Welcome to a world of fantasy, where people inhabit a world that isn’t quite the same as we’re used to and where everything looks a touch more special. A world that Joseph Bugeja has created, through his art.
The art this creates is extremely different to what we are used to seeing in Malta. A cursory look at his portfolio reveals fantastic creations of mythical creatures that only spring to life in our imagination; mysterious beings that inhabit the realm of gothic fantasy and a world full of magic and wonders that is beautifully childlike but definitely not childish.
There’s more. Joseph is also the creator of Malta’s first ever comic book series, which he launched last year much to the delight of followers of the genre: Hal Mudlam, which he describes as the story of “a village where all the residents are messed up in the head”.
Hmm. He laughs at the expression on my face and is quick to add that the plotline doesn’t actually say that the place is in Malta.
“But yes, the reader does get the immediate feeling that it’s actually in some part of our island. Every issue of Hal Mudlam introduces a character who made this village his home. Volume 1 was about the priest of the village, Dun Anton, who felt that the only way to save the souls of his flock was to eat them to purify them. Volume II will focus on another character called Freddy t-Teddy, a bus driver who felt the effects of the transport reform more than others…”
Joseph was also the designer and illustrator behind The Tsar, another comic book launched last year which is written by Joseph P. Farrugia. He describes The Tsar as a post-apocalyptic story with a Maltese connection and he says that the first volumes of both comic books received highly positive feedback. Joseph found the reactions to Hal Mudlam especially exciting, mostly because this was the first Maltese horror comic book.
“I’m expecting the second volume to go down equally well, especially given that the subject of public transport is still fresh in our minds. Current events and everyday life in Malta are a source of constant inspiration for me when it comes to creating stories for Hal Mudlam. The artwork I use here is also very different from other comic books; very raw but still with very clean lines,” he tells me.
Joseph intends to develop Hal Mudlam as a fully fledged series. He already has another five books lined up and in fact introduced the first seven characters of the series at an exhibition during last year’s Malta Comic Con.
“This year’s Malta Comic Con will be held on the last weekend of November at St James Cavalier and by that time I plan to have both The Tsar Part 2 and Hal Mudlam Issue 2 ready.”
This year will see the third comic-con event happening in Malta, a fact that has given a significant push to the art of comic books creation in Malta.
“The scene was dormant for a long while but things have now started happening. Last year a locally created graphic novel – which, unlike a comic book has a beginning and end – called The Golden Lizard was also launched during the event. In this year’s convention we are expecting other publications from other comic book creators,” Joseph tells me.
Of course, creating a comic book or a graphic novel is extremely different from creating another genre of art. Joseph explains that making sequential art is a whole different kettle of fish; in addition, the artist also needs to be a very good storyteller.
“You need to hook your reader not just through your artwork but also through the way you present the story. The whole package has to look appealing and easy to read and follow as well. I think my favourite graphic novel has to be Lobo’s Paramilitary Christmas, written By Keith Griffin and Alan Grant and illustrated by Simon Bisley. The story revolves around Lobo, a bounty hunter who is hired by the Easter Bunny to kill Sant Claus because he is jealous that Santa is more famous than him. It’s a very funny story and the artwork is pure energy, especially the end fight between the elves and Santa against Lobo,” he tells me, his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm.
Art runs in the Bugeja family. Joseph’s father, Anthony, is also an artist who continually strove to expose his son to the creative influences, filling the house with intriguing books that always seemed to contain a lot of monsters, barbarians, spaceships and other fantastic creatures.
“I was always attracted to this style, from when I was first exposed to it as a child. In fact in 2006 I held the first ever fantasy art themed exhibition in Malta, at St James Cavalier,” Joseph tells me.
What made this exhibition different even from other fantasy related exhibitions was the local touch: all 36 artworks also had a hint of Maltese history or folklore. Although Joseph describes this first event as “a shot in the dark”, he was surprised with the positive feedback from the public and this gave him motivation to continue working on the genre.
“People wanted to learn more about the topic. And tourists who happened to be in Malta loved it because the works gave them the opportunity to learn about Malta’s history from a perspective that is different from the norm.”
For as long as he remembers, Joseph has always felt the urge to draw. Starting with stick men on the walls of his parents’ home with crayons and pencils and then gradually – and much to his parents’ relief – graduating to experimentations on paper and canvas.
“I still remember being about five years old trying to copy Disney characters from books or drawing characters from my favourite television series at that time,” he remembers with a smile.
Joseph describes how art occupies most of his life and how he constantly looks at other artists’ work, even outside the genre of fantasy. Artists whose works he finds inspiring include Gabriele Dell’Otto, Simon Bisley, Gerald Brom, Marko Djurdjevic, Lucio Parillo and Frank Frazetta (considered the father of modern fantasy art) amongst others.
At a glance
What inspires you?
I am a horror movie freak and I love video games and these also influence my work. Other things that influence me include general history and other fantasy and comic artists.
A life without art would be…
Art is in my blood and I really can’t imagine my life without it. It would be such a grey and boring existence ,I guess. Not having that feeling of creating something would be unbearable.
What do your family think about your art?
As i said, my father is also an artist and he lis also into fantasy art and comic art, so I have always found support from my family. He is also my teacher and a very close friend whom I can talk to about my career, my hobbies and interests. How many people can claim the same privilege?
Which of your own creations is your favourite and why?
I really don’t know how to answer this, mainly because whatever I create becomes part of me. At the same time I am always looking forward to what I am going to do next. How I can improve on the last artwork that I produced… so my answer is that my next project is my favourite creation.
Joseph Bugeja’s work can also be viewed by clicking here. This interview appeared on The TV Guide (Times of Malta).