Comic illustrator Lisa Wood (aka Tula Lotay) talks about Marvel, DC and founding Leeds’s very own comic convention.
Lisa Wood remembers the moment she first became hooked on comics. She was about seven and her dad, Peter, would take her to the second hand market in Batley. “He was a massive boxing fan and so he would go and buy sports magazines and he used to give me 20p to buy comics. I remember buying Return of the Jedi weekly, Daredevil, X-Men and Judge Anderson from 2000AD.”
What began as a childhood fascination blossomed into an obsession. After leaving Howden Clough Girls High in Batley, she went on to study photography and art and design at Dewsbury College and later completed a fine arts degree at Bradford. In between jobs - she had many, including stints at McDonalds, Toys R Us, a local clothing shop (Ethel Austin in Batley, where she grew up), not to mention working as a professional 30mm film projectionist in cinemas - she would draw, finding work here and there.
“While I was at university, I started working part time in a comic shop and later got a job at Travelling Man in Leeds [one of the leading comic/fantasty gaming shops in the UK]. I remember having a conversation with the owner Nabil [Homsi] about starting some sort of comic event in Leeds to build some kind of community. Comic cons weren’t as big back then. I thought it would be nice to run some events based around comics to help promote literacy among children and young adults, to create an environment which was inclusive and welcoming and educational.
“I teamed up with the Leeds Film Festival at the time, which was an amazing partnership, because the link between movies and comics was just beginning. The first Iron Man movie was just out and so we jumped on it. I expected 200 people to come to the event but we had 500, together with some great guests who were incredibly supportive. It just spiralled from there every year, we doubled, tripled and quadrupled the numbers and we just went along with it. It grew very quickly internationally not just in the UK.”
Thought Bubble is now one of the best known international comic conventions, attracting international artists, including the likes of Charlie Adlard, who works on the Walking Dead comics.
There’s also Greg Rucka, a graphic artist whose work was turned into the film White Out starring Kate Beckinsale and Warren Ellis, writer of films like RED, starring Helen Mirren and Iron Man 3, who is best known fora comic series called Transmetropolitan.
I started working with him about seven years ago and at the same time got some work with DC, which is when my name really hit the industry.
“So, with Thought Bubble, every year we connect these big industry professionals with young people, so they can learn from those in the industry.
“It might be around script writing, storytelling, dialogue or how to draw a superhero. It’s not just the idea of us influencing next generation but to let them know anything is possible with hard work, if you put your mind to it.”
Now 43, Lisa, who works under the alter ego Tula Lotay, has worked on some of the biggest comics in the industry, illustrating for the likes of DC, Marvel, Image and even Darryl McDaniels from Run DMC, who visited last year to do workshops in Bradford.
“He is a rapper but he also started his own comic, DMC, and I did a cover for that. We got talking and he we learned both of us were adopted as children and when I told him about Thought Bubble and the idea of helping guide young people, he was incredibly supportive.
“It’s incredible, Hollywood and the movie industry has played a large part in changing the way comics are viewed. Ten or fifteen years ago it was seen as incredible niche and not always in a nice way, that’s been changed now into something more positive.”
That positivity has spilled out into the wider public, even changing the demographic of people who visit Thought Bubble, from a predominantly male audience when it began to more of a 50/50 split today, with children attending too.
But the last year or so has been incredibly difficult for Lisa. Not only is she a new mum - she has a 16-month-old daughter, Iona, to husband Darren - she also lost her father.
“It was a tough year as a family. My father died and after that my mum, Margaret, fell very ill for four months and had open heart surgery at Dewsbury District Hospital, which was while I was pregnant. My mum recovered very quickly and even though she’s nearly 70, she’s bounced back and helps out with looking after Iona.
“One of the saddest things for me was dad never got to meet Iona but I remember having a conversation with him about it even before I was pregnant, about what names we should use and he said straight away Falcon, after the explorer Robert Falcon Scott. So, that’s one of Iona’s middle names.
“I feel incredible proud and lucky really, because when I think about all I have today, I owe it all to my mum and dad. They always used to tell me I was special when I was growing up, because they chose me.
“Now I am a mother too, I can definitely say it’s changed me in just about every way. I know lots of people have children but when it happens to you and you’re in the thick of it, it can be overwhelming. In the run up to this year’s festival, I have been working seven days, getting up at 5am just to spend some time with my daughter.”
She adds: “Having children makes you realise how lucky you are. When I started the festival, it was to help children. I have loved this from such a young age, hopefully we can inspire that in others.”
Thought Bubble runs from September 17-23 at various venues across Leeds and Bradford.
Lisa Wood’s alter-ego, Tula Lotay, came about because she wanted to find a way of standing out from the crowd. She says: “If you google my real name, literally hundreds upon hundreds of people come up, so I wanted to find a name that was unique, because when you are starting out in the industry, it’s incredibly difficult to become known.” She took the name Tula from a character in a John Turturro movie, Romance & Cigarettes.” And the last part? “My friend Nabil [Homsi] suggested it and I thought together it had a nice ring to it.”