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Comic relief

The Malta Comic Con brings together the best of local and foreign comic talent. Tech Sunday enters parallel worlds.

Tim Perkins

Tech Sunday: This will be your third time in Malta as a guest of the Malta Comic Con. What are your views on the local comics scene?


Tim Perkins: The comics scene in Malta is vibrant, with a lot of enthusiastic creators playing with new worlds, concepts, and genres. Another positive thing about the Malta comics scene is that those in it are, as yet, unspoilt by the mass production methodology of the corporations running most of the comics nowadays.

TS: You will also be launching the first volume of Worlds End in Malta. What is it about?

TP: Subtitled The Riders on the Storm, this first volume is a simple story about a tranquil world, which alien interlopers have decided to invade, aqua-form and then occupy. A mathemagician called Gweldar, his familiar Geek, a young boy Ralf and a mysterious girl called Zephol are all that stand in the invaders’ way.

TS: What is your first memory of comics, and what fuelled you to go from reading to creating comics?

TP: My first comic was probably one of the UK children’s titles like Bimbo or Playhour, but I saw a lot of everything in the early 1960s, due in no small part to the amount of books and comics I was given by my parents from a very young age.

Apart from reading, I was always doodling away. When my parents had their attic converted last year, they found cases full of my old drawings – that was amazing.

My other early influences were the many storytellers in my family. My parents would tell me stories they made up, while I spent hours with Uncle Bob drawing silly cartoons of the family. I also had an aunt who was a portrait artist and my Uncle George and my grandpa were great storytellers.

But my dad was probably my biggest influence as he was into comic books. His love of comics was what probably inspired mine.

As a boy, all I wanted to do was create comics. It was the only thing I ever felt totally passionate about and I really wanted to emulate my heroes who were creating these comics, by creating my own.

TS: When creating your comics, what forms of technology do you use?

TP: At the moment we have three workstations, which are the hub of Wizards Keep. One is dedicated to the website and networking, the other two are the artwork and script-creating machines. The largest of the three handles the large files that I create as I paint in real time.

I write the story on my computer, but I still draw traditionally on an AO size drawing board. I use mechanical and clutch pencils with blue leads in them to actually draw everything on to art paper. Then I scan the blueline artwork using Photoshop, transpose the line work from blue to grayscale, and adjust the levels, contrast and brightness settings until I am comfortable with the look of the pencils.

Then I clean up any spots caused by dust on the scanner’s screen and resave the artwork as finished pencil files. These will become my key, or holding line for the painted colour.

Sometimes I handle the next section for smaller jobs, but I usually pass this on to my colour flats assistant, Yel Zamor. She creates a multitude of layers for all the main elements – each element occupies its own layer and has flat colours applied to them.

Afterwards, I begin painting using a Wacom tablet and stylus. At the same time, the pencils are sent to the USA for Comicraft’s letterer, Albert Deschesne, to work his fantastic magic with his balloon designs and fonts.

All the pieces of artwork are then put together using a combination of Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign. My designer Rob Sharp does the majority of this. When the final Indesign files are ready, James, Rob and I get together for a final 24 hours of editing and proof reading. Once we are convinced the book is ready, we go to print.

Joseph Bugeja

Tech Sunday: You’ve already participated in the Malta Comic Con. What are your views on the local comics scene?


Joseph Bugeja: Although the comics culture continued to flourish throughout the years all around the globe, Malta never seemed to embrace this medium enough, and after some good comics published in the 1980s and some rare one-off titles in the 1990s, the local comics scene went very quiet.

In 2006 I held a solo exhibition at St James Cavalier on fantasy art. This inspired Wicked Promotions to organise a weekend event called the Big Bang – together with my exhibition we would help to promote the comic book culture on our island. Wicked Comics was formed.

This event was so successful that it was felt that Malta needed a comic convention to help the local public appreciate more this form of art.

In 2009 the first Malta Comic Con was organised and since then, the convention keeps getting bigger.

TS: What are the second issues of The Tsar and Ħal Mudlam about?

JB: In every issue if Ħal Mudlam, which I write and illustrate, the reader will discover an individual who has made this eerie place his home. In the second issue, which was published recently, I focused on Freddie ‘it-Teddy’, a bus driver who didn’t take the public transport reform very well.

The second issue of The Tsar will be launched in March 2012. This will be the last episode from a two-part series written by Joseph Farrugia and illustrated by myself.

TS: What is your first memory of comics, and what fuelled you to go from reading to creating comics?

JB: From a very young age I was fascinated by this form of art. To tell you the truth I am drawn more to the artwork of comics then the writing itself – I still remember going to buy comics and choosing them on the basis of the cover and artwork.

TS: Which artist inspires you most?

JB: As writers, I am fascinated by Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman. As for artists, I love the work by Simon Bisley, Liam Sharp, Sergio Toppi, Gabrielle Dell’Otto and Lucio Parrillo, who this year will be a guest of the Malta Comic Con.

TS: When creating your comics, what forms of technology do you use?

JB: It all depends on the style that I want to achieve. For the covers of the Ħal Mudlam series and The Tsar, I worked with computer software. For interiors I first draw with pencils, then scan the pages and finish the highlights, textures and text on my ­computer.

Bernard Micallef

Tech Sunday: What are your views on the local comics scene and the Malta Comic Con?


Bernard Micallef: Comics are usually thought of as childish, restricted only to Beano and Dandy. The reality is far wider. Manga, for instance, is mostly for older teens.

During World War II, it was used as propaganda, in much the same way that Disney had issued a cartoon featuring Donald Duck, about the war.

Comics aren’t just for children. This is what the Malta Comic Con is trying to do – widen the perspective on comics.

TS: Last year you published Arcana Crusade – what is it about?

BM: Arcana Crusade has a role-playing game element. The story is very simple – Letio, a knight, tricks a comrade into taking his job to save the kidnapped princess in order to prove himself. Along the way, he teams up with healer Relea, sky bandit Var and fighter Mirena. To save the princess and the kingdom, they have to obtain three Arcana gems that are used to power up Letio’s sword and halt the resurrection of the Demon Lord.

TS: What about the collaboration with Jeanelle Zammit that you will be launching during this year’s Comic Con?

BM: This year my girlfriend, Jeanelle Zammit, and I are collaborating on an experimental pro- ject. The working title is RPGB and it is a combination of adventure book and manga.

TS: What is your first memory of comics, and what fuelled you to go from reading to creating comics?

BM: Dragonball and Pokemon first inspired me to start doing manga strips and illustrations. I even used to write fan-fiction for Pokemon on 48-page copybooks –

I remember my first manga featured a journey to a parallel world full of anime characters. I even drew cartoon versions of my bio-logy O-level notes.

TS: Which artist inspires you most?

BM: I tend to go for adventure type manga – I especially like the Pokemon Adventures series and Nobuhiro Wat­suki’s Rouroni Kenshin and Buso Renkin. I also heavily reference Mayumi Azuma’s Elemental Gelade and Akira Himekawa’s version of the Legend of Zelda series.

Gaming also inspires me. When first released in Europe, I grabbed a copy of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and did a fan-comic version of it. Recently I also got hold of Okamiden for the Nintendo DS, a great game with unique art style.

TS: When creating your comics, what forms of technology do you use?

BM: I draw using a 0.5 mechanical pencil on printer paper – then I ink the outline and fill in any particular areas in black. If I use colour, then I photocopy the original and colour the copy with alcohol-based markers. If I need to colour a large area, then Jeanelle has to step in and do her thing on the computer. For toning, I also use a computer programme.

Emma Vieceli

Tech Sunday: This will be your first time in Malta as a guest of the Malta Comic Con. Are you looking forward to it?


Emma Vieceli: I’m so excited about coming over and meeting new people as it’s always wonderful seeing like-minded people in other countries. There’s no such thing as different countries when it comes to comic lovers – we’re all part of one geek nation.

TS: You recently published The Vampire Academy. What is it about?

EV: It’s a graphic novel adaptation of the Vampire Academy series, written by Richelle Mead. For the comic versions, Leigh Dragoon is taking those novels and breaking them down into graphic novel script form.

There are so many story threads and character progressions that make the series fascinating – it’s a little bit sexy, a little dark, and has some light moments too.

TS: What is your first memory of comics, and what fuelled you to go from reading to creating comics?

EV: The first comics that took my enjoyment to a new level were titles I picked up in Italy as a child and still go back for now. Bonnelli’s Dylan Dog was and still is a massive influence on me.

Eventually, I discovered Marvel and X-Men. A few years later, Japanese manga. Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma blew my mind. I had never seen a simple, cartoon-like style applied to the kind of long-form comic stories I had grown to love. I started to consider what fun it would be to tell a story with pictures.

The amazing layouts and storytelling skills of Keiko Nishi had the same effect on me

When I was about 20, I met the early members of Sweatdrop Studios in the UK. Over a decade later, I’m still with Sweatdrop, and what had started out as a hobby has become a viable career.

TS: When creating your comics, what forms of technology do you use?

EV: I usually do my roughs and pencils on a small, A5 sketchbook. I take this around with me and work on it wherever I am. Then, when it’s time to ink, I scan everything in and use my trusted Wacom tablet and Manga Studio combo on the computer.

Jeanelle Zammit

Tech Sunday: What are your views on the local comics scene and the Malta Comic Con?


Jeanelle Zammit: American comics are probably more popular, because they’re considered to be more for adults than the Japanese-style comics. However, there is also manga for young adults and for adults. The Malta Comic Con is trying to spread the interest about comics in general, and I think the organisers are doing a great job.

TS: What about the collaboration with Bernard Micallef that you will be launching during this year’s Comic Con?

JZ: It’s an experimental collaboration that is a cross between a manga-style comic and an adventure book. Readers have to choose between five characters and then follow the story by deciding the character’s fate.

TS: What is your first memory of comics, and what fuelled you to go from reading to creating comics?

JZ: I used to watch a lot of old school anime like Sampei, Ranma and Tiger Man. Then I moved on to reading comics – I remember saving up for my first comic.

I also got hooked on Pokemon – at first, I used to draw Pokemon characters, but then moved on to create my own characters.

TS: Which artist inspires you most?

JZ: The artists that inspire me vary from illustrators to manga artists and game concept artists. Currently, my favourite artists are Arina Tanemura, CLAMP, Nao Tukiji, Hyung Tae Kim, Myung Jin Lee, and Nobuhiro Watsuki.

TS: When creating your comics, what forms of technology do you use?

JZ: For panelling, I normally use my tablet and my computer. But if I’m in the mood for ink, then I just grab my nib pens and draw away.

Fabio Agius

Tech Sunday: What are your views on the local comics scene and what is the main aim of the Malta Comic Con?


Fabio Agius: I’ve been in love with comics since I was five years old. At the time, local interest in comics was declining and by the late 1980s, you could hardly find a shop selling them. Yet early this millennium, comics started becoming popular in Malta again, largely due to titles such as Spiderman and X-Men making it to the big screen.

At the time, I met writer Chris Galea, organiser Michael Quinton and some other comic fans and together we decided to form the Big Bang, a group of Maltese comic artists and writers. This was a great success and we decided to organise the first comic convention in Malta. Our primary objective as organisers of the Malta Comic Con was, and still is, to promote the comic scene in Malta.

TS: What is The Golden Lizard about?

FB: The Golden Lizard is a full-colour graphic novel that is a joint collaboration with Chris Galea. It narrates the story of Willy the robot and Nick his human friend. Willy’s soft spot for girls and gambling put the two guys in big trouble. Chased by some local gangsters, the two friends decide to embark on a voyage to find the treasure known as The Golden Lizard.

TS: What is your first memory of comics, and what fuelled you to go from reading to creating comics?

FB: When I was young, my uncle used to tell me about the comics he read – that influenced me a lot. I also used to doodle a lot – I remember I was fascinated by cemeteries.

TS: Which artist inspires you most?

FB: There is plenty of talent in the comic industry. I love the grotesque art of Simon Bisley, the legendary John Romita and the paintings of Alex Ross, Liam Sharpe, Glenn Fabry and Joe Jusko, the psychedelic art of Steranko, Mark Bagley’s Spiderman, the grittiness of Charlie Adlard, the sharpness of Claudio Castellini and lots more.

As for writers I consider Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman to be Shakespeare’s equivalent to comics.

TS: When creating your comics, what forms of technology do you use?

FB: I am an old school artist. I love to draw my comics and panels with pencil on paper first, and then I ink them. Afterwards I scan them and do the colouring and lettering on my computer.

Chris Galea

Tech Sunday: What are your views on the local comics scene and what is the main aim of the Malta Comic Con?


Chris Galea: It all started with the Big Bang, a comic gathering which, although smaller than a convention, proved that there was enough interest and talent to justify a need for Wicked Comics. The two-day comic gathering eventually led to the first Malta Comic Con in 2009.

Wicked Comics, which I co-founded with Michael Quinton, is a voluntary organisation aimed at promoting the comic culture in Malta and abroad. Our flagship event is the Malta Comic Con, which aims to put Malta on the map when it comes to all things falling under the comic culture and to give the local creators an opportunity to exhibit and sell their work, meet and discuss possible projects with their fans, and learn from professional creators.

Despite the fact that the Maltese comic scene is still in its infancy, it has made giant strides forward. Renowned foreign journalist Chris Thompson of popular comic culture website First Comic News visited last year to review the Malta Comic Con 2010 – he was so impressed that this year he is returning along with two other foreign journalist to do a live podcast during the Malta Comic Con.

TS: What fuelled you to go from reading tocreating comics?

CG: I have always been a writer, and from writing assignments I moved on to writing different stuff including lyrics, poetry, a short TV series, a novella and some plays. It was only when we decided to organise the Big Bang that I began to write comics. During the preparation of the Big Bang, I met Fabio Agius and we have been collaborating since.

TS: Which artist inspires you most?

CG: Every comic I read influences me. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are generally acknowledged to be masters in the art of comic writing.

However, my favourite writer is Robert Kirkman for his strong characterisation and unexpected twists. Andy Diggle I like for his pacing and versatility, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and Mark Millar for their wickedness, black humour and awesome one-liners and Sean Azzopardi for his grittiness. On a local level I like the weird ideas that Anthony Pirotta’s mind conjures up.

TS: When creating your comics, what forms of technology do you use?

CG: I write on anything I can get my hands on. I usually jot down ideas on the first piece of paper I find and then type them on my computer. Unfortunately, papers get lost and misplaced easily while the computer has a habit of dying on me.

The Malta Comic Con 2011 is organised by the voluntary organisation Wicked Comics. It will be held on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 November at St James Cavalier, Valletta.

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