Part 3 – Launches, Lunches and Laughs...
Well Saturday morning was a hive of activity, as all the guests and organisers congregated for breakfast. The smell of cooked breakfasts permeated the air and I felt really excited as I looked at the day that lay before us.
Everyone was chatting as they looked forward to what the weekend held in store for them. Having been here previously twice before I already knew they were in for a treat and would love every second. I also knew that it needed to be savoured as it would go by so quickly.
Once I had devoured my 12 course breakfast – only kidding, but it got you going didn’t it? – I went back to my room grabbed the camera, cash and drawing equipment and arrived in the foyer to await the coming of the minibuses. That almost sounds like a 50’s B-Movie title or 60’s comic book from Jack Kirby, doesn’t it – “The Coming of the Minibuses!” AAAAaaarrggghhh!
Anyhow I digress; it was another lovely sunny start to the convention weekend.
There wasn’t much time to do anything down at St. James Cavalier except sort out someone to man my table whilst I taught in my by now usual workshop spot of 10:00 a.m. One of the volunteers kindly filled the spot for me and looked after things whilst I was away. The workshop was fully subscribed and was bulging at the seams with young children eager to learn some tips and my little fan, Kimberley a regular at my workshops who has attended all three conventions came along with her uncle Bryan once more. The workshop is only two hours long, but I try to fit as much into the sessions as I possibly can and we found ourselves drawing all manner of imaginary creatures and characters.
Later that day she would find herself back at my convention table once again for her annual request for a sketch of Batman and Robin and this year a copy of Worlds End – something she had been waiting anxiously all year for!
I start off showing lots of different ways to draw followed by some follow my leader type illustrations with the children following my lead as I draw first and they then copy. I follow this part of the sessions with all manner of things being created by the children and then I ask them to let me know what they would like me to draw, so that they can see how I do it and then they can have a go too.
During part of the session I asked them to draw something based on something I said and added if anyone drew anything like mine (I drew several) those people would get a prize of a pen and bookmark from my table in the convention. Well this was so successful I decided to give everyone there the same prize and later that day would find a steady stream of young children and their parents coming to collect their prizes and in some cases purchase a copy of the Worlds End graphic novel too.
The Sessions always go too quickly and the children would stay there all day if we let them, but all good things must come to an end as they say and so after signing a few autographs and producing some very quick sketches it was back to the main hall for me.
Once back there I sat down next to Emma Vieceli, with Kate Brown and Sonia Leong across from us both respectively. Although the weather was great it was quite a relatively slow start to the event, compared to previous years, but there had been a change to the layout as far as walk-through was concerned. The corridor which usually directed folks from the top and entrance to the main hall had been blocked up and everyone was being re-directed to the middle hall and the stairs and lift to the rooms above. The event itself was seeing quite a decent footfall, but little of it was filtering back into the main hall.
By lunch time, though I had only sold a couple more books and no one in the main hall was particularly busy. I mentioned this to the organisers who had said they thought it was looking a little quiet in the main hall. I told them that I thought it was due to the different layout. I was told they would look to change it around to what it usually was as soon as possible.
In the meantime I was taken along with Emma, Kate and Sonia to have lunch at “Inspirations!” with Samantha Abela another of the organisers. I arrived just a minute, or so after the others, as I had been speaking to the guys about the layout of the entrance, etc. They were about to order some drinks and as I sat down to join them a round of cokes was decided on all round. The lunch was a great idea to go along as a small group of us and it gave everyone a chance to find out more about the others. This was exactly what had made the very first convention so successful back in 2009 when there were only five guests.
The general talk was on the subject of comics. Sonia works in a Manga style, whilst both Emma and Kate, albeit influenced by Manga are obviously more of what I would, if I was called upon to do, producing comics in a fusion of eastern and western styles. Both Emma and Kate would reiterate more than once throughout the trip how much they are slipping through the middle ground with comics fans, as their styles are neither what folks may term traditionally Manga, nor are they quite western enough to suit those sensibilities either. I told them, having looked at all their work that to me they were just producing comics – period!
They smiled and seemed happy that I got them, but I must say that they too understood what I was doing with Worlds End. Although there was an age difference there was no real discernible difference in the way we look on and approach the storytelling in our sequential art.
The conversation continued down the comics route with a discussion on influences, followed by one, which again looked at today’s marketplace and the expansion of new creatively controlled and creatively own IPs. Although that term may grate with some folks it does cover the bases as far as describing the content of the concept for everyone.
It was a real treat for me and a first too, as I mentioned I had never discussed comics like this with female comics creators before and it was great to hear their thoughts on what had been up until now a very male dominated industry and industry I use very sparingly. I say that because of the way the corporate side of comics has sucked dry and spat out countless creative geniuses without whose creativeness in their work we would perhaps not have the same comic business to work in that we do. It is only inevitable that when those forefathers of comics were never truly recompensed for all their inventiveness, over decades and with whom cynical contracts were forced upon them using the fear of being out of work to gain their signatures, whilst other non creative suit types benefit to this day from these same ill-conceived immoral contracts.
Hearing the thoughts of the girls was something, which I am glad I was a party to and I must say made what was an excellent meal (I had Spaghetti Bolognese – and it was wonderful) an even more fulfilling experience.
These three creators had the same sensibilities I have always had despite what the comics business tries to do with those kinds of thoughts. The ideology of my youth I saw reflected in their thoughts, that same ideology I have returned to during my time since the inception of Wizards Keep and the production of Worlds End.
I saw a freshness in their approaches – they are as yet unconstrained by the workings of mainstream comics (a phrase, as you probably already know, I hate). There was an enthusiasm for the medium and unfettered love of comics in general – not just superheroes. I have to say that it was so refreshing to hear all of this and have to add that I feel this is the reason for the success of the three young comics creators. Well time really does fly when you are having fun and I think the meal helped to cement our mutual understanding. Certainly in future Blogs I will be looking at each of the artists in question and sharing their work with you guys.
So it was that time had moved on, such was our enjoyment of the topics of conversation and of course it was the marvellous MaltaComicCon once again that afforded this wonderful experience for us all.
We began to notice that behind us the corridor in front of the cafe was fast becoming a real hive of activity and at length we returned to the main hall to see what was happening. The entrance layout had been changed back to the way it had been in the two years previous and everything had suddenly changed and certainly for the better, as the main hall was now packed to brimming.
Anxiously the three of us returned to our places and found ourselves the centres of attraction with the fans and folks there to see what this event was all about. It’s surprising what a difference the change in positioning of an entrance can make to an event.
As usual there were lots of things going on, at the far end of the main hall to my right Lucio Parrillo was painting an original acrylic painting of a transforming, Incredible Hulk. Across from him sat Joseph Bugeja, Roderick Pace, Laurence Paul Zrinzo, and across from these guys were Liza Mallia, amongst others.
To my left Michael Golden was signing books alongside Renee Witterstaetter. Next to Michael, Jon Haward busily sketched for the fans and across from these guys sat Susan Waitt, David Lloyd and young Maltese cosplayer and artist Liz Mallia, all busy signing, sketching and chatting to the visitors.
Across from me Kate and Sonia were doing the same and Emma sat to my right managed to sell of all her books before the end of play on the first day. Like she said she hadn’t brought a great deal, but she sold all she had, which was brilliant.
The local artists were as equally busy as the foreign guests as the convention began to hot up with lots more visitors in the main hall.
By the time 5 o’clock came around I had sold around half my books. It had been a great first day. With everyone buzzing we returned to the minibuses and this time I was in the one driven by our old convention driver from year 2, Topsy. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and then I found myself and the others being whisked off back to the hotel.
A quick shower and change of clothes later and I was back downstairs in the foyer with Jon, David, Emma, Kate, Sonia and Thomas Gosselin. The convention itinerary read; 8.15 pm – Arrival at Santana Hotel and Dinner. 9.30 p.m. – After Party. That being the case the seven of us went about trying to find out where in the hotel the dinner was taking place.
We checked the dining room – no, we checked the original bar from year 1 – no we went to the top floor – no we went back to the foyer – no. Six of us tried to get in the lift and go back up as a group having walked previously via the stairs and found the lift wouldn’t work. It was too full – I tried the door and it was shades of the “Windett Curse”, which some of you will remember from last year’s convention. This time, however, we couldn’t blame Dave – he wasn’t with us.
I tried the doors again, nothing. So someone asked me to press the alarm – nothing. Folks were starting to giggle and laugh – what were we going to do. I asked folks to give me a bit more room – hard to do with some many folks in it and Jon being a big lad. A small space was allocated for me and I did my best Incredible Hulk impression and thankfully the doors now opened, but only with me prising them open.
We went back to the top floor this time on foot and then collapsed in heaps on a settee on the top floor. It was inevitable but we began to split up as we searched for where the meal was taking place. After about half an hour at least of this toing and froing with Jon and Thomas and I now down at the foyer area having joined back up with David, we decided to go for a meal at the Chinese restaurant across the road again. The girls continued to search for a while longer, but for us oldies we decided to find our own food.
We crossed the square to the restaurant and luckily we were early enough to go straight to a table, where once again David ordered wine and we all decided on a Banquet for four – it was around 8:30 p.m. It was a marvellous feast and we tucked eagerly into each course as we chatted. We had soup to start and lots of it, followed by a multitude of starters on a platter. This was followed by crispy duck and all the trimmings. This was in turn followed by six main meals, noodles and fried rice. Yet more arrived in the way of a sweets course and it was all rounded off with a coffee and liqueurs.
Once more we discussed comics and life in general and then, towards the end of the meal, it got around to names again... and yes, this time Thomas was in fits of laughter at this esoteric mischief. We never did find out what had made David laugh so much, but I hope to one day find out.
The meal, as I say, was six courses and took an age to consume, by the time we had and were ready to pay the bill it was around 10:30 p.m. It really had been a magnificent meal and we waddled back across the square to the hotel weighing somewhat heavier.
We arrived at the top floor of the hotel having asked at reception to confirm it was taking place there. This time we needed the lift – we would never have made it alive on foot up the stairs. We entered the lift to the right and decided on leaving the left hand side lift, which had failed us earlier. It creaked and groaned as it rose into the shaft and headed towards the after party containing the four of us, by now fully laden.
Once outside the lift (I am sure it sighed with relief as the doors closed behind us) lots of voices could be heard in party spirit and the four of us made our way to where all the fun was being had. We entered the party and there were lots of cheers and smiles all around the room. It was then another enjoyable evening spent chatting with the organisers, who were relieved that day 1 had gone so well, in light of the amount of new events and number of guests on this year. I chatted for a while with Chris De Souza Jensen about his latest work on a co-operatively created mural, which I had seen earlier that week before I had left England on FaceBook. I had met Chris at MaltaComcCon2 in 2010 when he was painting the mural outside the venue in Valletta in the pouring rain.
Jon was having a whale of a time chatting with all the new folks too. Mike Quinton bought a round of shots for everyone and a toast was given followed by the organisers dancing like Cossacks. The evening passed quickly and before we knew it, it was time to get some sleep before the early start on Sunday morning for breakfast before day 2. I returned to my room, checked everything was ready for the morning, got into bed and the moment my head hit the pillow I was sound asleep.
Day 2 started with a little light drizzle, but by the time I had eaten breakfast and was in the foyer waiting for the minibuses once more the sky was to be filled with more sun than clouds. Everyone was there at breakfast once more and I sat and spoke with Sean Azzopardi and Thomas over the early morning meal. It was a hive of creative and organisational force consuming more nourishment than a herd of Galactuses.
We arrived at St James’ once more; it was hot and the sun shone everywhere – it looked like being another lovely day. We each made our way back to our allotted places and picking up my camera I decided to make a quick tour of the convention before it officially opened once more, snapping away to try and preserve the folks and their work on day 2.
Once back at my table it became busy once more. Emma had no further books to sell, but was busy sketching for the fans. It continued to get busy in this way all throughout the day, with little let up – it was indeed a well turned out event and the organisers must have felt some relief from all of that.
Kate went off early on in the day’s proceedings to teach her children’s workshop, just as I had the day before. The weather seemed to be bringing the best out in everyone guest and visitor alike as a steady flow of visitors entered the main hall. The early morning of the second day of the convention was in sharp contrast to the first, probably down to the arrangement of the entrance and walk-through aspect, as much as the weather. Whatever it was MaltaComicCon3, or 2011 as the organisers were billing it was a success yet again.
By the time Kate returned again so too had stalwart convention, chef supreme, Chris Stellini. It was too good an opportunity with three young women sitting in close proximity, so I told them he was our chef par-excellence tomorrow evening and he was the guy with the tattoo of all tattoos on his back – the red Incredible Hulk. Well without any persuasion at all Chris soon had his shirt off and was proudly parading his amazing tattoo for all to see. The girls were totally blown away by the image. It really is the best tattoo I have ever personally seen.
Soon it was time for lunch and having sold more books I joined Chris Le Galle, Jon Haward and Kate on the terrace of the Impressions cafe and ordered a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and a coke. We chatted away and Chris was in a much more relaxed state now. The pressures of the convention were obviously now easing and the realisation that it was another success was beginning to make an impression on him.
The organisers work incredibly hard, harder than most folks truly realise all year long between the conventions, working with the Maltesel government and the British Council and all the bureaucracy that comes along with these things. Then there are the other workshops, walks and events on the run up to the conventions. There are the guests to find and arrange flights, transfers and accommodation for, along with ticket sales and the set up and running of the venue itself. I haven’t even scratched the surface and what made things worse for the guys this year was the level of organising it took – there were after all 19 of us guests – no mean feat for such a small number of folks organising an international affair of this kind.
After lunch it was time for a final few hours of convention fun and frolics and that moment of most fun and frolics lay only just around the corner for us all. The convention had been missing something and I knew what it was and I wasn’t to be disappointed either, because who should make his annual if somewhat late appearance, but FAT-SPIDEY!!!
The place was lifted even higher when he arrived to tumultuous applause and cheers. He really does make the event complete, but with his busy schedule of keeping the sunny streets of Malta free from crime it is totally understandable that he struggles to make the event. He can hardly drop his crime fighting to have his photo taken and his signature on a piece of e-bay-proof paper can he?
Whether it was his sudden appearance, or a last minute chance to own one of my Worlds End graphic novels from the world launch there in Malta I am unsure, but the last couple of hours saw me sell out of the books and sell some other products that I had taken along to the event. I felt good – the launch as well as the convention had been a total success for me.
I have to mention a few folks in particular before we reach the end of this third convention Blog. The work now being produced by the Maltese artists has continued to grow in both style and technique and new up and coming artists such as Inez Kristina Baldachinno, Jeanelle Marie Zammit, Bernard Micallef, Joseph Bugeja, Iella, Laurence Paul Zrinzo, Maria Isabella Grech and Richard Pace to name but a few of an ever growing number of creative folks from those sunny shores have shown a vast improvement in both delivery technique and style over the last three years that I have been honoured to be amongst them.
Two groups – the Troglodyte guys and the Pilot guys showed some incredible work to me this year. The former in the form of huge murals that the folks of Malta are indeed lucky indeed to have on display in their land and the latter in the form of a thick soft back bound graphic art album.
I think a lot of this is due in no small way to three factors, the incredible opportunities to showcase their artwork to the public and amongst their international professional comics creators at the convention over a three year period. All of which has been afforded to them by the dedication of the convention organisers who continually strive to promote, literacy, the sequential form, artwork in general, Maltese culture, cuisine, tourism, music and all manner of other things to adults and children alike. Gorg Mallia’s unceasing support of the graphic narrative form of comics and their, as yet, underrated use as an educational tool is also a big factor in this. As is the support of local artist, and US ex-patriot, Susan Waitt, who again in her unceasing ways to promote and support the local arts and its artists helps with the local confidence stream.
I don’t think it will be long before some of these guys obtain the recognition they so richly deserve in Malta and then who knows perhaps the world will see a new art movement – I sincerely hope so.
The anticlimax of any of the conventions that you may attend anywhere for the guests can be somewhat deflating, but this is never the case with this convention, because the fun continues until we get back to our respective homes once again.
I, along with everyone else packed up my gear ready to leave Valletta for this year. Once packed away all that remained was for everyone to chat whilst the minibuses returned to take everyone back to the hotel and an evening meal.
For me that was not to be the case, as Chris and his lovely wife, Joanna had asked me over to have an evening meal with them at their house in Naxxar (Which is pronounced as Nashar), which was fantastic. So the three of us soon found ourselves with a car laden with our convention wares and on our way to pick up pizza and enjoy an evening chatting outside of the convention. Joanna dropped Chris and I off on the way home outside the local pizza take-away and even that was immense fun, as Chris told me all about the local architecture and culture. We placed our order and then went for a short walk about the town, where he told me lots of interesting facts. Then after picking up our order it was a short and enjoyable chat and walk back to their home beneath a warm, starry, late November evening in Malta.
Back at their place the three of us got a chance to chat about our families, our love of film, music, books, TV and of course comics. It is always surprising how much common interests folks interested in comics have with each other and this night was no exception to that rule.
It was a wonderful evening, which to be honest again passed too quickly. Although we were all terribly tired after the week long events since I had arrived. It had finally caught up with us all. The guys for all the hard work organising it all alongside their day jobs and me having completed my first graphic novel and launched it mere moments ago. I still feel awful as it was all I could do, despite both Chris and his wife being wonderful and gracious hosts, keeping my eyes open. My body was now telling me it wanted to shut down.
I made my apologies as Joanna drove the three of us back to the hotel. The couple were having none of it however and reciprocated those thoughts to me too – they felt just as tired as I did. It was time for bed as soon as they got back to their home too. Tomorrow was set to be another long and eventful day of touring and sight-seeing – oh, yes and food – tremendous amounts of glorious and totally tasty food, so rest was much needed before then.
So it was following several group hugs later that I went up the hotel steps to the foyer with my convention gear in tow. I turned and waved the couple off and then went inside. Once there I found that David Lloyd, Jon Haward and Thomas Gosselin were still up chatting. I took my things upstairs and then returned to the bar for a nightcap with the three guys, as David was leaving early the next morning – in a few hours in fact. Then after a brief ten minutes chat and our goodbyes and good nights said it was off to bed for me, so I would be ready for the trip on the morrow.
I knew having been to all three conventions held in Malta that their Monday trips and evening meals are superb so we were all in for some treats from the moment we woke up – in the meantime though I needed to recharge my batteries in preparation for the coming day’s events.
In the meantime here are some photographs of the convention weekend:
Until next time, have fun!March 28th 2012