You have your upper echelon of national comic book industries and fandoms (referred to in this review as ’comics scenes’, a term we use in Serbian), with the primacy held by the United States’ comics, French (and Belgian) Bandes dessinées, and Japanese manga. Then you have your second-tier comics scenes, such as Italian, British, Korean, German, and Spanish comics. A little lower on the tier list you’ll find Canadian, Argentinian, Chinese, Indian, Russian, and Polish comics.
But what of those small comics scenes, the ones that don’t end up in the spotlight of the free market? For example, there’s an active Mongolian comics scene, with some interesting titles to offer. In addition, Nigeria has its own active publishers, eager to work on homebrew projects (though it’s not exactly news that African authors unite and kickstart their own initiatives for promoting comic books native to their continent). The Philipinos have established their own comics scene long ago with all of their series, authors, and festivals, and the Thai authors and fans are by no means far behind them. My personal and criminally underpromoted favorite happens to be the Singaporeans, taking massive leaps entering the world’s comic book market. Mexicans also ought to receive a mention, especially considering their extensive history with this medium, and though the comic books of the Dominican Republic don’t have a long history of their own, the local scene definitely has people willing to promote homegrown works and local authors when and where the need arises. Now, if you want me to get all local-patriotic on you, I will definitely give honorable mentions to the unstoppable comics scenes of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (both entities included, of course), Macedonia (North now, sans adjective in the olden days), Slovenia and Montenegro.
Oh, I intend to write about all of the subjects mentioned above at some point (histories of comics in the countries listed above, individual authors, publishers, titles, etc.), that’s definitely coming down the pipeline. But all of this excitement on my part with these (only technically speaking) small and obscure comics scenes serves as the perfect introduction to the topic of this review. Namely, we’re about to delve into a brand new comic book mini-series from the not-so-distant country of Malta, a mini-series titled Mibdul.
The first issue of Mibdul came out relatively recently, in April of 2022, published by Merlin Publishers Ltd. Naturally, this isn’t the first comic book by domestic authors published in Malta (what’s more, Merlin Publishers itself has some interesting old titles that I recommend checking out), but it’s nonetheless refreshing to see a brand new series meant precisely for the domestic Maltese market. It gets rather intriguing, however, when you realize who the authors of this mini-series are. Its script was written by Teodor Reljić, with the artwork done by Inez Kristina Baldacchino. What’s that? The names don’t sound Maltese to you? That’s becaue Reljić is Serbian by origin, and Kristina is part-Maltese, part-Norwegian. I stress this particular point because in one interview, if I’m not mistaken (or maybe it was during the crowdfunding campaign for the project) the authors themselves made a bit of a joke, how it took a Norwegian and a Serb to start the first ongoing comic book series in Malta. Rather silly, and I can’t help but giggle at that particular line. But let’s quickly go over the technical stuff. The series is set to cap off at 6 issues in total, printed in soft-cover books 22 pages each (a standard page-rate for modern American comics, incidentally), and it will be a monthly publication. In other words, come October, we will see the grand finale of this project.
Now, what’s the project itself like? Well, I had the opportunity to keep track of it dilligently since its early days, and have remained in touch with both Teodor and Inez in the meantime (and yes, I am purposefully switching to first-name basis here). And since I promised both of them a review of the series – and made additional promises to give it a fair, objective and unbiased review – it’s high time I fulfilled said promises. And as a big thank you to both Teodor and Inez for their patience, this review will be published both in Serbian and in English (a decision agreed on by Miloš Simić, the owner and main editor of Strip Blog, whom all three of us are grateful to). So let’s get going then!
So, the main plot of the first episode of Mibdul takes place on the planet of the same name, a tiny insignificant rock wedged between two massive planets called Treaty and Velocifero. In order to keep things simple, I will not be translating these names into Serbian nor modify them phonetically – they stay as they appear in the original book. So, Mibdul, a planet which had gained independence relatively recently in the series’ continuity, is now goingt through a massive technological transition period where massive projects in the field of industry, energetics, and other related economic sectors are taking place. The planet’s prime minister Robberbarron is spearheading this initiative, with his stance being objected to by the part of the local population that doesn’t want to see its planet polluted and drilled until it’s sucked dry of its resources. The protagonist of this story is Magla (yes, that is her name; incidentally, magla is a Serbian word literally meaning ’fog’), a young lady whose late mother was one of the activists that stood up against the current regime multiple times in the past. And as Magla, much to her chagrin, observes her planet slowly decaying, all while she’s training her body and mind, the representatives of the powers that be and the large corporations are constantly plotting something in the background. Their plans of construction and progress, however, will be thwarted by the very planet itself, in a fairly obvious way.
There’s plenty here to go over, so let’s start with the writing. Reljić uses simple and easy-to-understand language throughout the story, the kind which goes straight to the point. From the get-go, we see who our main characters are and who the villains will be, as well as what motivates each side regarding their worldviews. We also see that very little worldbuilding was done in Mibdul, which is to be expected considering it’s only the first issue. Furthermore, Reljić leaves enough room to readers to wonder what might come next, with just enough mystery to tickle their fancy. For his first outing into comic book writing, Reljić definitely shows a lot of promise.
Naturally, there are some sections of the story that don’t exactly mesh well. For instance, an average reader might look at the characters of Mibdul and conclude that they might be reading another woke comic. I should stress something at this point. Modern stories that contain woke elements are horrible most of the time (e.g. America), but they can also be quite good (e.g. Arcane), and I say this as someone who is sick and tired of woke stories. Fortunately, Mibdul doesn’t suffer from the negative traits that such stories may carry. However, what i personally did not enjoy was the one-sided representation of the topic of ecoogical issues of a planet and the two opposing sides on that subject. The debate on global warming, pollution, and similar issues is immensely complicated, and the ’corporations bad, nature-loving activists good’ division does not help the conversation one bit, but merely oversimplifies a serious issue too much.
There, we heaped both praise and criticism upon Teodor (chuckle), so let’s put Inez through the wringer a bit. Regarding the artwork of Mibdul, I’d say that Kristina’s art style isn’t particularly suitable for an action series set in outer space. Of course, the action is secondary to this story, but I’d imagine that something a bit more realistic would work here a bit better. That still doesn’t change the fact that Kristina wields her pen with expertise and that her characters come to life with each subsequent page. Her style is obviously inspired by web comics created by authors of the current generation, and though I personally prefer something a bit more classic (and occassionally something a bit more insane), I’ll stress that this particular art style is refreshing for European comics in general. A vast number of young readers adores the very designs of characters and locations that we find in Mibdul; in other words, Kristina was the perfect artist to carry the series, and if I were asked whom I’d choose instead of her, I’d stress that the artist stays exactly where she is and that there will be no changes.
Now, should you start buying Mibdul and is the mini-series available to the Serbian readers, as well as other readers across Europe? The answer to both of those questions is a resounding Chad Yes. I’ve ordered my own copy recently – the price is low, and the shipping cost me next to nothing. Therefore, fellow lovers of the Ninth Art, I wholeheartedly recommend buying and reading Mibdul as a wonderful little introduction into the world of Maltese comics, but also as a cute little tale of progress, nature, corruption, tradition, family, friends, and a future dangerously lacking in certainty. You can find all of that in Issue #1, and I honestly can’t wait for the next one to come out.
by Ivan Veljković, May 10th 2022
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