Part 1 – A New Book and a Convention on the Horizon
Well the run up during November to the MaltaComicCon 2012 was full of deadline issues and saw me once again burning the candle at both ends and all points between. Shades of 2011 and the launch of the first graphic novel I hear you say – yes is the reply.
I had decided when the year turned out to be full of tribulations with serious illness amongst family and friends and the many “things that could go wrong” actually doing so that book two, being way behind in the pencils, would take a back seat as I honoured something I had mentioned back in 2009 when I ran the Worlds End colouring book competition.
Never being one to shy away from complicating something for myself to make it better, however, I added something to the mix – a storyline.
The book became the Worlds End Colouring & Storybook. I looked at several ways of doing this, but decided on a linear one, which introduces the basic premise and principle characters, preparing the way for the graphic novel series. I again employed the services of James Hill to edit the script for me. Then promptly added some new stuff and moved some others around. Not enough to have James look at it again, but enough to make me thorough in my last proof reading.
This time around Rob Sharp was unavailable to help with the production design, so that too fell into my lap. I remember thinking to myself how glad I was that I studied graphic design at Art College, laughing and then wishing my little furry buddy, Bentley had too.
Well, the artwork was completed for the new book in the early hours of Tuesday December 4th just before dawn (my Dad’s birthday) and later on that day I delivered the files by hand to my printers for this project, Direct Ed. It’s only a short distance of around four or so miles away in the next town to their place, which made the close to the wire job a little easier for me to get it to them. The trouble was I needed the books printed and in my possession on the 6th, just two days away, and my Mum's birthday.
From there I picked up my train ticket, sorted my travel insurance and then changed my money to Euros for the trip.
Luckily the guys have a very professional set-up and on the morning of the 6th I picked the books up mere hours before my flight was due to take off. I checked them over and the quality was superb. There was a thick frost on the ground first thing in the morning with a thin dusting of snow added to this later in the afternoon, so it was starting to look like an icy take off.
My bags were eventually re-packed to accommodate some of the new books and then it was off to Blackburn railway station to catch the train to Manchester airport. There was a snag, however, time was tight and the roads were bad, there was obviously some sort of problem. I never found out what it was, but just as I began to walk down the slope from the station car park to the platforms I heard a train pulling out. It was mine.
With an hour to kill I sat in the indoor shelter, checked my timetable, my passport, and my airline tickets, adjusted my scarf, pulled on my gloves and waited for the next train.
Eventually it came and the trip to the airport was uneventful if a little cramped. The weather changed somewhat as we neared Bolton train station, where I had to change trains, and the snow changed to sleet. It was now rush hour and with my baggage in hand – so to speak – it was a little difficult, nay impossible to find seating. The train arrived in Bolton just as the one for the airport did and the overhead tannoy alerted me to the fact that the adjacent train was the one I needed.
Arriving at the airport terminus I rushed through to the airport departures area then checked with the AirMalta desk assistant and was directed to the appropriate check in gate number.
There were two women at the position and one of them said my name as I approached. I laughed and made a comment about how they knew me and asked if it was crime watch. They both laughed and I continued to check in my luggage. Then the one behind the desk asked if I was superstitious and I said not particularly. I then told them that I guessed my seat was going to be number thirteen? It was and as the light-hearted banter continued they laughed and said have a pleasant flight and not to worry. I showed them my hand, pretending to shake nervously and said that if the worst did happen and the plane came down I WOULD come back to haunt them both.
This was the nicest start at an airport I had ever experienced. Okay not something one should really be joking about or indeed tempting fate with, but it was so light-heartedly done – so unlike the usual straight laced way one usually experiences in these situations.
And with that I walked up the steps to the customs check in and the departures lounge beyond. At the customs check-in I experienced the X-Ray scanning machines for the first time. I have to admit to feeling a little like a Power Ranger or one of the Centurions I had drawn early in my career as I stood in an almost X position as I was scanned. It took little time at all, all things considered and I soon found myself at the departure lounge boarding gates awaiting the plane.
It was delayed as it had arrived a little later than expected and was now in the process of being cleaned. One of the ladies from the check-in desk was also at the boarding gates and she began the banter with me once more regarding the number of my seat… 13. I reiterated my threat of haunting her if it came down and then wondered if any of the other nearby passengers heard us and were now even more worried than they may have been before.
Eventually I found myself in the air once more and bound for Malta. There was none of the plane taxiing and then coming to a stop before launching itself along the runway. No the pilot taxied the plane around at the end of the runway and then with a mighty roar of the engine continued down the airstrip and took off, perfectly.
I was tired and so pretty much fell asleep straight after the take-off. I was abruptly awakened by someone nudging my arm. It was one of the two women next to me. They both wanted to get up – I assumed to go to the toilet. When they merely sat in the seats in front of the ones they had been using I figured they were either very superstitious or they didn’t particularly like my aftershave – LOL.
Anyhow, soon after this the onboard drinks and meal were served and once I had finished I put my head down for a while again, although I never managed to get fully over to sleep again – thanks ladies.
The trip passed quickly and I soon found myself alighting from the plane, feeling the warm breeze, and walking across the tarmac to the buses, which waited for us to take us to the arrivals lounge at Luqa Airport.
I passed through customs in no time at all, grabbed my luggage, which was one of the first dozen off the plane and was met by Chris Muscat, one of the convention organisers.
Our greetings exchanged and we went to the airport café for a coffee, whilst we waited for Emma Rios’ flight to arrive. She had needed to go to London Heathrow from the airport in northern Spain, as there was no direct flight and so was coming from Blighty right behind me.
It was a little over a half hour or so and then her flight arrived. We all three exchanged greetings and then found ourselves en-route in Chris’ car to the Hotel Santana in Bugibba on the north west coast of the island.
The trip between the airport and the hotel is just long enough for folks to introduce themselves a little and break the ice. I sat in the back as I had done this now four times and felt it much nicer for Emma to be able to speak to Chris from the front seat instead.
There were a plethora of Christmas decorations all over as we drove along, which to someone from northern England seemed strange due to the warm weather. I associate the season with cold, ice and snow, and rain… lots of rain. Warm, sunny weather, on the rare occasions we do get any, is in the spring or the summer months. So warm weather and Christmas decorations seem strangely at odds with each other. It was lovely though and was the start of the holiday season for me. In fact I reasoned by the time I was back in the UK it would be half way through December and leave me a week before the actual event itself.
By the time we arrived at the hotel, all three of us where looking a little tired as it was around 1:30 – 2:30 a.m. Chris told me that Chris Le Galle and Fabio Agius would be coming along in the morning after breakfast to take Chris Thompson and me to the venue for set-up day.
I was in room 215 and so waving off Chris, Emma and I went up in the lifts to our respective rooms. It took me little time to unpack and for my head to hit the pillow, once I had freshened up a little. It was now 3:30 a.m. and I was beginning to see a pattern of sorts appearing, as I thought of the previous year’s arrivals.
And then my alarm on my mobile phone went off. It was Friday, the day before the convention and it was time to shower and go down for breakfast in the Moiré restaurant. I was still half asleep after the flight and indeed the insane hours I had worked in the past week or so with the all-nighters.
At breakfast I met Dez Skinn and his partner, Aniko Boholy. Shortly afterwards we were joined for a short while by Sonia Leong and Chris Thompson. We chatted for a while as we ate and then they retired to their room and I decided to check out the local area once more. Most of the others were due in throughout that morning and afternoon.
It was a lovely sunny morning with some thick clouds away in the distance and after breakfast I had a short walk around the local area. It was warm and I was in my T-shirt, which gained me a few odd looks as I saw most folks with sweaters and jackets on. They obviously didn’t see too many folks from Cimmeria in Malta nowadays.
Back at the hotel I sent a text message to Mike Quinton and asked if he knew what time Chris Le Galle and Fabio were due to pick Chris Thompson and I up to go along to the St James Cavalier in Valletta. It wasn’t long after his text back to me that the guys arrived and the yearly manly hugs session began. MaltaComicCon was now officially opened for me… LOL. We were soon joined by Chris Thompson (I can see this series of Blogs getting somewhat confusing so I will include second names for the multitude of Chris’ that abound at MaltaComicCon) and we went outside to Fabio’s car, which we loaded up with our convention luggage.
Outside the hotel I saw Emma, pointed her out to them both and the guys introduced themselves. We were then joined by the legendary Hulk and Wolverine artist (although he has worked on just about every other Marvel character over the years) Herb Trimpe and his lovely wife Patricia. Ben Templesmith also showed up on the hotel steps as he and his partner planned on taking a stroll about the area.
It’s always nice when you meet one of your heroes and they live up to the expectations you have of them as both fantastic creators and decent human beings and Herb is just that.
Soon, after a brief car journey to the capital we found ourselves once again back at the venue. Even after four years of events I still find myself blown away by the beauty and the size of the walls of the ancient fortress in which we reside for the duration of the two days.
I think the main reason for the success of the conventions is down purely to the fun invoked by and the enthusiasm shown by the organisers. One cannot help but become immersed and wrapped up in their good humour, good nature and commitment as the events take place.
Add to that the ambiance of the local landscape, the sunshine, the great food, the historical relevance and culture of the island and no one could possibly doubt this is a winning combination.
This year I decided that after having dropped off my gear ready for setting up at my table I would take a look around and check out what was on display or being set up in anticipation of such. I managed to look at the Corto Maltese - The Spirit of the Journey, Emma Rios and Streets of Valletta comic book art exhibitions, which were all brilliant and worth coming along to the convention for alone.
The morning passed quickly and soon Chris Le Galle, Fabio and Kenneth Micallef approached me to ask if I would like to go for a late lunch with them. Burger King was the chosen eatery and I decided on a triple whopper – well I was on a pre-Christmas diet… LOL.
A fun time was had as we reminisced on past events and places we had eaten in and of course comics, conventions, our families and unfortunately the dropping out, for various reasons, of six of the guests on the list literally at the last minute.
Despite the latter, however all the convention organisers were high-spirited, even though not all the guests had arrived yet as that would take the majority of the day to see through.
Almost without warning the afternoon waned and evening approached, so off went Chris Thompson, Chris le Galle, Fabio and myself back to the hotel for a quick shower and then it was back down to the foyer to catch the coach that would take us all back to Valletta and the venue. It is only a short journey back. But the period of intense work to get the new book ready was starting to catch up with me as I drifted in and out of sleep on the way. Chris too was obviously feeling tired as he also dozed a little.
2012’s convention saw a single coach for the duration of the event itself and the Monday trips instead of the usual two mini-buses and as such the banter and camaraderie were perfect and reminded me so much of the very first trip to Malta when there had only been five guests travelling in a six-seater people carrier as we spent our first evening together as a group.
Sean Azzopardi was once more back with us having arrived not too long before. And so sporting my MaltaComicCon T-shirt given to me during my trip out there last year off we sped to the St James’ Cavalier.
As always the new folks were astounded by the venue, which for anyone not having read my previous Blogs about the conventions is a medieval fort and one, which has never been taken by invaders. The walls are incredibly thick, but then they had to be to resist cannon balls hurtling down at them from the enemy.
Thankfully nowadays the worst that is thrust upon its mighty fortifications are a group of comics creators and fans. As folks milled around the insides all the expletives were positive ones, but as I say it would be pretty hard to find anyone not impressed by the place.
The group was brought together and then Mike Quinton gave a speech introducing all the organisers and the mission for their merry band. This was followed by a further list of thanks to the guests, starting off with Sean and I for our continued support and our friendship, which was very touching and I am sure Sean will agree reciprocated from us both.
This introductory viewing of the venue, introduction of the organisers and guests was something that began last year and they obviously saw the value of it, as it makes the trip all the more special. It gives everyone time to look around the place, check out the exhibitions and where they will be sitting for the weekend and also a chance for new friendships to begin. There are also the little touches, which don’t go unnoticed by the guests too like the meet and greet as the guests make their way down the main corridor into the building and continuing as Mike shakes the hand of every guest as they enter the main convention hall. All subtle touches, but ones, which so sadly are missing from any other conventions I attend.
I hope any convention organisers reading this make a note of this very subtle, as I say, but welcoming aspect afforded to the initial arrival of the guests to the event. It takes place the night before the convention weekend begins, but puts faces to names for both organiser and guest alike. For me it’s a cracking little touch!
As always the evening is spent with the organisers explaining a little about Malta, its people, its culture, its cuisine, its incredible and often times violent history and its beginnings, along with lots of talk of comics, families and current projects. No wonder so many of the guests take so many photos and speak so highly of the convention.
Speeches done and we found ourselves in the balmy evening air of Malta’s capital Valletta and on our way to the restaurant – The San Giovanni Café – for some much needed food and a drink or two. Again this started last year with all the guests arriving at the latest by late afternoon allowing everyone the chance to enjoy the pre-convention party atmosphere.
I found myself seated between Dave Gibbons and his wife on my left and Kenneth Micallef to my right with Ben Templesmith and his partner, Richmond Clements Mike Quinton and Jean-Sebastien Rossbach across from us. Before the meal had even arrived Dave and I had a great conversation about our current projects, publishing, the future of comics, digital comics, teaching comics and my being a Granddad. The meal wasn’t long in arriving either. In fact by the time the meal was in front of us we actually seemed to realise there were other folks with us and we let them have a turn to speak with us too… LOL.
It was a lovely meal – I chose a Maltese Pizza, something I had been planning to do since my attending the convention had been mentioned some while before and let me tell you it was fantastic. I try to get at least one of these pizzas in during the trips. Cisk was on the drinks agenda; Malta’s home produced beer. Followed by a glass of Kinnie; Malta’s home produced soft drink, which is citric flavoured and quite sour in its after taste – it’s quite addictive once you give it a go.
The meal finished I was joined by my Maltese pal, Chris Le Galle for some of our usual fun-filled banter. It’s always great to catch up with friends and although we all speak to each other during the year the time spent amongst them is always better. Not long after this folks were gathered together once more and we made our way back up the hill to where the coach awaited us.
We bid farewell to those not staying at the hotel and then sat back and enjoyed more good-humoured banter, chatting and the journey back to the hotel. Once there everyone was pretty much ready for bed and the café bar had closed, so off we all went to our respective rooms ready for some sleep and the early start in the morning.
As my head hit the pillow and I drifted off to sleep little did I realise what lay in store when I was to team up with my student, Deej who was en-route to the convention via the special fan-rates invitation and Sonia Leong on the evening to come…
And now just a few photos - I didn't take many pre-convention this year - I was too excited I suppose... LOL
February 23rd 2013