Malta Comic Con was back earlier this month, with a star-studded line-up of comic creators from across the globe in attendance, including Illegal Alien, Tupelo, Tales from Gimbley and Real Ghostbusters artist Phil Elliott – his first major appearance in some years. Phil reports on the experience…
I was very nervous. Not about visiting Malta per se but the thought of attending a two-day Comic Convention after a hiatus of some years. Sure, I’d been to a couple of smaller cons in recent years, including Maidstone’s Demon Con but this was a far bigger event for me and in a foreign country, where I couldn’t quietly leave, hop on a train and go home!
On arrival at Gatwick I played “Spot the Comics Person” but there didn’t seem to be any. I was met at Malta airport by organiser Christopher Muscat and we were soon joined by five others, including Linda Canton a Canadian who was representing TPub Comics and UK artist David Morris (penciller, inker and cover artist for Time Bomb Comics). Christopher escorted us to the mini bus that was to take us to our hotel and then returned to the airport to meet creators arriving on other planes… he was to stay at the airport until 5.00pm!
Linda and I sat at the front of the mini-bus and this is when I really did become nervous. I know continental drivers are not known for their, by UK standards, courteous driving but I hadn’t realised that apparently the Maltese are the worst and seriously, we had four very close calls with cars cutting in front of the bus.
I think the number of Garages and Auto Part shops that we passed bear testament to the number of traffic accidents here.
30 minutes later, we arrived at the Topaz Hotel in the town of Buġibba and were told we had a free afternoon and that there would be a “meet and greet” at 8. I tried to have a nap but was hungry, so decided to find somewhere for lunch and headed towards the nearby harbour. Boy, it was cold and very bracing on the sea front and I thought, why have I come all this way to visit a seaside town out of season? I found a restaurant that seated 60 people but I was the only person in there, eating my homemade goat’s cheese ravioli. It was raining when I went outside so I thought it best to return to my room.
I am not a hotel person (even after 57 years) so was a bit discombobulated when I entered the restaurant later and faced the buffet. It was a fine looking buffet with a wide variety of dishes but I didn’t really know the etiquette or where to start! I muddled through with a bowl of soup, a small dish of fish and spaghetti and some fruit but realised I’d missed a trick when the couple next to me plonked down four plates piled high with food on their table…this was two plates each.
Eventually, 8.00pm arrived and I tentatively ventured down to the foyer. There was a sense of relief when I spotted David Hine chatting to Linda, from the bus. David and I started our comics “careers” about same time some 40 years ago but hadn’t met in over 25 years so there was quite a bit of catching up to do.
After a while we were guided into a hall and David re-introduced me to David Morris and I met up with Ian Sharman from Markosia Comics who’d inked one of my comic books some years earlier. UK artist, Tim Perkins, a veteran of the Malta Comic (he’s been to all nine) was there – we had previously met but again, many years before. There were plenty of other creators in the hall, from different parts of the globe but mainly from the continent. Waiters plied us with alcohol, then local finger food was offered and it felt like we were at a wedding reception! I’d never had this kind of hospitality at previous conventions. The organisers introduced themselves and we were briefed on how the weekend would pan out. A couple more glasses of wine and then I went to bed.
On Saturday, we were ferried on two buses to the convention hall in Valletta. The journey took a while, especially in the rush hour and when the main highway into the city was being re-surfaced so we had barely five minutes to set up our tables before people came in. I was pleased that my table was just two away from Linda’s and I was opposite Ian. Next to me was Sean Azzopardi, a UK artist who I’d heard of but wasn’t familiar with. His work appealed to me and we struck up a good rapport over the weekend.
I was still nervous; my hand was shaking as I started to draw my first sketch and this was the case for a couple more hours, especially as I wasn’t selling anything! There was a constant stream of people walking past, many in cosplay and I noticed how many females, young and older there were which was hardly the case when I was more involved with comic conventions.
The convention was housed in The Mediterranean Conference Centre which was once a hospital built in the 16th century by the Order of St. John (The Knights Templar played a very important part in Malta’s history).
I did manage to sell some comics and sketches but it was a long day and we weren’t back at our hotel until gone 7.00pm. That evening, I ate in a restaurant near the sea with the two Davids, joined by another David, David Roach and Linda, Will Simpson and others, whose names escape me now! I knew of David from his work for 2000AD but didn’t realise that along with me he was selling his self-published comics on the Fast Fiction table in the early 1980’s and knew many of my contemporaries such as Eddie Campbell, Ed Pinsent, Glenn Dakin and of course Paul Gravett. We had some good chats during our stay in Malta.
After our meal, we headed for the hall in the hotel where the traditional comic convention karaoke competition was happening. This was a boisterous affair that was very enjoyable to watch and listen to but which I did not take part in! I think the organisers weren’t happy with the master of ceremonies who was a replacement for another who’d had to drop out though. He insisted on singing many of the songs himself and was obviously obsessed with Queen and Freddie Mercury as there were a lot of their songs performed! He also refused a duet of “Barcelona” with the winner of the karaoke competition because he said they weren’t good enough!
We had an extra hour in bed on Sunday morning, which was appreciated. By now I’d got the restaurant sussed and selected my breakfast like a pro! The day followed a similar pattern to the previous but with one big difference… some of us got to meet Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, the President of Malta. She spent half an hour at the convention and actually stopped at my table, shook my hand and asked whether I was a writer or artist to which I replied that I did both and colouring and that I had to multi-task. She smiled and said that she knew all about that.
Unlike Saturday I managed to leave the table and venture outside. It was a lovely Spring-like day and I wandered the streets, which at this time of the year weren’t heaving with tourists. I felt obliged to have a beer in The Pub (that is its name, just The Pub), where Oliver Reed drank his last (and far more besides) before he died. That evening, we ate in a restaurant that served vegan food and continued to chat comics and reminisce. However, I must say that it wasn’t all about comics as we had a number of conversations about politics, religion, art, culture etc which again may not have been talked about as much at conventions when I was younger.
On Monday, we were given a short guided tour of Valletta and then left to find our own lunch. A small group of us went to the only all vegetarian café in Valletta after which I left to buy some postcards to send to my Grand children. It was while I was walking down the main shopping street in Valletta that I was approached by a woman who asked whether I would like to be in a music video. I’d seen that they were filming something, stepping aside so as not to be in shot but wasn’t expecting this. I agreed and the woman then produced a paper bag with a crudely-drawn face on it that I was meant to wear on my head! I said that then nobody would know I was in the video so she said I could just hold a sign (with a short sentence written on it but I can’t remember what – it was all a surreal blur) but not to smile. I had to sign a waiver and told that the music video was for a local band called Red Electrik, who I subsequently googled are quite a big band in Malta. I later saw them filming someone else, standing in a telephone box and wearing a paper bag on his head.
On Monday evening we all met in the bar for farewell drinks, of which I’m afraid I had a number and prompting a fellow artist from Venice to ask me at breakfast on Tuesday whether I was okay because I was a bit “dizzy” the night before!
Tuesday was all spent travelling home.
I know now that shouldn’t have been so nervous and to carpe diem but unfortunately, I also know that I will still continue to worry about attending these (or any) events. C’est la vie!
Thank you to Christopher, Chris, Chris, Fabio and all the people involved in 9th Malta Comic Convention for looking after us all and organising a fantastic event.
Phil Elliott is a UK artist who has been active in the comic book industry since the mid-1970’s. He launched and co-edited the Fast Fiction fanzine in the 1980s where he introduced his bequiffed character, Gimbley. Phil was a regular contributor to the influential Escape magazine and his other work includes Illegal Alien and Bluebeard, written by James Robinson; Lucifer with Eddie Campbell; writing Absent Friends for Paul Grist; Tupelo with Matt DeGennaro; The Real Ghostbusters and illustrating Glenn Dakin’s Greenhouse Warriors, Mr Night and The Rockpool Files. He’s currently working on Princess O’Hara, an adaptation of a Damon Runyon, adapted by Paul Duncan.
As well as his own work, he has also coloured comics illustrated by other artists. These include Paul Grist, Mark Buckingham, John Ridgway, Steve Yeowell, Pia Guerra, Tim Hamilton, Hunt Emerson and Horacio Domingues. These comics were published by DC, Dark Horse, Image, IDW and Titan.
• If you are interested in buying any of Phil’s art for comics such as The Real Ghostbusters, Gimbley, Doc Chaos, Tupelo and Illegal Alien, please email him at philATelliott-design.com | Web: www.elliott-design.com
• Malta Comc Con Official Site: www.maltacomic-con.com