TBF16: A Conversation with Tess Fowler (Thought Bubble Festival, 7th November 2016)

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A legacy article, originally posted on the An Englishman In San Diego blog, 7th November 2016 – since this post was uploaded, Tess has diagnosed with serious health issues which her friends, fans and collaborators, including writer B. Dave Walters, have come together to help her, in terms of emotional support and also those extensive medical bills. Please do consider contributing to these fundraising efforts for this amazing creator at https://gf.me/u/x3krv2


On the last day of the convention for the Thought Bubble Sequential Art Festival 2016 (held over the weekend of 6th-7th November), Leonard Sultana was lucky enough to get some time to talk with artist Tess Fowler on her first visit to the UK…

Tess is a creative that has inspired massive loyalty from her fans, not only for her artwork but also for her highly personal and vocal social media presence. In this conversation, Leonard and Tess talk about her relationship with her fans at conventions and online, and how she balances her output with attending conventions in a busy calendar – especially with this being her first trip to the UK. Thought Bubble would mark her final engagement before heading home…

Leonard: So, you can’t think, like, this is the end of the trip. You can’t do it!

Tess: No! Because I literally burst into tears. I’m so in love with this place, so in love with… all of it. But Scotland broke me, though. My heart is still in Edinburgh… I’m coming back, okay? I’m coming back!

Leonard: Do you need to take your coat off, do you need to get settled?

Tess: No, I’m just cold!

Leonard: Ahh, yes, well, that’s the flip side, While [the UK] may be pretty, and you may be enjoying yourself, it’s cold!

Tess: You know, I was fine the whole time, I think, because I was on the go, but all of a sudden I realised the show was over. And I just chased down a young lady in the lobby because she had ordered something from me and forgotten it. And so she’s just eating her crisps in the lobby and I was like, I’m so sorry, you forgot this! The doors closed really fast on her, and she goes Oop! So and then that was it and I went and gushed over Will Kirkby!

It’s funny because I gush over artists – and I don’t realise people might know who I am as well. Yeah, so we had a moment but his work is so amazing and so inspiring. just phenomenal. There’s these artists here that we don’t get in the States. I really feel like we’re just in this weird, terrible quarantine…

Leonard: Okay, let’s talk about that! Very quickly to introduce – this is Tess Fowler, my name is Leonard and we are at Thought Bubble 2016, here in Leeds. Your first time, not only [at the Festival but also] in the UK but first time out of the States…

Tess: Yes! I never thought I would ever escape but I did, I’m here and I’m never going back! It’s been so much fun.

Yeah, but the art, I’m fangirling so hard. Yeah. So when we were at the end of my row and didn’t even know it – a mutual artist’s friend [was there], like, Oh, yeah, she’s down there! And I just went, I went over there and just made a complete fool of myself about it. She was so kind about it, she’s like, we’re Facebook friends. So I, like, melted.

Leonard: So, have you had the opportunity to look around, then? To meet as many [comic guests] as you can? I mean, that’s the thing. I’ve been talking to people about this year’s show – it’s three rooms, all ‘Artists Alley’, it’s almost like the largest artists alley I know. And I’ve been to San Diego and that’s huge – this is just a massive thing! So why Thought Bubble, then, why this show, what was this the one that got you on the plane in the first place?

Tess: Everyone raved about it. And, with Twitter… my Twitter is like family and so, if I say something out into the void, they’ll come back and say, Oh, you should go to this one! Like, Thought Bubble is unequivocally just ‘The One’, yeah! So, all right, then we talked about it, and they were kind enough to fly me out and put me on a table. So I decided to make, you know, a trip of it. Had to, had to!

Leonard: Well, if you follow Tess on Twitter, you’ll know that there are currently doors in Edinburgh with fingernail marks as she was being dragged out of the town! So yeah, it’s just been so inspiring to see how excited you been about coming out to Thought Bubble. But what’s been the response from the fans, then? I mean, because obviously this is one of the rare occasions that European fans and UK fans have had to meet you… Everyone’s been very kind of excitable!

Tess: Excitable, but warm, so warm. And it’s interesting because I’m so close-knit with my fandom and I interact with them on a daily basis – hourly, I’m on Twitter! And so they feel like they know me, and they kinda do, I call them ‘Twitter Family’! ‘Twitter brothers and sisters’! I call al lot of them ‘pigeons’, that’s my thing, ‘pigeons’.

So, when they come up, it’s an instant… “Of course, I know you, sure, yes!” And it’s so welcoming. And I mean, not to say that fans in the States are different, it’s just culturally, it’s night and day. And so, coming here, especially since I’ve never been here and they didn’t know if they’d ever get me here, it’s been over-the-top, exceptionally fun! It’s been one big party; almost cried a couple of times… a couple of the kids were thanking me for, you know, “Tess, thanks for being you.”

And there were a couple of really warm messages that they made sure to come and let me know in person. And I am emotional!

Leonard: So you’ve feeding off it as well!

Tess: Yeah, I was welling up and it was like, oh god, you guys make me cry like ten times in one trip. So it’s been great.

Leonard: Has it been people that have been very much familiar with your work with RAT QUEENS, or is it been the people that have been also following the latest stuff as well?

Tess: All of the above. All of the above.

Leonard: …because, RAT QUEENS has such a core fan base, such a rabid fan base.

Tess: Yeah. RAT QUEENS fans specifically are extremely unified. When I first came on the book,[myself and the fans] bonded instantly, became instant friends, we still are, and it’s interesting because there were fans here who don’t know me from online, so this is their first time to come and say hello and let me know what RAT QUEENS means to them.

Leonard: So… we have tea, tea has been brought!

Tess: I’m distracted!

Leonard: Well, I have noticed when the fans have been bringing tea [to your table]… how much tea has been brought to you by the way?

Tess: A lot! A lot!! I have a whole box from one of my favourite followers, she brought me a whole box of Yorkshire Tea, and it’s like 160 cups of tea in one box…

Leonard: ...that will do you! Well, that would do me for about a month! I take the ‘cup o’ tea’ [part of my branding] very serious! So, certainly, one thing I want to talk to you about is […] comic cons and con culture, and I always find it interesting with artists, especially with today’s convention culture, when there are so many cons… when do you work?? When do you get the chance to actually get the work done? I mean, I think I’m trying to work out the logistics, and also the balance between attending the show like this and attending the shows to actually getting the job done…

Tess: Well, honestly, I quit for quite a while, because I was on such a crazy schedule. I completely and totally just eradicated [cons] from my schedule – because it was so difficult. And I asked that online at one point like, hey, pros, how do you do this? And so many pros were, like, “…you don’t! Everything is late!”

Leonard: Yeah, I think Jordie Bellaire is probably the best example [of that], she’s pretty much cancelled shows left, right and centre this year because she needs to get the work done…

Tess: Yeah, yeah. And it ends up being, like… your editor sees you at a show and they’re like, hey, you, where are you??

Leonard: “…where are my pages??” [laughs]

Tess: Yeah, exactly! So, especially going into this next year, I have a book coming out, I’m going to start as soon as I get home – so, my cons, this… this is it! Except, once that’s done, I’ll be hopefully back out on the road – a couple of shows have approached me here. So, first of all, I’m going to go home and then beg the UK shows, “Please, please, may I come and see you because I need to come back out here. But then there are European shows who I’ve been talking to, so…

Leonard: So, safe to say, Thought Bubble has broken the seal!

Tess: Yes, it’s over now. I’ll never going home. And I’m never going back to Los Angeles!

Leonard: Fair enough. Considering that I know that you fly back on the Tuesday of the [2006 Election] results…!

Tess: The Tuesday that the War begins?? Yes!

Leonard: …as you fly into LAX and there’s an orange glow out the window, you know, it’s probably time to just turn right around!

Tess: We’re prepared for the Wasteland, we’re prepared!

Leonard: Talking about that Twitter family. I mean, I don’t want to cover things unless you want to kind of talk about them, I don’t want to just spring this on you. But one of the main reasons why I follow you on Twitter is that you are, in the best way: there’s no filter, it’s all you. You know, I mean, trying to be diplomatic, it’s all you. But certainly, when it comes to… I want to word this right as well. It’s not the minorities that [the comics industry] supports. It’s that the minorities that the industry almost wants to try to marginalise: women, people of colour, LGBT. You are very much a supporter and you do go on your Twitter Rants… Do you find that with also reflects with the audience that you encounter at cons, that they kind of respond to that, as well? Or is that more the online community?

Tess: Oh, most definitely, at, [shows like] this.

Leonard: Because I can imagine that you get [a number of] people coming up and saying, “Yeah, we’re so glad that you do this, and you say these things…”

Tess: Oh, I’ve had so many people at this convention and saying, “Thank you. Thank you for not having filters, thank you for telling the truth, thank you for…” Which is mind-boggling to me. Like, I’m tweeting from my bed!

Leonard: Yup, I’m usually doing the time difference in my head, I’m going, okay, it’s three, four o’clock in the morning for Tess – she must be doing this half asleep! Please, Tess. Please be careful, please be careful..!

Tess: And that’s the thing is, that I tend to walk that line, yeah. And I have terror in my heart when I’m done because I’m like, here comes the abuse, here comes the bullying, here comes the comicsgaters…

Leonard: We’ve seen it so much this year in particular, this year has just been… brutal in that regard. So, I find it so inspiring that you… you take the platform and you use it to the best of its potential, that’s what I think I find really inspiring..

Tess: Thank you.

Leonard: But as I say, I’m trying to relate it to the audience that you get at your conventions. I’ve noticed you didn’t do a panel this time. Now, are those some of the things that you wanted to do, or…?

Tess: I was invited. But again, I have that connection with fans that means I want to be present at my table, twenty-four-seven, right? So if somebody wanders up and works through the anxiety to come up and say hello, especially a lot of fans who have the anxiety issues as I do. So they work up the courage and they come up… and I’m not there. It can be rough, and I don’t want them to ever have that moment of like, “Oh, I came and she wasn’t there for me…”, you know. It’s personal. Yeah.

So, if I’m there and I’m present, they get to go home and be like, yay! They had that moment. And I’ve had that with my heroes or that person that I feel a pull forwards in comics, I’ve had that moment where they take the time for me. And it can mean everything, it can alter your course, you know! So yeah, I love [panels] but I tend to be very vocal when you get me on stage. So I was kind of like, no, no, this is my first time out, let me, let me be here. Yeah.

Leonard: So we’re going to be seeing you back, which is great – but what is next for yourself? I mean, you say you’ve got a book that you’re working on at the moment…

Tess: It’s supposed to be announced before the end of the month and nd it’s super, super cool. I’m doing it with my very dear friend, Tee Franklin, and it’s a little bit Gothic Horror and very feminist.

Leonard: Okay, um, so is it away from your usual wheelhouse? Is it stretching you or…

Tess: No!! It is, it is… square in the middle of my wheelhouse. It is right up the centre. And oh, it’s so cool. I’m so excited because, basically, we know each other well enough now that she’s written a script that is just, like, “…Tess: have fun! On this page, you know, here, this is just for you!” It’s like little presents of all the little nasty, dirty little details, I get to do all of that. So yeah, so I’m excited. It should [be out], I believe, spring, sometime next year, I believe.


EDIT: Tess and Tee didn’t ultimately move forward with this project – the next book that Tess worked on was Black Crown’s KID LOBOTOMY with Peter Milligan, curated and edited by Shelly Bond who also guested at 2016’s Thought Bubble…


Leonard: Okay, I’ll just want to wrap up on three questions. Number 1: What has been the coolest thing that has been said to you at Thought Bubble this year?

Tess: I would have to say… Oh, it’s everybody who said, “Thank you!” Each and every moment, and I can see all of their faces in my mind, each and every moment somebody has come up and said, “Thank you. Thank you for being you, thank you for being honest, thank you for representing, thank you for protecting.” And one young lady said, we… we are your girls, we are under your wing. That’s what it feels like. And that was like, yeah, hell yeah. You’re my girls!

Leonard: Okay. Number 2. What’s the coolest thing that you’ve seen in the UK so far?

Tess: Ah, you’re gonna kill me! Oh, just… Glencoe [in Scotland]. Glencoe! I’m gonna be drawing Glencoe for the rest [of my trip!].

Leonard: Number 3. How do you pronounce the capital of Scotland?

Tess: You’re making me… Edin-bra??

Leonard: [laughs] That’s close enough! That’s close enough…

Tess: How is it supposed…??

Leonard: Edin-brough! Edin-brough! Then again, I’m speaking it with the Yorkshire accent anyway, so I’m just ruining it…! I just want to say, Tess, thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure.

Tess: Thank you. Thank you for my tea!


Find out more about Tess’ latest projects and work at her Twitter, which you can find at @TessFowler.

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