After a few weeks of essay preparation and presentation work, the MLitt Comics Studies students set off to Leeds this weekend for Thought Bubble – Leeds’ own Comic Con. Brace yourselves, there’s a long post ahead!
We set off on our long coach ride from Dundee bus station at 9.30am, with a brief cross-over in Edinburgh, arriving in Leeds at about 4.30 in the afternoon – but with spirits high and excitement in the air, we weren’t questioning those who say you can spend too much time on a Megabus!
We made our way to our hotel for the weekend – taking a slightly scenic route after being given the wrong address when making our booking – but at least we got an extended tour of Leeds, seeing areas we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
After a lovely dinner stop at an Italian restaurant near the city centre, myself and two other classmates headed back to the hotel for a lazy evening watching TV and checking out Thought Bubble timetables whilst the others went to see the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire.
Feeling refreshed on the Saturday, we set off bright and early to the Royal Armouries where Thought Bubble was being hosted for doors opening. It was great to see the enthusiasm before the doors even opened – people were chatting happily in the queues, and cosplayers were posing for photos. We got inside, received our wristbands (and some goodie-bags! ), and ventured into the main hall.
Our first stopping point was the Dundee UniVerse table, where our very own Chris Murray and Phil Vaughan were showing-off the Dundee talent. After saying hello and showing support, we set off to explore the rest of the convention!
I’d never been to a ‘proper’ comic convention before, so this experience was fantastic – if a little frightening and overwhelming to begin with! There were so many tables showcasing a great variety of talent, from renowned publishing companies like Image and Titan, to small independent companies and artists. The level of talent was phenomenal – I wanted to buy everything I saw! But luckily I have not returned completely bankrupt!
First on the agenda was getting one of my Hawkeye trades signed by writer, Matt Fraction. This was pretty exciting for me, as I really enjoyed the Hawkeye series and think Fraction has brought a breath of fresh air to the character – not to mention I got to see David Aja sketching away at the next table too!
After strolling around the tables, I set off for the 2000AD panel, which was celebrating 36 years of 2000AD publications. The room really packed – we ended up sitting on the floor at the front! The panel was great too, featuring Simon Davis, Al Ewing, Henry Flint, Si Spurrier, Rob Williams, and Ben Willsher – a great variety of 2000AD talent!
After a quick lunch break, it was time for three more panels before the end of the day.
First up was Vertigo Comics: Defy. The panel was very interesting, focusing on how Vertigo has been changing and developing in order to ‘defy’ convention, expanding their publications. It was chaired by Will Dennis, and had an array of special guests, such as Rafael Albuquerque (who claimed the upcoming American Vampire: Second Comings will be ‘darker and grittier than the first’!).
Next was an Image Comics panel, chaired by Eric Stephenson – a man whose job I’d gladly steal! This panel featured great talent such as Fiona Staples, Richard Starkings, and Antony Johnston. These creators focused highly on what it’s like working for a company which completely supports creator-owned rights, which was a really interesting notion to hear being discussed, particularly since the majority of the panels have worked with the comic-publishing-giants at some point during their career. The differing in perspectives and work-styles was really eye-opening!
Our final panel for the day was Marvel: Your Universe Q&A panel. This was a particular highlight for me, as I hugely admired everyone on stage! This panel focused purely on audience Q&A, letting the fans ask the questions they really wanted to know the answers to. Stephen Wacker headed the event – another man whose job I’d gladly steal, given that he’s the chief editor of Spider-Man! The panel consisted of David Aja, Paul Cornell, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, Ramon Perez, and Si Spurrier. I think I was pretty star-struck for the majority of the talk, sitting with a big grin on my face as these creators bounced so well off of one another, discussing their love and passion for the medium, as well as the characters they create. Although Marvel is frequently considered one of the monstrous publishing companies which aims for profit over substance, it’s hard to deny that these people really love what they’re doing: and the fans love it too!
After a long day of browsing tables, meeting talent, and viewing panels, it was time for dinner – home-made fajitas! – and Dr Who. I’m not a Dr Who fan; I’ve never really got into it as an idea, and have never been very fond of the shows I’ve seen, so as the rest of the group sat and ooh’d and ahh’d at the TV, I sat quietly in the corner, reading The Walking Dead trade 19 – both keeping me out of trouble and completely catching me up to date with the comics: it’s getting so good!!
We then tried (and failed) to sneak into the Thought Bubble after party to schmooze with the pros. But instead of being defeated, we decided to have our own after party celebrations at a pub nearby our hotel, thinking back on the day we’d had and daydreaming about having our own stall there one day in the future!
Sunday morning, we were up and ready again to explore Thought Bubble for a couple of hours before having to catch the bus home again. I started off by wandering around the tables, treating myself to a couple of prints and comics, and talking to people at their stalls. I was particularly flattered when the guy I’d bought my TWD from on Saturday recognised me – we got into a long discussion about the series, fan-girling over Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard.
We had time for one quick panel too, at the Writers’ Roundtable. Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Robin Furth, Brandon Graham, and Kieron Gillen were all present, ready to talk about their experiences as writers. The panel was really interesting – it’s great to hear the different working styles each writer has, especially as they emphasised there is no right way to do it. I definitely walked out of that panel feeling inspired!
So, a busy weekend was brought to an end with a long bus journey home again. The time I spent on the bus was divided between sleeping and reflecting upon the weekend. My first experience at a proper convention was a great one. I got to spend a fantastic trip with some great friends, whilst meeting new people, as well as some personal heroes, not to mention all the freebies! The best thing I have taken away from the experience, however, is the sense of community in the industry, amongst all the creators, the fans, and the absolute fanatics. And perhaps the most inspiring thing is that all the creators, from those sitting at their tables to those featured in the panels, seem to absolutely adore what they do: no-one regrets working in comics, they all have this wonderful joy surrounding them, which has ultimately confirmed to me that I am on the right path.