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BLOG Thought Bubble Anthology 2012 REVIEW

Alasdair Stuart continues his one-man publicity push for this year‘s Thought Bubble Festival with a review of the show’s Anthology

Thought Bubble 2012

Published by Image Comics

The sheer volume of stories packed into the Thought Bubble anthology never fails to amaze me and this year there are some absolute belters, from every level of the industry.

The 2012 anthology opens with an artistic dynasty’s touching story of an alien who hates sparkly red lipstick. Tony Harris and his five year-old daughter Lucia Rose Harris provide the script for “Underpants”. Harris senior provides the art and fans of his work on Ex Machina should be prepared for something short, sweet and funny, with able support from JG Roshell on letters.

The Peter Doree scripted “To Swap Or Not To Swap” is next. An extended reminiscence about the joy of collecting comics and the complex economics of what was worth what to swap, it’s a fun little piece but one whose universal appeal will make it seem overly familiar to some readers. Philips’ artwork is extraordinary however, perfectly imitating traditional UK kids’ comic art and subtly altering as the protagonists get older.

“Puffy” by Skottie Young is a single page and four panels. It’s very, very funny. All you need to go know going in is – sometimes? Cats suck.

“Significant Portraiture” by Gail Simone is a beautifully-paced single-page joke which also serves as a fiercely powerful statement of intent. A young girl walks into a Victorian comic shop selling titles like Lord Wolverine, MBE and The Walking Deceased and… well, you really should read it. Also worth noting here is the first appearance of artist Tula Lotay, whose expressive character work and eye for detail suits the script perfectly, and John Paul Bove’s subtle, almost-sepia toned art.

Richard Starkings and Boo Cook are up next with “Get Nikken!”, a crossover between Elephantmen and Strontium Dog. Yes you read that correctly. It works brilliantly too, Starking’s utterly precise art a perfect fit for the slightly stylised hyper-reality of the Search Destroy Agency’s best agent. Plus any Wulf Sternhammer appearance is always to be welcomed.

“Due Returns”, the Matthew Sheret-scripted story that follows, couldn’t be more different. No one gets punched, Kristyna Baczynski’s art is beautifully stylised and expressive working with just three colours, and the story itself is set almost entirely in a library. It doesn’t matter, because this is arguably the best story in here, a wonderfully sweet, gentle story about books, collections and the sort of adventure you can go on if you aren’t a huge, genetically-enhanced elephant. It’s lovely, and the simple fact that these two stories, both great, both utterly different, sit next to one another shows what a fantastic variety of stories comics can tell with consummate ease.

This is further shown by “Soul Food” by Emma Vieceli. Emma uses colour and layout, and a good dose of humour, to perfectly capture that moment when a potential romance could become a real one, the control of the conversation shifting from one character to the other. It’s beautifully observed, lovely stuff and the ending, whilst ambiguous, also couldn’t be more hopeful.

Two more one-page stories follow and again these are contenders for best in the anthology. “I’m Through” by Ivan Brandon, with wonderful art by Leigh Gallagher and letters by Simon Bowland is the story of Ivan waiting to open his presents, intent on rushing through to the big ones. Until he opens a comic and everything changes… I don’t normally have much time for this sort of nostalgia, but this works, for me, a lot better than the earlier piece. It’s all but impossible to capture the lightning in a bottle joy of pop culture at its best but Brandon, Gallagher and Bowland manage it and you’ll be leaving this page with a smile on your face.

“Love And Let Die” by Clark Burscough follows it and flips a Bondian stereotype on its end. Maybe if supervillains had a little conversation, a little affection, things would be different? Unrequited love has never had so many death rays and Richard Hughes’ art is wonderful, balancing the right level of comic book insanity with surprising sweetness. Adam Cadwell’s colours are also to be commended, especially on the callback joke to panel 2 in 12. Trust me you’ll understand when you see it.

Next up come the three prize winners for the 3rd Northern Sequential Art Competition. NSAC is a competition for young people aged 12-17 and 17 and over, looking to find not only the best existing talent but highlight up and comers. This year’s top three are a perfect example of what makes NSAC great, running from shaggy dog family comedy to Victorian horror and physical comedy.

“Dad’s Ear”, first prize winner, written and drawn by Steve Reynolds, uses expressive, forced perspective and prose to tell a story about his father and the compulsive lies he’d tell to spare his kids pain, entertain them or, sometimes, for his own amusement. Every illustration on the page is a winner and the frenetic style and deadpan humour will appeal to fans of everything from Johnen Vasquez to Raising Hope . Great work.

As is Martin Simpsons’ second place piece “The Clicking Machine”, a moon and gaslight-lit nightmare that embodies future shock in an elegantly horrifying manner. The cinema has arrived, moving images have spread across the world but for one man, the camera has never stopped playing… It’s a simple idea, beautifully executed and the final two visual gags Martin pulls are worth the price of admission by themselves. Beautiful work, it reminded me of the elaborate Gothic nightmares of David Hitchcock.

“Exasperated” by Ben Haith placed 3rd and is a far gentler, silent piece. It’s also very funny, a wonderfully observed piece of physical comedy that has that element all great comedy embodies and all lousy comedy searches for… timing. There’s a slight hint of Jamie Smart’s glorious combination of massive energy and precise timing to his work and, like the other two winners, he’s a definite talent to watch.

“Half Past Danger” by Stephen Mooney and Jordie Bellaire follows. Essentially a one-page teaser for a series on its way from IDW in 2013 there’s not much to get your teeth into here, but the full series, with its combination of dinosaurs and hard-bitten men in good suits is a pulpy gem to keep an eye out for in 2013.

Dave Johnson’s amiable and wonderfully self-deprecating “Just One Example Of How My Life As A Comic Book Artist Has Been Awesome” follows and is essentially a monologue, by Dave, explaining how a chance meeting with a future colleague started with a death threat and ended with a career. Although the death threat may not have happened at all… It’s sharp and funny, and the perfect lead in to “The Immortality Drive”, one of the comic’s real standouts. Lee Barnett scripts a story of a writer of the future working on getting her book in every library in history. It crams more ideas and pathos into one page than many comics manage in a full issue. Lee “Budgie” Barnett’s script is elegant, pared down and heart-rending and Ollie Redding’s detailed, chilly art is a revelation. In a book that’s consistently beautiful, this may be the star.

“‘Soon” by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay gives it a serious run for its money, though. A classic Ellis futurist tone poem, it’s a half-dozen ideas thrown on a page that map our desperate need to know more with the impatience of youth and the fundamental belief that the future won’t just be worth it, it will be beautiful. Lotay’s artwork is absolutely the equal of the script and this is another extremely strong story.

The anthology begins to come into land with “Get Me Off This Freaking Moor” by Kate Beaton and “Transreality” by Chris Lackey. Beaton, best known for Hark, A Vagrant , has huge fun with eight panels of the Bronte sisters “dude watchin’” whilst Lackey sets up an interesting premise for his 2013 graphic novel with beautiful clean art.

JG Roshell, one of the book’s unsung heroes steps up to the spotlight with “Charley Loves Robots”. Drawn and coloured by Gabriel Bautista it’s a neat, detail heavy story with friendly art and a good punch line.

The anthology rounds off with the three winners of the NSAC Under 17 category. “Becoming A Better Person” by Sophie Kamlish, 15, is the deserved winner, a wryly self-aware set of personal improvement vows with its tongue very firmly in its cheek. “Victor E” by Ato Ame, aged 12, placed second, and is a gloriously enthusiastic superhero romp with a great payoff whilst “Song For Freedom” placed third. Written and drawn by Hannah Seakins its an almost silent, eloquent story that speaks volumes with nothing but musical notes and rounds the anthology off on a real high.

Thought Bubble 2012 is a gorgeous looking anthology crammed with some of the best new and established talent working in comics today. It’s a perfect summary of the festival itself ; comics in all their forms from horror to action, comedy to slice of life, all huge fun and all given equal billing. Whether you can make it to the festival or not, pick this up. You won’t read a better, more varied anthology for a long time.

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