The annual Thought Bubble Comic convention returned to Leeds Royal Armouries on the 14th and 15th of November, bringing with it a flood of red shirted volunteers clutching coffee and eager to get the event under way. For the last two years I have been a volunteer at this event and thought it time to share some of my experiences as a fan/volunteer at the convention.
Thought Bubble is a five day charity event that attracts thousands of people and culminates in a two day comic convention in the centre of Leeds. For volunteers however, the event starts on Friday when the set up crew is released to prepare the three halls for guests and exhibitors alike. There’s even anime screenings and a panel room. It takes a lot of hard work, but the team is always upbeat and make the whole thing so enjoyable. Each year I have found that volunteering is a wonderful way to meet new people who share your love of comics in any form.
“DMC was at the convention with his new comic”
It has always been easy to see how excited and determined the volunteering team are to make the event run smoothly, but few realise how their determination is matched by the ever eager Mondo fans. For those who are have yet to discover this team, check out their website for news and sneak peaks at the excellent artwork they turn out. It’s easy to see why the fans of this group are so ardent in their admiration that they queue Friday night while set up begins and camp out to meet the team for signings. To me, it is incredible that a group of people will camp outside in Leeds in November, but it demonstrates the passion people have for comics. If you are unfamiliar with Leeds in November, consider the Arctic during heavy fog and you’ll understand how it feels to a Southerner like me. While the fans wait, the setup process takes a long time and lots of hard work, but the company makes it all worth it. However, if you’re in another city, you can spend Friday sleeping on the long coach journey to Leeds. I recommend bringing a friend for this bit so you can nap on their shoulder and blame the snoring on them if the people behind you complain.
While volunteering is incredible fun, it’s a very tiring weekend. On Saturday sleepy volunteers arrive at six with bags full of comics to be signed and even more ready to be filled with new stories and art once the convention opens at 10. The final preparations rush by in a blur of moving tables and sign making, queue designating and even excitable dances for those who can’t contain their excitement. This isn’t just a chance for the visitors to meet their comic heroes, it’s for the volunteers too so we get very excited to help them set up their stands as they arrive.
Everyone has designated jobs for the weekend ranging from queue management to panel monitoring and constant coffee runs for exhibitors. There is even a roller derby team roaming the site. It is worth noting that this is the only convention I know of where roller derby teams run a sort of friendly security and help team (all in shorts and t-shirts I might add-these brave men and women are tough as nails but incredibly friendly-they even sell cookies).This year, I spent the Saturday looking after eight guests and their queues, managing the area and delegating to other volunteers. That’s pretty tough in your second year but no one got trampled so I’d say it went rather well. Guest queues can hold people up for hours so there’s plenty of time to chat if you can grab a moment between helping other visitors. However, it gets pretty tricky when a guest doesn’t show up. Jerome Opena was wonderful when he eventually arrived, but the lack of communication from him (due to traffic difficulties and signal problems) meant we held his queue for hours in the hope of his eventual arrival. To everyone who waited so patiently for him, thank you.
“It’s hard to take a petulant Harley Quinn seriously”
I enjoy being on the queues because you get to interact with the artists and writers as well as seeing them interact with their fans. The looks of joy on their faces are brilliant to behold (especially when a guest sees someone in cosplay of their character). The artists and writers chat with their fans as they sketch, paint and sign their way through, always chatty and polite (even after hours without a break). However, they can only get through so many people before needing to go eat or go home. As a result, we have to cap queues and turn people away, asking them to queue the next day. Sadly, some people don’t take this well. I looked after Rick Remender’s queue personally as we needed the help, and when he was swaying in his chair from jet lag and hunger (he’d been signing for 4 hours straight with no rest) I had to tell people he was going on a break. So I got shouted at. By visitors. Please, please, please treat the volunteers or staff nicely next time you go to a convention. We can’t make anyone stay and sign your comic and it’s not our fault lots of people want to see them and got there first. We are sorry, but we know what it is to wait too. We have to try and rush in our breaks to visit our favourite exhibitors and we don’t get to skip queues. So please, just remember that we are only trying to help and we probably want them to sign our comics as much as you do. Plus, it’s hard to take a petulant Harley Quinn seriously if the complaint is that the queue doesn’t move fast enough.
Once the con closes, its time to pack up and hit the mid-con party. Lots of guests and exhibitors all gather in the stunning corn exchange to party together. This year DMC was at the convention with his new comic and even performed at the party (in case you’re wondering, he’s really friendly and his show was brilliant). Then it’s a case of grabbing a few hours of sleep and trying not to look hungover at 8 am on Sunday when you report for duty (this can be hard so pack something to hide the bags under your eyes if necessary).
Sometimes volunteers are assigned to new areas on Sunday to give us a bit of a break so this year I helped with panels and keeping an eye on New Dock hall (this is code for talk to as many exhibitors and guests as you can to keep everyone happy-including yourself). Nothing beats talking to everyone about the things you love and it’s a lot more restful. Aside from the occasional angry visitor (only angry about queues though thank goodness) it is really fun. I met so many interesting people, casual readers, cosplayers and collectors. Lots of them share what they like or just bought so I had plenty of recommendations.
“Monkeys fighting zombies”
These recommendations come in useful over the weekend because volunteers use their breaks to explore the convention for their favourite guests and new discoveries. In these moments, we are visitors and fans just like everyone else. Everyone there is so ready to talk about their work and what interests you, it is the friendliest and most intimate convention I know and I thoroughly (and sometimes loudly) recommend it to everyone. Each hall has an enormous range of guests so you can find anything from monkeys fighting zombies (from our friends at Stiffs) to exciting interactive electronic comics (Electrocomics are extraordinary so please look them up-If you don’t believe me, ask Alan Moore). Anyone can find something to be excited about. There is even a section of comics for young people where they can also draw and contribute to the displays. Everyone is welcome and can get involved.
But sadly, the weekend must end, and come 5 pm its time to start packing up and shipping out. Its sad to say goodbye to your friends on the team but once someone has experienced Thought Bubble, they are definitely going to come back next year.
Ultimately, Thought Bubble is a fantastic weekend whether you visit or volunteer. It is the most intimate and diverse convention so please, check it out one of these days. Go on, its a charity J