Regular readers of my blog will already be well aware of my fondness for the Thought Bubble Festival, held every year on the verge of winter in Yorkshire, England, but I can’t help but to feel the need to evangelise on its behalf once again.
The original plan was to tighten our belts and skip TBubs this year having been to two of the last three events, but when old pal and Top Shelf Productions supremo Chris Staros suggested that he was coming back to the UK – for the first time in eleven years – especially to visit the festival, we were all in. Chris had been my houseguest and convention buddy for over a dozen consecutive years before circumstances dictated otherwise, so we were sure to have a ball. With my Strangehaven stock cupboards almost bare, it didn’t make sense to take a table of my own at the show, so it was a busman’s holiday again – but, as ever – it did not disappoint.
Thought Bubble is still growing after seventeen years, and I’m not sure that the fondly remembered UKCAC and various Bristol-based comics events ever lasted that long (although LICAF is still going strong). There were more attractions than ever before – something like 450 exhibitors (almost all independent creators), plus eighty official guests – and the queues for entry on Saturday morning stretched the length of the convention centre; a sight I don’t remember ever seeing for a UK event. Even the traditionally slow start to Sunday was palpably much busier, and I was hearing several veteran exhibitors claiming that it had been their best show of the year, if not their best show ever.
While Chris had his own business to conduct on the convention floor, Geenie and I sought out many of our old friends and favourite creators, serendipitously discovering new favourites along the way.
We immediately hit a rich vein of quality in the Redshirt Hall, with old chums Martin Simpson (his Nord an essential purchase), Gustaffo Vargas (Anticucho) and Norm Konyu (Downlands), plus Geenie’s hot pick, the incredible folk horror infused illustrator Zé Burnay completing the row. There was also Roger Langridge doing a roaring trade in his auto-bio Hotel Fred collections, prehistoric creature artist supreme Steve White, Aly Fell with his gorgeous new book The Kissing Gate and the peerless Becky Cloonan (Somna) with new mini-comics.
Geenie remains awestruck with the immaculately attired Abz J. Harding and got very excited to learn about the forthcoming Parliament of Rooks project that she and Comicraft main man Rich Starkings have cooked up. In the meantime she picked up the collected Ask For Mercy to whet her appetite for eldritch comics while she eagerly awaits the ‘fancy bird man comic’.
I finally got to chat to master comics artist and musician Marc Laming (Eden) after who knows how many years, as well as catching up with the bewhiskered Sean Azzopardi who’s more prolific than ever, with his huge range of autobiographical mini comics and art prints.
Moving on to the DSTLRY Hall, we found the effervescent Tom Eglington (Thistlebone), and what a delight to finally meet Con Chrisoulis, biographer of musicians’-early-years-of-struggle Rebel, Rebel and Tales of the Smiths, after several near-misses in previous years. We also had a lovely, long-overdue chat with the Bad Machinery and Steeple creator John Allison.
Geenie’s favourite Alisdair Wood was there, with his range of beautifully assembled ‘fanzines’, the horror-themed Claret and his new sci-fi salmagundi Phaser, as was Doug Noble with a tableful of his Pocket Chiller minis.
How I’ve managed to be a comics fan, collector and reader all my life and not yet come across Karl Christian Krumpholz (30 Miles of Crazy!) before now beats me. He had travelled over from America with lots of his wonderful slice-of-life comics about modern life and the city, a real treasure to discover.
In the Bubbleboy Hall we caught up with Colin Mathieson (Zulu: Water-cart Rescue) and David Baillie (Red Thorn), my old buddy, ex-Southendian Alex Paknadel (Red Goblin, All Against All), usual suspects Sean Phillips (Reckless et al) and his chip off the old block Jacob Phillips (That Texas Blood), Chris Geary (International Aces) with his minimalist sketches, Mark Stafford with his gorgeous career-spanning book Salmonella Smorgasbord, as well as comics stalwarts and superstar couple Leah Moore (Morrison Hotel) and John Reppion (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). Finally, Kate Mia White’s table of black-and-white goth creature-themed prints and merch was an irresistible attraction for cat-lover Geenie.
Harrogate itself is a splendid town, and out of convention hours we sampled some of its delights, eschewing the famous Turkish Baths in favour of various eateries and hostelries, including the delightful Scandinavian-style cafe Baltzersen’s, the tapas-and-cocktails bar Revolución de Cuba and those fine Italian restaurants Gianni’s, Stuzzi and Vivido.
Each night after the convention floor had closed, the action gradually moved to the nearby Majestic Hotel bar – and on Saturday night, dedicated rooms for the Mid-Con Party. With there also being a wedding and a charity gala taking place at the hotel, it made for an interesting evening of people-watching.
While surrounded by much comics-and-alcohol-fuelled merriment, I managed to catch up with Sussex-village-based cartoonist Julian Hanshaw (Space Junk) on the quieter Friday night, and an all-too-brief chat with my old mucker Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth). And five years on from mistaking me for Tony James of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, I had a good catch-up with master-of-all-trades JAKe Detonator. Geenie was pleased as punch to finally meet the very dapper man-at-the-crossroads Paul Gravett after many years of attending his talks in London, and reading his many books and articles.
Of course, any trip to Harrogate would not be complete without a quick dash to the infamous Majestic toilets (the subject of a crowdfunded comic anthology).
Too many folks we managed to miss entirely, or could only wave at from afar before they melted away among the crowds like mirages; Tula Lotay, Fraser Campbell, Joel Meadows, Sarah Gordon, Joe Latham, Lucy Sullivan, D’Israeli, Ian Edgington, Russell Mark Olsen, Martin Simmons, Steve Thompson, the abstracted Gareth A Hopkins, Kieron Gillen (with a mouthful of salt and vinegar crisps) and many more. Maybe next year!
We barely sampled the wares of the vast number of astonishingly talented, hard working and wonderfully diverse creators who show up here every year, and in 2023 it was close to overwhelming. We came home with a box full of incredible stuff (see below), but we could have bought ten, twenty times more books. We didn’t even get the chance to enjoy any of the panels, workshops or signings.
Nabil Homsi, the Thought Bubble team and the growing army of redshirts have worked wonders yet again. As always, an unforgettable – if exhausting – experience, and if you’ve never been, I’d recommend cloning yourself to make sure you can get round to see everything and then blocking out that weekend in November next year on your calendar right now.
Below: Some of our convention pickups.
Special thanks to Geen Geenie for help in compiling and editing this post, and for providing additional photography.