Thought Bubble 2017 Interview - Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

Thought Bubble is the premiere indie comic book festival in the UK. It runs annually from the thriving city of Leeds, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate the one thing that so many other conventions tend to forget: the comics.

Check out all of our Thought Bubble 2017 content here

Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou is attending the festival primarily as an attendee, but has a very special live version of his beloved YouTube video series Strip Panel Naked. With a star-studded line-up of guests, Hassan is bringing his unique and in-demand analytical eye to tell you exactly what to buy at the country's premiere comic festival.

Mark Dickson: Where might people know you online?

Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou: If people know me at all it’s probably through my YouTube channel, Strip Panel Naked. I used to write under that title for the now-defunct ComicsAlliance website, too. Oh, and maybe through PanelxPanel magazine! 

Or just spouting off about comics on Twitter, I guess.

With a background in filmmaking, what made you want to make the jump to comic analysis?

Otsmane-Elhaou: I’ve always been a big fan of comics, in between bouts of taking time off from reading them when life got busy, but I always gravitated back towards them. Analysing comics in the way I do through the magazine and YouTube show is something I’ve always done, ever since I started doing it with films, but I just never had a good outlet for it before! I find the process of storytelling through this medium absolutely fascinating, and it was something where I was really struggling to find anyone who was writing about it in the way that really interested me., so I figured I may as well do it.

I do think there are a lot of translatable elements between storytelling in film and comics, both of them being predominantly visual mediums, so a lot of the education I got through filmmaking ends up informing a lot of what I talk about with comics. The jump wasn’t too difficult, but the challenge of adapting what I’d learned for film and seeing how that actually works with comics, and what works differently, was a really fun challenge.

Beyond comic criticism, do you have any creator-owned projects that you’re working on?

I have an all-ages book called The Unlikely Story of Felix and Macabber that we’re probably going to be announcing something about soon. I was in touch with an artist called Juni Ba, and the moment I saw his work I just needed to work with him on something, so we came up with this idea about monsters and wrestling and masculinity, and that’s our book. Sometimes you just see some greatness and want to be involved in it somehow, and that was me with Juni!

What can people expect from you at this year’s Thought Bubble?

Awkward conversation, a bald head, bright shirts? 

Beyond that, I’m doing a live version of Strip Panel Naked on the Sunday morning at 11am, on the Victoria Hall stage. As part of the show on YouTube, I often get creators on there and we break down some of the visual storytelling in their work. So at Thought Bubble I’ve got Jordie Bellaire, Christian Ward, Declan Shalvey and Aditya Bidikar doing the same. 

We’re going to be bouncing around through some of their pages, and talking individually how they attacked certain moments, and how that contrasts or correlates with what the others did. Hopefully it’s going to be a fun deep-dive into some craft.

Really chuffed that I could get some of my favourite people in comics today to be on the panel, too, and it means we can cover all aspects from writing, art, colouring and lettering. Aditya even travelled all the way from India to be on the panel (that was definitely his only reason).

I’ve also got a small amount of print copies of PanelxPanel magazine with me that I’ll be flogging after the panel, or just around if you see me, so there’s a bit of a rareity there.

What perspective do you hope each of the creators on your Thought Bubble panel will bring?

Well I wanted to make sure we can talk a little about everything. 

With Shalvey and Bellaire you’ve got two people who just had writing credits on new Image books and Bellaire is just one of the best colourists in the game, with Shalvey also being a fantastic artist. Chirstian Ward is doing some of my favourite superhero work in Black Bolt every month, and Bidikar is one of the best letterers you’ll find in comics. 

So between the four of them, we can cover most bases of creating a comic, and talk about how each part adds, changes, or improves the storytelling in some way.

Interior page for The Unlikely Story of Felix
and Macabber
by Juni Ba
What’s one comic that you’ve been waiting for the opportunity to talk about, but haven’t quite found the angle yet?

Well I really want to cover Chris Ware’s Building Stories

I know what I want to say about it (mostly) but for that it’s more about figuring out the way I need to go about filming it! It’s so much about the physical experience that I don’t think I could do it in the way I traditionally present episodes of Strip Panel Naked, so that’s one to figure out...

Is there one “Must Read” graphic novel/comic series that people won’t believe that you haven’t read?
Most manga series! I’m pretty behind with a lot of those, but it’s the kind of thing I get requested most often so there's not much that I haven’t read at least a little of. 

Beyond that, I haven’t read a whole tonnes of classic superhero stuff generally, so there’s so many runs I’m way, way behind on. The classic X-Men Chris Claremont run came up earlier this week for the new issue of PanelxPanel, and that’s one I don’t think I’ve read any issues of at all that is now on my Marvel Unlimited queue!

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Thought Bubble?
I’m really looking forward to meeting Chris Brunner. I’m in awe of the work he did on Loose Ends, and his guest issue from Southern Bastards, but he’s a guy that really knows what he’s doing. So I hope he’s got a spare few minutes for me to get excited near him. 

Chris Ward is a guy I’ve chatted to a bunch but have yet to meet in person, so that’s always good/weird to do that. Of course Alex Paknadel gives a wonderful hug, so that’s always a highlight.

Everyone’s got the story of the comic that got them hooked on the medium. What’s yours?

It’s a boring one to say, but Watchmen was the book that cemented comics were brilliant. I’d read very few comics before that, a small handful really, but it was Watchmen that told me comics could be something really, really great. 

That was cemented reading things afterwards like Maus and Blankets and Essex County Trilogy, but Watchmen was the one.

If you're exhibiting at Thought Bubble 2017 and want to flail enthusiastically about it with me, drop me an email ( Even if you're just attending, let me know what you're looking forward to this year on Twitter.