Fighting for a ‘just cause’ – whatever it may be | William Calleja

Teodor Reljic speaks to Malta-born, Sicily-trained illustrator William Calleja about his upcoming debut comic, The Just Cause Society, a ‘Dieselpunk’ superhero story that channels the vibe of 1940s pulp fiction 

The art style for the comic book derives from a vast variety of factors
The art style for the comic book derives from a vast variety of factors

How would you describe the comic, and what format would it take?

The comic is an action adventure story set in the the second world war with super heroes fighting the good fight against the Nazi invaders. The comic genre and style is Dieselpunk with character designs, costumes, vehicles and equipment designed to capture the industrial/art-deco stylings of the era. This will be the first in what will hopefully become a series of stories that will follow the adventures of the  titular Just Cause Society, a group of superheroes who fight for whichever cause they deem to be just. The book will be an American Format book of 24 pages in full colour, inside and out, released both as a physical book and as a digital download. 

When did you first decide to start working on a comic book, and why did you settle on this particular style and genre?

The decision to become a published author came three years ago when I started a course in comic art and illustration in a foreign country. I’ve always been fascinated by comics and animation and have been an avid reader of mainstream and independent comic books from a very young age so the want to make my very own book has followed me throughout most of my life.

The art style for the comic book derives from a vast variety of factors. I draw mostly similar to the artists that inspire me and that I admire personally, artist like Arthur Adams, Joe Madureira, Roberto Di Salvo, J. Scott Campbell and Ryan Ottley to name a few. As for the writing, I’ve always been a big fan of the old timey serials that used to play in movie theatres and the works that they inspired (Flash Gordon, Doc Savage, Lone Ranger). From Duck Tales, to Disney’s Atlantis and Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones Series, the action pulp of the 40s are all glitz, glamour and pulse pounding action; a style of storytelling which I would like to see more of in the present day.

The genre of the book is Dieselpunk, a genre which is often incorrectly confused with its more popular – and Victorian-oriented – Steampunk. Essentially Dieselpunk is the genre of the first Captain America film (The First Avenger), Rocketeer, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the Iron Giant and as the aforementioned Indiana Jones series. The genre captures the style and trappings of a brief era in history with its unique visual vocabulary, immediately recognizable architecture, an adherence to form and function which is all a mix that I find to be both beautiful and rare. I simply chose Dieselpunk because I want to see more of it and the best way to achieve that is to inspire others to love it the same way I do.

The genre of the book is Dieselpunk
The genre of the book is Dieselpunk

How would you describe your training so far, and would you recommend a similar path to any other Malta-based aspiring illustrators/comic book artists? 

The training has been a challenge from beginning to end but a thoroughly rewarding one. The school which I am currently attending, the ‘Scuola Del Fumetto - Palermo’, offers an intense full time course. We have lessons five times a week for four hours a day, and enough work to do at home on our own to occupy most of our time. Whoever is interested in becoming a full time professional in the field of commercial artistry should seriously consider taking this course or something similar. I have had the opportunity to work with industry professionals who both guided me in my studies and in the best way to turn what used to be a hobby into a fully blown career. By working close with the school and its pro teachers I’ve become much more comfortable with approaching editors, publishers and clients. My only caveat would be to commit fully to the endeavour. This path isn’t easy and it demands a lot of attention, focus and discipline on the part of the student. Whoever embarks on it must be ready and willing to stay the course all the way.

From your vantage point, what are some of the advantages of being a Maltese visual artist? 

In particular within the Italian market as a relative outsider to the industry I come in with a fresh take and unique outlook, both in the way I draw and write. Without much effort by being born and raised in Malta, my cultural influences have inevitably led to me create stories and images that my peers simply haven’t thought of. I’m effortlessly original in a way. Maltese creatives have a lot to offer the industry, in the images we depict and the stories we tell, simply because we have somethign new and alternative to say and to show.

Do you think that moving abroad is an inevitable reality of all (or most) Maltese artists?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is inevitable, especially since a lot of the work that a commercial visual artists produces can be entirely handled online from start to finish however from an industry point of view those of us who are willing to move broad and meet foreign professionals will alway have a big advantage over those who don’t. By beign close to others who are either doing my profession or are in the process of becoming professional I have built a portfolio of contacts and mentors the likes of which would be hard to cultivate by through a computer screen or across a forum. Simply by looking at the sheet of paper of the student next to me, or even better the teacher, while they are drawing I manage to understand and learn far more than I could with a tutorial or through reading an art book. Today there are many tools for a young aspiring artist to turn their passion into profit but the ‘traditional mentorship way’ is in my opinion still the best way.

What’s next for you?

I will be currently finishing work on the first pilot issue of the Just Cause Society which will be available both as a physical book and in digital online. In the meantime, I will continue working on commission for private clients and will be looking for work with editors and publishing houses in Europe and abroad. I expect to have all work for my current comic book done by the end of August, so you can take that as a tentative release date. 

The book will be an American Format book of 24 pages in full colour
The book will be an American Format book of 24 pages in full colour

To stay updated on the progress of Just Cause Society and be privy to regular previews and sketches, log on to its Facebook page: