Comic about prejudice against Maltese enters international competition

A four-page comic highlighting prejudice against the Maltese is currently in competition on an Italian-based, EU-funded website,

‘The Problem’ by Thomas Cuschieri recounts a racist incident involving two Maltese people in a British bar.
‘The Problem’ by Thomas Cuschieri recounts a racist incident involving two Maltese people in a British bar.

In what comes across as a case of the 'tables being turned', against the background of the ongoing 'pushback' controversy, the comic - entitled 'The Problem' - depicts a scenario in which Maltese people are discriminated against due to the sound of the Maltese language.

Created by Maltese illustrator Thomas Cuschieri - who is currently finishing an MA in sequential design in Brighton - the comic is actually based on a real-life incident involving two of Cuschieri's friends.

While out drinking and chatting at a pub in the UK, the two friends were rudely interrupted by the barman, who emptied their drinks and asked them to leave. But upon learning that they pair were in fact from Malta - and not a country that the barman happened to be prejudiced against - the barman invited them back into the pub, for drinks on the house.

Adopting an overarching tone of ironic humour, the narrator of the comic then goes on to explain what lies at the 'problem' of this and other similar situations:

"Turns out that it was just a language problem... he'd only mistaken them for people he hated...! Maltese is a Semitic language, but it's written with the Latin script. It is the only such language in the world. I like this fact a lot. For me it expresses our potential to bridge cultures. One time, after I'd retold the story of my friends in the pub, some bright spark offered the following insight: 'The problem is when you speak Maltese quickly it sounds like Arabic...'

"Yes, there is a problem, but that's not really it."

Speaking to MaltaToday, Cuschieri said that the incident was an obvious choice for him to adapt for a comic within the remit of this competition.

"Initially I considered twinning it with my own experience of being constantly mistaken for a foreigner in Malta - the typical phrase being 'I'm sorry I was so rude to you, I thought you were foreign'.

"But in the end I opted to focus on the one incident, together with the reaction to the story, as I felt this made for a stronger piece. I also wanted to avoid portraying myself as a victim of prejudice in any significant way - truth is my own experiences amount to little more than a handful of trivial anecdotes."

Cuschieri also said that the comic marks his attempt at using the medium to comment on social issues related to the Maltese context in as mature a way as possible.

"Some years ago I drew a comic about how the comments on the Times of Malta website made me want to stick forks in my eyes. I guess this comic is me pulling the forks out again and trying to do something a little more constructive to tackle the issue."

Making reference to the award-winning, Maltese-born comic-book-creator-cum-journalist Joe Sacco - whose comic on illegal immigration in Malta, 'Not in my Country' made the rounds on social media in the wake of the 'pushback' controversy last week - Cuschieri believes that while comics may not intrinsically have any advantage over other media, "there's something special about being able to pack a genuine and meaningful emotional punch into a few simple lines and a handful of words. Maybe that does give comics something of an edge".

But beyond all this, the real 'problem', according to Cuschieri, "is a genuine lack of being able to empathise, and anything that counters that is a good thing".

Read 'The Problem' online.