When it comes to celebrating comics in the U.K., few festivals do it better than Thought Bubble. With an eye towards spreading the good word about sequential storytelling -- whether it's huge superhero comics or small autobiographical ones -- the yearly gathering of comic fans in Leeds does its best to spread the word about the versatility and usefulness of the form.
This year, they plan on getting the word out with an anthology produced in conjunction with Image Comics. The first "Thought Bubble Anthology" drops in November with contributions by Charlie Adlard ("Walking Dead"), horror director Stuart Gordon ("Re-Animator"), Andy Diggle ("Losers"), Duncan Fegredo ("Hellboy: Darkness Calls"), Antony Johnston ("Alan Moore's Another Suburban Romance"), D'Israeli ("2000 A.D.") and a cover by Becky Cloonan ("Northlanders"). The best part? All profits from the book will benefit charity.
Comic Book Resources spoke with the anthology's editor (and director of Thought Bubble), Lisa Wood, about gathering such an eclectic group of talent, deciding on which charity to benefit and how the Toronto Comic Arts Festival influenced the whole thing.
"I have always admired what TCAF does in Canada -- they promote their wonderful festival very well, and one of the keys to this is their Free Comic Book Day issue released every May," Wood said. "This is such a clever way to market an event like ours, so I borrowed it. I have also known and worked around people who draw and write comics for years, so it seemed only natural to ask them to help create our anthology by providing new work for a charitable cause. One of the reasons I started Thought Bubble was to use the festival and comics as a way to promote the medium and raise money for organizations close to my heart. All the profits from this comic will go to the children's charity Barnardo's."
With so worthwhile causes to choose from, Wood went with Barnardo's -- a British organization founded in 1866 that looks out for the well being of children on a variety of levels --because of her own experience with them.
"I'm a Barnardo's child myself; without their intervention I'm not sure where I'd be right now, so I owe them a great deal," Wood said. "Luckily I was fostered then adopted at a young age, but many children are not. This is why I try to raise as much money for the organization as I can. Last year, artists who took part in the anthology and attended the convention also donated their original artwork for a charity auction in aid of Barnardo's. We managed to raise £450 thanks to everyone's generosity!"
The idea of utilizing festival talent for a branded comic might seem like an obvious idea, but it's not exactly commonplace.
"I'm actually surprised more [cons] haven't [done it]," Wood said. "Although I have found recently how tough it can be to produce a high-quality publication. If Image had not picked this anthology up, I might still be struggling to get the title out there, so I can understand if people are hesitant because of the work involved. I also feel very lucky that we have so many talented, high-profile supporters, because without their names attached the issue would not have gotten the publicity it has."
Speaking of the talent, Wood reached deep into her Rolodex, calling on festival attendees as well as people she knew from previous jobs.
"I'm actually lucky enough to be able to call them all friends!" Wood said. "I think I've been hanging round them for so long that they can't avoid me anymore. I met most of them through running the Thought Bubble festival. They are all great supporters of what we do. I also met some of them through working at Travelling Man, a chain of comic stores in the U.K. Stuart [Gordon] and I became friends when I worked for the Leeds International Film Festival. Saying this, if I didn't know them all so well I would have probably begged them to work on the comic! I think the challenge to find new names may arise next year, but fingers crossed, people will like our first issue enough to support the next."
While a worthy cause and plain ol' luck are all well and good, what fans really want to know is who's working with whom and on what. Fortunately, Wood was forthcoming with the desired details.
"These stories are really, really wonderful," she said. "Andy Diggle and D'Israeli have worked together on an amazing page which is a great detective story with a twist. Stuart Gordon is working on a graphic novel of horror anthologies at the moment, and he kindly let us use a wonderful adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's 'The Hound.' Antony Johnston has teamed up with the great Charlie Adlard for a new Wasteland story. Duncan Fegredo has delved into his past in Leeds for an autobiographical short. We also have Robin Furth of 'Dark Tower' fame who has written a great piece about mythology with Mark Rutter."
"Thought Bubble Anthology" lets new kids play in the sandbox as well by inviting some lesser-known creators to contribute. The winners of the Northern Sequential Art Competition will get their chance to shine in upcoming installments.
"The competition was started in 2010 with the support of Arts Council England as a way to showcase U.K. artists through the medium of comics," Woods said. "We had some incredible entries last year; picking the winners was very hard. The judges consisted of Steve Wacker from Marvel Comics, Matt Smith from 2000 A.D. and Claire Howlett from Imagine FX. We picked three winners from the 'over 18' category -- Gavin Ross, whose entry was 'Battle of the Wild Horses of Antrobus'; Sally Jane Thompson with 'The Very Best'; and Will Morris' 'Let's Go Fly a Kite.' The winners from the 'under 18' category were Alice Summerscales, Sophie Kamlish with 'November in the North' and Raymond Mak with 'The Penultimate Month.' All the winners' entries will be printed in the anthology. Will Morris was actually offered a book deal with Blank Slate Books after they saw his entry. The competition is open again this year to U.K. residents."
With so many different kinds of creators and stories in the works, it might seem like the rules were fast and loose when it came to the "Thought Bubble Anthology," but there was actually a unifying thread that all contributors used as a starting point.
"The theme for the whole anthology is 'November in the North,'" Wood said. "This is a very loose idea, though, and creators have been incredibly inventive with the concept."
As important as the first edition will be, Wood and Co. also have an eye towards future issues and other creators they hope to involve.
"We do have Barry Kitson, Richard Starkings and Leigh Gallagher signed up, and Tran Nguyen may be our cover artist," Wood said. "I am also hoping Sean Phillips may be able to draw a page. My wish list would be Adam Hughes, Jock, Adi Granov, Pablo Rivera, Skottie Young, Leah Moore and John Reppion, Ben Templesmith, Tim Sale, Tony Harris and Kate Brown. I think some of these names will definitely be able to help, but others we'll need to see."
In other words, keep thinking good "Thoughts."