It’s been three years since I’ve attended a comics event, even as a punter, so our trip to Harrogate in November was a delight. It’s just as well I made no plans to exhibit as (followers of my fortunes would know already) I would have had nothing to sell. Instead, Geen Geenie and I enjoyed a relaxed weekend catching up with old friends and making a few new ones and discovering a plethora of wonderful new comics and creators.
The pandemic and other matters had kept us away from comics events since the last Thought Bubble Comic Art Festival (the first in Harrogate in 2019) and while this year’s event by comparison was a little less frantic – with over four hundred exhibitors, plus guests, publishers and retailers spread out over three enormous halls – it was still a joy for any fan of the medium.
I’m not sure if it was that everyone we spoke to or interacted with seemed to be just happy to be there, post-Covid, mask-free, and among fellow like-minded people or whether it was just our perception; but the vibe was overwhelmingly positive. No one was giving it the hard-sell, no one was too important to talk to you. It was just a completely lovely place to be.
The table curation was excellent; each room, and each section of each room had its own unique personality, navigating your way through the rows of tables felt natural and instinctive. Thought Bubble, particularly in its relatively new venue, has reached a maturity beyond its years. Kudos to all the organisers and volunteers for making this one of the very best comic events, year in, year out.
Let me just say this: There is a lot to see. If you were to be diligent and have a quick browse through every exhibitor’s wares, you would only have just over a couple of minutes to spend at each table over the entire weekend. That’s with no time for refreshments, conversations with old friends, rummaging through back issue bins, attending any of the great panels, queuing for signatures from any of the special guests and so on. So, you need to plan well, and be selective.
For those that are interested, below is a more in-depth Thought Bubble 2022 Diary.
Sadly, I neglected to take many photos. Partly because of a feeling of being off-duty, but mostly because there was just so much to see and do that I just wasn’t tuned in enough. The paltry few here do not even begin to do justice to the fabulous atmosphere.
Saturday: The Big Con
We found a superb place for breakfast on Oxford Street called Balterzen’s. A Scandinavian-inspired Yorkshire cafe so popular with the locals that you have to queue outside until there’s a free table. The menu has a range of savoury delights, but we sampled a range of their pastries, buns, porridge and waffles and of course coffee over two consecutive daily visits. Highly recommended. It’s our little secret, right?
A short walk down Union Street is the Harrogate Convention Centre, where the Thought Bubble Convention takes place. A massive, modern, but by no means impersonal, multi-purpose hall with three large main rooms. A quick and painless entry procedure saw us issued with our weekend wristbands.
We headed straight for Sean Phillips’ table to pick up a copy of the $1.00 comic, Neo Noir: The World of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips which I had completely failed to pick up anywhere else in the UK. We chatted about his patronage of The Lakes Comics Art Festival and his early career in British girls’ comics weeklies. We also picked up two trades drawn by Sean’s son Jacob, Newburn and That Texas Blood.
As I already had her new book It’s Lonely at The Centre Of The Earth on order, we picked up a copy of elven-eared Zoe Thorogood’s first graphic novel The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott and marvelled at the detail in her print-size original art. This young girl is a phenomenon. Her new book It’s Lonely At The Centre Of The Earth has been getting rave reviews from all quarters and was sold out at the show by Sunday morning. It was sold out on Amazon and everywhere else early the following week mere days after publication (but now back in a second print and available from your local comic shop).
It’s always wonderful to hang out with Martin Simpson (aka Simo) and his lovely partner Tish, both there primarily promoting Martin’s upcoming extraordinary new book Nord, which I was lucky enough to preview recently and was just successfully crowdfunded. You can still pre-order a copy from the Crowdfundr website.
Crowdfunding plays a bit part in independent publishing now of course, and among those who were there with their own crowdfunded books were Lucy Sullivan with following up to Barking, her hot-off-the-press Shelter: Early Doors, Robin Hozelmann, Fraser Campbell with a stack of titles including Ind-xed, House of Sweets and his newest, Monster Mates to name a few; and finally those wonderful Etherington Brothers. Their long-running series of How to Think When You Draw and Lorenzo’s Deluxe Sketchbook trilogy were flying off the table and we shared experiences of the old Bristol festival and the trials of self-publishing.
Great to meet Norm Konyu, whose acclaimed book The Junction I have on my to-read shelf, and to discover the work of Peruvian artist/writer Gustaffo Vargas.
We caught up with so many old, old friends including Colin Mathieson, Doug Noble, ex-pat Elephantman legend Richard Starkings and a surprise visit from Sean Azzopardi. Gareth Hopkins was back with another new book of his highly original abstract comics, Explosive Sweet Freezer Razors, which is quite something to behold.
Then there was Darryl Cunningham who now has a splendid range of his non-fiction books taking apart Putin, billionaires, conspiracy theorists, bankers and more. The multi-talented Tom Eglington has added the skills of paper cutting to his already impressive illustration mastery with a range of extraordinary paper and wood cut items on display at his booth.
We couldn’t help but to pick up a few bits from Jonathan Edwards’s hugely impressive array of prints and sketchbooks of portraits and landscapes, all rendered in his highly distinctive style, and as always, alongside Felt Mistress.
Really encouraging to see a smattering of US-based publishers at the show, including the lovely Maria Hoey with the range of Coin-Op Books that she creates with her brother Peter. Playing with the comics medium in an innovative formalism, they’ve deservedly been scooping up all the awards and festival prizes of late
Adhouse Books also made their way across the Atlantic and brought a selection of deliciously beautiful books with them. Most of which I already owned, but I gratefully picked up a couple which I didn’t and brought home a pennant for my troubles.
Shelly Bond was due to appear on a couple of panels to promote her book on editing and self-publishing, Filth & Grammar but got stuck in the US along with her British born hubby Philip so unfortunately, we didn’t get to see her.
We did however get to pick up a bunch of issues of The77 comic which features the work of Geen Geenie’s brother Charlie Gillespie (best known for his work in 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine) and got a bonus pin into the bargain.
Saturday Evening: Just Majestic!
The famous Saturday night Thought Bubble party this year was in a designated room at the Majestic Hotel. It was here that an exchange took place between Geen Geenie and a half-human, half-bird reveller that might be a distant relation to the Pagliacci clown story.
The bird costume really had to be seen to be believed. Adorned with real black feathers, it was one of the creepiest, most beautiful and honestly probably the best costume I’ve ever seen with my own eyes and this girl was dancing in it in all her gothic magnificence.
Geenie, standing next to her in the line for the bar, couldn’t help but compliment her on it.
“Oh my god, your costume is fantastic.”
“Thank you so much”
“You know who you would love? There’s this girl who does a really cool creepy bird man character at the con. I haven’t been to her stall yet because she’s uber goth and I’m afraid I’ll seem silly. Her name’s Abz J. Harding.”
“But my dear, I am Abz J. Harding.”
And that’s how Geen Geenie nearly died of embarrassment.
(Geenie says; “for the record she couldn’t have been more lovely and we went to see her at her table the next day!”)
Also at the party was new Festival Director, a positively buoyant Nabil Homsi and his significantly more famous wife, Bake Off finalist Kim-Joy; it had been far too long and it was great to see them.
I also had my own (somewhat less) embarrassing encounter that night. I had arranged to meet Martin Simpson in the bar of the Majestic, but with so many people and so much floor space to cover, it wasn’t an easy task. Everyone’s favourite muckraker Rich Johnston asked me who I was looking for and above the din I shouted “Martin Simpson” and he said he would let him know if he saw him.
I found Martin myself later that evening, outside on the foggy patio as a real pea-souper descended on Harrogate; but on the Sunday night I saw Rich again and he said,
“I found Martin! He’s over there. But he seems a bit confused.”
This was unsurprising as Rich was pointing to Martin Simmons (i.e. not Simpson), artist of the excellent Department of Truth, who I’d never met before, so I had to go over and explain myself.
Luckily Martin was as personable as my other Martin, and I told him how much I was loving what he and James Tynion IV were doing, so it all worked out. Like I said, everyone was so lovely.
Sunday at the Convention Centre was a little quieter, as it tends to be, but with so much ground to cover, I’m sure it was a welcome relief to many punters.
I caught up with Ben Dickson who has started to build a nice little catalogue of work and finally picked up a copy of his epic A New Jerusalem; and it was nice to finally seek out and say hi to Chris Askham and Pete Doree.
With publisher John Anderson having returned to Canada, there was sadly no representation at the show by Soaring Penguin Press or Meanwhile…but I did bump into a number of the contributors other than Martin Simpson:
I had a great chat with Chris Reynolds about his rather extraordinary and atypical daily work routine, Geenie bought a cute book of woodland sketches from Sarah Gordon, and we crossed paths with the itinerant Mark Stafford who was nominally based at the Cartoon Museum’s table.
I couldn’t get away entirely scott-free and was politely asked to sign a handful of Meanwhile…s for someone while waiting for Chris Wildgoose to sign a copy of his variant cover of Proctor Valley Road #1 for me.
There were a fair few comic retailers walking the aisles too – apart from Nabil (owner of Travelling Man), it was great to bump into Regie Rigby of local shop Destination Venus, briefly saw Jared Myland from OK Comics of Leeds and Jeff Chahal of Close Encounters Northampton who was on great form and shared some of his plans for his comic event NICE.
Joe Latham was doing swift business with his range of gorgeously cute mini-comics and enamel pins and we got to meet Abz J Harding in her daytime convention costume – more conventional but yet somehow even more intimidating. Many words were spoken and money and goods changed hands at both tables.
GeenGeenie had much of her own catching up to do with Gary Northfield, Jim Medway and Dinosaur artist supreme Steve White who introduced us to writer (and, incidentally, excellent portrait painter) Torunn Grønbekk.
Kieron Gillen, with his baby strapped securely to his chest, and his wife Chrissy Williams were at their table conveniently situated next to Leah Moore and John Reppion, and it was heartwarming to see both of those comics superstar couples. In fact, Leah and Geenie had a real emotional moment about coming through the past three years, the important work of comics, and everything that’s happened since. And Geenie and John shared notes about Hellebore magazine among other folk horror related discussions.
And that wrapped up T-Bubs for another year. An expensive, exhausting, but pretty much essential weekend for any comic lover in the UK or beyond.
Rather than face a four or five hour drive back to Essex on Sunday evening, we took the luxury of a further night’s stay over in Harrogate and drove back the following day as the fog descended over the UK, stopping off in Leeds to visit Tula Lotay’s exhibition, Shadow Self in Leeds town centre, which you can read about here.
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