Monday 17 November 2008

The Best Convention Of The Year.

That's what a lot of attendees, guests and exhibitors are saying about the Leeds Thoughtbubble Show that was held this Saturday gone and I have to say I'm inclined to agree. It was a terrific day and the way Thoughtbubble had matured from an intimate little affair in the crypt of Leeds Town Hall in 2007 to a full-blown, bells and whistles, must-be-there comics party at Saviles Hall in 2008 was nothing short of remarkable.

The Time Bomb Comics weekend in Leeds started on the Friday where, after an excruciatingly long train journey that wound it's way between grimy Northern town after grimy Northern town, my wife Suzanne and I met up with The Sisterhood artist Dan Barritt on the Friday night. This was the first time I had managed to socialise with Dan since meeting him last year, and it was a great opportunity to get to know him better. Dan had sorted out his own table for Thoughtbubble and was feeling nervous as to whether he would sell any of the lavish posters of his artwork he had spent the week producing. I assured him he had nothing to worry about and Dan started to relax, no doubt helped by the stunningly cheap bar prices at the venue he'd chosen for our get together: The Angel Inn. A pint for £1.39 on a Friday night. I kid you not.

The Saturday of the show was wonderfully stress-free (if a little heavy-headed) as it turned out the hotel we'd booked into was, quite literally, a stone's throw from the Thoughtbubble venue. Saviles Hall is located opposite the Royal Armouries and turned out to be a wonderful venue, with a large reception area leading into the main hall beyond. Walking into this hall I realised how big this year's event actually was - over 100 tables that could give the BICS main hall a run for its money. We found our table and quickly set-up and the first attendees were let in bang on 10.00am - and at 10.01 we made our first sale.

There seemed to be an endless stream of people coming through the doors, a lot of them in a baffling variety of costumes and for the next 7 hours we had an almost constant stream of people looking at our comics. Some of them bought, some of them didn't, but each of them seemed delighted that Leeds was hosting such a vibrant comics festival. There were families on day trips (one man had driven his daughter up from Cornwall that morning for a birthday treat and was driving back straight afterward) and people who were discovering modern comics for the first time (a man in his sixties had read about the show in the local paper and was overwhelmed, and overspent if his heaving bags were anything to go by). Then of course there were the rest of us, who already know how great comics are and were just soaking up the vibe.

And over the day the vibe became The Vibe, as everyone began to agree that there was some atmosphere about Thoughtbubble that was making it a bit different to all the other comics gatherings. There was a real feel-good atmosphere in the hall, people were having a good time - even the exhibitors that weren't actually selling that much were enjoying themselves. By the end of the afternoon The Vibe had soaked into all of us. Then was the after-party, held in the nearby casino where some of the day's talks had been held and which was obviously going to be going on for a lot longer after we left at just before midnight.

So why was Thoughtbubble so damn good? Well, it could be that the eclectic range of exhibitors, panels and guest made it a show for everyone, or it could be that by being a single day convention it removes the "very slow Sunday" syndrome that the two day events can suffer from. Maybe. But a lot of the reason for Thoughtbubble's success falls at the feet of Tamsin and Lisa who'd organised the show and produced a wonderfully organised event - something that had been evident from the pre-show planning, to be honest - and maintained a cheerful can-do will-do prescence right until the very end.

You did a fabulous job, ladies. May your Bubble never burst.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Evolution Of A Cover

With the cover to The Sisterhood now being pretty much locked*, I thought it would be a good idea to show the processes we went through to get to the final stage. I can't stress how important I feel a cover is to a comic, mainly because it's often the first thing a potential buyer becomes aware of when they survey the wall of new comics inside their local comics shop. Okay, the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man may be sitting there as expected, but if the eye is drawn to a great looking cover belonging to something entirely unexpected then there's a chance the comic may be picked up, flicked through and hopefully bought. And for a small-time publisher like us that cover hook can make us or break us. So it's why whenever we begin to put a new one-shot together the cover is something we begin to work on immediately after the scripting stage - with the cover art being the first fully completed artwork in-house.

Of course, every cover image starts with an idea, and the idea I had for The Sisterhood was to have a riff on the iconic photograph that depicted the US flag being raised on Iwo Jima during World War Two:

Why this image? Well, it seemed to fit ideally the militaristic angle that The Sisterhood features as one of its central themes, and gave scope to produce a suitable action pose featuring all the main characters. I passed this idea to Dan Barritt - The Sisterhood's artist - and asked him to work something up. He came back with some rough sketches including this:

This perfectly captured the look I was after, the flag in the background adding some desired weight to the image, so I confirmed with Dan that the cover would be based on this rough and asked him to work up a suitable finished version. Dan soon gets back to me with this:

To be honest, Dan had strayed from his brief here. The Sisterhood cover had never been planned as a wraparound, but Dan had worked it up that way with the notion that if I didn't like the widescreen version the left hand side could easily be cropped with the right hand main image not losing anything. Part of the fun of working with artists is seeing what they come up with creatively and the work they produce often surprises and delights. It was a no-brainer to me - The Sistehood would not only be the first full colour comic from Time Bomb Comics, it would now also feature the first wraparound cover.

The cover artwork completed, I now brought Andy Dodd on board to start adding the cover text to the image, and working with The Sisterhood logo that I had also had Dan design. Despite not being the artist for The Sisterhood Andy is responsible for the editorial design of the comic, and his first crack at a finished cover resulted in this:

There were a number of things I didn't like about this, the primary one being the placement of the logo at the bottom of the cover. I could understand Andy's reasons for the placement - he wanted to show off as much as Dan's artwork as possible - but I felt that we would lose display prominence when displayed if the logo deviated too much from the traditional location. I also felt the Time Bomb Comics brand label looked too squashed, the addition of our "Telling Great Stories" strapline making it look too busy. I detailed these issues to Andy and he then came back to me with some more options:

Both of these were steps in the right direction, but elements in each were not quite right. The logo placement was better but still needed a tweak, as did the placement of the creator credits, and I felt the cover price would work better if integrated more into the branding. The biggest visual change was probably the logo being re-coloured to pick up the grey elements of the artwork. Other than that I was happy, and Andy's assurances that these further changes would be quick and easy to accomplish made me feel less of a picky bastard!

Which brings us to the final locked image which is this:

Here you can see all the design elements in place, with all the layout changes fixed. I think the integrated price/brand box really works, and the main logo layout the strongest it can be. This finished version is what we'll be using for marketing over the next few months, and is already up on the website and linked pages. All in all, a job well done.

*Of course I say "locked" but it's really only the front cover that's sorted out. Andy and I still have to work on the back cover text layout before the cover can really be said to be completed!

Sunday 2 November 2008

Sisters and Shopping and Stuff

Above is the wonderful artwork for our upcoming one-shot The Sisterhood written by Steve Tanner and with full-colour artwork by Dan Barritt. It's our first colour comic but as you can see is designed to be our first wraparound cover. We should have a finished cover dummy ready for Thoughtbubble which will have all the text and logos on but the above is as close to a virgin incentive variant as you're ever likely to get from us - so enjoy! Work on The Sisterhood's interior continues at a steady pace, with a tentative release date of early next year.
Our online shop is also now up and running which can be accessed through the main site. Both Ragamuffins:Stitches In Time and Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead are currently available, and until 1st December we're offerring free postage and packing so place an order if you've yet to enjoy either of these two.
Other stuff:
Paul Thompson now has the full script for Primetime which will hopefully be released before the end of next year. This is Paul's first major comics work and has a vibrant classic cartoon style that matches the script perfectly. As to what Primetime is actually about - another post for another time!
Andy Dodd is working on First Kill, a short 4-pager that we want to put under the noses of Accent UK, as well as completing some art changes for The Furies and continuing to build the website whilst holding down a part-time job and completing a University degree. Eee, what a busy Barnsley lad!
And as for me, I've just started work on another Ragamuffins one-shot which Andy and I want to have out for next year's BICS in October.

Thoughtbubble 2008

In just under two weeks the wonderful Leeds Thoughtbubble one-day convention will be taking place on Saturday 15th November. We were at the first Thoughtbubble event last year and had a great day there so are really looking forward to this year's event. We'll be manning our table and selling our comics and hoping we'll find another artist as fabulous as Dan Barritt who we met at last year's show. All in all, we're expecting to have as much fun as last year. One thing that is going to be different is the scale of this year's event - over 100 tables compared to last year's 30 or so, which is a huge increase and necessitated the change in venue from Leeds Town Hall to the Armouries.

There's a few things about Thoughtbubble that make it different from the usual comic conventions. One thing is that it seems to be an event embraced by the city itself, running alongside the Thoughtbubble film festival taking place throughout the week before. It's no secret that BICS runs very independently to Birmingham itself with no real awareness of the event outside comics fans, but not so Thoughtbubble whuich seems to have flyers and posters at every Leeds entertainment venue worth its salt. This approach is borne out by the show's sponsors which include bars, restaurants, a casino, local entertainment websites and a local newspaper group as well as the usual Diamond UK, Forbidden Planet and local comic shop prescence.

There's also a sheer exuberance about the show's organisers that's hard to beat. Last year all the exhibitors were given home-baked cookies and cakes throughout the day by the organisers. This year there's an after-show party being held. But throughout there's a real sense of professional organisation that makes being part of Thoughtbubble such a joy in itself. Now, this is not to say that the other UK conventions lack that, not at all, but there's a level of service that gives the guys in Leeds an edge. Case in point: yesterday I received the Thoughtbubble show passes and tickets through the mail. Along with them came a useful crib-sheet about setting up on the day. I didn't ask for these to be sent me. They just did. The other conventions don't do that. It's such a small thing. And the passes were already nicely marked "Time Bomb Comics" and with ribbons for ease of use. Another small thing. But believe me, from an exhibitor point of view it makes such a difference.

Thoughtbubble could well be the dark horse of the UK comics convention circuit. It was overlooked by many last year for being a small-scale one-day event. This year it's making some waves with a palpable bzz about it at BICS. Next year? It'll be bigger than Bristol.