Well, I awoke to the dulcet tones of my mobile phone’s alarm on the dawn of day one of the convention and as usual the first thing I did was to check the weather outside the balcony windows – Sunshine, all was well.
I gave my convention paraphernalia a last minute check before I went down for breakfast and I noticed my pre-printed sketch pages and promotional posters where missing. I had been putting things in and out of the bags as I tried to keep them inside the baggage allowance on the planes. I must have left them behind – Darn I thought!!!
In no time at all I was eating breakfast in the Moiré restaurant with my Fantasy Art Unlimited student, Deej. He had taken the organisers up on their fans convention rates for flights and accommodation.
There was the usual air of anticipation from all the new guests – which doesn’t ever go away, no matter how many times one returns to the convention. The sun was shining, the air was warm and very soon after the buffet-styled breakfast was over I soon found myself in the hotel foyer with Deej, Sean and the other guests.
Dave Gibbons saw my pink “Hawaiian shirt", which has been with me since the mid-eighties and was a part of my early visits to the Marvel offices and to UKCAC – the London comics conventions of the 80s and 90s and said “Nice Shirt”. Now, I know deep down he was being complimentary even though he said he wasn’t… LOL. This was the first time since the nineteen eighties that I had worn the shirt. It is the only relic that remains that I have persuaded Margaret not to sneakily throw out.
My good buddy and one of the MaltaCon Organisers, Chris Le Galle and me have a real laugh both during the convention time and also via email the rest of the year and amongst several running gags “Pink” is the optimum colour. Well, my shirt being pink with black silhouettes of women in bikinis was what I decided to bring to the table at 2012’s event, just for Chris. The shirt had the desired effect and Chris and I had a great laugh about it. Oh, yes and Dave would mention the shirt on more than one occasion throughout the convention too, even when I wasn’t wearing it.
This year, because of the large contingent of guests we were to go to Valletta on a coach and we soon found ourselves en route to the convention. In no time at all we found ourselves in the St James Cavalier setting up and before I knew it I was once again getting myself ready to delivery the first of my children’s drawing workshops. My tables were once more in the charge of one of the organisers; whilst I went next door to greet the folks coming along for the session.
Deej had decided to go for a look around the convention just prior to this and I knew he was in for a great time.
As usual, the workshop was well subscribed and we needed more tables and chairs to accommodate all the children there. It’s always nice to see that the kids like to join in and last year was no exception. As I do with all my workshops regardless of age I take those attending right back to basics and it is hardly any surprise that the children, unbound by the same constraints adults find around themselves, always adapt and “get” the new ways of drawing, even down to the techniques I may show them, pretty much from the off.
It never ceases to amaze me just how creative folks can be given the opportunity, especially when they are told they cannot make mistakes in my sessions. Hands go up eagerly to answer questions and great characters appear as if by magic on the once blank, white pages in front of them. After all drawing and painting is a kind of magic!
The session saw one little boy constantly coming forward to show me his finished work – it was always the same piece, but he was really proud of it and his appearances beside me increasingly endeared him with the adults there.
I started a drawing with some basic circle shapes and placing them strategically on the flip chart I asked who the character was. One Grandma decided it was likely Mickey Mouse, which it was, and after asking her to come and join me at the front of the class I asked her to finish of the drawing – which she did. This went down well with children and adult alike and after taking a bow she rejoined the child she was accompanying who now sported a great big grin – well, after all she was her Grandma.
It’s incredible just how fast the morning goes because of the workshops and I soon found some of the other guests and myself in the Café Inspirations looking at one of the menus, although I needn’t have bothered, as I already knew what I was going to order – a Maltese Pizza.
I sat with Samantha Abela, one of the organisers and Chie Kutsuwada, Inko, Dan Lester and Richmond Clements, with some of the other guests and Sonia Leong joining us a little later.
Well, Pizza eaten and feeling well and truly stuffed and the others looking in pretty much the same state we all made our way back to the tables to sell our wares.
On returning to my table one of the volunteers, young Juan Mario Farrugia, showed me the missing pre-printed sketch pages and promotional posters. He had found them underneath a pile of Worlds End Ashcans. They had been there all along, just hidden. He had saved the day, so I gave him a “Freebie” as a thank you – He was my young hero for the day!!!
The afternoon went extremely well with me selling lots of the new Worlds End Colouring & Storybooks and more of the first volume of the Worlds End graphic novel, producing scores of sketches and autographs on both my books, fans’ autograph books, sheets of paper and Malta’s first graphic novel, the Golden Lizard, for which I produced the cover in 2010.
By mid – late afternoon I was rejoined by Deej, who had been very busy as he looked around the convention, bought books off folks and went for a look around Valletta. Not too long after this we began to pack our wares away until the next day and retired to the Inspirations once more, where Deej and I sat and chatted with Herb Trimpe and his Wife, Patricia. These are the priceless moments we are lucky to share as comic creators where we get to know each other a little. Lots of laughs later and we were Hotel Santana bound once more on the coach. The plan was to return to the hotel, get refreshed, go for something to eat and then join the Saturday evening convention party.
On the coach Deej and I along with Sonia decided we would go for a Chinese meal at the nearby Great Wall Chinese Restaurant. So after dropping our gear off in our respective rooms the three of us met up in the hotel foyer and set off for some food. We had gone but a few steps away from the hotel when Deej noticed a sign above a local bar, The Little Waster Pub Diner, it read KARAOKE… he pointed it out to me and I remember saying something along the lines of, well we’ll have to eat up quick then because we’ll be singing tonight and then laughing along with Deej, who agreed. Neither Sonia nor I knew each other loved to sing and so it was a great surprise when she agreed and said we simply had to go. So the mood of the rest of the evening was set for us and we continued on our way to the restaurant.
The meal was, as usual, fantastic, as was the service. We had a starter and main course each. I had hot and sour soup, followed by sweet and sour chicken, all helped down with a pint of Cisk. The meal was accompanied with some great conversation and an air of expectation for what might be to come.
We arrived at the Karaoke bar and ordered our drinks; Sonia being pregnant was drinking fruit juice. We looked at the long list of folks already scheduled to sing and decided to get our names and songs down quick to see if we had time before going along to the convention after party.
Name, rather then clock watching became the order of the day as we drank, chatted and checked our positions on the Karaoke board, as slowly our names came closer to the head of the list.
And then it happened; our names reached the top!!!!!!
We were about to make headline news at the convention. I was first up and did Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell. Sonia was next with Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life, which was magnificent and sounded just like the real singer, Amy Lee. Next up was Deej and his version of Glenn Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy, which got all the regulars in the groove. The scene was set; this was the precursor of the Comics and Karaoke Conventions – you heard it here first!!!
All three of us got rapturous applause, which was gratefully accepted, but looking at the time; it was already after half past ten and having a party to attend, we now, in singing mode, reluctantly prised ourselves away from the bar and proceeded back to the hotel to join the others.
Upon arrival at the hotel, however, it soon became apparent that all was not as well as was expected. Everyone, rather than being in the upstairs bar area, was in the downstairs Castagna café part of hotel as the hotel has not ordered drinks to stock up the bar upstairs. So in somewhat more cramped circumstances than was customary at the convention we set about ordering drinks at the small bar.
Sonia was busy telling of the exploits of the aforementioned Miss Lee, Monsieur Campbell and Maltloaf to anyone that would listen, whilst Anthony Pirotta and Mark Ellul regaled Deej and I with explanations about the lack of drinks upstairs and tales of Hamsters, which due to good taste, must remain amongst our mutual memories of the evening. Suffice it to say the evening continued for the next hour with hysterical bouts of uncontrollable laughter from the four of us. Echoes of 2011’s David Lloyd episodes I hear you say.
Eventually the bar closed – after all it was now long past 2:30 a.m. so everyone now congregated in the small reception area where the hotel held it’s tours and information guides. The whole scene must have seemed rather cramped to anyone looking in on things, but to everyone there it just made the evening just that bit more intimate. As the talk on comics, conventions and family began to peter out, so too did the folks as they started to slowly drift off as well.
It took several attempts by the organisers to leave the hotel – 2013 saw them mostly going home rather than staying at the hotel, although I think Fabio, Chris and his wife Joanna stayed for the night, as they were early birds at breakfast the following morning. They would say their goodbyes to all in the small room outside of the bar area and then finding themselves back at the start of the list of folks they were saying their goodbyes to find themselves repeating the process.
Eventually all of us retired to our rooms and our beds for some much needed sleep – we would be at breakfast in around four hours time getting ready for day two of MaltaCon…
I awoke to both of my alarms going off almost simultaneously. I had left them purposely one on the bedside cabinet at the side of the bed and the other at the end of the bed on the dressing table.
So it was that I arose, feeling like I hadn’t slept in a week, but nothing that a shower and a Moiré breakfast wouldn’t mend. I sat with Deej, who wasn’t eating too much that morning and began to wade through the plateful of food in front of me. The legend of the “Karaoke Kids” was already rife by the time I was eating. Dez told me how he had heard that Meatloaf was in town – I told him it was “Maltloaf” and that was to be the way of things for much of the next twenty-four hours. I told him all about Sonia and Deej and it fast became apparent that a new legend was being born right in front of us… LOL.
Breakfast eaten, we all met up in the foyer, where the talk of Karaoke continued and we soon found ourselves once more on the short trip on the coach. Here Dave Gibbons mentioned that Sonia had been telling he and his wife all about the night before and our exploits in the Karaoke bar. It wouldn’t be the last time Dave and I spoke on the subject and by the end of the convention trip he would be lined up to practise at home so that the next convention we attended together we would both get up and sing.
In fact, so successful was the creation of the legend that Mike Quinton said that after discussing it with the other guys 2013 would see the after party held in a Karaoke bar… Now, by now, Mike should know that they guys never have to bribe me in this way to get me to go over once more… but as the Tesco advert says on TV, I suppose – “every little helps!”
The talk continued with folks asking about our three’s singing exploits and then suddenly we were back in Valletta once more. It was a lovely morning with the sun shining down on us all, so it became a mass photography shoot with folks snapping away at the battlements and other sights that greeted us all as we alighted from the coach.
An hour after setting up the table again I was bound for the children’s workshop once more. This time Deej manned the table for me, which was very kind of him. Again there were plenty of takers for the workshop, but this time there were equal amounts of adults who also wished to take part, which was great. There were some folks arrived a little after I had started and provision was once more made for the extra bodies.
Just like the day before I had someone come up to the flip chart to finish off the basic drawing, which was again recognisable as Mickey Mouse. Everyone was very enthusiastic again with adults encouraging the children and vice versa. So much so, that at the end of the session I was asked if I taught in Malta. When I explained that I was a resident of the UK and only visited for the conventions they asked if I would be able to set up some kind of course there – something I am still working on at the moment – stay tuned, as they say on TV.
At 2 o’clock I was part of the discussion panel Building Atmosphere through Art, moderated by Chris Thompson of Orbital Comics fame. I joined Chie Kutsuwada, Inko and Guillermo Ortego as a panellist. After our introductions we discussed how we each try to create atmosphere in our work. The hour passed by very quickly and enjoyably as we each answered Chris’ questions in turn. It’s always great to listen to how other creators work and indeed how they think and each, in turn, resolve the same problems.
The discussion was then opened up to the audience and we were asked some great impromptu questions. You can hear the entire discussion here in Chris’ Podcast on Orbital Comics’ website.
I had a brief chat with a few of the audience members as I made my way to leave to return to my table and upon arriving back there saw a queue of people waiting for books signing and sketches too.
The rest of the day saw pretty much a repeat of the previous day with time spent signing and selling books, sketching and signing some more – so much so that by the time I realised I had missed lunch it was almost the end of the event for another year.
Like the first day people came up to me and asked how book two was doing. I had lots of interest in the second volume and showed some of the artwork produced up to that point, which also went down well with those seeing the new stuff.
The next two or three hours flew by as with Deej now at my side pretty much all of the time I sold books and sketched for the fans. I even got Deej sketching too, which was great and he seemed to really enjoy himself too once the nerves had settled.
The rest of the convention was slowly packing away and I was still busy sketching, with several still in the pipeline to do. Eventually I managed to finish them all and was soon packed away myself, another convention done for another year… phew!
Then it was down to the Inspirations for a final time. The café itself was full to bursting and so we found ourselves outside the café sat at the tables in the corridor.
The usual journey back to the hotel ensued and then the three of us made our way to the Karaoke bar again. I was due to be picked up at 9:00 p.m. by Joanna to go along to hers an Chris’ home once again, this time with Chris Thompson and Herb Trimpe and his wife Patricia. That meant we had to, figuratively speaking, barge our way into the Karaoke in order to get a song in each before I had to leave them.
Once again there were a great number of folks already up on the digital board set to sing. We spoke to the owner and mentioned our plight and we soon found ourselves with a microphone in our hands again. This time Maltloaf sang, “Heaven Can Wait,” Sonia sang a beautiful ballad, I can’t remember what the track was, but it was lovely, whilst Deej sang the Dubliner’s “Seven Drunken Nights” complete with Irish accent and the jig too. Once more the reception we each got was great and just as Deej finished his little ditty along came Chris to say, Joanna had just arrived – it was now 9:00 p.m. So, telling Sonia I would see her on the trip in the morning and wishing Deej a safe trip that same morning and all the best until I saw him in back in Blighty I rushed off with Chris to meet up with the others.
On the way to Joanna’s home we all chatted and discussed all manner of things, as though we had all known each other for years, it was great. The roads were lined with Christmas decorations and I knew we were in for a fun evening.
After the grand tour of their home we sat and chatted over a bottle of wine, whilst the meal was put before us and what a lovely meal it was. It’s always great to share time with friends, especially when accompanied with wonderful food and drink.
The night passed so quickly as Herb and I discussed our mutual careers in comics. Everyone chatted about the differences in comics nowadays, anecdotes, the digital age, families and all manner of other stuff – all in just a few hours.
My Granddaughter, Phoebie was mentioned a lot during the convention and that night was no different with me showing them photos of her from my phone like any proud Granddad would. With Christmas just around the corner, children were in all our thoughts.
All good things come to a close, however, and so it was that Joanna drove us back to the hotel and our beds. Tomorrow was the official last day for the guests, although I would not be leaving until Thursday. Monday was also the day of the annual trips around Malta, so we were not finished with all the fun just yet.
Joanna was waved off and every one of us feeling exhausted were quite ready for some much needed sleep. Tomorrow was a later start for us. We did not need to leave the hotel until ten o’clock, but it was now gone 1:30 a.m. so it wasn’t many hours until breakfast.
I packed my convention gear back into my travel luggage, as I would need it no longer and then lay my head on the pillow…
And now for some more photos - enjoy:
And now, here are some extra photos, used with her kind permission and expertly provided by Photographer, Aniko Boholy:
February 26th 2013