the con is on!

As Leeds’ Thought Bub­ble 2015 con ap­proaches, David Bar­nett talks to or­gan­iser Lisa Wood

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It takes a lot to up­stage War­ren El­lis an­nounc­ing a new comics project, but Thought Bub­ble, the Leeds­based con­ven­tion that’s been qui­etly build­ing up to be­come per­haps the most im­por­tant UK comics event, man­aged it this year.

El­lis was on stage with his artist col­lab­o­ra­tor, Tula Lo­tay, at the Im­age Expo in San Fran­cisco in July to un­veil their new hor­ror ti­tle Heart­less when it was men­tioned that Tula – not-sos-ecret iden­tity Lisa Wood – was also the founder and di­rec­tor of Thought Bub­ble, which takes place in West York­shire ev­ery Novem­ber.

“Ev­ery­one started cheer­ing and ap­plaud­ing,” says Lisa. “It was a bit of a shock. I was like, how’s that hap­pened?”

in­stant suc­cess

How in­deed. Thought Bub­ble is now in its ninth year, and Lisa (she adopted her al­ter ego for her comics work af­ter fear­ing her given name was too anony­mous for peo­ple to find her on­line) couldn’t have en­vis­aged how it was go­ing to take off when she first mooted the idea of stag­ing a north­ern con­ven­tion in 2007.

She was work­ing at Leeds’ Trav­el­ling Man comic shop at the time and had no ex­pe­ri­ence of event man­age­ment. “I’d never or­gan­ised any­thing be­fore,” says Lisa. This was gen­tly pointed out to her. She went ahead and or­gan­ised it any­way, with some sup­port and ad­vice from the or­gan­is­ers of the Leeds Film Fes­ti­val, who of­fered to share some of their event space… in the base­ment of Leeds Town Hall.

“I was hop­ing maybe a cou­ple of hun­dred peo­ple would turn up, if we were lucky,” says Lisa. “In the end, we got 500 over the week­end.”

She hadn’t seen any­thing yet. Thought Bub­ble grew and grew. Last year some­thing like 11,000 peo­ple at­tended the events. This year is ex­pected to be even big­ger. And its rep­u­ta­tion is grow­ing, too.

Lisa says, “I was at Comic-Con in San Diego and peo­ple were com­ing up to me, telling me they’d heard about Thought Bub­ble.”

global ap­peal

The guest list is a who’s who of comic ta­lent from all dis­ci­plines and from around the globe. This year alone you’re go­ing to see Becky Cloo­nan, Kate Beaton, John Rep­pion, Leah Moore, Sean Phillips, David Lloyd, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie… And that’s just the tip of the ice­berg.

In fact, you’ll see Gillen and McKelvie there ev­ery year, whether there’s a Phono­gram or Wicked + Divine to pro­mote or not. Gillen says: “Thought Bub­ble’s growth has ba­si­cally dove­tailed with the re­nais­sance in Bri­tish comics in the same pe­riod. It’s grown from scrappy and charm­ing into the high­light of the Bri­tish cons cal­en­dar.

“There’s larger cons. There’s artier cons. There’s cons which serve one part of the genre more. But there’s noth­ing which is a snap­shot of an egal­i­tar­ian cul­ture like Thought Bub­ble, with world su­per­stars on ad­ja­cent ta­bles to kids with their first black and white zines. If

ev­ery­one started ap­plaud­ing. i was like, how has this hap­pened?

you want to know what comics is like at its best, you go to Thought Bub­ble.”

Gillen and McKelvie love Thought Bub­ble, so much so that their an­nual post-con DJ ses­sion is now a beloved fix­ture of the event.

Gillen agrees: “It has the best dance floor in all comics. If you want to see how comic fans can throw down given a lit­tle en­cour­age­ment, the af­ter party is it. That we get to DJ there is a bless­ing.”

Thought Bub­ble has long since out­grown its bit of space in the Town Hall base­ment – now it takes over the Royal Ar­mouries site on Leeds docks. In fact, it’s out­grow­ing that as well, but Lisa is de­ter­mined to re­main loyal to the vi­sion of a West York­shire con­ven­tion she dreamed up years ago.

“We have sat down in the past and won­dered if we might have to move, maybe to Manch­ester or some­where, due to space and venue costs,” says Lisa. “It’s al­ways more and more of a chal­lenge ev­ery year, fit­ting it all in. But I don’t think we could move out of Leeds af­ter all this time.”

That’s be­cause Thought Bub­ble isn’t just a place for comic fans – in fact, it works to avoid that. Un­like most other cons, it’s knit­ted into the fab­ric of the com­mu­nity. The Thought Bub­ble team work with lo­cal groups in Leeds and Bradford who deal with refugees and peo­ple with autism, for ex­am­ple, to en­sure all sec­tors of the com­mu­nity can get ac­cess to the world of comics. Chil­dren get in free and the ticket costs are de­lib­er­ately kept low to en­sure ac­ces­si­bil­ity to all.

“We’ve al­ways been about in­clu­siv­ity,” says Lisa. “Peo­ple go away from the event and talk about how friendly it is, how wel­com­ing. That’s what we’ve al­ways aimed for.”

The pres­sures have only in­creased with Lisa’s art ca­reer tak­ing off so mas­sively in the past year or two. Since 2013 she’s had art and/or cover cred­its on as di­verse ti­tles as Ad­ven­tures of Su­per­man, the Ver­tigo an­thol­ogy Bod­ies, Im­age’s Supreme Blue Rose, The Wicked + The Divine, and of course the new Heart­less ti­tle from Im­age.

a friendly con­ven­tion

“There’s so much go­ing on!” says Lisa, who’s also find­ing her­self jet-set­ting off from leafy Ilk­ley – where she breaks away from the art desk to get up on the dra­matic moors for “ex­er­cise and san­ity” – to cons, ex­pos and sign­ings around the world.

That’s meant her time on Thought Bub­ble is squeezed tighter… but thank­fully she’s got a team headed up by Martha Ju­lian and Clark Burscough to help steer the con to fruition ev­ery year. But no mat­ter how busy she gets as Tula Lo­tay, Lisa Wood’s heart will al­ways be in the friendli­est comic con on the cal­en­dar.

And Kieron Gillen whole­heart­edly agrees. You can al­most see the con­tented smile on his face as he sighs: “Ba­si­cally, I look on Thought Bub­ble as my Christ­mas.”

One of the many fans of cosplay who at­tend Thought Bub­ble each year. Se­ri­ously, it’s a blast and you should all go in Novem­ber.

Above:

Above:

Ev­ery­one is wel­come at Thought Bub­ble, from the tallest Stormtroop­ers to the lit­tlest bounty hunters.

Be­low:

Thought Bub­ble seems to grow big­ger and big­ger ev­ery year.

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