Geeks and nerds all across Malta are getting ready for the third edition of MaltaComicCon, which – if last year’s response is anything to go by – is no longer the purview of a niche market but is getting anyone with a smidgen of imagination all excited. I met up with artist Chris Le Galle, one of the brains responsible for bringing the event to Malta.
It should be said that when I was younger, the word “comics” was almost a dirty word. Equated with the likes of The Beano and The Dandy – which, while having their merits were uber-childish and simplistic – “comics” were considered as the alternative for those who don’t really count reading as their forte. Twenty years on, how things have changed. Comics have made the journey to graphic novels and, amongst the fans, we find respected scholars and established writers, as opposed to just your typical thirteen-year-old nerd. And it’s not just about Marvel superheroes, either. Today’s comics are just as likely to deal with serious subjects such as child abuse, corruption or suicide as they are with Spiderman or The Hulk. In short, it’s far from necessarily being a child’s world. Bestselling names who are not normally associated with the genre – including writers Stephen King and Anthony Horowitz and director Joss Whedon – are now also dabbling in the genre, with successful results. Others, like the versatile Neil Gaiman, are known for their “normal” books as much as they are known for their graphic novels. Gaiman’s Sandman series has been called “the most imaginative and transfixing book in mainstream comics today” by Rolling Stone’s Mikal Gilmore and he has, together with people like Alan Moore (the brains behind Watchmen, V For Vendetta and From Hell) turned the art of creating comic books and graphic novels into a respectable and mainstream one.
Enter global Comic Conventions, which account for millions upon millions of sales and revenue all over the world. Both in Europe and the States, these conventions are a big thing, attracting not only the die-hards who go there all dressed up in costumes but also those who are into pop culture. And for the past three years, we can also count Malta in the list of countries that organise this event. Since the first Malta Comic Con was held in 2009, the event has trebled in size and this year looks like all expectations are going to be exceeded. And we have Wicked Comics to thank; the organisation is responsible for single-handedly creating the comic scene in Malta, offering local artists a showcase and a platform to develop their skills as well the opportunity for local enthusiasts to share their hobby with like-minded people.
“The first edition of Malta Comic Con was a gamble I suppose. Our main worry was lack of attendance. We were gobsmacked when things went in the opposite direction. Those who are seriously passionate about this art turned up in masses; but it wasn’t just them, we were also pleasantly surprised to find out that even people who weren’t necessarily into the genre were interested in finding out more,” Chris says.
For an event that’s still in its infancy, the organisers have already secured some major players in the industry. Past guests included leading names like Gary Erskine (known for his work with Marvel and for his Star Wars titles), Liam Sharp (known for his work on X-Men, Hulk and Spiderman titles) and Tim Perkins (Transformers, Thundercats, The Real Ghost-Busters and Dr. Who)…amongst dozens of others. Perhaps surprisingly given that the coming edition is only the third one, the event has already established itself even on the international calendar: like last year, this month a number of foreign enthusiasts have already booked their flights to Malta and tickets to the convention. A major coup last year was the attendance of renowned journalist Chris Thompson, from the prestigious Pop Culture Hound and First Comic News. Thompson gave the event a highly favourable review in the English publications, which also helped no end in securing this year’s speakers and guests.
“Of course, Malta Comic Con is not just about the international names, although these are definitely a puller. At the end of the day, we are aware that there is a lot of talent in Malta and our priority is to support the development of local artists and their work. Both through learning programs and by offering them the chance to show their work.”
As the creator of The Golden Lizard, Chris is very well aware of the difficulties in penetrating a new and emerging market with your work. The Golden Lizard, together with Joseph Bugeja’s Hal Mudlam, was one of the first graphic novels to be published in Malta. Chris explains that through Wicked Comics, they have also started a series of monthly workshops specifically designed for local creators, covering the whole process of comic creation. Plans are also in place to bring over professional artists during the year to lecture in the monthly workshops.
“The scene is already growing and a number of Maltese comic creators have already published their work in the form of a running series, one-shots and graphic novels. As Wicked Comics, we will continue to guide and assist the local creators in producing and publishing their work. We want to enable these creators to take a practical approach to the art, not only by raising awareness and appreciation of the comic culture across the board but also by teaching potential artists about how the industry works. To this end, we are in discussions about a number of exciting projects with a number of bodies and schools, including the University of Malta, so that we will be in a position to take our educational policy to a whole new level,” Chris explained.
Both Wicked Comics and Malta Comic Con have helped put these talented youngsters in direct contact with international artists and schools. The event is the perfect place to open up artists to the opportunity of cross-collaboration and international exchange of creativity and ideas. To date, Wicked Comics has already managed to organise opportunities for Maltese artists to collaborate on three projects with professional creators from abroad. The Malta event has also had a positive outcome even for the international guests themselves: agent Renee Wittertaetter, for instance, started representing English artist Liam Sharp after the two made contact during last year’s event.
During this year’s convention Wicked Comics will for the first time bring a minimum of 10 students from comic schools and academies based in the United Kingdom, France and Italy. This year’s guests include Tim Perkins (who will be launching his book Worlds’ End during the event), Gray Erskine (Dan Dare), Emma Vieceli (who will be launching Vampire Academy), Sonia Leong (leading manga creator, lecturer and professional cosplayer), David Lloyd (V for Vendetta), Steve Tanner and Time Bomb Comics (launching Dick Turpin), Jon Haward (Macbeth), Kate Brown (launching the hard copy of Fish+Chocolate), Renee Witterstaetter (President of Eva Ink Publishing), Michael Golden (Micronauts), Lucio Parillo (Hulk), Marco Santucci (Captain America), Leonardo Meschini (children’s books), Sean Azzopardi (Necessary Monsters), Christopher Malipitan (The Tunnel) and Thomas Gosselin (influential comic art lecturer). Joining the international names will be some of Malta’s best graphic creators, some of which have already published their own work such as The Golden Lizard, The Tsar, Hal Mudlam, Arcana Crusade and For Gallantry. This year will see the launching of even more locally produced comics, including issue 2 of Hal Mudlam and The Tsar, Pilot (a steampunk anthology), Apocalypse Rocked and the latest instalments of the running series Kranium and il-Gawgaw u l-Imlejka.
So what can visitors to this year’s event expect? As in previous years, events will be both entertaining and educational. On both days there will be material specifically intended for children while other targeted towards a mature audience. In the cinema, free movies and animations will be showing continuously. Art work and collectibles exhibitions will be held in the hall and guests will be holding a number of discussion panels and workshops throughout both days. Gamers can simply play for fun on a variety of leading consoles or enter specific tournaments held throughout both days, while a number of exhibition and introductory table-top and creative role playing games will also be held. Fans are also once again be encouraged to create costumes depicting their favourite heroes and to attend in costume. There will be a cosplay competition on both days.
Wicked Comic’s main goal, Chris concludes, is to make Malta an international centre for comic culture symposium. The annual comic con is already achieving this goal, but there are also other projects in the pipeline: the organisation is currently applying, in partnership with the British Council, for an EU Fund which will allow the organisation to create a number of workshops in a number of local schools to identify and support future comic creators. They are also partnering up with the French Embassy to provide talented local artists with an opportunity to enrol in one of France’s most prestigious comic academies.
Malta Comic Con will be held on Saturday November 26 and Sunday November 27 at St. James Cavalier, Valletta. Doors open from 10:00 until 18:00 on both days. Tickets will be selling at €7 for one day or €12 for both days, while children under the age of 11 will not require a ticket. For more information visit www.maltacomic-con.com.
This post appeared on The TV Guide (The Times of Malta).