Reeling them in with the freebies? Sort of... | Ryan Scicluna

Graphic Novel Library of Malta chairperson Ryan Scicluna speaks about the upcoming Free Comic Book Day... and why it means a lot more than just freebie comics for both Malta’s budding comic book culture, as well as the educational sphere as a whole

Ryan Scicluna
Ryan Scicluna

How would you describe Free Comic Book Day to the ‘lay reader’, and how do you hope the Graphic Novel Library will benefit from such an initiative?

If I had to describe Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) to someone I would start by asking them if they like to read comics, then ask them if they wish to get comics for free. Basically, that’s what FCBD is, free comics to anyone who visits us either at the Public Library in the morning or at the Baystreet shopping complex in the afternoon. Thanks to the National Book Council and Wicked Comics we can organize this event on a yearly schedule. The reasoning behind this, is to provide comic book enthusiasts with a teaser of upcoming comics and also give people an occasion to try out comics if they never experienced reading them before. This makes it a perfect event to explore the medium and maybe get interested to get to know new characters and experience new stories in a new format, graphic novels/comics.

We want to help people who find it difficult to read or do not know from where they should start, when it comes to comics. FCBD offers an event where such people can meet with other people who might be long-time comic book readers and together explore comics and browse through the graphic novels available to borrow for free and in the meantime get some free comics.

FCBD opens up a new world to library patrons and comic book fans. It is the best way to get comics for free, make new friends and get inspired to read or even get ideas for your own comics. The GNL will benefit by attracting new readers and get new people who might never have read a comic to use it.

Hopefully any new comic book readers will want to use the Graphic Novels Collection at the Public Library as there are a number of different genres for all ages.

What has the feedback to the Graphic Novel Library been like so far? Would you say there is a healthy – or at least, promising – budding comic book culture in Malta, to speak of?

The GNLM received very positive feedback from library patrons about the collection available at the Central Public Library. The GNLM offers maybe different genres from superheroes, biographies and classic literature turned into comics, sci-fi, adventure and many more. It is a very good feeling when I see parents visiting the library with their children and both borrow something from the comics’ collection. The response is so good that recently GNLM received a donation of graphic novels from the US Embassy to further expand the GN collection at CPL. The official donation will take place on May 12 at 10:00 at the Central Public Library. We also get a number of suggestions for future purchases to be added to the collection. This is exactly what the NGO GNLM wanted, as it creates a community to develop the collection. It’s sort of a collection managed with its patrons, which is ideal.

GNLM also organises a comic book related course every Saturday at CPL. One of the courses is all about learning how to create comics, structure stories and develop characters, while the other focuses on learning about different types, genres, authors and graphic novels that have shaped the comic book industry. The purpose for these courses is to provide a way for participants to use the collection and provide them with a guide for exploring the world of comics. 

In Malta we have a very sizeable comic book community, which is giving rise to some amazing talent. Combine this with a number of initiatives by local entities to promote culture and the arts, and a solid crowd funding platform (zaar.com.mt) to help independent creators get the funds they need for their projects, make this the perfect time to get into comics, especially for the local scene. 

Each year the attendance at the Malta Comic Con is increasing, so much so that last year Wicked Comics organized the event in one of the biggest venues so far, the MFCC in Ta Qali. This is a very promising development for any Maltese who like pop-culture and comics.

The Graphic Novel Library and Wicked Comics will be organising Free Comic Book Day on 6 May
The Graphic Novel Library and Wicked Comics will be organising Free Comic Book Day on 6 May

What, in your opinion, would be the most pro-active way of promoting comic books in society at large?

Comic book culture has been evolving for quite some time now. The past taboo of comics being for children or the opposite, for adults with too much violence and gore, has changed. People are more open to the idea of reading comics and graphic novels and this was thanks to the Marvel movies who have reach a large audience and emphasized the fact that whether you are seeing a movie about Captain America or reading the comic, the most important thing, is the story and how the characters develop. This gives writer and creators a priority over story content. The exciting part is that comics explore subjects which might be very hard to deal in a movie or a long novel. 

My advice to promote comics in society is to show how connected stories in comics are to the real world. For example, discussions on human rights can be paired with graphic novels or comics that actually focus on such a subject. Having local creators write stories about real issues in a local setting will make the general public more aware of the power of comics. One of the best ways to promote comics is always to collaborate with creators and entities in events in any possible form. 

Organizing events in public spaces together with other creators, entities and organizations that share a common interest will give any event more possibility of success and if working on a project, it will give the project more chances to get funding and be successful. 

Also, comics are the perfect tools to promote literacy, which gives makes them the perfect resources to be used in schools. This obviously does not apply to every comic, in the same way that it cannot apply to movies and books. If teachers and educators can use comics in the right way, they will inspire students who usually don’t like to read, to give comics a try. 

What’s next for the Graphic Novel Library?

The GNL at the CPL is slowly growing each year with small additions and donations by various individuals. As an NGO, we act as custodians to the collection, promoting it and organising events around it. We are currently working on a number of projects to help shine an even brighter spotlight on the collection. We are developing a several short graphic novels with local creators with the aim to give exposure to local artists and also give the artists and writers the space to tell stories with a Maltese flavor. 

One other project in development is the collaboration with an upcoming entity that will organise a number of events during the year in order to help raise funds for different charities. Nothing is confirmed as of yet about this project, but we hope we can announce this soon. We are really excited to be part of it and working on it. This is very different from anything GNLM has ever done before, but we feel that since we received such an impressive response from our fundraising campaign last summer... why not help others in need?

The Graphic Novel Library and Wicked Comics will be organising Free Comic Book Day on May 6 at the Central Public Library in Floriana from 09:00 to 12:00 and Baystreet Shopping Complex, St Julian’s from 14:00 to 17:00

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