November 29th, 2012
The Beast Must Die: So frazzled, bedraggled and maybe even bedazzled we all arrived safely back from this year’s Thought Bubble 2012 comics festival in Leeds, which once again proved itself to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience for everyone. It gets the tone just right – an even balance between mainstream and fringe, with the small press rubbing shoulders with industry pros. Girls, boys, seasoned fans, neophytes, kids, pensioners, cosplayers and the just plain weird, the TB crowd is diverse, good natured and one of the best aspects of the whole affair.
Attending something like Thought Bubble also reminds you first and foremost why you love the artform, a welcome shot of 4-colour adrenaline to enliven even the most message board weary fan.
The Mindless Ones were there in pretty full effect, with Andrew Hickey, Gary Lactus and myself joined by Legendary Weapons Bobsy & Illogical Volume, as well as Mindless Cadet, Mister Attack and the living juggernaut that is Plok. We were positioned on the right hand side of the newly christened New Dock Hall. Andrew was selling his arsenal of wonderful music and comics books, as well as a new volume of his short stories. Lactus had the collected full colour beauty of The Amusing Bros and Andrew & Steven in Knights Of The Realm, and I was touting Cindy & Biscuit, including the brand new 56 page issue no.3. Mr Attack had his comic Everyone’s Felt Like This Once for sale, and Bobsy brought along a free comic featuring both the current PM and Lord Horror no less. Together we formed like Bruticus and set about ensnaring the public.
On a personal level I don’t think I could have had a better time of it. The reception that Cindy & Biscuit received was heartening, and I sold almost everything I took with me. What was especially gratifying was the breadth of customers I had – I sold a lot to kids this year, which was ace. It’s great to think of them reading mys stuff at home, and I just hope they were all appropriately thrilled, amused or spooked by Cindy & Biscuit. Lots of nice people said lots of nice things about it too, from comics pro’s to fans who bought earlier issues the previous year. All in all I was pretty damn chuffed.
It was great chatting to friend of SILENCE!, Al Ewing, whose gift to us was surely the best comic con exclusive that has ever been. He and his lovely friends were all most accommodating to our frazzled selves in the hotel bar on Sunday evening. It was as nice to see Kieron Gillen as ever, and I enjoyed talking to ace 2000AD scribe Rob Williams about Low Life. I was too nervous to speak to John Wagner, and certainly too nervous to ask him to say ‘I AM THE LAW’ in his stentorian Hibernian brogue. We happened to be on the table next to British comics catalyst Paul Gravett, along with comics artist and scholar John Miers and his lovely partner Megan, who co-runs the Comica Festival with Paul. Paul was his usual enthusiastic self, and did the circuits with his usual charm and aplomb. John and Megan were also excellent company, and truly sympathetic hangover buddies on Sunday. John’s comics are here and info about Comica is here.
Add to that the thrills of our ongoing experiment in listener alienation with our SILENCE! Thought Bubble special, the epic drinkery at the post TB Saturday night bash at the Leeds Corn Exchange, and you have a pretty full weekend. As I stated earlier, the atmosphere at Thought Bubble is open, friendly and enthusiastic. I can’t rate it high enough, and will certainly back next year.
But really, I hear you pretty much scream, FOR THE LOVE OF AQUAMAN, WHAT ABOUT THE COMICS???????!
I managed to pick up a few issues of CRISIS, the politically slanted ‘adult’ comic from that brief blazing period of activity and potential for British comics in the late 80′s/early 90′s. In particular these issues feature the majority of John Smith and Sean Phillips’ disturbing Straitgate, a portrait of suburban alienation and madness based loosely on the 1987 Michael Ryan killings in Hungerford. CRISIS used to revel in such potentially sensitive or controversial material – see New Adventures of Hitler and Milligan and McCarthy’s SKIN (which never actually made it to press, but was advertised) for further evidence. Straitgate is full of the tics and tropes of the time, but Smith’s anguished Dennis Potteresque internal voice and penchant for the horrors of the mundane elevate it into something genuinely unsettling. Philips’ gorgeous water-coloured art drips with derangement, but he’s equally as confident capturing the drear of a small-town supermarket or the antiseptic queasiness of a cancer ward.
I also managed to grab a copy of the Savage Sword of Conan, which not only features some beautiful, loose work from John Buscema, and Gil Kane’s elegant line, but also a stellar Conan portfolio from no less than Alex Toth. How great are these?
It’s always great meeting up with peers whose work you admire, and this TB was no different. I scored a copy of Lando’s brilliant Pyramid Scheme, which collects some of his shorter works from the Decadence anthologies. Needless to say it’s as accomplished and starkly effective as Olympic Games, drawing from Otomo, Moebius and Games Workshop to create something rich and strange. It’s such an assured piece of bleak sci-fi poetry it’s actually quietly astonishing. It’s surely only a matter of time before Lando gets wider acclaim, and he richly deserves it. Go check out the whole Decadence collective here.
Moving into much trashier realms, I got my fix of 80′s action with a few issues of Michael Fleisher’s fast and brutal 1980s DC-published oddity, Haywire. This was one of those ‘Suggested for Mature Readers’ comics that DC put out prior to Vertigo, but post Watchmen. It’s kind of hilarious to compare this morally dubious piece of schlock to Moore & Gibbon’s crystalline masterpiece, but in Haywire’s favour it’s breezy, slickly violent and peppered with just enough intrigue about the possibly schizophrenic protagonist to keep you tweaked. Plus it’s got great spacious art from Vince Giarrano, inked with a light touch by Kyle Baker. Haywire is the comics equivalent of a violent Carolco VHS watched with a bottle of Cherryade. I love it.
There’s only one place to go when you’ve gone low, and that’s even lower. Next up is an issue of Pat Mills and Kev O’Neill’s bezerko sequel to Deathrace 2000, Deathrace 2020. This oddity, published by Roger Corman’s short-lived imprint, Cosmic Comics, was one of the last of Mills & O’Neill’s creative partnership and it’s reassuringly over the top – they take Paul Bartel’s cheekily satirical original and warp it into a bloated, plastic surgery gone-wrong version of itself, replete with bad jokes, casual cruelty and the pair’s usual palpable disgust with organized religion and corrupt social media. It’s a lot of fun, I wish I’d found the rest. Such is the pleasure/pain axis of the 30p bargain box…
Back in the UK for a few issues of long departed comics/style mag Deadline. I’ve got a bunch of early issues already so it was great to find a few more. I first came to Deadline around the time that Hewlett & Martin’s interest in Tank Girl was waining, so I still got the glory of Hewlett’s Fireball, Cheeky Wee Budgie Boy by Philip Bond and Nick Abadzis’ masterful Hugo Tate, but these earlier issues are like precious gold to me.
These are really an embarrassment of riches – you have work from the aforementioned Hewlett, Bond and ABadzis, but add in peak period Shaky Kane (whose A-Men needs to be collected, pronto), D’israeli’s Timulo, work from Brendan McCarthy (as ‘Anoniman’), Brett Ewins, John McCrea, Glen Dakin, Peter Milligan and Rachel Ball amongst many others. Fantastic stuff, plus the music interviews are great archaeological evidence for bands that were never going to make it out of the 90′s alive…
Above is a panel from a strip in John Mier’s ‘I Got Comics’. John is an extreme gent, and his work is boldly experimental, yet human and playful. You should go look at more of it. And buy his comics.
Below are the covers of Drift, the newest comics from Andy P, whose lovely loose line and strong cartooning are a pure pleasure to look at. Drift is heady, heartfelt sci-fi with a unique flavour. Andy is also a veteran of UKCAC, the legendary Scottish comics conventions of the mid 90′s so if you ever find yourself drinking with him there are plenty of corking tales to tell…
And finally, I picked up the latest comic from Julia Scheele, I Don’t Like My Hair Neat. Julia has a great, accessible art style that reminds of me a bit of Becky Cloonan, but has a clean, strong appeal all of it’s own. This is a fun, sexy, serious and smart little collection of tales. You can check out more of Julia’s stuff here.
So that’s the haul, with a Concrete colour comic, the final issue of John Smith’s baffling psychedelic super hero horror comic Scarab, and a long saught after Giffen/DeMatteis JLI issue for good measure. Comics – couldn’t you just eat them/have sex with them/take them out to the fancy part of town/kill them and wear their skin as a suit? I know I could.
Mister Attack: For me, the whole experience was a transformative one, and I’m not just saying that because I want to make some shit joke that ties in with my usual output here. See, I’d been at New York ComicCon last month, and I fucking hated it. I’d been in 2008 with a friend, who was now based in NYC, and I wanted to visit him. He thought this would be a good laugh, whereas I was dubious as I’d had my fill last time. When you’ve sat in a room with the guys that make Flight, or, say, Mike Mignola that’s barely half full, while a crowd of numpties vocally loose their shit in the next room over a Batman crossover, you start to question things, y’know? I could barely bring myself to attend any panels this time, because I just have these memories of being packed like sardines into a room that’s sweating like a sauna, while some person with a corporate position makes sure the talent toes the line, and speaks only in the kind of clichés that adorn the back cover blurb of a DVD. “It’s jut such a pleasure to being drawing Scrabble For The Mantle. I only hope I’m up to the job”. Of my 2012 NYCC experience, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it smelled like gravy and sounded like YouTube comments.
This was, in both senses of the phrase, a world apart. Obviously the major difference was I was at Thought Bubble as an exhibitor. The culmination of wrestling my mid-2000′s cut-and-paste webcomic, Wake Up Screaming, into a wee collection for sale. That gave everything an air of urgency. Man on a mission and all that.
One of the things that made the weekend for me, in addition to the highs and lows of trying to convince members of the public to buy Everyone’s Felt Like This Once, was the largely small press vibe. Maybe that’s not even putting it quite right… It was the intimate vibe. It was the polar opposite of wandering the massive halls of the Javits Center, being flanked by Mattel and Megabloks and Nintendo and Legendary Films and the like. Yeah, they had their huge, hanger-like Artist’s Alley, but it’s so big as to be alienating. I felt like a had more of a chance of finding something that I’d like, and that I’d potentially never heard of. It felt less like it was about business, but more about the people and their work. I’m not saying it wasn’t like people were there to sell themselves, but it was cool to be jumping about amongst people and their own efforts, instead of a bunch of women in Nintendo t-shirts trying to thrill you with the 3DS. With my funds downgraded from liveable to meagre in the course of the cross-country journey, I had to struggle to figure out what things I really wanted to buy versus grabbing a flyer or a business card and hoping to find their stuff later when I’m solvent again.
I picked up a copy of That and Murder She Writes from John Allison, because it’s either that or I try eating him to see if Alan Moore was right about that sort of thing in The Anatomy Lesson. Finally caved and bought Marc Ellerby’s Chloe Noonan: Monster Hunter Colour Special. Issue one of Chris Doherty’s Video Nasties was sold out, so I took the second as I didn’t want to leave without something. Figured I’d give the first issue of Rob Cureton’s Orful Comics a go. I really wanted to check out some of Sammy Borras comics, and could just about afford the diminutive Smoothie Wars volume by that point. The multilingual aspect of the products from Caterpillar & Red Post Boxes jumped out at me, featuring comics in both Welsh and Russian, so I picked up some bits and bobs. With what I had left, I picked up a random volume of Square Eyed Stories.
I can just about imagine what they were going through as I tried my hand at selling my stuff for the first time. Even if someone didn’t buy one, there was an excitement to seeing someone react to the material in either a positive of a negative fashion. You just don’t get that sitting at home with a computer, obsessing over web stats. There was that one guy who picked up the book, came to something on the page and this laugh just escaped him. I have no idea what it was, and I don’t think he bought a copy. I’m going to wonder for the rest of my days what it was that just forced that short, sharp laugh out of him.
The other high points all came from the company of the Mindless & Co attending. I think I most regret not getting to spend more time with everyone. That said, I’ve got a bunch of memories, and a pocket full of Bobsy’s, now cooled, urine to keep me company. Who’s going to forget the likes of watching Gary Lactus descend into his PRICE SLASH madness, where I was sure he was going to end only able to communicate with that phrase.
“Do you want a drink Gary?”
“Something hot or something cold?”
“Have you just wet yourself?”
Whereas I was perfecting such techniques of potentially throwing in the norovirus as a freebie, which can actually work as a selling point if you argue it just right. Also, discriminating to fellow gingers works. Solidarity! I do feel bad about guilting Kieron Gillen into buying my book, though. Lovely chap that he is.
Rumours that we buried The Beast Must Die in the canal for being just too damn good are unfounded. As preposterous as the claims that Andrew Hickey’s ‘sugared almonds’ were Lactus eggs. Almost as dubious as the suggestions that if you imply a location is protected against public intrusion, Illogical Volume will find a way in like he’s Jason Bourne or something.
Plok and Hollistic Tendencies did lose my shortbread though. The swines!
Thanks guys. Appreciate the opportunity. Can’t wait to see you all again. I’d attempt to hibernate ’till next year, but I’ve got more comics to make!
[You can read Mister Attack's full write-up of the event over at his Movable Symbol blog]
Bobsy: I brought my sister along, an honest to goddammit Normal Citizen and Leeds resident. She was all set to run like fuck at the first hot stink of melting fanboy, the all-too pervasive stench common to those disgusting wank-traps that usually pass for comic conventions darn sarth…
She stayed all weekend. Bought comics. Chatted to the cosplayers and the bloggers and the artists and the steamgoths. She left… well, still a citizen truly (‘I don’t think I need to come next year really. If there’s nothing else on maybe…’), but ever so slightly changed, for the stranger and the better. Thought Bubble, I think, will do that to you, if a hint of a soul you have. She quickly spotted the core of the problem with the odd little subcult we call home – too much talent, not enough market. People who a just world would pay handsomely to sit and do their doodles, their every pen stroke tinily but definitely improving the lot of every man, woman, other and geek on Earth. The world doesn’t do this, but they toil regardless… You can see why they don’t really need to sell so many superhero comics at Thought Bubble can’t y
I’ll stop, that was getting rather pompous. So yeah I loved it, my sister loved it, and it looked as if everyone else there loved it. I got some
Illogical Volume: After “doing” Thought Bubble 2011 with no money spend and no books to sell, I promised myself that 2012 was going to be different – I would be able to buy as many gorgeous mini-comics as I could carry, and if I didn’t manage to make any COMICS then I’d at least have my book about The Filth to sell.
As it turned out, I came to Leeds broke and with nothing to sell but my own backside, and you know what?
I had a brilliant time anyway.
As Brother Bobert has already said, there was a ridiculous amount of talent on display at Thought Bubble – from the books of Mongolian women’s poetry and many knitted Belle & Sebastian style numbers of the Royal Armoury Hall to the slick arthouse stylings of the Decadence collective in the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Paedo Hall – and I intend to do proper write-ups for some of the books I bought before the end of the year.
For the sake of getting my impressions down right here and now I’ve used my phone’s voice recognition tool to review the best of my purchases Talking Comics style:
Like I said to a friend in an email last week, it’s easy to find yourself wondering why you bother with comics until you find yourself in a huge room full of good ones, so thanks to Joe Kessler, Julia Scheele, William Kirkby, Martin Eden, Chrissy Williams and to my pals Dan, Scott and Fraser for getting me excited about the medium I love all over again.
Beyond that, I don’t have much to add to what the other lads have said, so I’ll just say that it was great to touch winkies with my fellow Mindless again – one day I hope to spend some un-frazzled time in their company! – and to meet and chat with Alison Sampson, Hollistic Tendancies, Ben Deep Space Transmissions (plus his adorable cosplaying kids!), Laura Sneddon, Bobsy’s sister and Plok.
As to the rumours that I went to bed with Plok after the mid-show part on Saturday, well, that’s a story for another time…
Hollistic TendanciesOn Saturday afternoon, as I was walking back to New Cock Hall, I saw Plok walking out of it, holding a book open to me. As soon as I’d read a couple of lines – “If you want to watch something in bed, I will come up and watch something with you. If you want to go straight to sleep, I may stay up a little longer…” — I started to laugh. “Someone else is married to my husband!” I said.
Plok told me it’s written by Kieron Gillen’s wife. Well, no wonder this is a name I know thanks to the Mindless Ones! This book of prose poems, The Jam Trap by Chrissy Williams, is full of moments that made me smile – and wince – in recognition.
I was beset in equal parts by the joy of having one’s lived experience enshrined in wonderful art, and the conviction that I could have written this book – only I couldn’t have, of course; Williams has a MA in poetry and many hefty poetry credentials, whereas I have only the similarly-surreal conversations and events that she’s describing here. I certainly couldn’t have gotten the array of artists to illustrate my poems as she has. I like the variety of styles in their work, and the way that poems I’m less keen on are often accompanied by some of the pictures I like the most. However, “Bedroom Full of Foam,” quoted above, is still a favorite partly because the illustration makes me smile almost as much as the poem does.
Plok later said when he bought the book he didn’t know it was for me, but that as soon as he saw me after buying it, he was certain that’s what it was for, and I am very grateful to him for that because I love it. I keep trying to get Andrew to read it, but except for a few that I had to thrust into his hands (“Where Have You Put the Wine,” “Is It Tomorrow?” and of course “Bedroom Full of Foam”), he doesn’t seem to show much interest. Which is just as well: we don’t really want these people knowing there are others so much like them out there, do we?
The other thing I bought was also something I was shown by a friend – one of the great things about Thought Bubble was how I kept running into people I knew without even having to try – who sat down next to me when I’d been talking to Plok and Messrs. Volume and Attack, and pretty soon I was totally useless in conversation with them because I was so engrossed in what she was showing me. Good thing too; I’d have never gone anywhere near the stall these were purchased from otherwise as I have an inexplicable aversion to gluing rivets and cogs onto a dress of the sort I’d have had to wear when I wasn’t allowed to vote.
The Steampunk Literary Review is a fictional publication that reviews other fictional publications, a conceit that hangs together well enough to be an excuse for lots of extremely silly drawings: comics, public-information posters (“Kill Your Velocity – not an air-kraken!”), adverts (“Tired of seeing the same old ankles? Need something a bit “more”? REAL EXOTIC FRENCH ANKLES with real hair & disgusting lack of tea!”) and lots of war documents from the First Tea Company (the “Know Your Cake” posterm explains “The Jam, or ‘Victorious,’ Sponge is a simple yet deadly all-terrain cake, feared for its rugged softness & unmistakable filling. Originally invented by Dr. Jeremiah Amsponge as a packing material for the elderly…” well, you get the idea).
With its Pythonesque silly names (my favorite is Mrs. E. L. Fortesque Beam-Engine), arguments in footnotes, depictions of female nudity, and critque of steampunk (a bunch of people dressed up in fancy clothes and goggles bemoan the “damned nuisance” that is “poor people protesting again,” who should be “thankful for what they’ve got”), there’s sure to be something to please all tastes.
It’s steampunk that knows most steampunk is doing it wrong, good even for people who hate steampunk, and I would bet you a lovely cup of tea and a chocolate hobnob you’ll be reading bits out to your friends and making them look at the pictures if you get The Steampunk Literary Review.
Andre Whickey the one minor criticism I’d make of this year’s Thought Bubble is that there were rather less great back issue bargains than in previous years. Last year I managed to pick up fifty more-or-less sequential issues of Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League for a fiver — this year I could, if I’d been so minded, have picked up fifty random Dan Jurgens Superman issues for twenty-five quid, but that’s about the extent of it.
Luckily, of course, the point of comics conventions isn’t to act as a substitute for eBay, but to allow you to meet and talk with comics creators and fans, as well as buying their work. So as well as meeting up with friends like Jennie Rigg (who describes her daughter’s experience of the con here — one of the great things about Thought Bubble, unlike most “geek” events, is that it is entirely welcoming to women and children, and it’s good to see just how positive a time her child had), we got to catch up with Al Ewing (and read The Greatest Aquaman Story Ever Told — Al Ewing may also officially be The World’s Nicest Man), Kieron Gillen and other famous comics types. We got a preview of the Wizard War that has since gone public between Moore and Morrison, thanks to an inside source, and generally spent a couple of days doing Comics Stuff.
I made relatively few purchases this year, but the ones I did make were excellent — Cindy & Biscuit and Andrew And Steven, obviously, being the best of the bunch.
I also picked up Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes, Mary and Bryan Talbot’s story of the lives of both Lucia Joyce (James Joyce’s daughter) and Mary Talbot herself. As I’m a huge admirer of both Joyce and Bryan Talbot (it seems that every year now at Thought Bubble I buy Talbot’s latest hardback and get him to sign and sketch in it), this seemed absolutely made for me, and I’ll probably post a full review at some point.
My other main purchases were all from The Common Swings (whose own thoughts on Thought Bubble can be found here). Crispy’s work is absolutely unique — as if Edward Gorey had been crossed with G.K. Chesterton — and my main regret was that I was only able to buy all his comics, and not one of his mystery boxes. Buy his stuff.
Financially, this was (even) less successful for me than last year, with no-one buying my books until they had been PRICE SLASHED! to below-cost, but that’s possibly because my sales technique consisted of saying to people “You don’t want to buy my stuff when you could be buying these wonderful comics on the stall instead”. And that’s because it was the truth — I felt proud that in a convention full of some of the greatest talents working in comics at the moment, I was in a group of people selling work that was on a par with any of it.
The general standard of Mindless Talent is so high that we nearly made one sale of a nonexistent book — a customer specifically asked, on seeing my book on Seven Soldiers for sale, if we had one on The Filth, which allowed us to say “come back next year and Illogical Volume will have just the thing for you.”
So far every Thought Bubble has been better than the last — and the Mindless presence has increased proportionally. A couple of years ago, I went alone. Last year, three of us attended. This year there were nine Mindless-and-auxiliaries. Will this pattern continue next year? Check back in twelve months.