So, we get here at last – my top two of my Top Ten Highlights of 2014. It’s been a merry ol’ ride, taking in close encounters with celebs, embracing fellow nerds at comic conventions up and down the length of the country, and balmy nights under the stars in the company of good friends (and more celebs!). But, somehow, I have to pick two more highlights to sit at the top of the pile – and here’s what they are…
2. Thought Bubble Sequential Art Festival, Leeds (15th/16th November 2014)
Sorry, it’s another vague instance, rather than a very specific moment, but the weekend of the Thought Bubble Sequential Arts Festival was such a complete rush, an utter celebration of the comics art form, it really is difficult to separate down any of the elements that make up this amazing event, I do think of that entire week, culminating in a two-day comics convention as one big whole.
It does help, of course, that I’m not having to do several hours worth of driving, like I did for the MCM Expo Birmingham, or sleep over night in the back of the car in a cold, rainy car park, like I had to do for the Lakes International Arts Festival – Thought Bubble is held at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, minutes down the M62 from where I live. This meant that, to get to the convention very early in the morning to cover the lines of dedicated fans, I could, at least get a good nights sleep beforehand. This didn’t mean, however, I wasn’t utterly broken from the experience: beyond the organisers and the volunteers that were on site, putting the whole thing together, I was first there and last off the site, from the second the tables started getting laid out to the moment the last palette left the Thought Bubble Teepee. I’m rather proud of that.
The other thing I’m rather proud of is walking around the event, introducing myself to exhibitors, creators, artists, writers and all of the eager and willing fans, swarming the three exhibition halls and various panel rooms – and people stopping and saying, “…no, wait, I know you! An Englishman In San Diego! Yeah, I’ve read your site/seen your Twitter feed/watched your Cup O’ Tea Hangouts, you’re really good! Yeah…” For a site that’s only been running for just over a year, to get that reaction from strangers I’ve never met before is so incredibly rewarding and still so unexpected, it almost leaves me speechless when it happens. Wow.
And, of course, there were so many other moments that make up that whole event: being able to watch a documentary on Drew Struzan on a big screen, something I actually thought I’d never get the chance to do (and well worth the trip into Leeds to attend, just as much as my long drive down to London in 2013, just to see the Keanu Reeves Side By Side documentary at the South Bank – sorry, millennials, you’ll never be bale to swap your home cinema setup for the big screen experience for me!); being in the room for the British Comic Awards – an event I thought might have more pomp and ceremony about it but I still wouldn’t have missed it for the world; getting the chance to finally meet The Wicked + The Divine writer Kieron Gillan, face to face, and thank him for taking part in the Cup O’ Tea Hangout which he did for us, just as he was putting together issue 2 of that now award-winning book; getting to meet Scott Snyder to sign my Wytches TB variant – and also randomly sign the back of my Zero Vol. 1 TPB which I had just gotten creator Ales Kot to sign and which Snyder had written a cover blurb for! That confused him…!; getting the chance to talk to Becky Cloonan and Babs Tarr (I’m hoping to get at least one of those incredibly talented ladies to join us on the Icons Of Con podcasts, or even the Cup O’ Tea Hangouts, in 2015 – fingers crossed); queuing very early in the morning to get a signing from Jock who then recognised me and said hello by name, flummoxing me completely! Getting to introduce myself to the Mondo guys, all of them cracking chaps… Saying hi to the 2000AD gang – and getting myself on their press email list, meaning I get to see that truly incredible Dark Justice story before it hits the streets… It goes on and on. The whole weekend was just filled to the brim with nothing but positive vibes about the state of comics, the passion of small publishers and dedicated one-man creators, and the continuing future of the art form as it is introduced to a new, eager generation.
Here it comes, then – my Number One Highlight of my last twelve months, the moment I almost can’t believe happened and I still wonder if it was just the result of eating too much cheese before bed and I just dreamt the whole thing…
1. Introducing Jim Lee on stage at San Diego Comic-Con, July 2014
When I first volunteered at SDCC, back in 2012, I was so fortunate to have been allocated to Clydene Nee’s Artist Alley room, up in Room 2 at the back of the panel rooms on the first floor of the Convention Center, nestled behind the more high profile halls. Not only did the room have nothing but pure creatives, giving practical advice to others wanting to stride down the road of getting something made, but the variety of the art forms on display – from writing, to art, to layout, to story structure, to 3D modelling, even to the skill of speech bubbles – just left me speechless. I was more than happy to stick around beyond my allocated volunteer slot and just help where I could – I considered it not only a duty but a great privilege to give back to this amazing event, rather than just be an enthusiastic attendee.
Off the back of my enthusiasm, I was asked to come back in 2013 as a Staff Volunteer, helping coordinate and run the room under Clydene’s amazing staff (Ines and Javier are two of the kindest, sweetest people I’ve met at Comic-Con and it’s frustrating to me that I don’t make more of an effort to keep in touch). I was incredibly thrilled to be allowed to go on stage and introduce these fantastic creatives – it tapped into my own skill set as a Personality DJ and gave me the platform to be the big showman for these people. But nothing prepared me for the moment this July when I was asked to come back, allocated to close the room down on the last panel of the whole weekend and, as part of my duties, introduce the guest for that final slot: the legendary Jim Lee!
I had been in the room for Jim the previous year and, while the panel is titled ‘How To Draw with…’, the whole thing ends up becoming more of a full-to-the-rafters crowd, getting the opportunity to watch a master craftsman work on stage – it really is a sight to see, I’d highly recommend it if you ever get to watch the man work. It’s incredible: he starts with some big broad strokes, from a variety of mediums, blotches and vague lines which don’t seem to be coalescing into anything of meaningful structure – maybe, maybe this will be the one where it all becomes a lumpen mess on paper. The next thing you know, Jim’s whipped out a white highlighter, or a thick black marker, or something, arced it over the page and in the blink of an eye, the whole thing has transformed into a stunning work of true art, full of vibrancy and motion. You’re left gaping as you think to yourself, “…what the hell just happened?? How on Earth did he do that?? [But, hey, if we all knew the answer to how Jim Lee does what Jim Lee does, everyone would be doing it!] Bravo, sir, bravo!!”
Jim was running a little bit late from his many commitments of the Sunday schedule and the room was getting understandably restless. But, almost magically appearing from the back of the room and before anyone had really noticed, he was up on the stage and pulling out his materials from his bag. I’ve already written before about what happened next but long story short: I ended up giving Jim Lee a rock star introduction which resulted in nearly having to peel the audience off the ceiling! Get in! I just wish somebody had it on video – I’ll have to check in with SDCC and see if it’s on tape anywhere. And to then have the one and only Jim Lee turn around and say, “…y’know, that’s the best introduction I’ve ever been given at Comic-Con!”, that’s when I knew that I could take on Hall H one day! Move over, Eddie – I’m gunning for yer!!
And there you have it – my Top Ten Highlights of 2014! It’s been an incredible year of amazing moments and I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store. See you in San Diego! (On stage, maybe?)