Clark Burscough on the Thought Bubble Anthology/Thought Bubble Festival

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Clark Burscough

This week, Image Comics released Thought Bubble Anthology #1, the first of a for-charity anthology series featuring short stories by writers Andy Diggle, Stuart Gordon and Anthony Johnston with art by Charlie Adlard, Duncan Fegredo and D'Israeli, not to mention single-page stories by six winners of the Northern Sequential Arts Competition.

To promote the anthology as well as the 2011 Thought Bubble festival, happening November 19 and 20 in the UK, we asked festival development manager Clark Burscough to write a few words about the subject.


This year's Thought Bubble festival is special for many reasons. In 2011 we're celebrating our fifth anniversary --- the culmination of a journey that began in 2007, when the first ever Thought Bubble took place over the space of one day in the basement of Leeds Town Hall and attracted an audience of just over 500 people. Since then we've worked to build Thought Bubble into the biggest festival celebrating comic art in the UK, bringing as many different events as we can think of to the public -- all with the aim of spreading the good word of graphical storytelling. 

As attendance and interest has grown, Thought Bubble's status as a major international comic book and graphic novel festival has become assured, with over 8,000 people expected to attend a week-long series of workshops, masterclasses, panel discussions, screenings and other special events in 2011, all taking place across the city of Leeds and satellite venues throughout Yorkshire. Working with Leeds International Film Festival and various partners and sponsors, we're putting on our biggest program of events yet, taking place at venues across Yorkshire, and culminating in a spectacular two-day comic convention.

The Thought Bubble comic book convention is our festival's crowning glory, which this year will take place for the first time over two days on Saturday, November 19 and Sunday, November 20 in two of Leeds' largest exhibition spaces: Saviles Hall and Royal Armouries Hall. To reflect this increased capacity we've put together a fantastic lineup of international artists and writers whose amazing work reflects the true diversity of comic book and graphic novel storytelling. The convention halls will also be filled with hundreds of exhibitors from all over the UK, from self-published artists and writers to the best retailers in the country, and with two days you can browse and wander around the convention at your leisure.

As a major celebration of comic books and graphic novels Thought Bubble has grown to become the premier destination for the comic book community, as well as a place of discovery for both young people and adults who haven't read a comic book before. Ultimately, the success of Thought Bubble is down to our wonderful audiences, who have helped make each event unique. We're constantly (and pleasantly) surprised by the friendliness of the crowd that Thought Bubble attracts, and the welcoming natures of the events we facilitate are an indictment of the brilliance of the local and international comic communities.

In 2010, as part of our ongoing expansion, and with help from Arts Council England, we held the first ever Northern Sequential Art Competition (NSAC), a new platform to help and encourage UK artists and writers of all ages to engage with the medium of illustrated storytelling. Entrants were given the brief of producing a self-contained, single page story, told in six panels or more, on the theme of "November in the North of England." We received many fantastic entries from all age groups, in a variety of different styles, and six overall winners from two age categories were picked by a judging panel comprising luminaries from the world of comics editing and journalism.

Parallel to this we developed the idea of producing an anthology comic to showcase the winning entries to the NSAC, and also feature some work of creators who have previously attended the festival. This plan quickly blossomed from envisioning a small-scale limited print-run, to one that would be globally distributed, with all profits going to the Barnardos charity. A number of professional comic book creators contributed work to the anthology for free, an undertaking for which we're eternally grateful, and distribution has kindly been facilitated by Image Comics and Diamond Publishing. As a result, the 2011 anthology was compiled to showcase the wining NSAC pages alongside original works from major industry talent, and will be sold in comic shops across the world. This is the first time a comic produced in this context has been picked up by a major publisher, and will help spread Thought Bubble's message to all corners of the globe.

As well as producing strips for the anthology, the professional contributors to the comic were also asked to donate their original page (or pages) to the Thought Bubble auction at our 2010 convention, again to raise money for our chosen charity, Barnardos. Festival director Lisa Wood was a Barnardos child, and so the project has a special resonance in terms of where the money made from it will be going.

The final result, frankly, was better than we could have ever hoped for. Thought Bubble was founded by lifelong comic fans in order to introduce more readers from all walks of life to this amazing medium, and so being involved in a project which has received such goodwill from all involved, and ultimately resulted in such a great collection of illustrated tales, has been thoroughly heartwarming.

The anthology serves as a microcosm of Thought Bubble, showcasing the variety of styles that sequential art can embody, and the almost limitless possibilities that the medium of comics afford to creators.

2012 will see the festival grow once again, and as part of this we'll be producing another anthology, featuring more winning strips from 2011's NSAC and stories specially produced for us by some of the industry's leading talents.

The anthology and NSAC are just part of the process for building Thought Bubble in terms of prestige and events, and the planning process for the festival itself began back in 2010 before last year's events had even begun. Throughout the year we're constantly coming up with ideas for how we want future festivals to build on their predecessors, and regularly contacting new international guests to try and make each year's lineup of attendees bigger and more diverse than the last. 

The start of each year sees the Thought Bubble team meeting in our headquarters (located deep beneath the city of Leeds, in a secret location -- the Travelling Man comic shop), and reviewing the previous festival in terms of what worked and what we can improve and build upon. The first tangible part of the festival that the general public will see is that year's festival image, and we've been incredibly lucky to get some absolutely blinding commissions. Eleanor Davis' 2010 illustration of Theseus and the Minotaur was gorgeous; this year's reimagining of Snow White by Becky Cloonan is stunning, and, for 2012... well, you'll have to wait and see.

It takes the best part of a year to put each Thought Bubble together, and we're hugely grateful to everyone that helps us make it happen, from our wonderful volunteers, to our sponsors, through to everyone who tweets or blogs about the festival. 2011's events are almost upon us and we're putting the finishing touches to everything as you read this, we think this year's festival will be our best yet, so why not come along and find out?


Clark Burscough 

Thought Bubble Development Manager

November 2011

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