Compiled as a showcase for this year’s Leeds Comic Art Festival, which includes the Thought Bubble comics convention, this charity anthology (profits to Banardo’s) features contributions from some of the comics industry’s top creators. The likes of Andy Diggle, D’Israeli, Mike Carey, Duncan Fegredo, and Antony Johnston present original material, as well as some of the UK’s premier emerging and small press talents, including the six winners of the first ever Northern Sequential Art Competiton.
The double-sized newsprint format (to give you an idea, when racked it’s folded in half horizontally to make it look like a normal-size comic) immediately brings to mind the likes of “Wednesday Comics,” allowing for some rarely-seen avenues for page design and art direction. The bulk of the stories are only one or two pages long, but with so much space you don’t feel that they’re short. Even in the sparest strips, you can lose yourself in a single panel. While there is a digital copy available, such large pages and unusual paper make the physical version a desirable object, worth seeking out. With a $2.99 cover price, it doesn’t just seem reasonable, it seems like a bargain!
Since this is an anthology, it seems almost unnecessary to say that your enjoyment will vary from strip to strip, but it should also be said that the quality of the talent on display is universally high. Amateurs rub shoulders with professionals and more than manage to hold their own, resulting in a package that anyone should be able to enjoy.
In terms of stand-out strips, it’s tough to choose. The bleak one-page opener by Antony Johnston and Charlie Adlard (set in the “Wasteland” universe created by the former) could not be further in tone from Sally Jane Thompson’s surreal and charming story, “The Very Best,” and yet neither disappoints on any level. Personally, I enjoyed Mike Carey, M.D. Penman, and Andrew Tunney’s “The Timeless Genius of Leonardo” best, but any of the 15 tales included could fill that slot for someone.
Special mention also goes to three winners of the NSAC Under-18s prizes, all of whom display their developing talents with high levels of confidence and originality. For obvious reasons, these strips aren’t quite as polished as the others, but at the same time, it’s easy to see which qualities the NSAC judges recognized and hope to nurture. In a way, these are the most valuable strips in the collection: seeing work at this nascent stage being given such exposure and stature can only encourage its creators (and others) to have a go.
Most importantly, this is a comic which displays the best the industry has to offer, particularly in terms of the UK small press, which typically doesn’t travel far. Thought Bubble has quickly established itself as one of the UK’s premier conventions, and if this is representative of its quality, it’s not hard to see why.