Arts & Culture People

Thought Bubble’s Lisa Wood on the comic art industry

Thought Bubble is the largest comic art festival in the UK, taking place across Yorkshire and based for the first time this year in Harrogate convention centre from 4th – 10th November 2019.

This year Thought Bubble will host artists whose work is known and loved all over the world, with guests and exhibitors attending representing Marvel, DC, Black Horse, Image, The Walking Dead, Rick & Morty, Star Wars, Nickelodeon, Netflix, The Guardian, New York Times, and countless more.

Leeds-born and based Lisa Wood founded Thought Bubble to bring artists together, with the festival now moving into its 13th year, celebrating all of Yorkshire with their move to the new North Yorkshire based site. As well as founding Thought Bubble, Lisa is an internationally acclaimed comic book artist, currently working on Scarlet Witch for Marvel and All Star Batman for DC. She also recently received the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award from San Diego Comic Con for her community work with Thought Bubble – all achieved from her rural Yorkshire home. 

Here Lisa tells us of her start in the industry, her motivation for a far-reaching festival, and the future of Thought Bubble.

How did you get your start in the comic art industry?

I’ve always loved art. As a child I used to go to Batley market with my Dad to pick up my weekly comics which I loved getting! That’s definitely where my love of comics came from.

After that I went to Bradford university and studied Art & Design there. I dabbled in some freelance illustration after that, but because it’s so difficult to start a career in freelance illustration, and art generally, I was working other jobs around that time.

I trained as a 35mm projectionist at an art house cinema, alongside that I was working part time in several comic shops. One of those comic shops was Travelling Man, it was there that I decided I wanted to set up Thought Bubble – that was back in 2007. 

The festival is in its 13th year now and it’s just huge! It’s amazing to see it grow and grow each year. Alongside all of that, I started drawing comic books about eight years ago which has become my main profession.

Photo credit: Howie Hill

What was the first comic art project you worked on and what has shaped your style since?

I kind of did a few different ones all at the same time… the first one I ever did was during Thought Bubble: through the festival we set up an anthology and collected stories from our guests, selling the anthologies and donating the profits to the children’s charity, Barnardo’s. I did a short comic book in that with film director Stuart Gordon who is probably most well-known for the film, The Animator. That was published by Image Comics and the first comics work I did.

Very quickly after that I did the cover for Elephant Men as well as about five pages of interiors for Elephant Men #54. That was around the time I set up social media pages and started sharing my work on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter etc. I was posting illustrations up on there and ended up getting work from people like DC from that. That was my first big bit of comics work, working on DC’s Vertigo.

Getting started in Leeds, did you ever find that you had difficulty reaching out to the comic art community?

Not really, while I was working at Travelling Man I was surrounded by a lot of people in the comics industry, a lot of writers and artists. I think we’re quite lucky in the North of England to have a lot of people working for the big American publishers, that’s made it quite easy to speak to people, to find friends, and get them involved.

I think the only drawback we’ve had regionally has been getting publicity for the shows. We’ve found a lot of the press is very London-centric and so they don’t tend to cover things in the North so much. In terms of getting the actual comics industry involved though, that’s been no problem, from the beginning we’ve had so much support!

What was your main motivation for the creation of Thought Bubble and how has that motivation been realised over the years?

When I set up Thought Bubble 13 years ago, the main thing I wanted to do was to use the medium of comic books as a learning tool, to help young people and adults with literacy issues. I wanted to put on free workshops and create a stronger support network for them. 

I struggled with dyslexia growing up and left school unable to read or write properly. My experience of education was quite bad in that regard. The way I really learnt to read and write was through comic books and it showed me what a powerful medium it is and the impact it can have on young people with these problems.

I love to read now but I don’t feel like I’d be able to do that if I didn’t have those comics at the beginning. I really feel comics are a medium in their own right, an incredible medium for adults or anyone to read now. That’s why I set up Thought Bubble, it was that community aspect. That’s also something we’ve been able to grow with support from The Arts Council, The Charlie Adlard Foundation and comiXology.

How will the move from Leeds to Harrogate make the convention more accessible for a wider Yorkshire audience?

It opens up opportunities to more people in rural areas around North Yorkshire, it’s much easier to get to for those people while remaining very easy to get to for people in say Leeds (where we’re still based).

Photo credit: Kendall Whitehouse

The projects you have developed through Thought Bubble have been far-reaching and so inclusive of diverse groups and backgrounds. How would you like to continue supporting people through the festival?

We just want to continue doing what we’ve always done! We’ve put together some more ambitious funding applications to various organisations to help further our outreach work and constantly getting in touch with new organisations and working alongside existing partners. Those existing partners include some really valuable organisations like Leeds Autism services, asylum seekers & refugees organisation and Leeds LGBT organisations.

We work very hard each year to bring as diverse a group of guests as we can, that’s something we’re going to be working very hard on in the next few years.

Which comic character would you say you share the most traits with?

Uhhhhh! That’s a really hard question… Not a comic book character, but one I feel could be adapted very easily is Napoleon Dynamite. I feel more similar to him than any other fictional character I know…

For more information, including a full line-up and to buy tickets, see the Thought Bubble website.

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