Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Malta Comic Con 2011

Part 2 – Lectures, Laughs and Lots of Good Food.

Hi Everyone,

The alarm went off and I arose to another beautiful day. I showered, got myself ready for what lay ahead and set off for breakfast. Jon and David were nowhere to be seen that morning and I ate alone. It was still quite early and the day was spread before me.
Shortly after grabbing my stuff for the seminar, I met up with Mike in the Hotel Santana foyer. With the change of plan and the seminar being replaced by the workshops he had managed to download the file I had sent to him, from Chris, from here in the UK to a USB stick and he had arranged with the schools to have a laptop and interactive screen available along with a flipchart.

It was another glorious day and we were soon joined by Chris Le Galle, another of the main organisers, who had not been able to join us the day before due to work commitments. Once again the familiar trip from one part of the island to the other took place and we made our way to the workshops.

As we travelled Mike told me it was his old school that we were visiting. They were acting as host to all the other schools. He went on to further tell me that he had only been back to the school on the one time to set the workshops up with them, so this was going to be a strange experience for him.

It didn’t take long before we found ourselves at the school in question, Stella Maris College which is situated in the town of Gzira. We were greeted inside by the head teacher, Marisa Abela after waiting a short while in the reception area. The usual sounds of children going about between lessons permeated the air and I was excited to start working with them. Having worked with youngsters at the convention on the previous two trips to the convention I knew they could actually understand me when I spoke – always a good thing really.

We were taken to see the director of the school, Brother David and I was introduced to him as an English comic artist and writer. We had a brief discussion whereby I answered his questions about comics and what they were – explaining to him my thoughts on them being a vastly underused teaching aid and then, with plans to return to his office before leaving, we were once again whisked off to the room where the workshops would take place.

The room was a good size and I was asked if the seating arrangements were okay. I assured the teachers they were fine and then began to set up the laptop ready to show the Worlds End video trailer. Water arrived – always needed in Malta when delivering the workshops; I tend to get a dry mouth very quickly over there, some might even say that’s a good thing.

The children of mixed ages and from four different secondary schools arrived along with their teachers and Mike Quinton introduced me to them. The blinds were closed and I said that as I believe the old adage that a picture paints a thousand words I would open with some pictures and then, with the lights then turned off, we ran the video trailer.

There was a marked silence with the occasional oohs and aahs from the children as they watched and I scanned the room to see what kind of reaction the imagery was getting. Thankfully the video did the trick and received a great reception from all in the room, including the teachers.

I gave a brief introduction about my involvement in comics and with Worlds End in particular and then began my workshop; taking everything right back to basics, which is the way I always work with my workshops.

I show a variety of ways of sketching, emphasising “scribbling” and in a light-hearted way slowly gain their confidence, which of course helps to give them confidence in themselves. The session went well and quite quickly too, as is the wont of these things.

I nearly always try to fit in a treat of mine “The Jedi Knight Trick,” and here in Malta was no exception. I began by asking what we need when we draw and the usual pencils and paper answers came back at me. I then prompted them what we need physically from ourselves and was told hands, arms, bones, muscles, brains, imagination, and eyes amongst a few others. I explained that it must always come from the heart and then asked them did we need to see the picture to draw it – they all said yes.

I explained I was a Jedi Knight and could use the Force and asked how many believed me – a handful did so. I then said that I could turn them all into young trainee Jedi Knights and more than a few eyes opened wide and smiles abounded around the room. I described the scene in the very first Star Wars film, Episode IV – A New Hope, whereby Luke Skywalker is trying unsuccessfully to fight a training droid. Obi Wan Kenobi then blindfolds him and tells him to use the Force. This is exactly what I do with the children sans blindfolds of course – they just shut their eyes.

First it was my turn and so, “drawing on the Force,” I drew an old oak tree stump along with roots whilst keeping my eyes tight shut; all the while watched eagerly by one of the teachers to make sure I wasn’t peeping.  When it was done there was a loud cheer and a round of applause; it looked as though I had been telling the truth and indeed was a Jedi Knight.

Next it was the turn of one of the pupils. I asked for one and none were forthcoming, for obvious reasons. I made my choice and assuring him that if he concentrated and allowed the Force to guide him using ideas coming from within me as a Jedi he would also be able to use the Force to draw his tree too.

I told him I would touch his arm when he needed to stop and when I did so, he opened his eyes and stood in awe that he had managed to draw a tree with his eyes shut tight – for anyone wondering I had been watching him all throughout. He was given a rapturous round of applause and then he returned to his seat.

Finally it was the turn of the other pupils and as if by magic they all drew trees. Of course it was really the Force, or was it magik from the Wizards Keep?

No sooner had the session begun than the morning had passed and it was time to stop. As they say time flies when you are having fun!

I was then shown the work of several pupils that had brought their artwork along for just this purpose. They were very enthusiastic to show their work and with good reason; despite their young age there was some promise shown in their portfolios. I would like to think I had been looking at Malta’s comic artists, writers, and designers of the future.

A legion of pupils then surrounded me and I was asked to sketch and sign autographs for them – always a great privilege to do. They each said goodbye and then I found myself along with Mike and Chris being whisked off once more to Brother David’s office, where he was told how successful the workshop had been.

He very kindly offered the three of us his blessing and then we were off once more beneath the Maltese sunshine back to the hotel. The consensus from my two companions – Job well done! I was very happy.

Arriving back at the hotel and going back to my room to freshen up I missed David, who unlike me – having not seen Mike the previous evening, was unaware of the change in plans with the workshop he was now en route to; he had up to this point believed it was a lecture on his work on V for Vendetta.

I had a brief catch up with Jon, who was in the cafe area of the hotel and then I returned to my room. Back there I decided to start work on some pre-ordered sketches for the organisers to kill a little time before we were all due to meet up once more in the late afternoon, some of which are amongst the photos at the end of the Blog.

The afternoon passed quickly and the slight breeze coming in from my balcony made it very balmy for me whilst I sketched. I checked the time and having showered and changed I went downstairs to meet with Jon; he and I had arranged to meet up with Fabio, who was bringing David back from his session at the school, at reception and then we would all of us return to Valletta to continue putting up shop, so to speak.

We sat inside the hotel cafe for a while and had a drink. David explained the session had gone down well, although had he known early enough about the change would have decided on one of his workshops rather than as happened his V for Vendetta talk. The conversation went onto folks and funny names and before we knew it, David mentioned one to the two of us and it was as though three school lads had taken our places as we rolled about and laughed with tears rolling down our cheeks. It wasn’t anything David had said, but the fact he began to laugh when he was trying to steady himself ready to tell us what he had on his mind. He never managed to do so and indeed had to leave via the cafe doors onto the street to regain his composure for a minute, or two before returning to his seat.

We looked at each other on his return and it all began again – by this time not only where other hotel guests watching our antics and wondering what could be amusing these Brits so much, Steve Tanner went to the bar to order a drink for he and his wife and asking for his baby’s bottle to be warmed. I suppose being part of the comic fraternity, Steve understood, or at least he was polite enough not to say anything.

This fit of giggles was to return on two further occasions with Jon, David and I during our stay in Malta.

Fabio arrived in the hotel cafe to take us to Valletta; he had finished organising whatever had needed doing. Once back at the venue we decided to have a late lunch, early dinner at the Inspirations! Coffee Shop and Restaurant as the sun began to sink towards the horizon in the late afternoon. I had a lovely freshly made Maltese style pizza and it was delicious. This was accompanied by a cool Cisk followed by a glass of ice cold coke.

The afternoon wore on and we looked around the main hall, which in my area still seemed quite sparsely populated with product – I still had no books. Earlier in the day I had asked once more on the whereabouts and was assured they would arrive in time for the convention, although they were still stuck in customs. I was still worried, but could do nothing much except trust my friends and their assurances.

David, Jon and I returned to the cafe and when David asked what I wanted I said a pint of orange and lemonade to which he looked aghast – was I kidding? The headache from the start of the trip was rearing its head again a little and I decided not to indulge, even in a single drink.

Time passed as we discussed a great many things to do with the comic business and life in general. Afternoon turned to early evening and then I saw Fabio walking past the cafe windows along the corridor from the main hall. He entered the cafe, gave me a great beaming smile and announced to the world, “Mr Perkins, your comics have arrived!” It was like hearing the voice of an angel, I can tell you.

I accompanied Fabio back to the main hall where all the organisers awaited us. It was almost like being in a dream and I cannot express the utter relief I now felt. There was an air of excitement as we joined the others and there sitting on top of the table was a box from TNT – a little battered, but hopefully none of the books had suffered any damage. Fabio handed a Stanley knife to me and then offered to cut the box open for me. I have to admit to being a bit fingers and thumbs at this point, so took him up on the offer.

Then the box was opened and inside laid several brown paper packages. I lifted one of them out of the box and walked around the tabletop. I carefully and nervously opened the package and saw the cover and the title logo for the first time. It was actually real for me – Worlds End was now not just a concept it was indeed a real graphic album.

There was a huge cheer from everyone and photos were being taken all throughout the grand opening and then I showed several books to the guys, who had also been anxiously waiting to see it. The excitement continued all around me and I began to look through the book, just has Margaret had told me – it was indeed, beautiful. My Bosnian printer had created a truly gorgeous print job – the best print job I have ever seen of my work, without question. Now bearing in mind my work has seen print in some of the world’s top titles for some of the biggest publishers on the planet that is truly saying something.

Still in shock and having had lots of photos taken of the event, and having shared the experience – that I had wanted to share with my family and due to the late arrival in the UK was unable to do so – I could not have asked for a greater bunch of guys to do this with. There were more than a few not quite dry eyes in that room during those moments and then I started to hear the reaction of the guys as they saw the insides of the book in their hands and it was all positive stuff – a great start to the launch.

The organisers, now my Maltese friends (something I am very honoured and proud to tell folks) have always been fantastic with me and have, as I have said before always shown me far more respect than I feel I deserve. Their smiles and the camaraderie shown during those moments will live with me forever and I could not have asked for a more perfect place to launch my first graphic novel worldwide.

Fabio took the extremely heavy box over to where my banner and other bits and pieces lay in wait for the books to join them and then I excitedly rushed back to show it to Jon and David who were still back in the bar area of the venue cafe. I had two books, one for each, and upon thrusting one into the hands of each awaited their reactions. I need not have worried as I was told this was the best work of my career and it was no wonder it had taken a while to produce. So it was with those endorsements and those of the organisers’ moments before that I truly began to excitedly look forward to the launch.

I went back to the main hall and began to put the books out on display ready for the launch. No sooner had I done so than Mark Ellul came along with a man and a lady. They had been visiting the venue and looking around and had heard mention of an all-ages graphic novel being launched there on Saturday. They would not be around in Valletta over the weekend and wondered if they might take a look at the books. Mark told them he would do one better and take them along to meet the creator of the books, me.

They were a lovely couple and they asked me questions about the books and whether they were suitable for young children. When I showed them the book they loved it and asked if they could buy one there and then. They decided to purchase a second one and I signed them and was told one would be winging its way over to Australia for Christmas to a young member of their family. They thanked me and I thanked them adding they were the first people to actually physically buy the book and they were really pleased with this.

After they had gone, Mark and a couple of the others came over and I explained what had gone on and they were equally pleased. It could not be going any better. Two books sold and we were still on Thursday evening with the launch beginning on Saturday – it felt good.

I sent a text back home to Margaret and let her know the good news followed by another to my daughter, Joanne who had sent one just before I had received the books to ask how things were going. By the time I had sent this second text message she had already spoken with Margaret and back home the relief was as obvious as with me.

Returning to David and Jon we decided we would now like to eat. It was now around 9:00 a.m. and we were pointed in the direction of a nearby restaurant. When we got there, however, it was closed, so we decided to head off into Valletta and check out any others, which may have been indeed still open and serving.

We walked for a short while, taking in the night time views of Valletta’s ancient streets, lined in Christmas decorations and were just about to turn back when we noticed some people seated at some small tables down along a dimly lit side street. David decided to investigate. He waved us to join him and we were fortunate enough to enter a very small restaurant Le Bistro Anglais and they were still serving food. It was very cosy and the three of us filled the place. A short time after our arrival there a couple with two young children turned up and had to have street-side seats.

We decided on Steak and salad for our repast and red wine for our tipple of choice. The owner and chef, Albert, disappeared for a short while and the loveliest smell of cooking steak permeated the small place. We chatted and laughed and the main topic for a good portion of the time before we began eating was of course Worlds End. I cannot tell you how immensely proud I was at that point both of the comments coming from two of my contemporaries, both of whom I have the greatest respect for and the fact that with the unsung help of my wife and family and close friends had managed to make the dream I had had back in the mid-seventies of creating not just a company, but also a line of hard-backed comic books a reality.

Well the meal was lovely and it seemed a shame to only have one bottle of this most exquisite red wine; chosen of course by David and may I add generously paid for by him too in honour of the event – thanks again, David, so we had another. The evening was late when we started it and time passed by so quickly with the three of us completely oblivious of the passage of time; we were enjoying the evening and the company so much. It wasn’t until a much relieved Mike Quinton arrived on the scene that time caught up with us and we realised just how late it had become. He then told us he would be back in a minute, or two, as he had to go and tell the officer outside the venue that he had found us and they could forget he had asked them to help him look for us.

We paid for the meal in the meantime and when Mike returned, his tale made the four of us laugh out loud and we found ourselves on our way back to Mike’s car and the trip back to the hotel. Everyone else had long-since left Valletta. Poor Mike had been looking for us for around an hour – sorry Mike.

 It was a lovely evening and the stars twinkled overhead. We returned to the hotel and we chatted in the foyer for a short while and then my bed beckoned. Friday would be a much more relaxed day for me, but a busy one for the organisers as they ferried all the remaining guests back from the airport. As usual I sorted my things for the morning and then the moment my head hit the pillow I was asleep.

Friday morning saw a rainy start with large thick rain clouds covering the entire sky.  I showered and then went down for breakfast, but there was no one else about from the convention. The previous evening’s exploits had obviously had an effect on Jon and David, who were still soundly asleep in their beds. I ate my breakfast full of excitement now, with the arrival of the books and the impending launch. I went back to my room and made a few phone calls back home with some last minute arrangements for next Thursday’s UK launch – after all I would only be back for a day and then I was to launch in the UK too.
I decided to actually sit down and read Worlds End from cover to cover and then I re-read it looking for any mistakes, typographical, or otherwise. I was and still am immensely proud of what was achieved and cannot thank those involved in the production of the graphic novel enough. By now it was late morning and I decided to continue to draw sketches for the organisers and spent a few hours doing this.

By the time I had finished them I realised I still hadn’t heard from Jon, so I sent him a text message. He was out with David and Thomas Gosselin, a French comic creator. They had gone for lunch, having risen late in the morning and would be back soon.

By now I was feeling a little peckish myself and thought I would go down to the hotel cafe/bar and seek out something to eat. I decided on a coffee and a large slab (it couldn’t really be called a slice) of apple tart and cream and sat down to eat my repast.

The hotel was a hive of activity as new guests seemed to arrive in an almost constant flow either arriving with one of the organisers, or from their rooms upstairs and it wasn’t long before I was joined by David, Jon and Thomas. We were then joined by Steve Tanner and his family and Emma Vieceli and Kate Brown, who liked the look of the enormous slab of apple tart on my plate. Sean Azzopardi arrived and three of the original guests were now together again.

I freshened up and rejoined the other guests a short while later who had also begun congregating in the foyer beneath the Christmas tree. The Minibuses arrived and off we set for Valletta and the St. James Cavalier venue.

For most of the guests it was their first time there and we were given time to look around the centuries old fort. Finally all the guests, local artists and foreign professionals alike, were gathered together inside the main hall and Mike Quinton gave a speech. This was the first time this had happened, but then this was the biggest convention of its three years in existence with its largest contingent of guests.

He spoke about the previous two conventions, made special mention of all of their previous guests and thanked everyone – making a point to mention David, Sean and I. He also mentioned the importance of my launching the Worlds End graphic novel there to them, which was really nice and moving too.

Then it was off though the evening lights of Valletta to a nearby outdoor restaurant, the San Giovanni Cafe, for a pre-convention celebratory meal. The meal was lovely – I had a Maltese style pizza (I became quite partial to these during this convention) accompanied by a cool glass of Cisk. The time was well spent with lots of chatting, laughter and folks getting to know each other. The time passed too quickly as we were enjoying each other’s company so much and soon we were told the minibuses had arrived. We made our way back to them and then off we set back to the hotel.

I was sat next to David and eventually we got back onto the subject of the strange names and the fit of laughter we had shared with Jon earlier in the week. He attempted a further three times to let me know what it was he was laughing at, each time breaking down, once more, into fits of laughter – the only thing I ascertained was that it had nothing to do with the lads name, but something else, which he couldn’t tell me for laughing. It was a very humorous, if somewhat exhausting trip back to the hotel and I have to admit my sides ached by the time we got back there.
Inside my room I prepared my things for the morning and the start of the convention. My books had arrived, they looked gorgeous and I was going to show the world tomorrow...

And now some photos of those next few days:

Until next time, have fun!

Tim Perkins…
March 6th 2012

No comments: