stuff on, everything from documentaries about sequential artists like Will Eisner, Moebius and Jeffrey Brown, to cutting edge animation, live action and anime. There will also be guest signings, sketches and workshops. We’ve got some fantastic workshops going on which are all free to attend. Dr Simpo, who does a lot of small press stuff and used to work in a studio with Frank Quietly, is running a workshop entitled “How to Self Publish Your Own Comic” which should be really good.

Then there is a “Science of the Superhero” workshop by Doctor Taylor of Leeds University. She will be looking at the science behind of a lot of popular superheroes and how their powers mirror nature. It’s really interesting. She’ll be looking at Spider-Man suits and how they work. That workshop is for young people between the age of 12 and 16. And there’s another workshop by Doctor Mel Gibson, a Comic Book Historian from Sunderland University. That will be for young people between the ages of 12 -18, about comics and their history. She’ll be talking about comics and what they’re all about, covering a few different publishers and then the children will have a chance to draw their own cover.

What panels will be at Thought Bubble?

Tamsin: We have a Hellboy panel with Duncan Fegredo and Peter Doherty. Bryan Talbot will be doing a talk on his best selling graphic novel, “Alice in Sunderland.” There’s also a panel with Adi Granov, “From Panel to Motion Picture”, which is conducted by Mike Conroy from Comics International. I think he’ll be discussing Adi’s role on the upcoming Iron Man film, and the differences between working on a comic and working on a film. You can see the trailer for the film online now.

Lisa: All the panels and workshops are on the same day as the convention, Saturday 10th. The Hellboy panel is in the Leeds Art Gallery Reading rooms from 2.30pm to 3.15pm. The Art Gallery is just next door to the Town Hall where the convention event will take place. Both the Bryan Talbot and Adi Granov talks will be held at the Carriage Works in the Electric Press building, which is just a minute away from the Town Hall. The Bryan Talbot talk is from 3.30pm to 4.30pm, and the Adi Granov talk is on after the con finishes between 6pm and 6.45pm.

All the panels will be free to comic con ticket holders. Places are very limited, however, so people are advised to get their panel tickets as soon as they can on the day. There will be instructions on Sat 10th at the con to let people know how to get hold of these tickets.

If you are around the Leeds area on November 10th stop buy and have a look around at the Thought Bubble festival and if you are two far away next month we at Fractal Matter will have a feature on the Thought Bubble Festival.

Discuss this topic here.

  •  SABRINASabrina Peyton- Newly migrated to the UK to be with her husband. After working for Diamond Comics for a short time she ended up immersed in a few comic book forums and ended up moderating two of the largest, the Warren Ellis Forum (WEF) and Mark Millar’s forum Millarworld). She’s written for Sequential Tart, The Vampirella Magazine, and is Editor in Chief of Fractal Matter.