Thought Bubble 2017 runs 18th – 24th September!


Post Thought Bubble 2009 Round-Up by thoughtbubblefestival

Hey Bubble-fans! Last week saw the third Thought Bubble Sequential Art Festival take place, and – now the dust has settled, and sleep has been indulged in – I think we’d be pretty safe in saying it was our best yet. We’re not afraid to blow our own trumpets here at the TB Tower, no sirree!

It needs to be said though that it wouldn’t be possible without our amazing volunteers, who, if you attended, you would most likely have seen dashing about making sure everything ran like clockwork. We are incredibly lucky that every year we get even more enthusiastic, friendly, hard-working, sequential art-loving, people who are willing to help us bring you bigger and better Thought Bubbles – the TB family keeps on growing to match the festival itself; there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. On behalf of myself and Lisa, I’d like to say a massive, and heartfelt thank you to all our volunteers who helped out, both during the festival and in the run-up/aftermath, you’re all legends in your own lifetimes!

I think it’s also safe to say that this year’s batch of professional guests was our best yet, and I don’t think I’ve ever had the privilege of being around such a concentrated group of talented, and friendly, individuals. One of my favourite things about the comic industry is that it gives fans a unique opportunity to interact with the creative forces whose work they admire, and I don’t think any of our guests disappointed. For some it was their first visit to Thought Bubble, others have been appearing at them from the start, but all of them are great in their own right, and it remains a pleasure, nay a delight, to be able to bring everyone together year after year. Especially at the after-party. The atmosphere at Thought Bubble is one of friendly banter – I like to think – and this is down in large part to our wonderful guests, so I’d like to say thank you to each and every one of them for coming this year.

It must also be remembered that Thought Bubble would not be able to take place without our exhibitors – the small press/indie comic creators, retailers, and traders who spend an extremely long day bringing their amazing wares to the fans, and who are all, again, just the friendliest bunch of people you’ll ever meet. It amazes me how lucky we are that everyone who has a table at Thought Bubble, besides having loads of cool stuff to look at, is great to chat to and a joy to work with. If you attended this year’s convention I’m sure you’ll have had first-hand experience of that, and we look forward to seeing many of them again next year, it’s just sad that we have a limited number of tables otherwise I’m sure we’d bring you even more amazing people to brighten your day.

I’d also like to give a special shout-out to all the cosplayers who attend Thought Bubble, and have become the fastest growing section of Thought Bubble’s demographic. This year’s cosplay contest (hosted by the awesome Natasha Tyler aka MissyTetra) was a wonder to behold, and got us some great footage on the local news. The cosplay contingent help make each Thought Bubble convention day extra-special (and extremely colourful) and we thank you for it!

A final word of thanks has to go out as well to you, the paying public, who attend the festival. It’s because of how well received each Thought Bubble is that we keep wanting to make it bigger and better for you guys, and (although we may say otherwise at the end of the convention day when lack of sleep is becoming a factor) it never seems like a chore. We love bringing Thought Bubble to you all, and we’re extremely thankful that you all seem to enjoy it as much as we do, and continue to let us bring the goodness of sequential art into your lives.

So that brings to an end another Thought Bubble, if you’re interested in seeing what some of our guests and attendees have had to say about the festival then Forbidden Planet has handily condensed a large batch of the online musings into one handy blog post. Well worth a read. This blog will start up again in the new year with some fresh minterviews, more small-press profiles, and a whole bunch of new stuff for you to get your teeth (or more likely your grey matter) into. Until then, on behalf of everyone at Thought Bubble, I’d like to say one last thank you, we heart you all.

– Clark

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Ben Templesmith Minterview by thoughtbubblefestival

Alright guys, this it it – we’re now less than a week away from the start of this year’s Thought Bubble. Fasten your seatbelts, keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times, and do not leave your seat until we’ve come to a complete stop (around 5pm Sunday 22nd November). Otherwise enjoy yourselves, it’s promising to be a belter.

In celebration of the impending awesomeness, we have the final in our series of minterviews with some of our professional guests – today sees Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Fell, Wormwood Gentleman Corpse) take time out to talk to us, the results of which are below for your delight and delectation. Get some.

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Hi Ben, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today; for starters, could you tell us how your comic book work first came about?

I technically broke-in twice into comics, at the same time virtually. One was via Joe Casey on a project he wanted to do at Vertigo, called The Darwin Theory, which we actually started, but, alas, never ended up seeing print for one reason or another. My first actual work the world knows though was as the new artist on Todd McFarlane’s Hellspawn, after Brent Ashe, then TMP art-director saw my work online, and I think he said Todd walked by and noticed he was looking at something on his screen, and it basically went from there!

Your artistic style is not what most people would consider ‘traditional’ comic book art, was this a conscious decision to reflect the, often gothic, tones of titles you’ve worked on, or is it simply your natural illustrative style?

That always makes me laugh. Being “non traditional” in comics means I’m, kind of, just “art” to the rest of the world instead of the perceived stereotypical “comic” style. It’s great that the medium has opened up now to a whole variety of eclectic styles though, in the last few decades certainly. As with most artists I guess my style is simply about being an extension of who I am to some degree. I always loved the darker side of things, and atmospherics – that just translates to the art really. I always try to slightly tailor things depending on the project though, of course.

Do you feel that this ‘stereotypical comic style’ is, perhaps, one of the main reasons that it’s taken so long for comic books to become accepted, by the mainstream, as a culturally relevant storytelling medium?

I still don’t think it has. Sure, we now have the “graphic novel” being a cool buzz-word, but all the general population still think they are, in general, is superheroes. Obviously they’ve had great success now, but a medium still isn’t one genre. A few more successful non-superhero stories that are just, well, good stories that have more interesting art could change that, but I won’t hold my breath just yet. It would just be nice if comics had the comparable success of, say, a Harry Potter, or a Twilight series – to really break it open with a bona fide cultural phenomenon – to change mindsets completely. I can dream, no? I only see the quest for “acceptance” as a way to guarantee a viable future for the medium though – not for riches, or glory for glory’s sake.

Has your individual style adapted to embrace the recent advances in digital illustration techniques, or do you prefer to work with more orthodox materials?

To be honest, not really. I started using the computer soon after I started. Nothing that I do now has fundamentally changed since then. Sure, I updated to a new version of ‘photoshop’ a couple times, but I’m not doing anything differently than before. No fancy tricks or button pushing! I’ve probably decided to go more the other way, and do more real world art before I add any computer elements now, actually. I just want to make art, rather than have things only exist digitally.

You’re one of a select group of individuals within the comics industry who work as both writers and artists, notably having created a number of your own titles – is the artistic process markedly different when illustrating another writer’s script as opposed to your own?

Absolutely – well, until telepathy becomes more commonplace. Since I know what I’m doing in my own head, and I don’t need to bother explaining what I want to another person, doing it all yourself definitely is a different, more short hand experience. Pros and cons to both though. My scripts are more just loose notes until I really solidify the dialogue, which I have all worked out before I actually start to illustrate.

Within your own writing the subversion of human nature, either by supernatural (e.g. the vampires of 30 Days of Night) or scientific means (in Singularity 7), seems to be a recurring theme – is this something that you feel has a special relevance to the modern world?

Well, we’re a moderately intelligent species. As human beings, we’re almost masters of our own destiny these days. The only things that can really screw us are technology and fear, or a combo of both. We’ve seen the results of fear rather recently, and some aspects of science. My little stories that deal with things like that probably show I’m rather cynical when it comes to my thoughts as to if we’ll actually see the year 3000, I guess.

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, the series which you’re currently best know for, while primarily gothic in tone, also has a very dark, macabre sense of humour running through it – do you enjoy the idea of making people laugh while also terrifying them?

Well, if anyone reads my twitter they probably know by now, I don’t hold back too much. I kind of dig challenging people, and saying uncomfortable things, but also funny things. I figure if you can show people rather nasty, uncomfortable things but make them laugh at them at the same time, it’s a rather good way to get by – something a little more complex and harder than simply grossing someone out for its sake alone. It, kind of, gives me a thrill to know I can actually make someone laugh out loud at my sick ideas sometimes. I feel honoured whenever anyone tells me that – never thought it’d be something I could do as a kid.

30 Days of Night was one of the first major cinematic adaptations of a less well-known comic property to find success at the box office – do you feel Hollywood’s increased interest in titles which don’t necessarily feature an eponymous Superhero for a protagonist has been beneficial to the comics industry?

Actually, it technically wasn’t! Previous to that one there’d been things like The Crow, or Road to Peridtion, etc, but, yes, as an actual comic that was trust more into the mainstream of the time – it did wonders to revitalize horror comics at the time – I guess you could say that.

Having non-super hero movies made, especially if they meet with success, is ultimately far more important to the comics medium than doing just superhero films. That’s a genre, one that people will get sick of one day perhaps, but stories themselves never go out of style, so if creatives can transfer successful ideas across mediums it helps keep talent creating new things, and bringing in new readers, hopefully, who don’t just have to like one genre. Imagine if the only ever books to get turned into movies were the Fabio romance-type novels, or just spy thirllers? Diversity is the best thing possible.

Speaking of films, the creatures in the 30 Days of Night comic series appear to draw inspiration from cinema rather than literature – did you have any specific referential sources in mind when developing your vampires?

I’ve been told my vampires looked like “Euro-trash”, though I’m not really sure what that means since I’m Australian, and don’t know what “Euro-trash” actually look like. I just figured they shouldn’t be the overly frilly-dressing romantic looking types, frequently popular, and now rather popular again. I guess. Never once did I think of Blade or anything though – for me I just drew inspiration from Charles Darwin (for my wanky theories on how vampiric eating machines would look via evolution), and the movie John Carpenter’s The Thing.

One final question, on the nature of comic conventions – are they something which you personally enjoy attending, either as a creator or a spectator?

I’ve been told I travel a lot, so I guess I do more than most. I personally love going to new places and meeting people who read my work in them. I could be working in a box factory, in an alternate universe, but instead I get to travel the world to meet people who actually appreciate my work. To me that’s amazing, and I never want to forget that or take it for granted. To meet the people who allow me to earn a living, well, that’s really something every creator should treasure.

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Big props to Ben for talking to us, a fitting end to this series of minterviews. I’d just like to take the time to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s contributed to the blog this year, you’re all amazing! Hopefully we’ll have even more awesome stuff to induce wonderment in your brain sacs next year, but for now let’s focus on the more pressing engagement: Thought Bubble ’09!

In TB ’09 news, Leeds University’s Anime Society has made us some lovely promotional material, which, I’m sure you’ll all agree, kicks some serious ass.

Okay, enough for now, remember that Thought Bubble ’09 kicks off Thursday 19th November in the fair city of Leeds, we hope to see you there!

– Clark



Frank Quitely Minterview by thoughtbubblefestival

Hey there Thought Bubblerinos, hope you’re all well? Good, glad to hear it. Today sees the next in our mini-series of mini-interviews (minterviews) with some of our excellent professional guests for this year. If the TB blog continues at this rate, then by (approximately) June 8th 2013 it will represent a repository of all known information in this, and any other, universe – rivalling the mighty wikipedia. Possibly. My maths skills are notoriously weak.

Today’s guest minterviewee is the sublimely talented Frank Quitely, multi-award winning comics illustrator who has worked on a myriad of titles including New X-Men, All-Star Superman, We3, Flex Mentallo, The Authority, and – most recently – Batman & Robin. His work is, quite frankly (pardon the wordplay), mindblowing, and we’re extremely pleased to be able to number him amongst our (uniformly brilliant) guests for this year. We had a talk, the results of which you can see just below… To the reading-mobile!

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Frank Quitely

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Hi Frank, thanks for talking to us today; first off, could you give a brief overview of how you first got into sequential art? 

I started in self-published comics. I was one of the founding members of a Scottish underground comic called Electric Soup. We published 17 issues in the 3 years we were together, during which time I developed a real love for comics and after sending unsolicited samples to all the publishers listed in Comics International I eventually got commissioned to work on a strip for the Judge Dredd Megazine.

You have a very distinctive illustrative style, rendering your work instantly recognisable – was this an intentional ploy to make you artwork stand out from the crowd, or simply a by-product your own individual way of drawing?

My style’s a mixture of my various influences filtered through my personal tastes and shaped by my strengths and limitations as an artist. As the years have rolled by I’ve concentrated less and less on ‘style’ and more and more on story-telling, to the point where my style is just a by-product, like my handwriting.

Has the evolution in digital art-techniques over recent years resulted in many changes to the way you work?

Yes, to some extent. The biggest change for me was moving from colouring on paper using tradition materials, to colouring digitally.  I sometimes do my thumbnails and lay-outs in photoshop and print them out  so I can trace over them, and occassionally I’ll do a spot illustration or a cover completely digitally, but mostly it’s the colouring.

You’ve worked on mainstream titles, such as New X-Men, and creator-owned properties, such as The Invisibles – is the creative process different when working with high-profile characters, most of whom have an extensively depicted history, as opposed to those that are relatively new, or obscure?

The creative process is always the same. When you work on a title or character that everyone knows loads of people say ‘I hate his ?Wolverine?‘ or ‘I hate his ?Superman?‘ or whatever, because it jars with their own favourite versions of the characters – no one ever says ‘I hate his ?We3 animals?‘ because they didn’t start reading it with any preconceptions or prejudices. From that point of view it’s always easier to work on new stuff, or your own stuff, but I enjoy the challenge of getting to do well-known characters and I generally don’t really care if some folk don’t like what I do, it’s personal taste, and I’ve got a pretty thick skin. But as I said, the creative process is just the same

Do you have any characters in particular that you enjoy portraying? Are there any you’ve yet to work on, but would relish an opportunity to do so?

I enjoy making new characters, like the mutant kids in New X-Men, or the circus freaks in Batman and Robin – 
actually, I’m really looking forward to drawing The Joker in the closing arc of Batman and Robin.

You’re perhaps best known for your collaborations with writer Grant Morrison – how did your initial partnership come about?

I had met Grant once or twice in Glasgow at comic-things and I knew something of his reputation. I didn’t know that he was a fan of my Greens strip in Electric Soup, though (well the drawings anyway – he never commented on the writing!). Then he phoned me up one day and asked me to draw Flex Mentallo, I asked what it was about, and when he started talking about it I was hooked. And when I started working on it I remember thinking that I wanted to keep working with this guy.

Are you ever tempted to return to both writing and illustrating – creating characters and telling story – or is it now the case that you feel your story-telling is best facilitated purely through your artwork?

Only for humour stuff.

I’m actually writing a script for a couple of guys who want to try to animate The Greens, which is a humour strip I used to write and draw when I started 20 years ago. I wouldn’t waste my time trying to write serious stuff because I don’t understand enough about how good writing works.<

Superhero comics in general seem to be gaining more recognition by the general public every day, do you think this is the cause of some of the massive upheavals that have been seen in many of the big comic publishers’ universes, or is it simply that existing comic fans are demanding more bang for their buck these days?

I think the superhero movies have had a hand in getting the general public more aware of superheroes, though I doubt that translates into new comic book readers. As for the upheavals in the universes, I suspect that’s more of a publisher-led marketing thing ather than something the fans are demanding.

Speaking of the current vogue for superhero films, do you think such adaptations ever have anything to add to the comic book stories – a medium with far fewer creative limitations than the silver screen – that they’re based on?

I think the main thing movies can bring is a sense of realism – but that’s a double-edged sword. It’s great seeing super powers done convincingly with the latest special effects, but if a costume looks slightly goofy on paper, it usually looks pathetically amusing on screen.

You’re appearing at this year’s Thought Bubble – do you enjoy attending comic conventions, either professionally or as a casual attendee?

I’ll let you know at the end!

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Many thanks to Frank for taking the time to talk to us, remember that this, and the other of our special guest minterviews, can currently be found in the Leeds International Film Festival catalogue (a steal at ÂŁ7) wherein you can also find some information on Thought Bubble. Biblioriffic!

In some other news, our friends over at Manchester’s Tokyo 15 are having a signing this weekend (November 14th) with the massively awesome Naniiebim (artist on Mephistos). If, like us, you’re from the norf [sic] of this fair sceptred isle – thus meaning you can’t make it to the Anime League Club London’s mini-con – then you should definitely ch-check it out. Details on the flyer below.

… And there you have it, we’ll be back at the weekend with our final (guest) minterview before the festival starts! Exciting times…

– Clark



Charlie Adlard Minterview by thoughtbubblefestival

What up gang? It’s now two weeks to the festival, and as promised earlier in the week we’ve got some fresh minterviews for you with some of our amazing big name guests at this year’s Thought Bubble. These can currently be found in the TB section of this year’s Leeds International Film Festival Catalogue (which you should really check out for details of over 200 amazing films currently showing across the city), but we’re happy to bring them to you, live and direct, here on the TB Blog. We really do spoil you guys, but hey – you deserve it.

First up we had a chat with Charlie Adlard, currently astounding and terrifying readers in equal measure with his illustrative work on the break-away comics hit of the last few years – The Walking Dead. So get your best zombie shuffle on and read away. All together now… Braaaaains…

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Hi Charlie, thanks for taking the time to talk to us; to start, could you give a brief idea of how you first got started in the comics industry?

Well, I got in just as so many other pros have – through the London and Glasgow conventions in the late ’80’s. I just basically took my portfolio around each con until someone was foolish enough to give me work. At those two major cons back then, it was a lot easier getting work off the major companies because they were all represented there, as opposed to now when you’re lucky to get an editor from DC comics and perhaps 2000AD, so I stood a much better chance back then. My first work was through the Judge Dredd Megazine (I got my first commission at a Glasgow con after about two years of trying) and thankfully it’s never really slowed down since then.

Your illustrative style has changed markedly over the years, was that adaptation due to the demands of the titles you’ve worked on, or was it more of a natural evolution of your own talents?

Bit of both, really. When I first started to get a portfolio together for these conventions, the work in it mainly consisted of B&W illustrations – that’s where I was at style-wise back then – but I was also looking for work at a time where it was fashionable to do fully painted artwork. Consequentially, I thought I’d better try my hand at that to improve my chances of cracking the industry, and it was that work that got me my first commission with the JDM.

Personally, I don’t think I was that good at it, and I spent roughly my first professional year doing fully painted comic strips, then I was asked to do few strips in B&W for the JDM and I haven’t really looked back since.

I’ve always felt more comfortable in monochrome – I think it’s where my strengths lie – I probably reached a “competent” level with full colour but never surpassed that, and now I rarely paint. It’s a shame really because I would have loved to have gotten better at it, but alas I never found the time – I was too busy doing B&W! Occasionally I do get the chance to paint or colour on the computer, and I really enjoy it because I do it so little – it’s a break from the norm – but it’s never enough to really improve my technique. It’s in my B&W work where I can see constant improvement, and I should be happy with that, but, y’know, I want to be a master of all trades.

You’re currently best known for your artwork on zombie-apocalypse epic The Walking Dead – is it liberating working on such a title where you get to portray characters involved in moments of quiet introspection as well as horrific acts of violence?

Yes, definitely! If this was just a plain “horror” book not only would I have got bored with it but the readers would have as well. The beauty of TWD is the fact that it’s a character book first and foremost and that’s what keeps me interested. If Robert [Kirkman, series’ creator] had written just issue after issue of people in peril and zombie mayhem then I don’t think I’d be still talking about it today, six years down the line.

Of course, the other great thing about working on a title like this and what makes it so liberating is the fact that I don’t have to draw Superheroes to make a career for myself. It’s totally amazing to see TWD buck all trends, to go up against all the mainstream superhero stuff and stand alongside quite respectably. There’s not many non-superhero books can claim that – it’s a very privileged place to be in.

Comics in general seem to be shifting more and more into the mainstream, what do you feel has caused this change in public perception to sequential art?

Do you think comics are more in the mainstream? People might be more aware of them than, I suppose, 15 years ago, but it hasn’t really translated into huge sales.

I think the industry has resigned itself to being a niche, to be honest, a healthy niche, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think we’ll ever see sales in the millions again. Mind you, I think that’s the case with the whole print industry, not just comics.

Comic books are doing OK though – I think we’re in a good space at the moment. The graphic novel side has certainly taken off for the industry, particularly for certain books, TWD included. We actually sell as many trades as single issues. If most publishers could get those figures then I think the death of the single monthly issue would be inevitable and we might become more like the European template.

Having said all that, the movie and TV industry has done a lot to raise the profile of this industry and it’s only been possible in recent times to make good looking superhero movies that people won’t laugh at (there’s always been exceptions to the rule of course, Superman The Movie, The Rocketeer, and I’m certainly not saying that all the recent comic movies have been critical successes), because of the advancement in effects, and the influx of self-confessed “geeks” to direct and write the things. Thanks to them we have a healthy profile, and, in slight contrast to what I said before, it does make people more aware of the lesser known comics out there that have become films, and that does translate to better sales. However, the big mainstream ones – not a jot of difference anymore.

The increased interest in comic properties by Hollywood is certainly undeniable at this point – TWD the latest series to be commissioned for television – has this led to any noticeable operational changes within the comics industry?

I think comic companies are increasingly aware of their properties becoming movies and the rewards that that can reap. Consequentially, they may publish things that might not necessarily make them immediate money back on publication – especially if there’s movie interest beforehand, which can quite often happen.

Publishers now are able to think beyond just publishing a book, and to the possible greater awards that movies, TV, and merchandising can give them. Before publishers were just that – publishers – the concept of anything else was rare, if at all. Personally, for me and many other creators – we have also started to think “out of the box” – the advantage to doing something which you own is much more appealing when it can generate the rewards that other media can offer. So, quite often, even before pen has hit the paper, thoughts of where this particular project can go outside of comics is all too relevant!

You’ve worked on a number of different titles, from Judge Dredd to Green Lantern, do you have any particular favourite characters, either to illustrate or as a comics fan?

Yeah, you could say that, up until TWD, I was a bit of a journeyman artist – taking work from wherever I could get it – not a particularly fulfilling first 10-plus years, but I did get to tackle many different styles and characters because of that.

In all honesty, I would say that I don’t have a burning desire to do any one character and the reason for that is TWD has put me in really good place creatively and professionally. It has enabled me to do whatever I want, so doing work for the money alone isn’t a factor any more – and one could argue that doing projects for the “big 2” would be purely for “the money”. Let’s face it; there really is no other reason. Why would I want to work on someone else’s characters when I can have total control and own my own creations? That’s so much more fulfilling than anything Marvel or DC could offer at the moment.

Having said all that, there’s no reason why I might not return to other people’s characters one day, it would be just for a bit of fun and probably not a lengthy project though (Dr Doom or Conan might be fun to do at some point) and it won’t be in the near future. I’m with TWD for the long run and I have plenty of creator owned books on the side in the pipeline as well – enough to see me well into the next couple of years.

Finally, regarding comic conventions – are they something that you enjoy attending, either as an artist or as a spectator?

It’s been years since I attended a con as a fan. I used to attend Angouleme in France on that basis, but even going there now I attend as a professional. I kind of miss it – to just go to a convention for the “fun” of it and without all the baggage that being within the industry entails. Though that really is a minor gripe – on the whole I really enjoy going to conventions, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t go. Drawing comics is a fairly isolated business, so it is good to get out there and meet the fans. It’s great to meet up with the other pros and socialise as well. It’s not often we all get the opportunity to gather together in one area and we’re all too lazy to organise get togethers ourselves!

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Many thanks to Charlie for taking the time to talk to us, we’ll have another big-name minterview up next week. If you blog it, they will come.

Two weeks to go ’til TB ’09! Shazam!

– Clark

 



Emma Vieceli Minterview by thoughtbubblefestival

Greetings Bubblers! I hope you’re as excited as we are about the fact that this year’s festival is now less than three weeks away! Join us in a squeal of delight won’t you? Eeeee! To keep your sequential art intake at acceptable levels until then we’ve got some lovely exclusive interviews with some of our awesome guests. Following on from our travels inside some of the small press artists’ studios, these conversations with various professionals who’ll be appearing at this year’s Thought Bubble will be assured to astound and amaze. And various other words beginning with ‘A’.

First off we talked to the excellent Emma Vieceli, a professional illustrator, writer, comic artist, and Thought Bubble veteran whose work on Self Made Hero’s Manga Shakespeare line – as well as for Sweatdrop Studios – is something you really, really should check out post-haste. Emma will also be judging the cosplay competition at this year’s Thought Bubble convention and running a workshop on Sunday 22nd (details on our main programme page). But without much further ado (there’s a pun in there somewhere, I know it!), let us begin…

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Hi Emma, thanks for taking the time to talk to us, first off do you think you could give us a brief idea of how you got into illustration?

I think like most people it wasn’t a conscious decision. I just loved reading comics and watching cartoons as a kid, and started drawing on everything I could. I don’t think it had ever crossed my mind that I’d one day be able to draw comics as a career… So, it really is still a dream come true. I was very lucky to join Sweatdrop as they helped me early on and gave me somewhere to focus my interests. We all just loved making comics. It was (and still is with Sweatdrop) very much a hobby for fun.
The turning point for me was the year when I managed to bag a place in Tokyopop’s first UK Rising Stars of Manga competition (again, thanks to Sweatdrop friends bugging me to enter!) and also myself and Sonia Leong had been pitching to and had signed to work with SelfMadeHero just before Rising Stars was announced. So, it was a pretty big year for the pair of us. Hamlet taught me a shed-load, not least of all that running my full time job alongside a GN contract would make me very ill! I ended up going freelance towards the end of the book, as by that point I was talking to two potentially exciting clients about future jobs…it was hard to switch gears and realise ‘wow, this is actually happening’! Sadly the two potential clients never panned out – such is the industry – but by that point I was away, and have never regretted making the decision.

So very much a case of ‘learning on the job’ then?

Pretty much, haha! But then, as artists, we’re always learning on the job. We never stop learning I don’t think.

Your style appears, as I’m sure you’ve heard many times, to be quite manga-influenced – is that a conscious decision on your part, or simply your natural illustrative technique shining through?

Never a conscious decision, no. Creators are always inspired by what they see around them. What we watch/read as we’re growing up will shape our own style hugely but, whatever that style may be, I believe it should be something that flows naturally. I don’t hold with the concept of consciously thinking ‘I want to draw like that’. It can’t be as enjoyable to force a style, surely? For me, I grew up in the UK and spent a lot of time in Italy with my family. There I was exposed to Bonelli’s Dylan Dog (a comic that changed my life) and also a lot of TV anime. Back in the UK I was also reading Marvel comics and The Beano. What’s interesting is that even the three manga styles that I really fell in love with in my early teens and that influenced me hugely (Rumiko Takahashi, CLAMP and Keiko Nishi) are completely different from each other. I don’t know what that mystery aura is that makes us look at a piece and think ‘manga’, but whatever mine was, it was born out of a veritable mish-mash of stylistic influences. These days I don’t tend to refer to my work as manga and I don’t call myself a manga artist, but I think my storytelling techniques are still very reminiscent of shoujo manga stylings… So, maybe that’s the defining feature?

What would you say your main artistic influences are?

They’re always changing, but my most influential artists overall would probably be: Giovanni Freghieri, Keiko Nishi, Adrian Alphona and studio Clamp.

Do you think there is a stereotpyical view held amongst western audiences of what a ‘manga’ title will have to offer, one which limits the potential audience?

I think there is one, yes. But I think it’s being gradually expelled thanks to titles like Monster and Death Note. It’s not all sailor suits and giant mecha! Once, the image of manga over here was that it was all sex and violence, now that’s been turned around so that it’s seen as all being for kids. It’s a pretty sharp swerve, so now we need people to realise that it’s both of them and everything in between! It’s comics – plain and simple.

Do you think that manga is enjoying the same surge in popularity that superhero comics seem to be currently experiencing?

I think the manga wave is finally subsiding here in the UK after an amazing few years, but what’s great is that a lot of us are seeing what we always hoped would happen when it was at its biggest over here. We hoped that this time, unlike past manga/anime rises in popularity, when the wave passed it would leave behind a solid foundation – a bedrock of manga in our existing comic industry. It’s what a lot of us worked very hard for, and I think we’re seeing that. Manga shouldn’t be some strange sidekick to comics, but a fantastic part of a wider comic scene. We’re seeing styles and techniques crossing over a lot now, and that’s great.

Any particular favourite titles in this new-wave?

I guess I could be clichĂ© and say Death Note
 It’s superbly written. I have to confess I do also like Naruto in its manga form as opposed to the anime. However, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really differentiate between what is seen as ‘manga’ and what are ‘comics’. It’s all comics, and I probably spend more time reading X-Men, Runaways and Fables than I do ‘manga’ these days. I get frustrated by the constant need of many to separate the two!

Do you think this differentiation between ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ comics is stunting the growth of the graphical medium in general?

I think creators themselves aren’t as worried about the differentiation, so it’s not stunting creativity at least, but I know of several creators, myself included, who have hit hurdles with publishers because our work is ‘too manga’ or ‘not manga enough’, and that’s upsetting; to always have your work compared in some way to whatever litmus paper exists for this mythical ‘manga’ style.
That said, the wave has also lead several larger book publishing companies to get in on the action with graphic novel lines, so on the one hand, GNs are booming like never before.
I think we’re getting there. I’m seeing certain large comic publishers being very open with their new artists, and we’re seeing some fantastically hybrid art styles. Gone are the days of house style, and that’s great news for creativity!

You’re perhaps best known for your excellent work on the Manga Shakespeare range, what was it about those adaptations that appealed to you?

I’m a Shakespeare NUT! Studied him at university, wrote a dissertation on him and then after uni, I became a professional performer for a while and got to do a couple of Shakespeare roles. For him to then find me through comics started to convince me I was being haunted! I just love Shakespeare’s work, and his plays were always meant to be seen and not read as text on paper… So, I thought Emma Hayley’s idea of something between the two was genius!

I can think of worse historical figures to be haunted by! Do you have a favourite Shakespearean play, or character, one which you’d relish the chance of illustrating?

Very true! Haha! Well, lucky for me, my two favourites were Hamlet and Much Ado! In some ways I’d love to go back and apply what I know now to Hamlet – but that way madness lies, haha. I was happy with the storytelling, and that’s the most important part of any comic I think.

Ah, nice King Lear reference! So, when you’re adapting Shakespeare’s plays from the manuscripts, do you take into account stage directions, or just utilise the dialogue?

I don’t use anything but the dialogue… So, essentially I am the director of the piece too – which is great fun. I love trying to add new elements within the set text. Richard [Appignanesi] does a great job of adapting the script down to GN-length dialogue, and then I add what I can to that visually.
To be honest, Shakespeare was very sparse on his stage direction, with the exception of exits, entrances and the occasional ‘dies offstage’, haha!

You’ve been involved in the UK sequential art scene for quite some time now, have there been any noticeable changes during that period, for better or worse?


So many changes! Most notably, there is just more of it – and that’s fab. When Sweatdrop started out almost nine years ago (ARGH!), we did so because there was no one at the time in the UK publishing manga-style work. This was before Tokyopop, before Markosia…it’s hard to believe. Sweatdrop is a bit of a dinosaur of UK small press comics, haha. We’ve seen Rising Stars of Manga come and go, we’ve seen Neo Magazine start up and become the amazing publication it is, and we’ve seen independent sequential artists in the UK move from photocopied, folded comics into pro-looking digital printing. There are so many groups and individuals out there now making the most of cheaper printing and the ever-expanding convention scene.

Shows like the London MCM Expo have exploded comics out into the wider public, while shows like Thought Bubble, BICS and Bristol offer specialised playgrounds where comickers and comic lovers can come together and revel in the shinies. Magazines like ImagineFX have really started welcoming comics into their line-ups, and even the surge in recent comic adaptations to film have all contributed to the notion that the geeks truly shall inherit the earth.
The UK has always had a wealth of amazing comickers, but so many have been forced to take their talents elsewhere in the past. There are a lot of people right now working hard to really push the talent pool we have here in the UK, and I love seeing the results!

Some people seem quite eager to pin this growth on the recent success of comic-book adaptations at the box office, how much do you think this is the case?

I think the film industry has not so much drawn in new readers (though I bet it’s brought a few people ‘home’) as it has strengthened the bond and courage of existing readers. I know loads of people who love the recent surge of adaptations, but they’ve never read a comic and never will… What this recognition has done has made existing readers feel less isolated; it’s made us that bit prouder of our obsessions. We can now wear our geek-shirts with pride and count ourselves amongst those ‘who were there at the beginning, man’.

You’re appearing at this year’s Thought Bubble; do you enjoy attending conventions and other events of that nature?

Well of course! I LOVE events. They’re the times we can come out of our solitary studios and mingle with humanity…and other creators.
I attend as many as I can in a year without destroying myself, though that’s getting harder these days now that there are so many events, what with me trying to span the pure comic events and the anime conventions! As I write this I’m recovering from the MCM Expo, where I actually organise the ComicVillage, so I’m very much looking forward to Thought Bubble, where I can be a creator again. I have huge respect for the people who organise these events after my Expo experiences! This weekend I’m off to my first Italian convention in Lucca, so that should be good fun!
I urge anyone who sees me at an event to come up and say hi! For some reason I get a lot of people after shows saying online that they saw me, but didn’t want to bug me at the show, haha. I’m there to be bugged, people! Don’t be a stranger! ^_^

***

Alas, as it is said, the rest is silence. Many thanks to Emma for taking the time and talking to us, we here at Thought Bubble are huge fans of her work and really cannot recommend it enough!

A little bit of TB related news now, for those of you unlucky enough not to be able to make it to this year’s festival, we’re pleased to be able to bring a couple of our big-name guests to you! Thanks to our partners at Travelling Man, Ben Templesmith and Alex Maleev will be attending signings at TM’s Newcastle and Manchester stores during the Thought Bubble festival period, details can be found on the flyer placed conveniently below…

Alex&Ben Signing

That’s all for now, tune in on Wednesday when we have another interview for you with one of our fantastic guests. “Who?” you may ask, well you’ll have to come back to find out. Mystery is our middle-name.

– Clark