Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 262, 211109 (Thought Bubble)

This weekend was the best sequential arts fair in the North, and possibly the country (although Birmingham may argue on size, I think this is the friendliest). By which I mean Thought Bubble.

In a city with two indie comics shops (one of which does games) and a FP, you'd think that a comics convention wouldn't be a huge thing here, and if there was one it'd be a small affair, stuffed in a church hall or in the basement of the Town Hall, or something. In fact, in year one it was in the basement of the town hall, and it was a fairly sedate affair with only a handful of names attending, and it wasn't bad, but not really enough to hold interest for very long (also, I was very ill at the time). Then in year two - it amazes me that it's only three years old now - it exploded into Saville Hall, a huge conference venue by the Armouries. It was rammed solid last year, with the queue stretching quite some way at opening time and not really shortening very much before lunch. At that one I looked after the fetishman stall for a bit and pretended to be Geof for an interview, and spent a bit of money - but not that much - on indie comics.

This year was something else entirely.

I went with a budget, and with the intention of spending money on indie comics. I arrived at lunchtimeish, found Mavis who gave me a quick tour - showing me some Doctor Who artwork that made me think "Oh, it's a shame t'other Penny isn't here" on the way - and then stood with me as I carried out my first purchase of the day, and one I've been looking forwards to for two years, a copy of Grandville.

A quick note from my diary from back then:
[...] A two-hour session with Bryan Talbot as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival, who was talking about his techniques in graphic novel design with specific reference to The Tale of One Bad Rat. He started off with a retrospective of his work up to that point - which took 40 minutes - and pointing out how he learned to use a brush, crosshatching, lines of convergence, vanishing points, use of colour (which happened very late on), and some seriously interesting things about passage of time - how he spread a six-second sequence in Luther Arkwright across 72 panels, for example - and plotting. Then he gets into One Bad Rat, which pulls all of this together. He talked about the nine-frame grid a lot, and intuitive reading, and how people's brains work when reading comics - their eyes jump everywhere, even though the conscious brain is only aware of the linear flow - and putting little things in a frame which aren't necessarily supposed to be seen, per se, but help the brain work out what is supposed to be happening. Really, it was an incredible session. I made a ton of notes, made a note of all his references and work, and thought "gosh, that's the sort of thing I learned in photo classes!" a lot.

Just as we were leaving he pulls out his portfolio and asks if people want to take a look at some of his stuff for Grandville (the first ten pages, which looked outstanding), the thing he's currently working on ("Steampunk meets Sherlock Holmes, with animals instead of humans.") so of course I did, and then someone suggested a beer. So, three of the attendees (a graphic designer, a philosophy lecturer at UoL who is taking a year out to write about comics, and, erm, me) took Bryan to a boozer where we spent the time between his two events getting gently sloshed, discussing his work, who is up-and-coming, why comics aren't really taken seriously in the UK as opposed to, say, France or Belgium, trying to get graphic novels published and how much easier it's getting - aha - and technology. Plus going over two versions of Grandville, one in vibrant colour, the other slightly desaturated and trying to work out which was the best ("I brought these along to get opinions - here, what do you think?") It was at this point that I learned about Thought Bubble, as we started talking about conventions and the characters who turn up.

Bryan is a nice chap, and seeing as I've known about him since I was nine years old and stealing my Dad's copy of Luther Arkwright (Book 1), it's quite nice to realise that one of my childhood, um, heroes is really accessable. No kidding, being asked to rate his work? That's a bit of a "wow" for me.

Of course, I got Grandville signed by Bryan, we had a quick chat about a panel in Luther Arkwright I'd been wondering about for over twenty years, and I mentioned my perhaps somewhat dodgy thought that his cover for Erskine's Dan Dare does look a bit like a, erm, "book cake" shoot (look, those cruisers are seriously phallic, ok?). Anyway.

We headed back to Geof where I deposited bags and biscotti, with the instruction to use the biscotti as they saw fit. Geof had a bottle of "Mr Reynold's Genuine Hand-Squeezed Kraken Ink".
Fetishman working

Next, to see John Allison, bought badges and a poster, and pestered Ellerby for more ellerbisms and requested he sign things. Also demanded "what's new?" of Lizz Lunney and had a quick chat to the guys at We Are Words and Pictures, from whom I bought my favourite print of last year.

I spotted Bunny! So went and got volume two, having loved volume 1; this is one of those comics that really deserves to be read in print. Reading it on the web is fine, but this is something else when it's a book. Next door to Bunny (ish) was Gunnerkrigg Court. Wandering over to the chap behind the desk my opening gambit was "where do I know your name from?" and we eventually worked out it was from John Allison. I picked up his book, thinking it was a little expensive, but was instantly hooked. This was some seriously good writing and printing, and whilst the art seems a little naive it picks up really quickly. When I got home I read Grandville, and then I read this; it was stunning work and I loved every panel. Much hard work has gone into producing this and I can't recommend it enough.

Some people had work that looked fun, but wasn't my cuppa; a book of lovingly rendered watercolours telling a mermaid's tale was startlingly expensive but obviously a lot of love went into it's production, for example. I just didn't like the story that was being told enough. There was a lot of "trying too hard" stuff; semicompetent artwork and writing basically consisting of vomit, scatalogical references and poorly-thought out storylines, all of which turn me off. Some sort-of big press items that were ok, but there were better artists not getting book deals. Oh, and I didn't queue up to see any of the Names other than Bryan (and there wasn't much of a queue for him). I should have gone to see Paul Cornell, but he wasn't there when did go to see him and the crush of people trying to see Templesmith was getting ridiculous. And then Tony Stark turned up (sorry, rubbish photo - my decent camera was at the bottom of my bag by this point) and everything stopped wherever he was standing.

Ollie East was there for Blank Slate, who are publishing Trains Are... Mint and Proper Go Well High (instead of him selfpublishing). I bought copies of both, and loved them; these were sweet watercolours with a nice, otherworldy feel to them, the stories being Ollie's walks from Manchester to Blackpool and Liverpool respectively. Love these books; they're great artifacts, beautiful objects to have. Won't be everybody's cuppa, though. (I later discovered Ollie was the cover artist for Seldom Seen Kid.)

I bought far too much small indie comics costing under a fiver, too. I'll do proper reviews of them when I've read them all, but particular highlights were My Cardboard Life (oh! so lovely!), and The Rainbow Orchid, the first volume of a gorgeous-looking series of three, inked in the very best Belgian style. Brilliant work, can't wait for volume two.

Finally, I coughed for some Fetishman stuff as well, including a mug this time. Swag:

Penny joined me, and we decided to make up some sort of creative salon. There was a talk about Grandville held in the casino, so I had to go along to that (learned all about anthropomorphic cartoons through history, as well as some of the in-jokes in Grandville itself), then I made balloon doggies for a bunch of people, and then I was shattered and had to come home. But I did well, and did my bit to support the indie comics industry. In amongst everything else I met the model for the Doctor Sketchy's event they were doing - I love that idea, a burlesque evening where you're encouraged to draw - and had an extended gossip session with Michelle Culturevulture.

Oh! When I left it had been raining, and Clarence dock looked like this:

Seriously, this was an outstanding day; Lisa does a brilliant job of organising the festival and it showed on the day. Of course I'll be back, and loving every minute, again.

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