Ok, fine, I admit to being part of that embarrassing group of yanks who consumes British culture with a shameless abandon. Even so, I can’t possibly know everything that’s going on across the pond. That’s why I don’t feel bad about having never heard of Thought Bubble, The Leeds Comic Art Festival and the accompanying anthology put out by Image comics this week.
I had pre-ordered a copy through my LCS after reading about it in Previews. All I had to see was the words “new comics” and “Warren Ellis” and I was sold. It also didn’t hurt to list other creators like Kate Beaton, Ivan Brandon, Tony Harris, Sean Phillips, Gail Simone, Richard Starkings, and Skottie Young to name a few. I had actually completely forgotten that I had ordered it at all until picking up the week’s haul. Ever order something, forget about it and then by the time it comes in you’ve totally lost interest in it and you wonder why you ever ordered it in the first place? Well that did not happen this time.
This was probably the most fun comic to come out this week, maybe year, maybe and I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic or overly dramatic but, maybe ever. Everything about this anthology is beautiful from it’s newspaper like format and texture to it’s unbelievably fair $3.99 price tag. You’ll pay $3.99 for Action Comics with like 5 pages of Grant Morrison Story, 3 pages of Neil Degrasse Tyson (ok this month’s was a bad example, that was pretty great) but then, like, 19 pages of ads in the back. Terrible, terrible ads.
With The Thought Bubble Anthology the variety of work and the high level of skill of all involved is just stunning and a complete celebration of the best reasons we all love comics. Pete Doree & Sean Phillips deliver “To Swap Or Not To Swap” an autobiographical strip that wonderfully and simply conveys the unique joy and wonder of reading comic books in England in the 1970s. Plus it’s Phillips utilizing his “cartoon-y” style (for lack of better phrase, I’m really, really sorry) that fans will remember from the pages of Criminal: The Last of the Innocent. Skottie Young has a cat named “Puffy” that may have some behavior issues. “A Significant Portraiture” by Gail Simone & Tula Lotay is a Victorian re-imagining of today’s comic book scene, set within the confines of a shop sporting titles on the racks like The Walking Deceased and X-Chaps Featuring Lord Wolverine, M.B.E., where a mother is outraged and a child enamored.
There’s a lot of pages given to Richard Starkings and Boo Cook’s Strontium Dog/Elephantmen crossover and that’s a good thing. I’ve only read a handful of Strontium Dog strips and I’ve never read Elephantmen but I was able to read this story and it instantly transported me back to the 90s, when I was mostly ignorant of most books, constantly picking up things just because they looked cool, where I had no idea who the characters were or what they were doing. For an industry that’s desperate to grab “new readers”, pay attention to how “Get Nikken!” works. It tells you everything you need to know quickly, the script is fun and funny while also holding the readers attention. They didn’t have to say, “Ok, lets watch the Elephantmen being born or else readers will not know who they are or what they’re doing. Painfully dull origin stories forever.” Just a little strip in an anthology, not necessarily aimed at capes and cowls comics readers, yet it serves just as well for long time fans of both series and a welcome introduction for the uninitiated.
“Due Returns” by Kristyna Baczynski & Matthew Sheret is charming, inventive, beautiful and full of wonder. A random trip to the library unlocks a life, metaphysical mechanics, strange objects and more. “Love And Let Die” by Clark Burscough and Richard Hughes explores the reality behind a super villain and his suave secret agent enemy. “Dad’s Ear” by Steve Reynolds (Northern Sequential Art Competition Winner for 2011) brings to light just some of the hilarious and unsettling lies his father told him.
Warren Ellis, Tula Lotay and Ollie Redding create “Soon”, a one page strip so beautiful, so loving, so tender and celebratory it was like, what’s the opposite of a slap in the face? A kiss on the cheek? A kiss on the cheek from Warren Ellis and co. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for that for a long time. His name isn’t on the page itself, you have to go to the table of contents to see who made it. I did, since once I finished the anthology I thought, “Wait a second, I thought Warren Ellis had a strip in here.” and had to go back through, secretly knowing which was his, but not really believing it. Not that he isn’t capable of delivering emotional, beautiful comics, anyone who’s really followed his career knows that isn’t so. But so much of his work in the last few years has been brutal, challenging, heavy superhero deconstruction comics for Avatar, to come off of that with something like this, it just speaks to his ability as a writer to constantly grow, try and create. And “Soon” seems to say that he feels the same way about us.
There’s also a great Kate Beaton strip about the Bronte sisters, some scifi, some anime and more winners from the NSAC that are definitely worth checking out. You lucky UK people who get to attend Thought Bubble November 17-18 have fun. You unlucky stateside people (like me) just get the anthology and experience as much of that scene as you can because it’s unlike anything else you bought this week and I don’t think I’m being ridiculous when I suggest, it’s unlike anything else you’ve bought EVER.