Fresh Thoughts

Thought Bubble Comic Art Festival – November 2019, Harrogate

As the floodplains of South Yorkshire faced inundation, travellers made their way, slowly, carefully and by unplanned routes around the waters and on to Harrogate. Through the magical towns along the railway line, Starbeck, Hammerton and Knaresborough – the town to where the murderers of Archbishop Thomas Becket fled in 1170. One can imagine the four knights riding into the keep, fear and menace and rumour swirling. 

As I travelled through Yorkshire I read Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans comic Die with its tale of the Brontë sisters and their miniature books in which they created a fantasy world. I had never heard the story, but when I switched on the TV that night to the local news, there the books were again. This time one of the books is being sold in Paris with the Brontë Parsonage museum fighting to bring the precious relics home to where they were created. Back to Yorkshire. Such is the power of creativity.

Fantasy worlds, drama and all the forces of nature. That was my introduction to the first Thought Bubble Festival to be held in Harrogate, moving from its former home in Leeds. This time it was in one venue with three large halls. The halls felt a bit like video game levels. The first was quite intense and they got slightly more relaxing and spacious until the final boss fight with the cafe and a well earned Americano and Kit-Kat.

There were hundreds of creators at the festival and it was a delight to meet so many of them and chat. Inevitably there are creators I missed and books I wish I had bought (possibly some I wish I hadn’t, but one should always be open minded!) That said, my haul was fairly substantial and I have only had a chance to read a few books. 

Shamrock sketch by Vince Hunt

I got two fantastic commissions. One was from Vince Hunt and I went for my favourite obscure national stereotype Marvel heroine Shamrock. Old school Contest of Champions costume of course.

Gustaffo Vargas sketch of Marvelman/Miracleman

The other was from the amazing Gustaffo Vargas who blew my socks off with his Marvelman/Miracleman sketch. Gustaffo also had a new book – Manu –  which I was very happy to pick up – from what I have read so far it seems wonderful. His artistic talent is one of the most outstanding in the UK small press scene and is matched by an ability to create amazing, unique and imaginative worlds. He has a bright future ahead of him, no doubt.

There was a great lineup of panels and I managed to get along to a few. Probably my favourite was the ‘leaving do’ for Giant Days complete with card for all the audience to sign. The panel on witchcraft and the occult was educational and fun, although a bit light on comics content. I couldn’t get in to ‘Silence! To Astonish’ as I was late (not happy). Jock was a lovely man and gave away tons of swag to the audience. The Protest comics panel was fine but too top-down and should have had a lot more audience participation, it approached political comics from a narrow viewpoint and would have benefited from some broader input. 

But what about the comics, Mr Narrator? I have quite the pile to get through, but here are some early highlights. 

Priestess by Olayitan Williams and Elijah Johnson is very ambitious and professional comic featuring two superheroic tales. It has huge amounts of energy and features art that you would not be surprised to see at a publisher like Image or Dark Horse – indeed, it reminded me of early issues of Ghost.

Tulou by Chris Manson, is a tale of a post-apocalyptic world which draws on the authors Scottish/Cantonese origins and in particular ideas of ancestor worship. A unique and fascinating take.

I Know You, Just Tell Me Who You Are by Tara Hamilton is a fascinating introduction to Prosopagnosia or face-blindness which was educational and structure and softly pencilled style leads the reader through a difficult topic with gentleness.

Torunn Grønbekk was a pleasure to chat to and far too modest. If you have not seen her amazing painted prints you are missing something. I practically had to force her to sell me her new comic The Last Train from Brumek – of which she is the author and not the artist in this case. It was worth insisting, a touching work dealing with persecution and seeking refuge. It could apply to India during partition, Europe’s darkest moments or indeed, the borders of the EU or the USA today.

Just Before I Sleep by Elizabeth Querstret deals with the type of horrible thoughts one has in the liminal hours of drifting. During our brief conversation she managed to home in on my own phobia to the extent that I nearly fainted. Such power!

There were a few previews at the show including Woodland Creatures – a tale of bloodthirsty and occasionally lusty werewolves from Leith fantasy author Cristina Roswell with the creative team Fali Ruiz-Dávila and Tomás Aira. The preview sets up the tale nicely and has a professional look, if it can avoid genre cliches it should be a great read. There is a bar in Leith called Woodland Creatures and I am a bit scared to go there now.

It was great to meet up with Una and have a quick chat. Una is an important voice in British comics who takes on subject matters that others just don’t touch. Becoming Unbecoming dealt with domestic violence and her latest self-published book On Sanity looks at the family and mental health. It is a hard-hitting work on an important topic. The writing style does not sensationalise and presents a situation that many find themselves in a straightforward way. The art style sees Una’s customary use of spare illustrations with colour carefully used to draw the eye.

I have a lot more to get through and am looking forward to the amazing looking Andromeda by Portugese author Zé Burnay which is beautiful and came with a CD soundtrack. It was also great to meet Luke Healy, whose Americana I recently read and loved – I also look forward to reading How To Survive In the North which I picked up at the con. Fraser Campbell had two new books which look great – Heart of Steal with Katie Fleming and House of Sweets with Iain Laurie, David B Cooper and Colin Bell. They will be at the top of my reading pile.

 I will have to do a gallery of the little sketches many people did within their books, some are so cool! I’m sure there are some undiscovered classics in my unread pile, and I will be sure to share the good word when I find them.

Thought Bubble is also about being social, which I know not everyone is totally comfortable with, I tried my best. It was great to see the Dundee ‘That Comic Smell crew, the Awesome Podcast guys, Gareth Hopkins, Sarah Harris, James McCulloch and many more. Such a lot of cool, friendly and knowledgeable people. Spot some of them below! Oh, and I met Kim-Joy!

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