So, last Saturday was an interesting day. I got up early and headed off to the Thoughtbubble Comics Festival/Convention/Thing in Leeds. I didn’t have to get up early, of course, because the venue was a mere fifteen or twenty miles away from my door. It’s a good job I did though, because rather embarrassingly I got lost. Twice.
I ought to know Leeds quite well. For a while it was the city that hosted my Local Comics Shop (it’s long gone now – to the point that I can’t quite remember what it was called, I think it might have been “Odyssey 7”?) and I spent a year studying at the University there. It is an absolute pig of a place to drive through though if you don’t know exactly where you’re going. One wrong turn and I was snookered.
So, in the end I parked in the car park I used to use near the University and walked across town to the venue. Savile’s Hall, the oddly stilt-like construction that played host to the one day event is a pretty new building sitting opposite the Royal Armouries Museum, which has long been a landmark on the waterfront*, and about which more later.
Having managed to get myself lost I obviously turned up late, about an hour after doors opened – so I was pleased to find there was still a reasonably long queue outside. “This bodes well” I thought, and joined at the back. And then I found myself at the front as a bloke with an ID badge wandered down the line asking if people had pre-ordered tickets. Ruefully I shook my head and indicated that I hadn’t. So, bizarrely, he sent me to the front of a much shorter queue, paid my six quid and went straight in. I can’t help thinking that, had I gone to the trouble of pre-ordering, I might have been a little miffed at that. Still, there I was, stepping into the hall, beneath three massive black and white photos of that great son of Leeds, Sir Jimmy Savile, after whom the venue is named.
The hall itself was rather smaller than the great Engine Shed at Bristol**, but felt a little bigger than the hall at Think Tank that is used for B.I.C.S. and it served its purpose rather well. Unlike the Engine Shed it never became oppressively hot***, and although everything seemed well attended the place didn’t feel uncomfortably squashed. The various exhibitors seemed to have a decent about of space, and the aisles between the stalls were wide enough to allow for a line of people around each stand, plus space in the middle to allow people to walk on by.
One corner of the hall was curtained off to provide space for the various panels that were spread across the day, much in the way the talks area used to be set up in the Engine Shed in the early days of Bristol. I didn’t spend much time in there, preferring to mooch around and catch up with all the people I haven’t seen since my flying visit to Bristol back in may. My cursory inspection flagged up two things however.
Just like the old curtained off space at Bristol, the talks area at Thought Bubble suffered from the noise going on in the main hall. Curtains make good sight screens, but sound proof they are not.
Unlike the old talks area at Bristol, the talks area benefited from whatever fancy air-con or ventilation system they have in the Savile Hall. It was cool and not in any way stuffy.
So yes, it was a good venue. And the venue wasn’t the only thing that was good. There were many people there of a female persuasion, which is always helpful in the quest to persuade the non-reading public that comics fans are not exclusively teenage boys with no friends. There were also rather a lot of young people there, which bodes well for the future of the medium. There weren’t many really young kids there, but I didn’t get into comics until I was sixteen, so maybe that’s not a thing we need to worry about.
Perhaps in part because of the number of teenagers****, there was also a rather pleasing proportion of people in costume – and pretty good costumes too. I used to be faintly embarrassed by people who wandered around in costume, figuring that they made the whole scene look rather silly. But then I used to be a bit of a prat*****, so don’t take my old prejudices too seriously. These days I rather like to see people in costume, so long as the costumes are good ones******. It adds a bit of colour to proceedings, and is a genuinely effective way of attracting attention. I can’t be sure about this, but I got the strong impression that some families visiting the Armouries******* saw the brightly coloured people hanging around in the square that separates the two venues came over to see what was going on and then came in to have a look around. That’s got to be a good thing, right?
All of this is mere window dressing of course. An event like this is about the people who were there.
So, who was there?
Well, if you’ve read Tony Lee’s column this week you’ll already know that he wasn’t, which was a shame because it would’ve been great to see him. I can really sympathise with the whole “too much work” thing though.
It was very good to see Harry Markos behind the Markosia stand, from where I was pleased to pick up a copy of the latest collaboration between the comics company and British fantasy writer G.P. Taylor, which looks fabulous, featuring as it does the comicy goodness of Dan Boultwood and Tony Lee. It’s a pleasingly chunky hard back, and promises to be the first of a trilogy, so we even have something to look forward to for a while.********
Equally chunky and hardbacked was the collected edition of The Girly Comic that I picked up from the lovely Selina Lock over at the Factor Fiction stand. It was good to catch up with Factor Fiction’s team of Jay and Selina, they’ve been a constant feature of my festival going experience for as long as I can remember, and somehow running into them here made the whole thing seem just a little more real.
I had been concerned that a lot of the regular Bristol/Brum faces, based in the south as they are, might not venture up the M1 to an event in Leeds, and to a point I was sort of right – a lot of the familiar faces weren’t there. But equally, a lot of them were. I spotted Time Bomb Comics who hail from Leicester, and who I originally came across at B.I.C.S., and several others.
I was particularly pleased to run into Sean Azzopardi, the force behind Phat Comics and creator of such self published masterpieces as Twelve Hour Shift and (in collaboration with Daniel Merlin Goodbrey) the excellent Necessary Monsters. We chatted for a while, and I flicked through the latest issue of Necessary Monsters, which looked astonishingly good. It was only later that I realised I hadn’t actually bought a copy – something I intend to correct at the earliest opportunity.
So, there was much other mooching around the stands, and I picked up a fair few comics that I’ll tell you about some other time – many of them will be featuring in my “Books For Christmas” column in a couple of weeks. But Leeds that weekend has one other thing to offer the discerning comics fan, and since it was to be found across the piazza within the walls of the Royal Armouries I joined the steady trickle of comics lovers and went to check it out.
I have to say, rather a lot of the fans making the journey were in costume, and the staff at the Armouries were rather impressively unfazed by the little procession of Manga Princesses, Imperial Stormtroopers in full armour and Doctor Who Scarecrow Monsters*********. We were all making our way to the very top floor to take in the penultimate day of a special exhibition featuring arms and armour from the movies.
It was rather fun, filing respectfully past Gandalf and Aragorn’s swords, Elvish Armour, Legolas’s Bow and knives, Centaur armour from Narnia and some rather attractive firearms from the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong. But none of that was what I’d really gone to see**********. The artefact I was most interested in was tucked away in a corner right at the end of the exhibition – indeed, if I hadn’t been looking for it I might well have missed it, and I wonder how many did. But, there, in a glass case right at the end, was Hellboy’s gun and gunbelt, as used by Ron Perlman in the movies. It was smaller than I’d imagined, but the detailing was exquisite, and as a long time Hellboy fan I was delighted by it.
What delighted me more though, was the wonderful synchronicity of Thoughtbubble happening at the same time as such an exhibition. If it was deliberate (either because the Thoughtbubble organisers took the dates of the exhibition into account or vice-versa) then it was a stroke of genius on somebody’s part. If it was a mere coincidence then it was one of the finest I’ve ever experienced.
All in all, it was a good day. Perhaps even a Good Day deserving of capitalization. Not as slick as Bristol or B.I.C.S. perhaps, but then it’s a smaller and younger event with bags and bags of potential.
I find I’m looking forward to the next one already…
*Don’t get excited, Leeds is about as far from the sea as you can get in Britain. Lovely as it is, the waterfront is a canal.
**Which I understand we won’t have the use of for Bristol 2009, a prospect I find rather gutting and a situation that I sincerely hope will be only temporary.
***Although it should be observed that holding the event in November may well have been a help with this…
****Mind you, the fact that people in costume got in for free might also have had something to do with it…
*****Yes, I know, it’s an open goal, so just go for it.
******And as I said, most of these were pretty good.
*******And like I said – more of the Armouries later.
********Which of course we all need no there will be no more instalments of the Potter saga…
**********Although I was very impressed to see the Lord of the Rings stuff – it really was beautiful.