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2015’s Thought Bubble project started life as a question: how do we get people into comics? We don’t just mean reading; how to we make people characters in their own stories? How do we make them part of the action?
Last year we attempted to answer that question through Get Into Comics, our Leeds Inspired funded project, spearheaded by artist Tom Eglington and completed in collaboration with the amazing students at the Leeds College of Art. Following a series of workshops, activity days and a lot of very late nights for Tom, Get Into Comics resulted in 8 giant comic panels that have been inhabited by the imaginations of hundreds of people across Yorkshire and beyond. You can see some of our favourites here, but don’t forget to also check out the #GetIntoComics hashtag for all the fun!
We couldn’t have done any of this, of course, without the wonderful people at Leeds Inspired, whose enthusiasm for Get Into Comics was invaluable in getting the project off the ground. After the success of last year’s Kodama Woods project, also funded by Leeds Inspired, we were thrilled that our funding application was accepted and Get Into Comics could be made a reality. Thought Bubble is a non-profit organisation so funding bodies such as Leeds Inspired provide much of the support we need to be able to bring the festival to you each year.
We were also very lucky to have the help of the awesome students at the Leeds College of Art. Over the course of this project we had several workshops with the students that resulted in the creation of one of our most popular panels; a UFO abduction! Over the past few years we’ve built a great relationship with LCA and it has been fantastic having the input of so many of the rising stars of comics and illustration. Tom has written more about the work they did together, as well as the whole process of creating the comic panels, below. Tom did such a stellar job on this project and his blog is well worth a read.
Our first outing with Get Into Comics was at Leeds Trinity shopping centre, where we encountered a large selection of people, many of whom had no history reading comics. We were swarmed with people all day which was amazing to see! Young and old alike were really excited about jumping into the comics and creating their own stories with all the props and sound effects we had created. We had similar experiences on our other outings at The Light, Victoria Gardens (outside the art galleries) and the Children’s Library at Leeds Central Library. It was so much fun seeing everyone get really stuck in and for families and friends to create and laugh together. We felt really special to have enabled that.
The panels also proved really popular at the Thought Bubble convention on 14th and 15th November. Tom and our wonderful Get Into Comics volunteers spent the weekend helping our convention attendees create all sorts of amazing and hilarious panels with the booths. Even our exhibitors and guests got involved!
Now the project is over we’ve been on the hunt for homes for the booths. One has already found a place at the Forget Me Not Hospice where it spent the festive season bringing cheer to children and families dealing with life-limiting illnesses. So if your organisation would enjoy having one of our panels we would love to hear from you!
We’d like to say thank you again to everyone who made this project possible: to Leeds Inspired, the Leeds College of Art, our amazing artist Tom Eglington and the dedicated volunteers who helped set up and run the booths at all our event days and the TB2015 convention, and of course to all the people who got involved and created their own stories with Get Into Comics. You guys rock!
The artist’s perspective
I was very lucky to have been asked to create last year’s Kodama Woods project, which was so fun and rewarding that almost immediately following TB2014 I was thinking of ways to create another art project for 2015 that could build on the interactive elements of Kodama Woods and inspire lots of people to get creative. I wanted it to be something fun and un-intimidating, that didn’t assume a base knowledge of comics or pop culture.
After several excited conversations with [Festival Manager] Martha, we began to put together the basics for Get into Comics. I suggested creating comic book scenes with a cutout foreground image against a background, allowing people to occupy the middle ground. The inspiration for this came directly from classic comic covers where complicated scenes are created using a similar composition.
I began trying out models to demonstrate the process and also to figure out both how to construct the boxes on a large scale and to see where any problems or difficulties might occur. I quickly found that certain compositions worked while others didn’t at all . One of the more successful ones was an iconic Superman-esque cover, which provided a good starting point for my first prototype.
After our funding was granted I began refining the designs to meet our requirements. The booths would need to be mobile as we wanted to take them around Leeds for the public to engage with in the run up to the festival. We also wanted to create a wide selection of comic scenes that would appeal to all ages, as well as both seasoned comic fans and people who were not familiar with the comic medium. Finally, after the success of our Kodama Woods lantern-making workshops at Leeds College of Art last year, we were all really keen to get their students more involved in the creation of the comic panels, so there needed to be elements of the panels and props that we could create together. Originally I had conceived of the booths as static ready-made constructions, but after we decided to tour them I approached a builder/ carpenter friend, Paul Ansell, who came up with an ingenious way of using a lightweight plastic frame that could be dismantled whilst still being strong enough to hold up the large sheets of plywood used for the scenery. Paul saved me a lot of time and headaches by creating a prototype I could work from.
This moved me on pretty quickly to the second planning stage; coming up with suitable scenes that would cover all the most popular comic genres. They all had to be family friendly and easily recognisable. I decided early on that the scenes should be homages to classic comics rather than direct references, as this would allow plenty of creative leeway for us and the people using the booths., My first attempt was a homage to classic old horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and Creepy. What better way to kick things off than with a mad scientist’s laboratory?
In creating the booth designs I began by making a thumbnail and then refining the image by sketching directly onto the plywood panels. I could then alter the image accordingly – the foreground image needed to be of a particular shape so that it would be structurally strong enough, and I found it easier to judge how to do this on a larger scale. I added the background after the cutout had been completed, so I could alter the height of the background scene. I had previously discovered that it changes depending on your line of sight.
With the initial booth under my belt, we were ready for our Leeds College of Art workshops. Over two days, illustration students from the second year (organised by Gareth Wadkin) were going to come up with a design for one of the comic panels as well as create props to be used in all eight booths, along with sound effects and speech bubbles. It was a pretty tall order for two days!I was hugely impressed with the range of designs that the students came up with and their skill in creating the props and painting the booth. . What was interesting was how similar ideas recurred. The sorts of things that I had found myself trying out during the concept stage were the sorts of things a lot of the students were trying out, from adapting classic comic covers to playing with scale and perspective.
We finally agreed on a design that two students had come up with independently. Daniel Stevenson and Sophie Wright both came up with a UFO scene that had the beam of spaceship as the cutout, which was a really great use of the format that I’d not thought of. It was too good not to use. Sophie created a third design using elements of three different pictures of the UFO concept, which a small group of students began drawing onto the plywood sheets for the finished box. We also began creating a colourful mixture of sound effects that we needed (following the fine pop art tradition of onomatopoeia) and a mixture of props for the themed boxes. I also had student ambassador, Adam Allsuch Boardman, help start on the background for a city scene. He had shown me some excellent city scenes he had illustrated, and since one of the booths involved a superhero fight scene in a city, he was perfect for the job.
The booth that the students created proved incredibly popular with the public, as did the props they designed. I did, of course, insist that they try out their creations with the horror themed comic booth for the obligatory photo op!
After the development and initial build process was completed it was a (relatively!) simple affair constructing the remaining boxes. It was great to see our work being enjoyed so much on our event days and at the Thought Bubble Convention.