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Bubbling with Thoughts about Cons

A column article by: Regie Rigby

Aw man – that was fun!

Yesterday* I took the short trip from my house to the centre of the City of Leeds for the Thought Bubble Festival (http://thoughtbubblefestival.com ). It’s actually quite a major arts event, running for a full seven days with seminars and exhibitions and such, but culminating in a good, old fashioned two day con, held partly in Savilles Hall** and partly in the Royal Armouries Museum which sits opposite the hall across a wide plaza.

In spite of it happening just down the road, I haven’t been to Thought Bubble for a couple of years. Indeed, I haven’t been to a con at all for a while – I even missed Bristol this year. And I’d begun to wonder whether all of the rigmarole associated with going to cons wasn’t too much effort. I mean, they’re expensive, unless they’re happening down the road you have hotel bookings, packing and long drives***, does the benefit really justify all that?

I’d almost convinced myself that it didn’t.

It really does!

I don’t know how I’d forgotten it, but I had. Going to a con is the purest repudiation we can make to the popular misconception amongst the non-reading public – that we’re a bunch of saddos with no friends and poor personal hygiene. Going to a con is your chance to meet old friends and make new ones – and to participate in a social event that frankly dwarfs most get togethers, short of big sporting events.

The atmosphere hit me as soon as I joined the queue for tickets about half an hour before the doors opened. Having failed once again to get my shit together and pre book, I joined the “buying your ticket on the day?” queue and exchanged pleasantries with the fans around me. Well, actually what we mostly did was comment on the fact that our queue was shorter than the “pre-booked your tickets for collection today?” queue, and that as a result we were actually likely to get into the hall some time before the more organised fans who’d booked in advance. I confess we might have been a bit smug about that.

As an old hand a conventions I’d decided to leave my coat in the car on the grounds that con halls are always hideously hot, and carrying a coat around is a pain in the neck. On reflection I should perhaps have considered the fact that most of the cons I’ve attended in the past have been in May, and that standing outside in a t-shirt is perhaps not the most sensible thing to do near the end of November. Still, as I began to do a pretty good Mr Freeze impersonation, I distracted myself from the numbing cold by watching the antics of the professional – or at least I presume they were professional, because they never went into the halls – costume wearers who were keeping the queues entertained.

There was a little patrol of Stormtroopers who occasionally “arrested” people, a rather impressive Batman, and a couple of Judges**** who were also working the crowds, and at one point seemed to have a jurisdictional conflict with the Stormtroopers, although I’m pleased to report that the issue was resolved without recourse to use of Blasters or Lawgivers…

Then there were the non-professional cos-players. What can I say? I use the term “non-professional” rather than “amateur” because some of the costumes on show were beyond awesome. The anime and manga inspired costumes were perhaps the pick of the bunch, but there were also some awesome superheroes/villains and some fabulously creative Steampunks too. I was left wondering, “when did cosplayers get so damn good?”. I mean, back when I started attending cons in the UK regularly back in the mid nineties, almost nobody wore a costume for the full day, and those who did were considered by most to be the saddest of  the sad obsessives. True, one of the highlights of the old U.K.C.A.C.s was the “costume parade”****** which closed the event every year, but the main reason most of us watched was not to marvel at the costumes but to enjoy the heckles. Some of the costumes were excellent, but most were risable, and that was part of the fun.

These days though, all I can say is “wow”.

The amount of time effort and skill involved is nothing short of astonishing, and the effect of several dozen expertly costumed people wandering around the halls is profound – they add a vibe to proceedings that I had never realised was missing but am enormously happy to experience. As an example of the extra measure of joy they bring to the proceedings I can do no better than to highlight the spontaneous conga line of manga characters that began to snake around the plaza as the early morning fog gave way to midday sunshine. It brought a smile to even the most jaded of faces, and attracted the right kind of non-reader attention.

Then there were all the other people. Friends I see face to face only rarely, from the Goodman Brothers (well, Arthur at any rate, Dave was elsewhere whenever I passed their stand) to the ever enthusiastic Etherington Brothers. From Factor Fiction’s Jay and Selena Lock to Terry “Verity Fair” Willey, to Anna, Anthony Johnson and literally several more. Names that long standing readers of this column may well recall, and which all of you will be hearing again in coming weeks as I read and review the rich haul of comicy goodness I picked up while I was there.

Next week I’ll get to the details of the comics I found while I was there. For now I have to take some time to concentrate on reading. I just want to thank the organisers of Thoughtbubble for making the last weekend of my thirties so much fun. By the time we speak again I will be forty, but I’ll have read a whole bunch of excellent comics, and that will make me feel better about being middle aged.

See you in seven!*******

 

 

 

 

*I’m typing this on Sunday 20th November 2011, so by “Yesterday” I mean “Saturday 19th of January 2011” – it’s just that all that takes too long to type…

**Named for the late, great Sir Jimmy Saville, about whom more later. For the record the ungrammatical lack of apostrophe is the responsibility of the hall’s adminstrators, not me.

***From my house Bristol is a five hour drive through consistently crappy traffic. You arrive exhausted and poor, having spent an astronomical amount of money on fuel – unless you go by train, which is even more expensive!

****Both of whom were wearing Dredd’s shield, which suggests to me that at least one of them was a Jimp*****…

*****Judge IMPersonator.

******Which was not actually a parade and would more properly have been called “series of people in costumes standing on stage and having the piss gently taken out of them by the host.

*******Because I’m BACK! The weekly schedule is back on dudes!

 

R.I.P. Sir Jimmy Saville

Sir Jimmy Saville was a major part of my childhood. His show “Jim’ll Fixit” (if you have the misfortune to not be British, or to be to be British but too young to remember it, go and google it. It was awesome) was a cornerstone of prime time Saturday Evening TV in the late seventies and early eighties, and I doubt I missed a single episode when I was a kid. Sir Jimmy took the insane dreams of children and made them come true. If that was all he’d done, he’d be my hero.

But he did so much more. He was one of my major inspirations for taking up running. Given that that was the only sport I was any good at when I was at school he was a major contributor to my not getting beaten up quite as much as a camp smart arse otherwise would have done. I’ve run five marathons to date – without Jimmy, I doubt I’d have run any.

And then there was his own charity work. He raised millions of pounds for medical research and facilities. That would be impressive, but he was a millionaire, that was, from his position, not all that hard. He also worked for years as an unpaid hospital porter at St. James’ Hospital in his native Leeds. For no other reason than he thought it was worth doing, he cleaned up vomit , pushed patients around in wheelchairs and generally did the unglamourous grunt work that every hospital needsto be done.

He was a fucking hero. Leeds names Savilles Hall, the venue for Thought Bubble after him. He died just a couple of weeks ago, and the world is  a poorer place without him.

God bless, Sir Jimmy. I for one, will miss you.

 

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