Thought Bubble 2019 swag photo:
My top-selling books were Adventure & Excitement (new!) and Everyone With A Nose Should Picket. As a reformed retail buyer this is no surprise to me: the new thing sold, and what’s that on the horizon? Oh, it’s more UCU strikes for fair pensions and fair working conditions. Online shop: http://hellolyd.bigcartel.com/
TBF19 review: it was good, it’s always good. It’s BIG. The venue was very suitable for big events (lots of loos, café, short walk from train station, seating areas*). The exhibitors were a mix of old friends and new friends, with the same a-stranger’s-just-a-friend-you-haven’t-met atmosphere as previous years.
My balance of comic sales-to-costs (production costs + stall, hotel, travel, food) was not great, but I kinda know to anticipate that. If you can make a con table financially work for you, congratulations. For me, event costs come out of that year’s earnings (day job + Applied Comics Etc paid work + occasional personal commissions). I’m very proud of my own handmade comics but they ain’t paying the bills anytime soon.
There was a range of work on show – which was good, especially after a couple of years at multiple events seeing so many digitally drawn and printed comics that risk getting a bit samey. But the stalls full of expensive pins, digital prints of illustrations**, totebags, etc. risk leaning towards ‘general art and craft fair’ instead of ‘comics festival’. I don’t like that but maybe other folk do. I like tables full of well-made comics, especially when people are doing interesting things with the comics medium.
That range of work included more gore/horror and explicit nudity than I’ve noticed in recent years. I don’t mean comics about sexuality and gender, I mean specific horror and porn – some clearly labelled as such, some not. I may be old and prudish BUT there’s a question of figuring out how to exhibit adults-only comics at a general comics con. Not at all? Or put it all together, call it Perv Hall, set it behind a velvet curtain and neon XXX sign far away from Kid Hall, and watch it make more money than the rest of the stalls combined.
My table was in Pride Hall (general stalls, big Travelling Man stall, kids’ activities, signing tables). It was good to see a cluster of kid-friendly comics together as part of the main venue, near to free activities for kids/teens & to one of multiple cafés. This was the furthest place from the entrance: cue tired and overwhelmed families after wrangling kids through two big & busy halls. But that could be more to do with the move to a one-entrance exhibition centre after me getting used to (a) smaller events and (b) TB’s multi-space venues in Leeds.
I am sympathetic to all these issues. I have experience of kid-friendly comics events from years of workshops and from running the one-off Comics Takeover with Seven Stories back in Oct 2017 (quick recap: lots of elements within one building, a mini comic con that was planned not to focus on sales, comics making/swapping at kid-size tables, costume/performance, linked with the Comics! kid-focussed exhibition). It’s hard work and needs to be funded accordingly. Having a kid-friendly/family-friendly bit of a larger general comic con might be harder still. A version of Tab Kimpton’s Rainbow Road maps highlighting LGBTQ+ comics creators, or the kids’ map and stickerquest Britt Coxon and others made for Canny Comic Con, might be useful examples to consider as part of helping large numbers of people navigate large events. ‘Comics for everyone’ is a subsection of my specialist subject of ‘comics & education’ (with a verrry broad understanding of all those terms). Get in touch if you’d like to invite me to write about more about this, or to advise on whatever comics event/project you’re planning.
Anyway. Here is my opinion. TBF19 did a great job overall, particularly in having a decent kids’ section as part of a large and ambitious con. There’s scope for this event – and other comics events – to make bold choices as they continue to grow, and I look forward to seeing it.
TL;DR? TBF19 good, venue suitable. Sales/costs = difficult. I don’t like tables full of merch, gore, porn, or digital ‘prints’. I like tables full of quality comics. We need to talk more about family-friendly comics and comics events.
*I did also miss seeing daylight that weekend, but I guess the answer to that is ‘wake up earlier and walk round the park, sleepyhead’.
**I’ve all but stopped bringing my printmaking (monoprint, letterpress, etching, linocut…) work to comics conventions. Reason 1: it’s usually not the same audience pricepoint. Reason 1.5: I’ve recently been using inks and cotton-rich paper that means prints can’t be rolled or folded for easy transportation. Reason 2 is that me talking about specific printmaking techniques does mean dunking on digital prints, giclee prints, commercial screenpress – which are often for sale at the neighbouring stalls, so super awkward all round. I’m often still using letterpress to hand-print comics covers, because I enjoy it and for the inimitable look and texture (I like clunky indented letterpress, not the fine kiss version). A day in the print studio hammering out a bulk batch of covers means costs are as low as I can make them, and the quality/value of outputs is clear. Still on my to-do list is to follow up with galleries and to update a separate online shop for prints than for comics.