Comic Book Conventions

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With not one, but two, comic book and pop culture conventions on the horizon, TEODOR RELJIC takes a peek into a burgeoning local subculture.
Autumn has apparently become the Season of the Geek in Malta, as not one but two comic book – and ‘pop culture’ – themed conventions are set to take place over the pre-Christmas period.

While the Malta Comic Con – taking place on 28 and 30 November – is now entering its sixth edition, it has suddenly found itself facing what could be a competing celebration of comic book, film and cartoon fandom: the ‘Malta Comics Expo’, debuting over the Halloween weekend this year and featuring The Hobbit, Game of Thrones and A-Team actors among its guests-cum-attractions.

That the Malta Comic Con – a consistently well-attended yearly attraction at St James Cavalier, Valletta – continues to attract high profile names in the field while catering to an ever-expanding audience of fans of all ages is not to be sniffed at, given Malta’s size.

So it’s even more surprising that a new ‘Con’ – of sorts – has arrived on the block.

But far from wanting to carve an entirely new niche for themselves, the organisers of the Malta Comics Expo – taking place on 31 October and 1 and 2 November at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta – are ambitious in their plans for the newly minted event.

“We don’t want to carve a niche. We’re looking to build a platform for all fans of comics and pop culture,” a spokesperson for the Expo said, adding that “unlike any existing events in Malta,” the organisers of the Expo did not limit themselves to “just one branch of the hobby nor restrict ourselves to a specific age bracket”.

Indeed, unlike the Malta Comic Con, which is organised by Wicked Comics, the Expo is placing film and television stars front-and-centre in its bid to attract a more wide-ranging audience. Among them will be A-Team star Dirk Benedict (aka ‘Faceman’ from the cult 80s TV show), former Dr Who Sylvester McCoy (more recently Radagast the Brown from The Hobbit) and Joseph Gatt – the London-raised, LA-based actor who, born to Maltese parents, subsequently went on to appear in Thor (2009) and shows like Banshee and, more recently, Game of Thrones.

“We hope that the fans will enjoy the opportunity to meet their favourite stars and artists. That we give the attendees value for money,” the spokesperson said, adding that the Expo also hopes to exploit an entrepreneurial angle to local fandom.

“We are targeting enthusiasts and stakeholders. Malta has a large fanbase and has also proven in the past to be popular with video game companies and film producers as a popular destination. We want to help promote Malta as an ideal destination for these industries to work in.”

A spokesperson for Malta Comic Con said that, “the organisation of a similar event by third parties does in part reflect the growth experienced in the local comic scene, and may perhaps even offer a valid contribution towards it. Ultimately it all depends on the quality of the event in question”.

They however added that the timing of the event is somewhat unfortunate, owing to the fact that from a marketing perspective, the events appear to be catering to similar audiences and interests, which “may lead to some confusion”.

Starting off as a relatively modest showcase of comic books and related fandom in 2009 (though it did boast one star guest, V for Vendetta’s David Lloyd), the organisers of the Comic Con are proud of how far the Con has come.

Significantly, the Con has served to not only provide local comic book fans with an opportunity to meet some of their favourite creators, but also as an incubator of local talent – among them Daniela ‘Iella’ Attard, an artist currently working for Cartoon Network’s European Branch, and Stefan Agius, who is doing colouring work for British publisher Wizard’s Keep.

London-based comic book podcaster Chris Thompson – who has visited every single edition of the Malta Comic Con barring its first – finds this aspect of the Con refreshing.

As host of the Orbital Comics and Pop Culture Hound podcasts, Thompson has interviewed a number of luminaries in the field and been a veteran of the largest international Cons.

“The Malta Comic Con is unique, and I like it. There’s nothing else quite like it, nor should there be. There are similar cons like NICE in the UK and DICE in Ireland, which value a more intimate setting for both creators and fans, but the setting in Malta makes it a real destination,” Thompson told MaltaToday, adding that “there’s a genuine innocence and appreciation there which other places sometimes lack”.

Though the meteoric rise of superhero blockbuster films over the past few years may have helped to galvanize the comic book industry across the globe, it has also smothered comic book conventions around the world, with movies taking precedence over comics.

According to Thompson, this is far from the case with the Malta Comic Con.

“It’s not a show that’s been diluted by celebrity and cheap tie-ins – it’s a genuine comic con, which is something I appreciate most of all.”

Having visited consecutive editions of the Con, Thompson is heartened to observe what seems to be a burgeoning culture of Maltese comic book creators, as well as fans.

“To meet someone at one con, and then have them turn up with their own comic at the next show is beyond exciting… I live for that stuff, and it energises me,” Thompson says.

“Even if their stuff isn’t yet that accomplished, it’s the gumption to have a go and take part which inspires me. Plus, practice makes perfect, and I’ve seen such incredible growth. This is due in no small part to the organisers of Malta Comic Con, and I just hope the local community recognises and understands this.”

by Teodor Reljic | 8 October 2014, 8:13am

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