Thought Bubble 2013: Pure Comics Culture

Alasdair Stuart writes;

I've been trying to think of a word that describes Thought Bubble for about a day now and I think I've finally got it; pure. Thought Bubble is one of the most pure conventions on the circuit, an espresso jolt of creativity and comic culture.

You can see it in the location before you even get to the show. The Royal Armories complex is equal parts Starfleet Academy and halls filled with historical weapons of death, sprawled across a chunk of Leeds riverside. It's a wildly eccentric location but it's one that defines and shapes the character of the con, this year, more than ever.

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The perception amongst fans and pros alike is that New Dock Hall is the heart of the con, and competition for tables is fierce.  So fierce in fact that this year, they sold out in two hours. As a result of the huge demand, the con leased a third hall for the first time, with Allied London Hall this year's new boy. A former shopping arcade, it could safely be described as minimalist, a bare bones concrete room filled with tables and, by Sunday, a lot of electric heaters. There was a steady flow of traffic through it, although a couple of people did comment that it wasn't especially busy. Talking to a staff member about this a little while later, I found out the reason for it is simply that it takes a couple of years for a new location to be in with con goers. There are rumors Allied London is going to be redeveloped by its owners but, if the con does need it again next year, I'd look for it to be a lot busier.

Thought Bubble 2013: Pure Comics Culture

The odd thing is, the minimalist vibe of Allied London spoke to the overall ethos of the con. There's almost zero bullshit at Thought Bubble. It's a comic con as opposed to a ComicCon, so there's no one pushing a movie or a TV show, no endless lines (There are queues but it is the UK after all) and no social hierarchy whatsoever. There are just staff, creators and fans, and you can talk to whoever you want to. You just may have to wait in line a few minutes.

Thought Bubble 2013: Pure Comics Culture

That ease of access ran through the three social spaces in the con too.The tea shop on site (Called Tea Bubs, after the show's nickname) was a large room with a bar, some chairs and seemingly endless supplies of coffee and stew. It was packed constantly, as was the chill out lounge and panel room, called Speech Bubble (Again with the pun name win!).

Speech Bubble was one of the best panel spaces I've ever seen. It was, again, stripped down, a concrete hall with a wooden audience riser (Rather splendidly astroturfed in one spot to act as stairs) and a projection system for the panels. Without the usual hotel seating and constant background noise of people outside the room, it naturally focused the audience's attention on whatever was being said. Even better, the audience never dropped below 'mostly full', regardless of whether the panel was from a mainstream or indie group of creators.

But it's creators where Thought Bubble is at its best, and simplest. This is a show where there are no boundaries, where fans, indie and mainstream creators are all on the same level. New Dock Hall's tables showed this perfectly, with Image happily sharing aisle space with individual creators like Doug Braithwaite and David Hine, as well as smaller companies like Accent UK and Markosia. It was the same across every aisle, the simple act of showing up and getting a table placing you on the same level as everyone else in the room. There was no social hierarchy, nothing precious, just a concentrated hub of comic fans and creators having an extended conversation.

The show wasn't perfect, with the slower traffic in Allied London and the lines for the signing tables clogging the bottom of New Dock both problematic, but no show ever is and few shows are more welcoming. In fact, Thought Bubble is a perfect choice for someone looking to attend a con for the first time, it's friendly atmosphere and relaxed approach helping cure any set of pre-con nerves. It's also a perfect show for anyone wanting to get a sense of the comic industry as a whole. Indie creators, small press, mainstream and fans are all on site and all there for the same thing; comics. Like I said at the top of the article, it's a very pure show but it's also a hugely positive show, both creatively and in terms of seeing the industry as something to be proud of. A hugely inspiring weekend, and a perfect cure for the end of year blues, Thought Bubble is a highlight of the UK con circuit. Go in 2014, and prepare to be inspired.

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