Self Made Hero

Thought Bubble 2014 Review

Thought Bubble 2014 Review

It’s the end of November and, once again, Thought Bubble was a roaring success. Perhaps no bigger than last year, it had some noticeable differences in organisation that went down both positively and negatively, depending on who you’d talk to.

The most obvious change was the introduction of the marquee in the centre of the convention space. Immediately, you’d think that this had increased the size of the convention, although comparatively it was probably about the same size as last year’s extra room. The advantages, however, were that a marquee is a lot easier to keep warm than the hollow bare-brick wall. Also using the central space for the major signings (people you knew would be busy, like Scott Snyder and Jock) meant that the New Dock Hall wasn’t completely full of seemingly endless queues. The downside to that was having to queue outside, in November. Still, you can’t have it all.

Fortunately the weather held and we barely saw a drizzle of rain – I expect there was great thanks from the cosplay crowd, of whom there were an incredible amount this year. I’m not sure how but it seems that every year I think I must have seen all of the costumes, until I see the post-con pictures and wonder how I could possibly have missed the adorable child in the jumpsuit with a Portal gun.

Post-Con Swag

Post-Con Swag

Other than that, it seemed like business as usual at the convention, which was great. There seemed to be a few things that fell through – the Diversity in Comics panel wasn’t racially diverse, for instance, but more on that later – although nothing ground to a halt. When you’ve been to Thought Bubble a few times you begin to see the patterns of exhibitors – you always know Dr Geoff is going to be there, and the Romantically Apocalyptic crew.

As a socially awkward person, I don’t always revel in being brought into conversations at exhibitor stalls, but I did have a few wonderful chats this year with independent artists. While not independent, my favourite talk was probably with David Hine, whom I queued for patiently to have Storm Dogs signed last year, but whose desk was virtually empty this year. We had a fantastic discussion about his book The Man Who Laughs, the origins of the Joker and the private life of Victor Hugo. These are some of my most treasured moments of Thought Bubble, when I can geek out on something that excites me with someone who’s managed to make something awesome.

The talks seemed hugely popular this year – several that I tried to attend in the Bury Theatre had snaked back to the door and then doubled in length again, and the line for the Gotham talk had been hopelessly long, which was a shame. The ones I did attend were pretty great though; the first of which was one of my favourites, The Best Thing I’ve Read All Year, which was alternatively dubbed “The White Bearded Man Panel” thanks to a few guests falling through. At least they were aware of it!

This is the best place to get recommendations, and I walked away with a whole bunch. Huge thanks go to Tom from Gosh Comics for recommending the Comic Book Slumber Party table, and specifically the Fairytales for Bad Bitches anthology which was read on the Saturday night and gratefully enjoyed. Supreme Blue Rose was another big push, and of course The Wicked and The Divine, which just won the British Comic Awards prestigious Best Comic award.

Other potential highlights – which have either been positioned on my radar or gone onto my Christmas list – included The Salt Lakes by Matt Taylor, a translation of three Japanese history comics for which I can’t remember the name, Beautiful Darkness, a new Stray Bullets, The Wrenchies and the upcoming Ody-C, z gender-swapped sci-fi version of the Odyssey which I cannot wait to get my grubby mitts on. I’m going to be poor for quite some time.

It was a good laugh of a talk though, and the suggestions were great. I was particularly pleased that riot grrrl comics were being actively promoted! The riot grrrl anthology is now sat on my bookshelf, screaming to be read. In time, my beauty!

For the second year of Diversity in Comics, there maybe could have been a bit more diversity – both from last year as well as in general. Howard Hardiman was in attendance again, the self-professed “gay cripple” who penned the excellent The Lengths which I snatched up last year after hearing him talk. I also noticed for the first time this year that he has a fantastic puzzle piece tattoo all over his lower arm – love it. He also showed a segment from one of his new books about a sleepy badger, where the titular badger comes across a black, disabled lesbian, which was a fantastic nod.

Unfortunately the panel was overwhelmingly white this year, largely because Barry Nugent hadn’t been able to come. He was fantastic at the talk last year but I couldn’t help thinking, with the increased amount of non-white exhibitors I’m beginning to see in the halls, they might have been able to get someone else. Donya Todd was charming though, and from my South-West neck of the woods, so I was pleased to find that I had already picked up her work in the riot grrrl anthology.

There were some great recommendations, including a seventies feminist publication called Spare Rib, and great women in comics like Suzy Varty, Trina Robbins and Eileen Crumb. We also discussed the problems when it comes to complaining about events like Thought Bubble and making them more accessible – I’d be curious to see if there are many negative reactions and how they are dealt with.

The Self Made Hero British graphic novelists talk was another great one, with the master of Cthulionic adaptations INJ Culbard joined by the creators of Ricky Rouse Has A Gun, which is another on my ever-growing Christmas list. I had already bought a series of grotesque cyberpunk postcards from John Aggs who describes Ricky Rouse as a “dumb book”, so was quite excited to see them talk about this piece that had been making waves for some time.

Finally, the only other panel I was able to make it to was the Journalism in Comics talk. The biggest topic of conversation was that of criticism, which was very interesting – we heard from Douglas Wolk, who prides himself on critical journalism, and Zainab who, like me, would rather be positive. Like her, I also shy away from giving negative reviews, being too aware that the subject could be reading it, although for someone in Douglas’s position this isn’t a luxury he can afford. I suppose it’s also about where you feel your responsibility lies – with the consumer, or with the creator of the work.

Again, the panel might have been a little better chosen. With only four panelists (including the moderator) it seemed out of place for one of them to barely do any comics journalism. Unfortunately music journalism doesn’t really translate as easily, and her comments – while insightful – felt out of context.

All in all, Thought Bubble still reigns supreme in the comic book festival circuit, especially as more and more conventions are going toward more mainstream media forms. Yes, Jason Momoa is very attractive, but comic book icon he is not – give me Tim Sale any day!

Finally, my weekend was made by meeting one of my personal heroes, Danielle Corsetto, and having her doodle in the copies of Adventure Time that I reviewed here and here.

So thank you once again Thought Bubble for the laughs, the inspiration, and the severely depleted bank account funds. I’m looking forward to next year already!


Posted by jenny in Comics, 0 comments
Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s first collection of graphic novels, the Scott Pilgrim series, took off to incredible heights of success, especially when you consider that they are manga sized and black and white, two features which are only now becoming more popular in the West. Scott Pilgrim became a cult hit because of its combination relatable, heavily flawed characters with video game inspired settings which made every geek reading squeal with pleasure. In his new book Seconds, O’Malley once again presents the reader with relatable characters, albeit this time they are in a fantasy/fairy tale setting.


The story focuses on Katie, a 29 year old chef for whom things are going…okay. It can’t be said that she’s having a hard life – she’s a well-appreciated cook at Seconds, opening a new restaurant all of her own, and she has a little work fling to keep her going in the bedroom department. But there are things she wishes she could change – she could have her long-term boyfriend back instead of losing him to her own secrecy, and the refurbishment of her new restaurant’s building could certainly be going smoother. It’s an entirely understandable state of being.

One night, she wakes in her bedroom above Seconds and sees a ghostly woman with red eyes hunched on her chest of drawers. The cryptic, squirrely girl scratches at her drawers and disappears, but when she checks the drawer later, nothing is in there, not even socks. But later on, while hooking up with her protégé in the larder, an accident causes the quiet new girl Hazel to be burned horribly along her arms. Wracked with guilt and having to sever her relationship with her boy toy, she falls asleep lonely and wakes up to the small blonde girl once again scratching at her drawers. This time when she looks, she finds a small notebook, a red mushroom and a card with printed instructions:


She hurriedly scribbles that she shouldn’t have been with Andrew when Hazel was hurt, consumes the mushroom and goes to sleep.

Armed with foreknowledge, she is able to not just prevent the accident from happening but also endears herself to Hazel by showing she knows that Hazel exists, when otherwise she was universally disliked and ignored for being too attractive and tall. The two of them form a fast bond when Katie discovers that Hazel has been drawing pictures of the ghostly woman from her room, and learns what a “house spirit” is. Hazel’s role as Katie’s guide to the folk tales of house spirits is charming and cute, perhaps because Hazel is an immediately sympathetic character, much more so than the protagonist Katie.

In the grand tradition of fairy tales, Katie is granted this brief power and then takes advantage of the situation. If she could change that event, what else could she change? As most people would agree, once you start righting wrongs it can be difficult to know where to stop, and the noble spirit in which she wrote her first mistake soon gives way to self-indulgent wishes, allowing her to erase hangovers and petty arguments at will. And, like all good fairy tales (in my opinion, of course) it delves easily into horror.


As well as being a morality tale which shows the importance of being careful what you wish for, and the need to consider how your actions affect others, it also has sci-fi elements of alternative timelines. These are represented in the form of a many-branched tree, each with separate twinkling lights in every fork, throughout which reality moves depending on which direction Katie pushes it. As most people find in alternative timelines, even the things that were awful and heartbreaking – in fact, especially those things – are what make us who we are, and by erasing the mistake entirely you could find yourself in an even worse place. Besides, if you change something that defined you, are you the same person? It tows the line beautifully between science fiction and philosophy.

The way O’Malley shows the course of Katie’s life spinning out of control is surreal and disconcerting – what happens when you’ve changed your life so many times is that is begins to unravel around you. Humans aren’t meant to have this power for exactly the reason that abusing it can cause catastrophic consequences, and what’s more the mistakes are where we learn about life.

Bryan Lee O’Malley doesn’t do pin-ups or bizarre artistic effects in his work, but what he is excellent at is portraying real people with real issues and faults. Katie’s self-absorbed, impetuous and sometimes kind of mean, but I get her. Combine this with his excellent sense of humour – Katie’s arguments with the narration which may or may not be in her head – and some well-timed Scott Pilgrim references, and you’ve got a story that’s compelling, thoughtful, sweet, sad and funny all at the same time. As an added bonus, the hardcover book is absolutely beautiful and every page is dripping with the most vibrant of colours and star-scapes.

You can also read the post on the Travelling Man blog if you want a change of scenery!

Posted by jenny in Comics, 0 comments