Some weekends you win, some you lose. For those who had the misfortune to meet me at the London Super Comic Convention this year would have known just how much bad luck I really did have that weekend. It didn’t necessarily mar the convention experience, but it did mean the social aspect of the convention was sorely missed.
But didn’t Thought Bubble change that? For myself, living in the depths of Somerset, it was a six hour journey to Leeds in Friday traffic. When I pulled into the car park I was pleasantly surprised and extremely grateful that not only had I happened upon the right car park, but I had got there at the right time and parked in something of a very convenient space indeed. I then walked out of the car and into the hotel lobby within 45 seconds. Result! To top it off just that little bit more, I walked out of the hotel entrance and within 30 seconds I was queuing for a wristband and waiting to get into the venue whilst being entertained by a rather jolly Irish chappie (who obviously hadn’t had a six hour drive but hey, I could forgive him for being a vision of jolliness on a rather glum and drizzly Saturday morning, it was Thought Bubble after all).
This was my first TB visit, distance and convenience always somehow stopping me from missing what many of our friends considered had been THE event of the last couple of years. I was impressed by the organisation, the location and the halls used were excellent and conducive, although having the official hotel venue at the Marriott quite such a walk away was a bit odd. They seemed to have most things quite sewn up, adding lovely touches like the roller girls as the venue police for instance made a for rather more pleasant experience than some thugs for hire experienced at other conventions.
Once inside the main venue, bee lines were made for the big hitters like Paolo Rivera, Mark Waid, Charlie Adlard, Yanick Paquette and Phil Noto. Rather unfortunately, Fiona Staples was suffering from a touch of the old food poisoning meaning she couldn’t make it, much to many attendees disappointment, myself included. There were also some excellent guests over in the smaller Armories hall making the choice of starting hall quite a tough one. The sickeningly talented Barry Kitson, the rather exciting Cameron Stewart and a great guest in Pia Guerra who was extraordinarily pleasant and humble, joined at various points by Jock, Laurence Campbell, Olly Moss and Becky Cloonan proved that the hall may have been physically smaller but the guestage (a word?) was certainly no worse for it.
The 2000AD stand was buzzing and rightly so with such hard work being put into the British mainstay at the moment. The likes of Simon Davis, Leigh Gallagher and Simon Fraser being joined by Robbie Morrison, Rob Williams and Henry Flint made sure the stand was busy throughout the days and kept those of us currently enjoying the progs a happy bunch indeed. The recent story-lines and cross-collaboration seemed to have been given the thumbs up by everyone and hopefully events like these will introduce more people into Tharg’s world.
It’s so very difficult to pick out or even list those in attendance that made the weekend what it was. Marc Laming has to have a mention for producing some of the best sketches of the weekend. Of course, the quality of Barry Kitson and Cameron Stewart made for some incredible pieces being produced on the fly in the smaller hall. The humility and generally approachable nature of Pia Guerra, Paul Duffield, INJ Culbard and of course Mark Waid himself made this a very comfortable convention indeed, something the likes of Kapow! just didn’t seem to get at all.
Surrounding the big names was lots of small press and people having a genuine go at entertaining people. It was a nice atmosphere and felt a little bit like the Bristol Expo does albeit slightly expanded. The quality of the small press on offer just gets better and better, it’s no wonder there is a buzz around creator owned at the moment. There were the usual cosplayers (glad Tony Harris wasn’t about!) filling the hall with ludicrously large guns and swords and suitably manipulated military paraphernalia strutting amongst the tuts (although the same “tuts” weren’t extended to Lara Croft or Red Sonja I noted…) but it wasn’t on the MCM scale, which for this miserable swine of a reviewer was a good thing as the event was very much focussed on comics and not the larger “popular culture” other events aim for.
If there was a negative to be pulled from the event, it was the managing of the big names and their queues. It was obvious that people would gravitate to them and in doing so caused the top of both halls to be something of a jam, stopping footfall through those areas and causing some of the small press tables to become inaccessible to the rest of us. Small gripes though in the scheme of things and I am sure they themselves noticed and intend to organise the busy corners a little better next year. In fairness they actually managed the queues themselves well, they just needed a bit more space around the big names to let people flow through them a little easier.
At the end of it all, it was a terrific way to end the convention year. There are a couple of smaller cons on the horizon to end the year but the big hitters have, well, hit I suppose. Kapow and LSCC may have been bigger in terms of numbers but this hit the nail on the head for many reasons. Kapow “lacked the pow” and in the main, wasn’t enjoyed by the serious convention visitor with its hugely overzealous policing and generally negative environment. There were a few people praising Kapow, but talking to many people since the event the general consensus is that they won’t go back in 2013. LSCC attracted easily the biggest name of the calendar year to the British Isles and for a first time event, managed to get close to the raw feel of a genuine convention for comic book and sequential art lovers and promises so much more for 2013. But yet there were niggles and there is plenty of room for improvement from the organisers, and knowing them and their diligence we can be sure they plan to address them for next year. Thought Bubble in comparison felt like it has been through the mill a little; like it has trod the path that the others are currently on and is now basking in the warm light of a comfortable convention, learned and strong as a result. It was friendly, laid back and brought over the people that we wanted to see, not just the “big two” stars but the independents too, making it a convention for all people and not just the spandex loving crowd. If LSCC was a bit predictable in choosing the George Perez’s of this world, this event seemed to cater to everyone by having a really strong balance of stars and that’s why it does so well. Pia Guerra would have been a huge hit at LSCC for example, but didn’t seem to fit the plan somehow amongst the rest of the big names so hopefully we’ll see more of those types of guests arriving next year.
The last two years have seen the amount of conventions in the UK rocket. To survive a saturated market, we need more conventions like this one, we need them to bring in the guests that appeal to every spectrum of the sequential art world and we need it well organised and focussed. You don’t need to look too far for a template in Thought Bubble for exactly that.