A tie-in to the Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds, UK (Nov. 15-16), the 2014 Thought Bubble anthology is an eclectic, inviting collection put together for a good cause. Printed in oversize newspaper format and folded up to fit on the shelves, it's less polished than something like Vertigo's "CMYK" or "Dark Horse Presents," but it's still a charming, affirming reminder of comics' endless variety in scope, style and story.
"The Day of the Incredibly Messed Up Thing" kicks off the issue with a Lovecraftian escalation of the common fear of flying. Boo Cook has fun with the passengers' faces and a sickly shade of green, though the story feels almost too short. (Of all problems, a good one to have.)
Just as in 2013, 2000 AD's "The Elephantmen" makes an appearance in the anthology. This time, Richard Starkings and Tim Sale present a moving slice-of-life story, "When the Night Comes," about victory and routine. Alex Medellin makes lovely, if not original, use of color in the otherwise black-and-white environment.
My favorite piece in the anthology has to be "A Letter to the Sixteen-Year-Old." This utterly strange and brokenly ethereal marriage of Ales Kot's poem and Alison Sampson's art is only a few pages, but it's already been worth two rereads. Jason Wordie's colors are imaginative and anxious, matching the mania of the poem's repeated "Listen" while still feeling addressed to a teenager. I love Kot's sparseness in "Zero," so it was nice to see him get a touch more lyrical here.
The first page of "Mouse" made me laugh out loud and clap my hands. Though it's science fictional, it captures exactly the sort of introspection that being alone at a bus stop invites, and Gary Erskine's faces are pitch-perfect. I want this page on my wall. The second page provides a resolution that's neat and unobjectionable, but I almost wish this had just been the one page because it's so perfect.
"Morning on Europa" is a beautiful glimpse into a moment. Like many of the entries in the anthology, it's too short to make a deep impact, but it's a clean display of Cliff Chiang's skill.
"Jampires Present Comics Jamtastic" is an adorable all-ages call to creativity that actually looks like it'd be so fun to try at parties.
Emma Rios, Hwei Lim and Roque Romero's "Untitled" is a pretty love song to summer and friendship that feels deceptively effortless. Its details are perfectly curated, but the reader never feels the work. The team also gets plenty creative with its paneling, using funky outlines that feel like Malibu polaroids.
The three winners of the Thought Bubble Art Competition are wildly different. Ulises Lopez' "Have A Nice Day" is a fun, cartoony reflection on our ideas about karma. Simon Gurr's "Lac in Black" is sleek and intriguing, but feels almost like an infographic. Ross MacKintosh's "TV Science Documentary" uses simple, greyscale art to poke fun at the ways that documentaries mythologize themselves before getting to the facts - a gentle approach to parody.
The under-18 winners are admittedly not the most graceful comics, but they're bubbling with cleverness and enthusiasm. Lizzy Mikietyn's "The World of Oliver," about a philosophizing kid at play, gave me a good laugh. "Viking the Worrier"'s punny title probably would've been enough to make me like it, but I also enjoyed Zoom Rockman's zany, cramped parade of worries. "Odie the Superdog," by Charlotte Turfrey, is the youngest of them, but it ends with the delightful resolution of "[they] played dodgeball and they had a lovely time." (Also, who doesn't enjoy kids creating?)
"As Above" makes great use of scale - and the ways that panels are particularly suited for playing with it - to tell a quantum story.
"A Mermaid's Tale" by Barry Kitson is attractive, but it doesn't tell much of a story. It looks more like a cover.
Emily Carroll's joyful self-deprecation makes "A Selection of Stories I Made Up As A Kid" another winner. (I also want this page on my wall next to "Mouse.")
"Space Hype" could easily be lost on the last page, but it's a fun reflection on human nature with interestingly grungy colors. Even in space, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Alive in its unevenness, the Thought Bubble Anthology is a welcome annual reminder of comics' richness and variety.