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Thursday, 24 November 2011

In Review: Thought Bubble 2011

Comics writer Cy Dethan was one of many creators at this year's Thought Bubble event in Leeds earlier this month and has kindly agreed to let us post his thoughts on the vent on downthetubes, first published on his own blog...

Thought Bubble has always been considered a creator-friendly convention, so it was a massive kick to be launching three separate ventures at this one. Firstly, we had the long-awaited print release of The Indifference Engine: A Holographic Novel, which I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Having Rob Carey, the book’s artist, at the table over the weekend was deeply cool, as the man’s a total dynamo.

(Under the heading of “speaking in whispers so we don’t jinx it,” a brief conversation with Markosia suddenly means work on an I sequel is likely to kick off in earnest very soon...)

Next up was Broadcast: the TV Doodles of Henry Flint. Being a dedicated art book, this is really Henry’s show. In providing a sort of contextual commentary to the work, my role is pretty much that of a DVD extra. That said, I had an incredible time wrapping my skull around the disarming, disturbing weirdness that Henry so masterfully orchestrates, and hopefully some of that comes across in my contribution to the completed book.

Finally, there was Barry Nugent’s Tales of the Fallen anthology. Barry’s development of the Unseen Shadows property from self-published cult hit to full-on transmedia empire has proven a masterclass in what a creator with a clear vision can accomplish. With scripts from Richmond Clements, Pete Rogers, Dan Thompson and myself, and art by Steve Penfold, Conor Boyle, Roy Stewart and my Indifference Engine co-creator, Rob Carey, Tales of the Fallen fleshes out the backgrounds of several key figures from the Unseen Shadows universe while retaining a stand-alone independence that requires no prior knowledge of the novel. It was an extraordinary project to have been involved in, and I’m looking forward to getting my second bite soon.

The pre-ordering system Markosia has been operating turned out to have been a virtual necessity, as both their entire stock and ours of Indifference Engine and Slaughterman’s Creed were wiped out at the convention, due in no small part to comic shop owners looking to take large bundles of books from the tables. With more and more shops now opting to deal more directly with publishers, initiatives like pre-ordering and Stuart Gould’s excellent UK Comics service (whose first catalogue is now available) are becoming increasingly central to the indie scene.
My partner, Nic Wilkinson, was saved from performing a 50-minute lettering solo at the Saturday afternoon lettering workshop when she was joined by Ian Sharman in his hard-rocking steampunk hat. What emerged from this was one of the most interesting convention panels I’ve ever seen, with Nic and Ian taking attendees through the broad concepts and tiny details that underly comic book lettering, demonstrating that attention and forethought given to lettering strategy at every stage of a comic’s production make all the difference between seamless, fluid storytelling and becoming unreadable. For the rest of the show there was a steady stream of people coming up to the table with more questions about lettering, or asking for advice on the artistic and technical side of things. (Jim Campbell was sadly prevented from making the show this year due to a sudden deadline crunch but check out his blog for some of the best tutorials and info around).

On Sunday it was my turn to take a minor corner of that same stage (at the Alea Casino Cinema Room, straight across the gaming hall, turn left at the 1970s and take the lift t0 the second floor – if you saw the place you’d understand) for the Unseen Shadows panel. In the company of (almost) the whole creative squad, Barry took the audience through the evolution of the project from first principles to the verge of total media domination. I got to rattle off a few words about my Wrath of God story, which is a multi-narrative piece told almost entirely through the medium of gunplay. Great fun to write, and the art team of Steve Penfold and Gat Melvyn did a stunning job of bringing it to life. In a surprise move, Barry took the opportunity to announce a four-part miniseries involving Wrath of God’s protagonist, The Reverend, with the same creative team, along with a similar venture for Napoleon Stone by Fragments of Fate creators Pete Rogers and Roy Stewart.

Along with our launch books, Nic and I had taken along digital previews of Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours and White Knuckle. Thanks to everyone who asked about those. The level of interest and responses we got were really stunning, with the terms “dark”, “haunting” and “ominous” providing recurrent themes. I’ll be posting more as things develop on these projects, and both books are looking solid for launches in the first half of 2012.
In the “great to finally meet” category, we have Starburst columnist and horror writer, Philip Buchan (whose work combines Romantic Poet sensibilities with balls-out body-shock atrocity), artist Alwyn Talbot, whom I seriously need to work with right now, and both Conor Boyle and Roy Stewart, with whom I am currently working but can’t really talk about yet. Outstanding to catch up with all of these guys.

Another key figure in this category would be Jacob Welby, a writer I’ve been in email contact with for a while. Jacob’s got what I consider to be a really strong, deeply original story to tell, and an artist ideally suited to tell it with him, so I was excited to be able to introduce him to Markosia boss, Harry Markos, and watch him deliver his pitch. Best of luck to you, mate.
As far as weekend purchases go, my personal highlights would have to include a double-shot of Time Bomb ComicsDick Turpin books (by Steve Tanner, Andrew Dodd and Cancertown 2’s Graeme Howard), Jennifer Wilde #1 (Maura McHugh and Stephen Downey) and Dark Judgement 2, the second all-Rich McAuliffe and Conor Boyle Dark Judges book from Futurequake.

Random personal highlights would also feature tag-teaming with Corey Brotherson to introduce Jennie Gyllblad to the underlying concepts of professional wrestling, watching David Monteith win at life as he toured the convention with his wife and new child (described at one point as a baby wearing a full-size Predator backpack), Nic developing a new life goal of becoming a professional Roller Derby player while I snagged an incredible piece of art from Vicky Stonebridge as a present for her and reuniting the Digital Wolfpack when Paul Richardson arrived at the table.

In summary, I can’t stress enough how smoothly and professionally Thought Bubble is run. It basically doubled in size this year and there wasn’t a single sign of strain from where I was sitting. Congratulations, gratitude and a permanent slot in my convention schedule are most certainly due.

In fact, my only slightly shaky experience over the entire weekend was a minor Highlander moment I had during the Saturday night mid-convention party, on receiving the ominous warning, “Gary’s brought his cards”. This seemingly innocuous comment instantly brought the Quickening upon me, as it could mean only one thing: another magician was on the premises. It is a little-known fact that when two magicians meet on non-consecrated grounds, they must duel for The Prize. 

Luckily for all involved, I never found out who the mysterious “Gary” was, and his cards appear to have remained safely in their scabbard for the duration of my stay. There can, after all, be only one...

• Cy Dethan is a British comics writer whose credits include Cancertown, Slaughterman's Creed and the Starship Troopers Ongoing Series, currently kicking bloody great lumps out of the British comics industry. Check out his blog at http://theraggedman.blogspot.com

• Check out info on Thought Bubble at: http://thoughtbubblefestival.com

• Blogomatic 3000: Thought Bubble - Day 1 in Pictures

More Reviews

Kristyna Baczynski: Thought Bubble 2011
"... Always the highlight of my creative year both productively, working to release new content for the festival, and socially, meeting and talking to more excellent people in the festival week than cumulatively across the other fifty-one of the year. This year was super special, as I had the honour of being Thought Bubble's first Artist In Residence..."

Comic Conventions UK

Forbidden Planet International Blog, Part One

Forbidden Planet International Blog, Part Two

Lee Robson: Random Thoughts on Thought Bubble 
"The key thing about this year's Thought Bubble for me (apart from an aching pair of feet), was that I've come away from it feeling more energised and upbeat about comics and writing in general."

SFX: Thought Bubble - a Comic Convention for all the Family  
"There was all the usual fabulousness that Thought Bubble offers, and loads more beside: interesting and informative panels; dealer rooms that are like comicky caverns filled with a delicious mixture of small/indie and mainstream press selling their wares; signing tables with everyone from Gail Simone and Jeff Lemire to Mick McMahon and Roger Langridge; and the more unusual things like Planet Replicas where I picked up a brilliant Dredd badge keyring."

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