Part 1 Panic, Relief and Worry.
To be asked to attend the first Malta Comic Convention ever in 2009 was a great honour for me. To be asked back for a second time was humbling. To be asked back for a third time was the greatest honour anyone has ever bestowed upon me as a comic book creator.
The organisers had asked me, over the previous two years, if my book would be ready to launch with them in Malta. On both those occasions that was impossible to achieve. When I was asked a third time, I knew I had to finish the book in 2011 to keep both my company’s and my own credibility.
I accepted both the invitation to join them for a third year and also to have the worldwide launch at the convention.
2011 saw me Blog on only a few occasions and I even had Bentley, my ever faithful companion, “write” a series of Blogs during the summer months, so as to keep my presence here somewhat more acceptable than it was becoming due to my deadlines with the painting of Worlds End Volume 1 – The Riders on the Storm.
It wasn’t until we met the October print deadline that I finally realised I had a chance of seeing the book launch on time at MaltaComicCon3. So with the graphic novel at my Bosnian printers and out of my hands I readily made final plans for the convention.
The organisers had asked me, some time earlier in the year, if I would care to run the workshops again and also teach within some Maltese schools. I immediately accepted both projects and set about thinking of what I could do at the schools. Having worked for a long while within educational institutions and running my own Fantasy Art Unlimited course I already have stuff on which I can draw to make a project such as these have wings, so this was not a worry for me, thankfully.
I had also been asked on the run up to the convention, along with the other guests, if I could supply a page of art that would see my characters interact with Malta Comic Con. I quickly came up with the idea of having a three-page story whereby Gweldar the Mathemagician tries to contain the physical attributes and manifestation of Time and Space. The results of which introduce us to another of the planets in the Squatsretch star system of which Gaeyrth is the homeworld of our heroes and also take him to Malta in its far distant past and the beginnings of its temple culture.
It all sounded so easy, but I was trying to co-ordinate all the printer’s needs and the shipping of the books as well. There were umpteen interviews for the Internet and for magazines and newspapers. I also had the task of creating the graphics for roller banners, email banners, adverts, bookmarks, painting the limited edition Gweldar print to accompany the Pre-Sales Orders and all manner of other art-based things. Then there was all the publicity material, a radio show, a video trailer, and the new Worlds End website to consider. But I had felt the need to add to the workload, as is my wont, with the addition of three fully painted pages of sequential art for the convention website.
The nightmare that became of the shipping began with the need to meet the dual launches of the Malta convention on the 26th and 27th of November and the UK launch the day after I arrived back in England on the 1st of December. The main consignment of books would never reach us in time, so I decided to have 50 books flown out to Malta and a second batch of 50 books flown out here to the Keep in the UK.
The amount of time spent on the telephone now makes me look in hindsight and see that it is a wonder any of it at all came to pass without much ado. I always seemed to be speaking to someone on the phone or via email and all the other things like the art for all the campaign publicity stuff, the interviews and the other art related stuff was moving as it had to, but my promised sequentials for the three-pager where long from being finished. The script took me no time at all to finish and the pencils followed suit, but I just couldn’t get to the painted colours. I was running out of time – but fast!!!
I decided to do what I had done with the graphic album and employed the services of my loyal and trusted colour flats assistant, Yel Zamor, who did a sterling job. I also re-employed the services of Albert Deschesne of Comicraft fame for the lettering. Thankfully both were delivered ahead of me needing to finish the strips. All that remained for me to do was to paint them.
I had Margaret prep my clothes for me (what a little love) and I, at intervals, got my other things together for the trip. All of which was between seeing me at the computer painting. The final few days saw me desperately trying to finish the strips, collect all the printed materials and banners and organise myself. Then I heard from Chris Muscat, one of the convention organisers that the books were in Malta’s customs... Phew!
The final night saw me perform yet another all-nighter and still working to finish the strips on the morning of the flight. I had to cut my cloth however and although the backgrounds were finished with only a few hours left before my lift to the airport would arrive and three pages of characters to finish and also my bags to pack, it meant I had to find a way to finish, I had to cut corners.
I decided to simply airbrush the shadows onto the characters, saving these as a new set of files, which would enable me to return to the, in my eyes, unfinished pages later.
With an hour and half to spare I packed my bags finally and looked forward to the convention, but there were still two snags to the plans, two major worries, which simply wouldn’t give me any respite...
They were meant to arrive that day, but leaving as we did at twelve noon, we left before they did.
A good friend of mine, Derek, drove me to Manchester airport. I was waiting for the all-important text from Margaret to say the books had arrived. I did receive a text from my wife, but one, which read: “Good luck, take care. X.” I went through customs with only my roller banner in tow, having checked in my main hold baggage. I sat and waited in the departure lounge after a brief look around the airport stores – my mind simply wasn’t up to much at that stage. I was relaxed in the knowledge I had done everything I needed to do, but I was not fully relaxed, as I awaited the books.
Then I received a text from Margaret. It read: “The books are here! Do you want me to open them? X”
I immediately sent one back to her saying, yes, please. The relief I felt at that moment was like a whole ton of rocks had been taken off my shoulders. I was still concerned about the books in Malta, but at least we knew they were being held in customs there, but that would be another nerve-wracking experience for me during that week.
The next text from Margaret brought a small tear to my eye and I remember blowing my nose to cover this and hoping no one had noticed. This one read: “OMG, they are beautiful! X”
I remember thinking of my favourite quotation from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which goes like this, “When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I will try to fly by those nets” and thinking to myself in addition; I had just flown by those Nets!
Moments later the flight was called and I was on my way once more to my friends in Malta to launch my book for the first time there with them. The flight was soon over and I found myself at the airport in Malta where I was greeted by Mike Quinton one of the main organisers. Usually there were more of the organisers to greet you, but this year was the biggest yet, with the largest number of guests and also the majority of the St James Cavalier venue in use by the convention. So the organisers found themselves ferrying all the guests to and fro as the first ones arrived.
We arrived at the Hotel Santana after a half hours chat and journey from the south to the north of the island and were greeted by another guest and fellow UK comic creator, Jon Haward, and convention organisers, Chris Muscat, Fabio Agius, Mark Ellul and Joseph Bugeja. After an initial greeting I checked into the hotel and was given a surprise envelope. It was from one of my students on the Fantasy Art Unlimited course, Owen – he and his wife have an apartment, just around the corner from the hotel and he had been there just a few days before.
Inside the envelope, which had a funny in-joke message on it was a lovely letter from him, wishing me all the best and every success with the launch. It also contained 5 Euros for a drink of Cisk (Malta’s beer) on him. I have to admit that receiving the envelope made me think of all those Simon Templar, or James Bond scenes when the hero turns up at the hotel and there is always something waiting for them. It was a great start to my week in Malta – Thanks Owen.
The first thing I asked Chris was had he news of the books? He told me they were still in customs, but things were in motion to get hold of them soon.
I literally dropped off my baggage in my room, spruced myself up a little and returned downstairs to the reception area to join the others. We decided to go for a drink across the square in a local bar/restaurant. The previous two years had seen me arrive on the Thursday around 1:30 a.m. in the morning, this year was different it was Tuesday and around nine, or ten o’clock, or so.
It was a lovely balmy evening and we all caught up on the events since we had last met. Once the organisers had left, Jon and I decided to go for something to eat. We found a nearby kebab house and ate our repast in the warm night air of Qawra.
We walked for a while and returned to our hotel and arranged to meet up early the next morning for breakfast. I returned to my room and unpacked looking forward to what the coming week would offer. The usual four-nights/five day trip was now seven nights/eight days. There was much more time to see a little more of the world outside of the convention.
Wednesday was a day off in readiness for the next day’s teaching and the sun bathed me as I opened my eyes to greet the day. After breakfast Jon and I went for a stroll to the promenade not more than 150 metres from the beach beneath the sunny clime of Malta. There we treated ourselves to an ice cream and a sit down discussing the moment. We returned to the hotel where we were to meet Mike Quinton, who would take us to the St. James Cavalier. So it was that with my roller banner in tow the three of us set off for Valletta.
We arrived after the half hour journey back to Valletta, with me sat in the back of the car snapping away occasionally with my camera. With the sun beating down on us, reminiscent of most Robert E Howard "Conan" yarns we set off from the car park, taking in the new Maltese buses and the large central fountain and soon found ourselves outside the venue. Jon was totally in awe of the place; everything I had told him was now real.
We went inside and sat awhile on the second level just aside the main steps, which when first in use would have seen knights on horseback charging in and out. Mike meanwhile was organising things.
We next went around to the main hall where we would be spending the majority of the convention time within and soon found our places where we would be signing things, or at least I hoped it was; I still had no books in my possession. I tried to ignore that and get on with simply enjoying my time in Malta – always an easy task, but I was still worried.
I decided to leave the putting up of the roller banner until all of the convention materials were being erected, as it would take seconds to put up. We went for some late lunch early dinner and I enjoyed one of the venue’s cafe’s Maltese style pizzas and a glass of Cisk – well it was a day off of course. It was really relaxing, except for the thoughts of the books and I could see that this year Mike had lots on his mind to think about – lots to organise. The day passed quickly and was an absolutely marvellous change for me after the year’s madness that had seen me producing the graphic novel.
Eventually we set off back to the hotel, where we met up with David Lloyd. He had not been in Malta long and he wanted to go for a meal. Jon and I went to our rooms to freshen up and then met up back in the hotel foyer where we met David for a drink in the bar, before going out, whilst all the madness of the flights and arrivals was concentrated on by the organisers.
David and I had already been given our instructions for the following morning and afternoon where we would each be delivering talks to schools. We still had not discussed the workshops by this time, which were due to take place on Thursday, but that could wait until the following evening after the seminars when we agreed we would get together to discuss a strategy. For now, I was to take part in the morning seminar and David the one in the afternoon.
We looked about and found a nearby Chinese restaurant and asked for a table, it was around nine by this time and David was obviously hungry, whereas I wasn’t too bad, having already eaten earlier. Jon on the other hand was ready for a feast again – as always.
The restaurant was full, but they asked if we wished to wait, we did, but a little longer than the twenty minutes they mentioned, which didn’t bother me, but there were two hungry folks with me, so it was a welcome relief when they told us there was a table ready for us.
My two ravenous comrades in arms ordered starters and a main each and Jon ordered a couple of side dishes too (well he is a big lad) and I ordered a main only. David, a bit of a wine connoisseur, ordered some red wine, but I ordered a pint of orange and lemonade – much to David’s surprise. The headache I had been suffering on and off with for a while had returned – probably stress and work related, so I abstained from the wine, on this occasion.
Other than the bad head, which gradually eased off, the evening was well spent with it becoming a great time to catch up for the three of us – something we had not done for years and it was brilliant.
Eventually I dragged them away from the restaurant, where we had become the only remaining guests and we retired back to the hotel.
By this time it really was quite late and with an early start, for me at least in the schools I decided to call it a night – David had decided to elect for the afternoon seminar. I met Mike who had just arrived with another of the guests. He told me there was a change of plan for the following day – we were to deliver the workshops, but individually, the seminars had needed to be cancelled for various technical and logistical reasons.
With that in mind I simply reverted to UK workshop format in my head and asked if he could download a copy of my Worlds End Teaser Trailer Video, if I could get him the file sent from the UK. Luckily being an hour behind Malta time meant I was still able to contact Chris, the guys responsible for producing the video for me and he arranged for Mike to download the video onto a stick for me.
With everything set for the next day, I got my things in order for the early start and lay my head down and then it was morning...
And now some photos of these first few days, starring Jon Haward and Mike Quinton:
Until next time, have fun!
February 18th 2012
Jimmy Joy, the TV Boy (CHIPS, 1953)
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