Geeks, pop culture and super-heroes

The fourth edition of Malta Comic-Con hits Malta next weekend, bringing together a veritable fleet of international and local industry heavyweights. I got a sneak preview from one of the organisers, Christopher Muscat.


Gone are the days when ‘comics’ were considered the poor cousin of bona fide books. Used to be a time when the traditional comic publications – despite the popularity of classics such as The Beano, The Dandy, The Bunty, The Twinkle et al – were considered inferior literary specimen. Publications (though of course they would never have actually been called that) that were the realm of  those who felt lost when confronted with a printed tome.

Not any more. Nowadays comics – or graphic novels/series – not only constitute a multi-billion, world-wide industry but are also considered something of a cult phenomenon. Today’s offerings couldn’t be further away in style from their predecessors, with the high-quality publications typically combining cutting-edge story telling with some pretty stunning art. And nothing spells ‘legit’ as much as your garden variety, successfully published authors, making occasional forays into the world of graphic novels.

Take Neil Gaiman, revered by bibliophiles for his Good Omens, Neverwhere and American Gods…his Sandman graphic novels have been re-published and re-released ad nauseam. The Vertigo graphic version of Stardust (rendered famous for a mainstream crowd with Matthew Vaughn’s 2007 movie adaptation) is as eagerly-sought out as the original version, if not more. In terms of validation, it’s the non plus ultra.

Enter Comic Conventions, bringing together authors, designers, film-makers, actors, fanboys  (and girls) and geeks over a whole weekend of activities and launches. Every big city has one, from New York to London to New Delhi. Malta joined the list of geek heaven destinations in 2009, when the first Malta Comic Con was organised by Wicked Comics. Three years down the line, the organisation is back with an even bigger edition that boasts some illustrious names from the world of graphic design.

“This year we are taking over the whole of St James Cavalier,” Christopher Muscat, one of the organisers, said. “It’s a massive change from the first edition, when we had about six guest artists in all. Last year we had 17. This year we have 23 confirmed foreign guests and another 30 Maltese artists so far… and we’re still counting.”

The biggest challenge with the first couple of editions, Muscat says, was making contacts. Now that the event is officially on the international map, with comic enthusiasts ear-marking it on their diaries, contacts are not such an issue any more and renowned names actually ask to be included on the participants’ list. One such name is artist Cameron Stewart, well-known for his work on the Catwoman series with writer Ed Brubaker, as well as numerous collaborations with writer Grant Morrison, including Batman and Robin, Seaguy, and Seven Soldiers: The Manhattan Guardian.

“We were chuffed when Stewart got in touch, saying that he was in Europe and would love to be part of our event. Names like his help tremendously when it comes to raising Malta’s profile. This year’s crop of guests is an exciting one. I’ve already met most of them at conventions abroad, but I have to say I’m quite excited at the thought of working with them on my home turf. There is a significant difference between asking for their autograph and having a two –minute casual chat and actually working with them at a convention.”

Among these names are manga artists Chie Kutsuwada, Inko and Sonia Leong; journalist and podcaster Chris Thompson; illustrator Dave Gibbons, writer Daz Skinn and Dave Gibbons and artist Herb Trimpe. One event that is a massive coup for the organisers will be the presence of writer Mike Carey, known for works like Lucifer, Hellblazer and his ongoing work on X-Men: The Legacy.  Carey will be doing an exclusive preview reading from his next novel, which is still unpublished. New York Times best-selling artist and writer Ben Templesmith, Eisner Award winner illustrator Glenn Fabry and award-winning illustrator and painter Jean Sebastien Rossbach have also been confirmed.

Besides other foreign artistes, a number of Maltese artistes will be launching their new works during the event. This year’s Comic Con will include the usual mix of activities to grab the interest of every niche and age group. There will be role-playing with the Wargaming And Role-playing Society group, children’s workshops, various discussion panels, a Cosplay (costume play) competition, a gaming area, several workshops and talks, movie screenings (in particular, look out for Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics) and three exhibitions.

The one featuring illustrations from El Corto Maltese, which is being organised in conjunction with the French Embassy, is guaranteed to be a major puller. The second exhibition will feature art work created by students during a British Council workshop that was recently given by Zara Slatterly. A third one, which is being organised in conjunction with Orbital London, will feature the works of Spanish artist Emma Rios, famous for working on Marvel’s Strange mini-series and on Boom! Studios’ Hexed.

Malta Comic Con 2012 is being held on December 8 and 9 at St James Cavalier, Valletta.