The BEST Convention on the Planet
Well, as you know by now, 2014 was a very emotional time for my family and I and so the convention held in 2013, which I had made notes for never actually got written up, which I realise must have disappointed people, especially the organisers who I know look forward each year to my massive Blog reports and reviews of the wonderful event. However following my Mum’s passing, which took a long while to at least try to come to terms with – I guess I never truly will – I just never got around to doing so, even though I kept promising I would.
Thankfully the organisers, who have been very supportive with me about this ever since, have never said anything about the lack of such a Blog being written. 2014 saw me attend last year’s event and so I am going to write a condensed Blog with elements from both and hope these serve to both entertain you guys and give you a true flavour of the event, which I now call THE BEST comic convention on the planet!!!
Before you read any further you may want to make a brew and grab a few biscuits or a slice of cake… It’s quite a long one and has loads of photos…
MaltaComicCon 2013 saw the return of Dave Windett, Jon Haward and Warren Pleece. Alongside those amongst an ever-increasing number of creators attending the event were Ian Churchill, Mike Carey, Charlie Adlard, and Sean Phillips.
Now earlier in the year and following on from our exploits in the Maltese Karaoke arena the previous year, my good buddy from Orbital Comics, Chris Thompson had thrown down a gauntlet to Ian Churchill, saying this to me via a FaceBook comment: “I was just chatting about you with Ian Churchill at Bristol on the weekend, and he seems keen to challenge your karaoke crown at Malta Comic Con this year ... I think that's gonna have to be the Saturday night event now (and possibly every other night as well!)”
Well ever one to accept a challenge of this kind I kindly told Chris and later Ian I accepted his challenge.
On the Saturday of the event, not having met Ian before, except for our Internet connections and occasional chats, I asked Chris Le Galle to formally introduce us. As we shook hands and Ian sat back down to work some more on a fan’s sketch, I took out a small white pair of gloves and promptly lightly slapped him about his chops and said I accepted his challenge. His face was a picture and the smile said it all, we were about to have some fun this weekend – my only worry – a cold/cough I was trying to fight since my return from the Thought Bubble event a week earlier.
That night was to be the only night I could sing however, as my voice finally went off-line after I had sung Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf and Hotel California by The Eagles. It was an immensely enjoyable evening though and lots of the other comics creators also joined in the fun and there were some great entertainers. The guy that won the competition, couldn’t sing, but the entertainment value he gave… To be honest we all though he was drunk, but he is tea-total and hadn’t touched a drop – I wouldn’t like to see him after a drink… LOL.
The convention was yet another opportunity to run my children’s comic workshops, which always go down well with both the children and the adults too. It also serves to give me a chance to meet old fans and friends alike, as well as meeting lots of new ones. I always seem to do well at this convention, thankfully.
The convention was well documented by voracious photographer, comic artist and storyboard artist on the Game of Thrones, Will Simpson series as he avidly snapped away at all and sundry.
On the Saturday afternoon I was asked if I could draw a caricature of the Maltese President, George Abela, as Superman, as he was stepping down from the post the next day at the end of the Presidential Charity Fun Run. No big deal there then… I was honoured, but getting a caricature right during a convention, when I only had that afternoon as well as that night and during which time we had a convention party organised, which I was expected to be going along to… Ooh dear what could possibly go wrong?
Well, one of the guys, Mark Ellul, managed to get me the smallest photo of the guy possible on his mobile phone. I tried this, but I was getting nowhere, plus I was trying to keep the convention visitors happy at the same time, by producing their sketches along with everything else. I then decided this was madness – I had never met the man, so I had no idea what he really looked like aside from this tiny low-res photo on a small mobile screen.
I decided to give it a punt and wait until I went back to the hotel and then ask them if they could access a good enough photo on their computers there at reception. Now my thinking was quite right as when I mentioned what it was for and who it was for they jumped at the chance to help – luckily for me.
With a decent black and white print in my hands I went back to my room informing everyone that I would meet up with them later for food and then the party. It didn’t take long to produce the piece in the quiet of the room. Then I looked at the Superman logo and the clock and decided to ask one of my comic mates, Jon Haward a great superhero artist to help me out with the S symbol. A quick phone call, a short walk down the corridor between our rooms and he very quickly had one such symbol in place on the character’s chest. DONE!!!
All that needed to be done was the inking. I called Mike Quinton to let him now the drawing was done and I was inking it, as they wanted to have it before the party started. No sooner had I started with the inks than I received a call back and the news, finish it for the morning and come along to the meal and party as soon as I could. Relief… but it still needed completing.
The party, as always was brilliant, but of course there were drinks and lots of conversation, which as always included a great many laughs and now a Karaoke involved at a nearby bar, so by the time my voice had become affected at last by the cold I was trying to fight off, I headed back to the hotel room having partied the night away.
I sat at the drawing and I have to admit to thinking that maybe I should wait until the morning before inking the final bits and pieces and thinking I was tired. But, undeterred I finalised the drawing and looked at the finished piece content that once I awoke for breakfast that all I needed to do now was eat.
The Sunday morning following breakfast we left for the convention, but what the coach driver had not anticipated was the extent of the aforementioned charity fun run. We found ourselves amidst the throng of runners and eventually had our coach turned around by the local police, much to the chagrin of our driver. I showed the organisers the caricature – they loved it – Relief!!! Eventually late for the convention and in despair our driver took us to the main bus terminus in Valletta and we made our way to the venue at a pace. Once there, I hadn’t even dropped off my gear than Fabio wanted to whisk me off to visit the Prime Minister in the first instance.
I quickly ran upstairs and dropped off my gear with Deej and asked if he minded holding the fort, or the Keep to be more correct until I got back.
Then we were off rushing through the milling crowds of Valletta. The sun was beating down on us and the sound of several helicopters overhead resounded and bounced off the walls of the ancient city. Everywhere there were police, armed police and there I was being dragged along by Fabio, would we make it there alive I asked myself?
At length as we turned to go towards the Parliament Building and the main crowd, who were awaiting the return of all the runners we were greeted by one of the guys that was security and a friend of Fabio, who had been waiting for our arrival. We were whisked behind the barriers and behind the stage above which were huge speakers and a huge screen. It was manic, loud with music and everyone dancing in the main square. It was a great carnival atmosphere, full of folks singing and lots of smiling, happy faces.
No sooner had we arrived at the side of the stage than a TV camera was thrust in my face and I found myself being interviewed first in Maltese, which was then translated into English. It was like being inside a whirlwind, but the adrenaline was pumping through me, by now and I was excited and truly honoured to be taking part in this momentous event.
Soon after this, the Prime Minister, Dr Joseph Muscat, came down from the stage to greet us and was shown the Picture I had drawn – this was followed by a big grin an arm around my shoulder and the words – “Brilliant, you have captured him exactly.” Relief!!!
We followed him up the side steps at the side of the stage onto the main stage and waited in the wings. We didn’t wait long and soon the President himself leading the crowd of runners ran into the square – we could see this on the big screens all around the area. Eventually after being patted on the back by the crowd below he joined us on the stage.
The Prime Minister gave his speech and luckily this was translated by Fabio, so I knew what was being said, although I do remember MaltaComicCon, Superman, Comic Artist from England and my name being mentioned and then he showed the drawing to the President who had a huge smile on his face when he saw it. He then turned to me gesturing for me to hold one side of the drawing as we presented it to him. He shook my hand with both of his and said he was delighted with it. – Finally true relief!!!
With our job done, the clouds rolled in and by the time we had finally left the stage, after speaking to the folks on the stage, Fabio and I took our leave and raced once more through the streets of Valletta, looking like Del Boy and Rodney in that famous scene from Only Fools and Horses when they ran through the streets as Batman and Robin, only in our case it wasn’t fog we were trying to avoid, it was rain, lots of it!!!
By the time we arrived back at the venue, we looked like two drowned rats and Fabio immediately took me to the video games room, whereupon I was given a brand new T-Shirt to replace the soaked one I was currently wearing. Then it was back to the convention for me.
I guess I have to say that it was at this convention that, having coined the phrase, the year before for my good buddy and student, Deej, that he was, “Chronically Unpleasant,“ following his alleged session of wild, abandoned Pigeon Kicking on his first day at the convention venue on the Friday before it began, that I got my comeuppance – when folks started calling me a Maltese God and with that followed all the stuff you can probably imagine, including the photo contained further down, which folks have disclaimed was created using Photoshop or any such art program. You can see for yourselves in the photos a little further down in this Blog.
As usual the pre-convention run up, the convention itself and the interim times between, along with the post-convention activities were all full of fun and a great many laughs lots of great meals and a terrific day trip out sampling Malta’s culture and heritage on the legendary Monday trip out.
We even managed to stave off the “Windett Curse,” as did Dave Windett himself, much to all our relief.
The weather was okay for the most part, with the occasional quick shower, but on the final day before departure the heavens opened and one would have sworn, The Mighty Thor had made an entrance with the wind and gales which accompanied the torrential rain. It was thankfully short lived and eventually the weather turned nice again. After all it is winter for goodness sake and we would be returning to the North of England and some very wintery weather as usual, but it’s hard to remember this on these trips, until they are over and one gets out at Manchester airport and everywhere is white.
As I say I am having to keep this brief and I need to fulfil the 2014 convention report as well in the same manner, so I can both honour the Blog promise to the Gang back in Malta and also keep to my deadlines with the painting of Worlds End – Volume 2 – A Hard Reign’s Gonna Fall.
I have to say at this point though, just how proud I was to be asked in the first instance and to then take part in this presentation of my artwork to the President of Malta and I am only too glad I was able to tell my Mum all about my experience, however briefly between her hospital visits. I know she and my Dad were really proud of me when I told them.
And now a few photographs from 2013:
Last year’s convention saw the return of the mighty Mike Collins along with some new appearances from the likes of Mario Alberti – an incredible artist and Marama Corlett of the BBC adventure series, Sinbad, fame.
I was joined this time by another of my students, this time Owen Dodds, who incidentally had moved out to live permanently just six months or so before my arrival. Deej had other commitments, to which I guess he is now eternally regretful about.
So it was Owen’s turn to accompany me at the table and the after convention shenanigans as well as the Monday trip out. I am excited about this year as all three of us are making yet another return to my favourite convention. All I can say is watch out Malta and just add a reminder – hey, that microphone is mine… LOL.
I was accompanied to the event on the same flight by the wonderful and talented, Dave Taylor, another good mate of mine in comics along with his wife and young daughter – whom Owen and me adopted throughout our stay… she is such a little star. Not like her Dad… LOL, Sorry Dave I couldn’t resist.
The weather was much better than the previous year and we returned to a sun-filled convention. Being longstanding guests of the event it is pretty much expected that folks can ask for a guided tour of restaurants and bars in the area around the Hotel Santana, at which we stay throughout our trips out to the wonderful island and this year was no exception, with both Chris Thompson and I being given that role by the other guests. So from the first night onwards we are constantly asked where everything is… we could have some fun there if we really wanted to be cruel, couldn’t we.
Owen lives in Saint Paul’s Bay a short ten minute or quarter of an hour drive away, so he used to come along to meet up at the hotel at breakfast time, leaving his car on the adjacent car park until his return back from the convention. He then used to drive to his apartment and then get a taxi back to the Hotel Santana. He would then not leave until we had realised it was almost time to get up, whereupon he would take his leave, hop in a taxi and then, after having approximately half an hour’s sleep, do it all over again. I think it took him until New Year to recover from my trip out there.
I am proud to announce, here at last, officially as well that I was crowned MaltaComicCon Karaoke Champion 2014, after my renditions of Heaven can Wait, by Meatloaf, Two out of Three, by Meatloaf, Bat out of Hell, by Meatloaf, and Against all Odds, by Phil Collins, the latter of which had dozens of folks holding lights in the air as they swayed to the music – or thinking about it were they just nauseous? It was the first time in public I had sung since my Mum and I wasn’t sure whether Heaven can Wait, Two out of Three, or Against all Odds were doable, as I usually choked doing them here in the studio. I remember blowing a kiss to the sky when I had finished singing the Phil Collins track and feeling a little choked, but at the same time immensely happy for the first time in a long while.
Everyone had such a good time that night that even Dave Taylor a Karaoke sceptic admitted he had begun to look for a song to do – he is a great drummer – but unfortunately he missed out, as the final song had been sung by me. So next time Dave get in there early – I know you will now.
On the Sunday I had the pleasure of presenting yet another piece of artwork I had been asked to produce whilst back at the Keep. I was asked to produce a piece of artwork for a young lad, Jacob that had recently undergone major surgery. His code name because of his bravery during it and his comeback fight after the surgery earned him the moniker, Titanium Man, as he now had a titanium plate in his skull. Again I was honoured to do the drawing. I had done it purposely on Watercolour paper and taken along a little tin of watercolours, in case he decided he would like me to paint it for him, whilst he watched.
It was a lovely experience for me as much as for he and his family, who just couldn’t thank me enough – his Mum almost cried and I am so glad she didn’t because I think I would have joined her. I painted the picture and it now resides proudly on his wall alongside other artwork created for him in this way. There were lots of photos taken and I am sure a video too of this, but I haven’t seen a copy of the video yet, if I do I’ll ask permission to share it with you all here. I hope they all come along to the event later this year. It will be nice to catch up with them once more.
Anyhow, the convention was yet again a resounding success for me and also for the organisers, without whom this simply wouldn’t happen. It is all down to their incredible hard work, love for the medium of comics, love for their island and all its culture, heritage, fine cuisine and marvellous people, along with their dedication to putting on the best conventions that they can and boy, do they fulfil all those roles above. They are the greatest ambassadors any country could hope for and I know from speaking to lots of the comics creators after the events that, just like I did, they now know a lot more about the small Mediterranean island and all that comes with it, due to the diligent care and attention given to both the guests and the convention and its ever-growing fan base.
I know I can never thank the guys enough for their continued support and friendship. I was lucky enough to have one of them, Chris Muscat pay us a visit with his wife and children back in early May this year, where his first words as I greeted them at the door was – "Tim!!! You are wearing a T-Shirt," which is how I dress in Malta, even though they are in light jackets and sweaters, just as they were during their visit.
It was an incredible honour for me to host their visit along with my wife, Margaret for the afternoon and I have a surprise to announce about early 2016 soon, but as you know I like leaving you with teasers, so just before I sign off, I’ll let the photographs tell the tales for both conventions. Thanks to all the wonderful folks from whom, I have ‘borrowed’ their wonderful photos if I did not have them to record the event. I hope you don’t mind.
And now a few photographs from 2014:
Next up: John Gillmore's interview for BBC Radio Lancashire - Part 2
This will be quickly followed with Bentley who is taking over the Blog for a while with a return of his adventures, entitled: Blogtrotting with Bentley 2 – A Bogtrotter Lineage Part 1.
Until next time, have fun!
August 5th 2015
Leo Baxendale 1930 - 2017
2 days ago