The hybrid medium that is the comic has, for quite a few years, been regarded as a formidable artistic/entertainment medium. It has moved away from the age-old stigma that was associated with it, where its mixture of illustration and writing through sequential storytelling was simply thought of as being a lesser option to literature on the one hand, and visual art on the other. At a time when foreign production of comics, such as in America, Japan, France and so on, were flourishing, Malta was only just finding its feet.
The first attempts at local comic creation came about in the late 70s and early 80s, with such exponents as Ġorġ Mallia, Joseph Farrugia, Mikiel Galea and Victor Pulis churning out comics for local publications such as the children’s magazine Sagħtar, that later on adopted the comic strip format extensively. According to Ġorġ Mallia, the publication of the fortnightly comics anthology Il-Komik in 1983, “filled the blank that was in the market” with around 5000 copies printed for every one of its nine issues.. Unfortunately, poor distribution killed the publication which had already found an audience.
All of which paved the way to the more vocal and active present day landscape, heavily influenced by the presence of the official Malta Comic Convention in the past five years. Dr Mallia recalls working hard with his co creators to pioneer the scene in Malta in the eighties, because “kids read the English DC Thomson comics (Beano, Dandy, etc), but none of those who really loved comics here, and had the talent to produce them, had an outlet.”
The Comic Con as an event finally offers local creators a forum in which to promote and hopefully sell their work, as well as to interact with each other and legendary foreign guests such as David Lloyd (V for Vendetta) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), to name a very few.
Micheal Quinton, co-founder of the event, and who forms part of the “Wicked Comics” team, positively says, “We definitely do have a comic scene in Malta now…we are now seeing how the initial building blocks were essential in order to create it.” A substantial increase in public attendance and interest were also noted in the last couple of years. “People are coming to the convention with objectives in mind. They want to spend money and they know what they want to buy.”
The output has no doubt been more diverse and prolific than in the past, with independent print releases such as Dean Fenech’s Apocalypse Rocked, Fabio Gangiolini’s For Gallantry along with Bernard Micallef and Jeanelle Zammit’s manga influenced publications. Alongside them were Agius and LeGalle’s graphic novel The Golden Lizard,, comics from the “Il-Komiks tas-Sikkina” team and The Pilot Comic Anthology that boasts different short comics by different creators working around the same theme. and others. Michael Quinton further stresses that the Comic Con encourages more output for the platform to keep flourishing.
Yet this being said, the same drawbacks that the original scene came across back in the eighties are still here today. The Maltese creator, be it a musician, an artist or a writer, has had to struggle with the little to no education there is on how to go about enhancing creative skills. So a certain lack of instructed approach can be observed, as Audrienne Degiorgio, co-founder of the “Pilot Collective” points out. “Even though there are attempts at establishing more know-how, the caliber is still very low… there is the need for more people who interest themselves in how a comic is made. In terms of design this is very important.”
Such a sentiment is shared by Ġorġ Mallia as well, saying that the island needs “a creative node… something like the Comics School in Malmö, Sweden, that gives a concentrated exposure of two years to people who want to do comics seriously. I believe that the market can be created if the right sort of effort is made. If the supply is good enough, maybe the demand will grow.”