Thought Bubble is a yearly comic convention that takes place in Leeds, in case you weren’t aware. This year was my sixth time attending and as usual it was excellent.
There’s something about Thought Bubble that sets it apart from other conventions. It’s hard to describe it as anything other than a type of atmosphere. I once heard the convention described as a “celebration of comics” and I think that absolutely nails it. It puts it into perspective when I think about other conventions I’ve attended, where there are banners everywhere for some movie or TV show that has nothing to do with anything there, they’ve simply paid to get their marketing materials in front of the eyeballs of their demographic. Meanwhile miscellaneous celebrities dot the aisles and charge an extortionate amount of money for a photo or to simply sign a single book. At Thought Bubble you don’t get any of that. Any banners you see are to point out who’s currently at the show and creators sign comics for free while swapping stories with excited fans. However Thought Bubble’s atmosphere comes from far more than the lack of gaudy adverts and missing appearances from questionable celebrities. From big name creators to young self-published artists, everyone at Thought Bubble mingles and chats together in an environment that couldn’t possibly feel anymore relaxed and welcoming. Attending Thought Bubble every year is like reuniting with friends and family. It doesn’t matter whom you’re talking to, everyone is there for the same reason: we all think comics are awesome.
One part I want to highlight is how inclusive the convention is. This year I saw plenty of people walking around in one of the “Comics Are For Everybody” t-shirts, which felt perfect for a convention where attendees and exhibitors are a much more balanced representation of age and gender than the stereotypes would presume. There were also plenty of families and kids wandering around all weekend, underlining that this is somewhere that’s friendly and actually caters to children.
It may be an odd word to use for a convention but I feel like Thought Bubble is a “safe” and calm place compared to some of the more flashy and commercial conventions. Comic book fans have a bad reputation in the public eye but 5 minutes at Thought Bubble and the stereotype of the fanbase being nothing but angry, socially awkward men seems laughable.
So was there anything different about 2014? To explain I first have to backtrack a little.
Two years ago the convention was really starting to buckle from the increased attendance. A second hall in the Royal Armouries, that had opened a year earlier, helped distribute the crowds. But popular names like Charlie Adlard, artist of The Walking Dead, were bringing queues that still made the main New Dock hall claustrophobically packed. The temporary solution last year was to open a third hall, utilising an unfinished interior nearby, which helped add some extra floor space. It did indeed help somewhat but with more fans than ever attending it meant people like Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction still had huge queues that snaked down into the aisles. This year, with the extra space no longer available, a temporary building was erected on the exterior between both halls, named the Thought Bubble TeePee.
I’ll admit, looking at the floor plan prior to attendance I was surprised and concerned to see that lots of the mainstream creators were all packed into the new TB Teepee. With queues being the one consistent problem this seemed like a bizarre choice to cram everyone into one place. Prior to entering I chatted with one other attendee who simply stated that: “All the really good stuff is in there!” I don’t know about “good stuff” but popular stuff? Absolutely.
Despite the worries there was actually no problem with queues whatsoever thanks to a really simple idea: place the queues outside. The TB Teepee had multiple exits, meaning attendees were directed to join various queues outside for any signing that was getting too busy within. This meant that wandering the hall inside remained a pleasantly stress-free experience. Sure, standing around outside in mid-November wasn’t exactly a perfect solution, but when waiting I vastly preferred it to being stuffed into the world’s most compact queue in earlier years.
Self-published creators and other exhibitors then got some more breathing room in the other halls as a result of the new space and despite the high attendance it felt like the most calm convention of the last six. There was plenty of space to manoeuvre and you no longer felt guilty about lingering at any one table since it was still easy enough for everyone to get around.
Once again I attended a couple of panels and enjoyed them immensely. With a wide berth of topics I have to say, using a terribly clichéd saying, there was something for everyone. If you read comics then there was a panel there you could enjoy. The only thing I missed from last year was the surprisingly energetic Marvel panel, but with fewer Marvel creators this year and no Steve Wacker it was a perfectly understandable omission.
There’s still absolutely a problem with diversity in comics as a whole, with race and gender especially, it’s important not to forget that. I’ve written about it before and I’m sure I will again, it often feels like an uphill battle to promote diversity in comics, but at Thought Bubble it feels like everyone there is actively promoting a more inclusive comic book community. Walking around the halls you feel like you’re seeing the best of the community and with so many young self-published creators it’s like looking at the future of the industry, one that’s continuously catering to a wider audience. If you just look at the guest list you can tell a lot of care has gone into selecting people who represent very different types of comics and who speak to different kinds of people.
As an attendee at Thought Bubble you feel like the organisers are doing what’s best for both you and the exhibitors, not what’s best from a financial viewpoint or for their reputation. It’s all about the experience and making it as welcoming as possible.
Thought Bubble simply remains one of the highlights of the year and one of the best places you can visit as a comic book fan. As always, I’m looking forward to the next one.