Welcome to a world of weird and wonderful gadgets operating against a totally fictional Victorian setting as a group of Maltese student artists get together to create Pilot, Malta’s first sequential art anthology. As the anthology is being launched at Malta Comic Con this weekend, I spoke with Audrey Degiorgio and Fleur Sciortino, the brains behind the project.
When Jules Vernes and H.G. Wells wrote their respective works (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and The Time Machine, amongst numerous other classics, if you really must ask), little did they anticipate that their chosen genre – an intriguing blend of sci-fi, adventure and weird gadgetry – would eventually give rise to a whole new movement: steampunk. Although the term was coined way after the two authors’ lifetimes, it was to be their vision of an anachronistic, totally fictional Victorian era that would pave the way for the modern day steampunk genre. A genre where the setting is always powered by steam, where wondrous inventions – such as flying machines, ray guns, time machines and elaborate clockwork systems – make up a totally new world that historically could never come to pass.
Fast forward a century and more and steampunk is now a full-blown creative industry, with movies, games, whole fashion collections and even music making up a fully-fledged subgenre. Steampunk is now also set to hit Malta, with the first ever anthology that brings together some of Malta’s youngest and most talented artists in the creation of a one cohesive Sequential Art project – i.e. a good, old-fashioned graphic novel.
Meet Audrey Degiorgio and Fleur Sciortino, the brains behind Pilot, which is being launched right this weekend at St James Cavalier during Malta Comic Con. The idea was born when Audrey and Fleur got together with the idea of offering up-and-coming graphic artists the opportunity to create a multi-faceted publication with a common goal – that of showing that “comics” don’t have to be comical.
“As projects go, Pilot is very daring. Firstly, it involves a lot of people on one publication. Secondly, creating a graphic story can be quite intimidating if it’s your first experience. But we wanted to promote both the genre and the medium locally,” Audrey tells me.
Each artist, Fleur continues, contributed something unique to the book. The diversity of the themes also means that the book includes something for everyone.
“Producing a solo comic is a very daunting task; the amount of work that goes into it is overwhelming so it made more sense to work on a short comic and have the burden divided up between others,” she explained.
Work on Pilot started in earnest over four months ago; a similar anthology book that is very well-known in the genre provided inspiration. Because Audrey’s first comic, called Ħbieb ta’ Vera, focused on a social issue (internet awareness amongst children) I wonder whether this anthology too takes a leaf from that page.
“Not really. All my works differ in theme, but most of it does include those common problems that people encounter. But some are adventurous, others bizarre…there isn’t necessarily a social angle. in this case, all artists had personal freedom as long as they stuck to the steampunk theme.
So why steampunk? Fleur says that there wasn’t a conscious decision; the theme sort of happened naturally, mainly because both her and Audrey are into the genre and everyone liked the idea.
“The decision worked because steampunk as such is a genre that doesn’t dictate the story – but rather the visuals and aesthetics of the story (and even in that respect it’s flexible). With that sort of freedom in story we came up with a variety of different narratives with an underlying common factor. A few of the stories and illustrations stay very true to the genre whilst the others provide unique interpretations.”
The fact that no-one in Malta had as yet ventured into this genre re-affirmed this decision. Somewhat to the artists’ surprise, despite that fact that few people were actually familiar with the word “steampunk”, reactions to the anthology from the public have been extremely enthusiastic.
The final product includes ten different contributors, each handpicked by Audrey and Fleur. Having been involved in the previous editions of Malta Comic Con, and also thanks their close association with MCAST art students, both were very well aware of who makes up the local pool of talent. It is not too difficult to find highly talented artists, Fleur adds. What is difficult, on the other hand, is to find artists who are also committed to the project and who will see it through. Pilot is split in three parts: the Comics Gallery, the Illustrations Gallery and the Sketch Gallery. A hefty 128-pager, it includes a total of fourteen comics and the best sketches produced straight from the artists’ sketchbooks.
The challenges to bring the project to a conclusion included the usual: funding was luckily sorted thanks to the Malta Arts funds covering printing and also thanks to a number of pre-orders. However, the fact that this was the first anthology Fleur and Audrey were working on, initial estimates of the amount of working time required were a bit hit and miss.
“Considering the magnitude of the work, we’re happy with the way things panned out. Weirdly, finding a printer to carry out a short run of 200 copies was one of the biggest issues. Also, when you’re working with a big team of people, you discover that not everyone necessarily attaches the same importance to the concept of deadlines,” Audrey continues.
Of course, along with the challenges comes the satisfactions, the biggest being seeing the whole thing tied up together in one awesome PDF. Audrey laughs:
“It was a glorious moment when I could just flip through the pages and say to myself, ‘Wow how did we manage to make this? Oh right, we had no summer!’”
The achievement gains in meaning when you consider that all this was carried out by students. Seeing it in print, was also something else, as Fleur tells me.
“It was great to see the reaction of the people who’ve taken an interest in the project.It made all the stress and difficulties we faced seem like little trivial things at the end.”
And things won’t come to an end with this weekend’s launch: the two artists intend to launch a new edition of Pilot every year, each time with a different theme. Their milestone is the five year mark. Next year’s theme has already been decided upon and Pilot will go Mediaeval.
With this level of enthusiasm, there is no doubt about whether the two will succeed.
Malta Comic Con is being held today, Saturday November 26 and Sunday November 27 at St. James Cavalier, Valletta. Doors open from 10:00 until 18:00 on both days. Tickets are 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 was published on The TV Guide (The Times of Malta).
UPDATE November 29: While Pilot is the 1st steampunk anthology to make it to print in Malta, there has been a beautiful, previous online collection by Schlock Magazine. View by clicking here, enjoy!