Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Reviews in Stuff Magazine #2 by Dean Francis Alfar

ANGEL ACE by Filipino creator/artist Marco Dimaano is an exuberant rendering of a good story, told with an honest heart and drawn by a sincere hand. This small comic book unravels the touching origin of Angel and the genesis of her relationship with her guardian Gregor. Both the book's style and pacing own much to manga (Japanese comics), infusing the end result with freshness and promise-- there is nothing more breathtaking than seeing Angel in flight. (Yes, she flies!) Dimaano's rough spots are forgivable, as his potential as one of the country's young storytellers in this medium is evident. Unlike other self-proclaimed "writers" and "artists" in the medium, Dimaano sees no need for self-aware, falsely "deep", masturbatory mumbo-jumbo. Seek this out-- intelligent Filipino comics are alive in the new millennium!

ANGEL ACE is an exuberant rendering of a good story, told with an honest heart and drawn by a sincere hand. The book's style and pacing own much to manga (Japanese comics), infusing the end result with freshness and promise-- there is nothing more breathtaking than seeing Angel in flight. Seek this out-- intelligent Filipino comics are alive in the new millennium!

Comicbook Dotcoms and other Profound Shenanigans
By Dandi Galvez
Philippine Star, 12 March 2001, page S-6

I am reminded of a little-known comic book series published a few years ago called WASTED. Written and penciled by a local talent Gerry Alanguilan, WASTED followed the life of Eric, a musician who self-destructs after his girlfriend cheats on him—a common scenario that happens to the best of us, although most would rather not go on a killing spree. Eric guns down and mains everyone that pisses him off, from a door-to-door gospel preacher to some guy smoking a cigarette in a jeepney. Containing subtle but effective imagery, WASTED features a came of a certain ex-president.

Still available in most comic book shops as a compilation, I wondered if there was anything about it on the Net. A quick search revealed a site for anyone following the Pinoy comic book scene. Alamat.com contains the latest news by the comic book publisher Alamat Comics. Aside from WASTED, the site features comic book links on the new releases and updates on book signings and appearances.

Already hailed as an “early work by a potentially brilliant creators,” by Eisner Award-winning writer/illustrator Warren Ellis, WASTED is now being serialized in the back pages of PULP Magazine.

Another site I stumbled upon was Bobongpinoy,com. “Stumbled” is the operative word because I did not seek the site on purpose, nor did I input a derogatory attack on various Net search engines. It’s actually listed as a link on some sites with the ubiquitous warning, “Mag-ingat sa aso.” I was supposed to go to the Blue Oyster Cult page when the mouse slipped and clicked on the link directly beside it.

A member of the Internet Satirical Newspaper Association, Bobong Pinoy is a site where Filipinos can say whatever they want and anything they want it. It provides a platform for free speech that, ironically, our democracy has shackled a bit. In here, you have the right to criticize your public officials and poke fun at them in the most heinous of manners. A site that tells it like it is, Bobong Pinoy is an eye opener to the conservative who stand fast within the borders of Pleasantvile.

Not for the passive and weak of heart, the site contains social commentary that questions established institutions and way Philippine society works. Don’t let the satires fool you. All topics are serious, yet lade with humor reminiscent of The Sic O’clock News. I got a kick out of their cartoon link. Just click on “comics” at the sidebar and turn up the volume.

Sites like Alamat.com and Bobongpinoy.com will make you realize in an instant what you’re missing. It is chance to see ourselves in front of a mirror, to see our growing creativity, and to laugh at our shortcomings.

“A Book of Spells”
by Natalia F. Diaz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Thursday, June 24, 1999

It is a rare and beautiful moment when a line from a book manages to grip your soul. This usually doesn’t happen while reading cheesy romance novels or sellout lawyer stories scheduled for the next Hollywood project. Soul-grabbing moments usually occur with books that speak to you. Words are then not simply black and white prints on a page, but rather spells that summon memories, conjure moments and rekindle emotions you thought were long dead.

On the Verge by Karen Kunawicz is indeed a book of spells. A “soul-grabber” so to speak. You read lines from her essays and often stop to wonder if you’ve known the author in a past life, because it is as if she had written for you and solely you.

The book is a compilation of Kunawicz’ selected essays throughout the years, divided into chapters of “Love,” “Twilight,” “Neverland,” “Interviewed People,” and “Writing.”

Unique memories

They are unique memories and anecdotes strung together to form the tapestry of Karen’s life, with superb illustrations capturing the gothic landscape from the Alamat artists. Her topics shift from the cataclysmic to the mundane—delving into various subjects such as the pain of heartbreak, the world of solitude, the realm of vampires, the philosophy of Rastafarianism. You’re taken back to Dredd nights, you’re infected with Johnny Depp and Eric Draven obsessions and you’re suddenly craving for chocolate milk. Yet even as they relate Karen’s own experiences, you cannot help but reread them for they bring about pangs of recognition.

In one essay, “The Sound of One’s Heart Breaking,” she explores the pain of lost live, describing it with powerful metaphors that so eloquently describe the intense emotion of heartbreak—“it’s the sound of a cherub’s dying breath, the sound of all those years disappearing in the vortex of Cupid’s kitchen sink.”

The ordinary likewise becomes extraordinary in the book, for some of the essays explore such facets of our world usually taken for granted.

In the essay “Here She Comes Again,” she writes about her fascination for the rain. (After reading this, you would never want to shoo the rain again!) “Fool Moon” is another unique and dreamy piece that takes you to European castles and mountaintops drenched with the light of a full moon.

Dark undertones

The book has dark undertones throughout, but it is not devoid of humor. It is actually quite endearing for it is stewed in the author’s eccentricities. Another favorite essay is “What I Would Do With a Steak Knife on a Date,” wherein Karen relates her blind date from hell experience. “V is for Vampire” is a humorous piece on the perks of being a preternatural creature of the night.

Another reason On the Verge is highly readable is the fact that it is written with such unpretentious language, and every essay is insightful.

It could be described as midnight rain—gloomy, yet comforting at the same time. It may have cynical tones, but it is definitely NOT angst-ridden. (And thank God for that, for angst is soooo two years ago!) Even as Kunawicz dwells on such esoterica as vampires and pixie dust, she manages to keep it light and down to earth, as if you were reading the journal of an older sister.

On the Verge is definitely a literary and visual spell. Anyone with a soul should read it, preferably on a rainy night with a cup of hot chocolate on the side.

Anti-Estrada movement lives in cyberspace
By Joey G. Alarilla


AS the age of electronic democracy finally lives up to its hype, the Internet is becoming an important battleground for the groundswell of opposition to President Estrada, whose administration is now facing its worst crisis in the face of jueteng payoff allegations and the
ghost of scandals past and present.

And, in cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream in protest.

This is not only shown by the deluge of feedback and opinion poll responses that the INQUIRER's online edition at www.inquirer.net and its Bad Bets Jueteng Special Edition has generated, but also the different Philippine websites monitoring the jueteng scandal or calling for President Estrada's resignation or impeachment.

Take, for example, Pinoy.TV at www.pinoy.tv, which was the first local site to focus on online audio and video streaming a few months ago. Like ChannelOne.TV at www.channelone.tv, these sites aim to be online news channels, offering audio and video coverage of the jueteng scandal.

Of course, cyberspace is also being used in support of the beleaguered Chief Executive. While President Estrada probably does not spend time surfing the Net himself, www.erap.com does try to present the official online news and views from MalacaƱang.

Following the eruption (or Eraption, as the case may be) of the present political crisis as a result of Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson's accusations, the ImpeachErapNow site at www.impeacherapnow.com was born.

The newly set up site openly calling for Mr. Estrada's impeachment features electronic documents, an open letter from activist and intellectual leader Ed Olaguer, and links to the INQUIRER's online articles and Bad Bets website.

Another political site is the People's Action to Remove Erap or Pare site at www.geocities.com/tfdp_ncr/. Set up by a coalition of activist groups and nongovernment organizations, this site not only advocates Estrada's removal, whether resignation or
impeachment, but also vehemently rejects Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as his successor.

"She cannot be part of the solution. A more likely scenario is that in replacing Erap she will take over as the Queen of Jueteng," the site states, referring to Macapagal's alleged close
association with jueteng operators herself.

Another interesting site is Erap Resign Central at www.alamat.com/baylans/erap_resign.html. This is actually an online movement launched by the people behind the local Alamat Comics Group that has gained a following in the country, creating quite a stir among comic book aficionados a few years back. The group has released "Baylans: Hack the Culture," a three-issue cyberpunk/dark fantasy comic book now available at Comic Quest outlets.

As the synopsis posted on the site relates, the story takes place in the year 2004, two years after a successful coup d'etat against the Estrada administration. In a Philippines once again under martial law, the hero, a hacker named Jonas Arcanghel, discovers an artifact that prophesies the return of what is supposed to be the first Filipino nation--an ancient Malayan civilization whose society is based on magic.

For the less arcane, check out http://eraption.iwarp.com for the Erap Scandals and Brouhahas page, which details the numerous Estrada administration scandals that have plagued the nation. This site has been around long before the jueteng scandal. Other anti-Erap sites include the Erap Sucks Page at www.geocities.com/erapsucks/main.htm, which leads me to believe that Erap and Mr. Belvedere from the old TV series were actually separated at birth.

Of course, this is hardly an exhaustive list of the different Erap-related sites that have existed for some time now or that have popped up recently. Still, as the protest movement against President Estrada grows, one thing's for sure—Philippine cyberspace will also loudly echo the people's voice.

Angel Ace: The Rebirth
By Chrissie Mata


In the mid-nineties, a small bunch of people were introduced to a darling girl--of the cute-from-the-next-door variety--named Angela Gale. She was the ideal girl: kind, charming, gorgeous, funny and independent. And, oh yes, she could fly. Huh? Angela Gale is the main character in Alamat Comics' latest offering, entitled Angel Ace and she indeed swept us off our feet.

Angel Ace had all the makings of a great comic: an interesting and involving story, a really wonderful main character, the makings of a romance, funny moments and super endearing supporting characters. But then, financing reared its ugly head and after a dismal financial showing after the second issue, project Angel Ace had to be abandoned in pursuit of more lucrative endeavors.

But you can't keep a good thing bottled up for long, so five years later, Angel takes flight once more in Angel Ace: Again.

"It's Manga (Japanese comics) by a Filipino artist," says creator Marc Dimaano, who works at multi-awarded ad agency BBDO-Guerrero. "I read this Manga called Oh My Goddess! and I was fascinated by the fact that you could actually make a love story interesting." This challenge, along with the wonderful artwork for the Manga, prompted Marc to grab a bunch of copy paper from in between magazine pages, folded and stapled them and started drawing a girl with airman's goggles who was floating. Angel Ace was born.

Angel Ace: Again is actually the second serving of the Angel Ace series. It first came out in 1995 with what is now called the "blue issue" which introduces Angel, her surrogate father Gregor, her love interest Mike the serious and dreamy journalist and his goofball video game-freak best buddy Ripley. The nice thing about it, despite being a pilot issue, is it drops you right smack into the action so you were in the thick of things at once. It was then followed by the "red issue", which featured two side-stories Night Plight and Hunter's Heart which zeroed-in on erstwhile enemy Kai, a ninja assassin, and Rip.

Then came the funding menace. The first two issues where a financial failure so Angel lost her backing. In search of good Pinoy comics to market in the States, Alamat decided to include Angel Ace among the chosen few. While the international scene has yet to bite, it was not a total loss, because Angel Ace flies once more in Philippine skies. And this time, it's got more action partnered with more Manga-ish art plus a cuter Angel. Instead of continuing where he dropped off, Marc decided to start with a clean slate so it's issue #1 again. New readers don't have to worry because you don't have to have read the previous Angel Ace series to enjoy the latest helping. Angel Ace: again #1 starts with the blue issue also but this time, it's presented as a four part series (for purposes of financial viability). A lot of new things will be happening, such as shocking revelations, and we could also expect an Angel Ace origin story somewhere in the future. And Mike might finally persuade Angel and Kai to visit the Philippines, so imagine Angel and Kai eating fishballs and isaw (barbecued pork or chicken intestines).

This time around, Angel's stronger and even cuter and she has more fight scenes. Marc also believes that she has more heart, so she's more emotional this time around. Especially since her relationship with Mike will be made more obvious. Then, there's her antithesis Kai who is broody and dark. She follows a strict Ninja code and she takes guilt seriously. Kai does have a goofy side though, and it is Angel who brings out that goofiness. The character creation of both girls were inspired by other Anime personalities. Angel, Marc says, could be likened to Kenshin of Samurai X who's cheerful, a bit goofy and very kind. Kai is more like Ninja Scroll's Kagero, the dark ninja girl.

One thing you might want to look for in the back issues is that transitional issue between the 1st and 2nd series, Lone Wolf and Cherub, the white issue of the 1st series and issue zero of the second series. It features a back story on how Angel and her foster dad Gregor got together. It's action-packed and really cute, with Angel presented as a young girl who can't even speak English! Don't bother searching for the blue and red issues though, they're out of print, so you can consider them collectors' items.

On the whole, if you're searching for a new comic series which combines fun, romance, action, mystery and a bit of the fantasy for a good measure, check out Angel Ace. Not only will you get a visual feast, but it is a satisfying read as well. To quote Marc Dimaano, "It's Angel Ace for the year 2000: so she's bigger, better, stronger, faster, and cuter." Get ready to soar!

'Night' and gay
By Ruel S. de Vera

Inquirer News Service

One Night in Purgatory
Written and illustrated by Carlo Vergara
Alamat Comics and Quest Ventures, Mandaluyong, 2001
56 pages

"FOR MATURE readers," the disclaimer on the comic book's title warns.

Reliable local pioneers Alamat Comics have tackled difficult and sensitive material before, most notably Gerry Alanguilan’s ultraviolent classic of catharsis, "Wasted." But Carlo Vergara's first venture as both writer and artist is a marked departure from Alamat's oeuvre. In "One Night in Purgatory," a co-publication between Alamat and Quest entures, one finds neither death nor costumes, neither mythology nor monster. Just secrets and revelations.

It is indeed remarkable that, for his solo debut in comics, Vergara decided to tackle a real world issue like homosexuality instead of action and mystery.

Illustrated in Vergara's beautiful black-and-white art, "One Night" is a one-shot detailing two friends' search for the truth—and the changes it will have for both of them. The tale begins when openly gay Deio, still in the throes of sadness over his latest lover's departure, receives a call from old friend Casey, who has recently broken up with his girlfriend Janice. The two haven't spoken for quite a while and their subsequent trip about town—a movie, a little game of billiards, a conversation in the car—is heavy with unsaid baggage and uncertainty. Through clipped words and some very helpful flashback sequences, Vergara unravels the closeness that the two used to share, and the tension that tore them apart.

Vergara uses the night out itself as a metaphor for the stuttering truthfulness shared by Deio and Casey. Every time a difficult question comes up, the two lapse into silence—and flashbacks. Reflecting on the relative futility of their respective social lives, Deio asks the obvious: "Did you fall in love with me eventually?" From then on, it becomes a series of feints and parries from Casey-and from Vergara, who skillfully keeps the reader intrigued as to whether or not these two are just best buddies. Even in flashbacks, readers will see what happens one dares ask that fateful question "What do you think would happen if you and I got together? You know... in a relationship?" It is a bracing, surprisingly brave story with an ending clearly not for the overtly judgmental or the easily squeamish, hence the "mature readers" tag.

Sensitive readers, consider yourselves warned. But those who dare read on will find a very thoughtful and personal reflection on the treacherous but hopeful line between deep friendship and something else altogether, an in-between place with no way but out.
While he plots a clever storyline with twists and surprises, Vergara sometimes lets some of the dialogue get too sentimental or hysterical.

Otherwise, the dialogue is often perky and especially witty in places. The ending, while satisfying and sweeping, seems a bit too pat, and is hampered by an important but awkward flashback as well as a whole lot of shouting by the two protagonists. "One Night," in fact, is often at its best when it is at its quietest, when the storytelling and revelations are in stealth mode. And there are a lot of those delicious silences here.

With considerable previous experience as a comic book illustrator, Vergara really does deliver gorgeous art for this book, vividly portraying the similarity and differences between the two friends in both their physical appearances and even their mannerisms. Deio and Casey emerge from the pages as real as the tension between them. He has a distinctively shapely style that plays well in "One Night's" coated black-and-white pages. His art is particularly strong in the wordless tableaus, where Vergara proves you really can tell quite a story without words. One sequence of note is a visit to a billiard hall that playfully brings out subtle and unsubtle differences between the two friends, all without dialogue.

More intriguingly, Vergara paints a portrait of homosexuality and friendship firmly grounded in this new millennium, complete with the artifacts of the present-the right props, even the right expressions of irony. It is, in effect, a visualized short story that transports an ever-controversial topic to a new plane of exposure and thus discussion. It is not an altogether substantial discussion, but instead is effectively a series of vignettes detailing one specific experience. Haunting at times, optimistic at others, "One Night in Purgatory" is an unflinching look at love, friendship and everything in between at a most uncertain time. Whether or not you agree with it, Vergara's "One Night in Purgatory" bravely and firmly makes its choices and tells its secrets-challenging the readers to decide whether or not to do the same.

One Night in Purgatory
Carlo Vergara
Alamat Comics, Quest Ventures, 2001
By Alex Lapa
March 2001


Deio and Casey have been best friends since childhood. When Deio 'came out' in college, Casey was very supportive despite his oft-times brash attitude. Soon after a turning point in their friendship, Deio and Casey parted ways and strived to get on with their lives. Two years later, Casey contacts Deio with the hopes of picking up from where they left off. On that reunion night, they exorcise the demons bred by their two-year separation, and learn valuable lessons about friendship, forgiveness, acceptance, and love.

A commendable short story dealing with a very mature theme. This being, One Night in Purgatory is there for the realistically liberal and broad-minded individual ("untainted" with the restrictive laws of ill-defined morality, so to speak).

Adult issues aside, the story takes on another snip at present time romance. Although it takes on typical love-affair elements such as pain, angst and confusion (those that usually make up a romance story’s entirety) a twist on characterization placed it all on a different angle. Not only does it delve on amatory depth as far as love is concerned, but on the platonic one as well, leaving readers with questions answerable mostly to their own perceptions. Most importantly, the story is quite sincere and tangible—nice setting for the underrated emotional rollercoaster that is inevitably appreciated.

Neither Heaven Nor Hell: One Night In Purgatory
By Mondie Reyes
Wednesday, May 02, 2001


It's 11 in the evening, and I have with me a bottle of gin-bulag, nice Gregorian chants playing in the CD, a computer in front of me, and the latest, and probably most controversial book to come out of the Alamat stable of writers and artists: One Night in Purgatory.
It's not about superheroes in spandex, or ultra-violent gunfights; it's not about good mutants versus wicked intelligent machines – on the contrary, it's all about real life. And it is real life with a vengeance.

Written and illustrated by Carlo Vergara, it's a story about love, but no ordinary love, as Sade (the singer) would say; for one, it's not a happily-ever-after story; in fact, it deals with the aftermath of what could have been happily-ever-after.

Enter our two characters: Deio and Casey. Both are the best of friends, though rather estranged; as will be explained in the course of the tale. It all starts with a phone call; Casey wants to touch base with Deio again after time away. Deio, it seems, has just broken up with his latest lover – a man, and Casey has broken up with his girlfriend. Both are in between relationships, and all the talk leads to some surprising avenues – explored and unexplored. While driving around the city, talking over food and coffee, and basically just having a tailgate talk with the trunk of a car as a sofa, their stories unfold – intertwining stories of love, loss, denial, endings and beginnings. They are friends and yet not friends; like the black and white of the novel, there is a certain shadow to the light of their friendship. But friends will be friends, and that is where the story takes off.

The topic of gay love has always been a sensitive subject; even friendships between gay and straight people have been discouraged, sometimes actively. But the friendship between Deio and Casey transcends these boundaries – though ironically, it is precisely this that causes the problem. And with the characters so fleshed out, it's hard to imagine that they are not based on real life people – something the author prefers to have a Mona Lisa smile about.

The art style is in black and white, as it should be. The starkness and simplicity of the artwork, the way the shadings are used…they serve to enhance, not to distract from the story itself, creating a world that is not just close to ours, but could very well be ours: Deio and Casey could be your kabarkadas, and you wouldn't know about it. Deio, the young artistic one, and Casey, the go-getting corporate guy. But in the story, one gets feelings of noir, and at the same time there is an overall calm, as if all that is happening is a coda; perhaps we are seeing the end of a story – so very Filipino, to weave a tale told in layers: perhaps they are just friends; read on.

This subtlety is at the center of the sadness of the story, but it is no foregone conclusion. Rather, it leads us to a climax or realization – not one that screams at us like a didactic sledgehammer. It is a thunderous one, for sure, but not one of destructive intensity – this is a climax that will probably go down in the annals of local comic book history as controversial if not downright singular.

This is the heart of the story – of Carlo's own story, perhaps, or his friends'. I asked him about that, as he was signing my copy…and his only answer was again the Mona Lisa smile.

If that sounded too esoteric, well then, you are right; I can't say much without revealing the true punch of the story. One could say that it is a coming-out and coming-of-age story, but to say more would be like peeking at the last page of a novel. But I will say this: it is not the ending we would like, but it is an ending that we have to live with along with Deio and Casey.
As for me, my own experiences have caught up with me thanks to this book. So help me now with the gin and the Gregorian chants, and perhaps in the morning, I'll be up…and forget my own nights in Purgatory.

La Salle alumnus, student team up for Alamat comic book

La Salle alumnus and former faculty Carlo Vergara (BSC-MMG 90) recently released One Night in Purgatory, a 56-page comic book presented by Alamat Comics, the same group of Filipino comic book creators that presented Arnold Arre’s award-winning “The Mythology Class.”

Joining Vergara is Angela San Juan (AB-Lit 01), who shares editing chores with David Hontiveros, finalist in the 1998 Manila Critics Circle National Book Awards. San Juan is currently the VP Internal Affairs of The DLSU Literature Circle.

One Night in Purgatory is part of Alamat’s crusade to elevate the Filipino comic book into a venue for thought-provoking entertainment. It is currently available at the DLSU Bookstores (SPS, St. Benilde, and Brother Athanasius Sports Complex). More information about the book can be found at http: www.alamatcomics.com.

The brave taste of ‘Isaw’
By Ruel S. De Vera


Isaw Atbp. # 1
By Vincent Michael Simbulan, Arnold Arre, Marco Dimaano and Carlo Vergara
Quest Ventures, Pasig
2001, 56 pages

GRANTED, it takes guts, pun intended, to name an anthology after street food derived from chicken intestines. But Quest Ventures’ "Isaw, Atbp.," is in reality a labor of love from some of the best talents in the Philippine comic book industry. This mishmash of story, art and poetry speaks volumes about the kind of thoughtful, poignant and realistic stories that the comic book can produce.

The book itself appears unassuming, with its quaint, red-orange cover art. It features the same coated black-and-white pages that previous Quest titles have featured. But "Isaw, Atbp." is the next step in logical progression of the Quest Ventures line after the futuristic road trip "A Trip to Tagaytay" and the ultra-realistic confrontation "One Night in Purgatory." And it's both brave and heartfelt at the same time.

"Isaw, Atbp." contains three stories that stand alone, but are also intertwined somehow. The stories are sandwiched by edgy poetry from Dean Francis Alfar, Nikki Alfar, Emrys Capati, Vincent Michael Simbulan and Tobie Abad. The real, uh, meat of "Isaw, Atbp.," however, are the three stories.

The first story, "Flat," is a reflection on the natural atrophy that occurs within a romantic relationship through time. Written by Simbulan and featuring the evocative art of award-winning Arnold Arre (of "Tagaytay" and "The Mythology Class"), "Flat" is a tale told at different speeds, and thus different levels of sadness and anticipation.

It is fascinating to see Arre illustrating purely modern and realistic subjects for once, but his characters remain imbued with the kind of distinctive personality he is known for. The story is told with obvious self-assurance, and while others might find it a tad sentimental, the dialogue is witty and the flashbacks provide a painful counterpoint to what is really happening in "Flat."

The third story, also written by Simbulan, is by far the most ambitious of the three. "He Said, She Said" is an up-close study on the relationship of a gay father and his young daughter, seen from different perspectives.

Making full use of the muscular art of "Purgatory’s" Carl Vergara, "He Said, She Said" clearly shifts from one view to another, from one time to another with ease. There is a searing intensity involved in this story, particularly between the adults, even the missing mother. But the star of this tale is the cute kid Elysa. She is the dramatic center of this tale (together with Mr. Bubbles, of course) and radiates the innocence and redemption the story aims for.


Most accomplished and experimental is the middle story, "Sampaguita Girl."
Written (in a fashion) and illustrated by Marco Dimaano (the manga-influenced "Angel Ace"), "Sampagutia Girl" is a wordless survey of the world that a simple sampaguita girl lives in. It is a harrowing, strange world where the unnamed urchin encounters death, danger, pollution, hunger and ultimately, her dreams, all in the same street corner. Dimaano’s gorgeous art and perfect pacing show that he has truly gone beyond the conventions and limitations of manga art, and can now harness it to tell beautiful, haunting tales like this one, huge cartoonish eyes or not.

Already entertaining many with his work on the continuing "Angel Ace" series, Dimaano offers up a virtuoso performance with "Sampaguita Girl."

A caveat: "Isaw, Atbp.," like the Quest Ventures titles before it, discusses sensitive topics frankly and decisively. Taken individually or as a whole, the stories of "Isaw, Atbp." are clearly meant for open, adventurous readers. Similarly, this anthology is not for comic book zombies who are looking for spandex-clothed mutants, ad nauseum.

What they will find is a brave, satisfying compilation of stories that further explores the storytelling frontier that is the comic book form. "Isaw, Atbp.," shows that Philippine comic book titles are edging more and more into the real world. With its great art and self-aware storytelling, "Isaw, Atbp.," is an intellectual, enjoyable stop on that continuing journey.

Available at Comic Quest branches.

BAYLANS: reviewed in Fly Magazine (Issue No. 17, October 2000)
By P.G.S. Mallari

Circa 2004. The Philippines was again gripped by the horror of the martial rule. Amidst the mayhem, hacker-genius Jonas Arcanghel deciphered the code of a copperplate artifact prophesying the return of an ancient Malayan mystical society. Pursued by government hit squads, Jonas with his elite hacker group called the Baylans wage war against a berserk regime.

Baylan undoubtedly reflects the eclectic psyche of the 21st Century juvenile: the Net, rave culture, occultism, etc. What makes it a worthwhile read is that there is an ample sense of reality. The plot is quite believable unlike the usual “caped crusader” stuff that most comic books are made of. Writer Jason Banico made a commendable effort of seamlessly weaving the seemingly disparate components of technology, mysticism and politics. The illustration, though displaying a good sense of panel break down appears a little too dark, most probably the result of reducing the comic book to half a legal sheet size. The visual and narrative of the story maintained a gritty feel without losing the element of fun.

Sold for a 100 bucks at all leading comic and book stores.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

An excerpt from Cirilo F. Bautista's Philippine Panorama column BREAKING SIGNS
January 9, 1994

"Yuson, Francia, and Flashpoint: Good Readings for the New Year"

Three important literary works which came out at the tail-end of 1993 merit serious attention for they underscore certain benevolent developments. They signal that, in an economically deprived country like ours, good writing is not a contradiction in terms; and that slowly but steadily, Filipino writers continue to gain audience in America. At the very least, these works reflect the tenacity and configuration of the Filipino imagination.

[The article then proceeds to discuss Alfred A. Yuson's "Trading in Mermaids" from Anvil Press and "Brown River, White Ocean" from Rutgers University Press, an anthology of Philippine literature in English, edited by Luis Francia. Finally, Bautista talks about "Flashpoint."]

"Flashpoint" is the title of a comics magazine (Straight Lines International) specializing in science-fiction. The first issue is a high-gloss, finely crafted story entitled "Faith's Fools." The plot is by Alexander Santos and David Hontiveros; script by David Hontiveros; art work by Carlos Vergara; color rendition by Joey Gohu and Baron Vergara; and the cover by Johnson Morco. The story, about a sense-shattering secret involving two worlds in parallel dimension and an invasion that will alter the realities of existence, is finely drawn in full colors. The whole issue is a feast for the eyes, and will undoubtedly be a collector's item. This work b senior college students of De La Salle University serves to establish the needed foundation for the realization of a true science-fiction genre in the country.

in the REVIEWS/PREVIEWS section
SEVENTEEN magazine, Philippine edition
April 2002 issue

Batch72 (Alamat)
This black-and-white graphic novel is about eight Pinoys in a band. Incidentally, they all have superpowers too. It's a kooky idea-- mixing the Club Dredd era with the X-Men-- but we're not sure if it works. Perhaps if it were in color?

Ex Libris
"A Matter of Questions" by Ruel S. De Vera
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Saturday, April 29, 1995

For newly initiated comic book readers, the rarer and exotic comic lines are usually carried by specialty shops such as CAN, CATS, Platinum, and Comic Quest. For volume and range for the popular titles, however, none beats the traditional Filbars. The new breed of Filipino comic creators such as Memento Mori, Comics 101, the foreign-published Aster and other members of the Alamat group have also been distributing their work to the said comic shops. These guys deserve a look.

The search for books can become an adventure by itself. In the end, the satisfaction or sheer delight of being able to find a book you've been searching for can outweigh the obstacles hurdled to get there. Just keep sifting through those shelves and you will surely find some page-borne story you can enter.

Fly 002
June-July 1998

Flyleaf (Comics)
comic: BATCH 72
writer: Budjette Tan
penciller: Arnold Arre
publisher: Alamat Comics
reviewer: Lionel Zivan S. Vandellon / fly@pworld.net.ph

The setting is the Philippines in some equidistant future where most all of the youth have super powers. There's a ragtag barkada of U.P. undergrad students who, aside from being friends (and possessing mutant abilities that every kid would love), all play in a band named Batch 72. They're finally able to book a gig at the ultrachic Seventh Heaven club, unfortunately, some of the group fall foul of the Alpha Arakno fraternity bullies. Yet between attending class, getting arrested and fighting off the bullies, the band still find time to write poetry, hang out at Mrs. Donut and generally be fun-filled teenagers to the max.

This comic's been a long time coming. But it's been worth the wait. Creators Tan and Arre do a mighty fine job with their crispy dialogue, numerous sight gags (and lotsa details, man) plus clean, cartoony lines. It's a joy merely flipping through the book and looking at the characters' facial expressions. Imagine combining Gimik, Ranma and Gen 13 and you kinda get the idea. A wacky, humorous read. The only minus points are the lack of characterization (there are too many characters, and it's hard telling one from the other) and the lack of color. But then with the prices of printing skyrocketing these days, I can't blame them for taking the 'zine route and making the comic's size half a legal sheet and black and white. And who the hell cares?!! As long as the book is worth it, right? At 30 bucks, you can't go wrong with Batch 72. So what are you waiting for?

“Timawa, Anino and the Flying Phantom”
by PAC
Sunday Inquirer Magazine, January 21, 1996

In the 1960’s, there was Kulafu, a local Tarzan of sorts, all abs, decked in ethnic threads and skilled at throwing spears and arrows. In spite of Lagalag, Superman, the Ninja Turtles, the Power Rangers, the Alex Boncayao Brigade and the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, Filipinos still hanker for heroes who are larger than life but as Pinoy as themselves.

Enter Timawa, the Last Apolaki Warrior, Anino the Mysterious Crimefighter, and the Flying Phantom. The threesome, who would give the Kuratong Baleleng a scare in a real shoot-out, are, alas, only comic characters from Alamat Comics. A one-year old venture, Alamat has released three titles so far, including Indigo Valley/P-Noise #1 and Shadow Comics/Scions #1. The company’s latest is the action-packed anthology Alamat 101, now available in most comic outlets.

Monday, April 08, 2002

Alamat Explodes Its Colors
Lourd Ernest De Veyra
Today Weekender, page 4, July 7, 1996

To view it as a compliment or otherwise: “Wow, ano ito, imported?” – the usual reaction from first-time readers of Alamat, a new comic-book line that looks and smells completely like any issue of Marvel, DC, or Image, the leading names in the US market. Expect they were conceptualized and executed, from the first page to the last, by visionary twentysomething Pinoys.

“X-Men in Filipino” costumes is how many inveterate devil’s advocates describe its characters, who shout, scream and curse in English. But Budjette Tan, Alamat Comics’ head honcho, simplyhas this to say: “Well, we couldn’t help it. We all grew up with the X-Men and all these popular superheroes.”

Alamat is actually an umbrella organization of local comics groups initiated by US-based Filipino artist Whilce Portactio who has become noted for his work with the top lables, most popular of which is The Uncanny X-Men. As a matter of fact, most of the Alamat characters gloriously swinging and whiplashing within the pages obliterate their enemies with X-Men-like powers and skill.

More so with ARCHON, the latest and the first and only full-color Alamat title which proudly lays claim to being the only computer-generated comic book in the Philippines. ARCHON, the brainchild of Virtual Media, a small graphics design studio in Valle Verde II, boasts of swirling color fields and dazzling special effects achieved through the miracles of Adobe Photoshop, Photostyler, Painted, and Kai’s Power Tools, lifting it thousands of lightyears above the three-color Aliwan, Pinoy Shocker, Wakasan, and other komiks that have adorned the newsstands for several decades already. The difference is that of a typewriter and a high-powered laptop with Internet connection. As the rest of the masa komiks industry are still blissfully using the primitive cut-and-strip method, the employment of computers has been standard fare in the United States for many years now, led by the Image group.

So the usual reactions such as “Parang imported!” or “Really now, Pinoys did this?” can be considered either complimentary or derogatory, as if us brown natives are absolutely incapable of such work. This just goes to show that we’ve got the talent all along but not the machines.

“Using the computer makes coloring easier and faster,” explained 27-year old Russel Tomas, Virtual Media’s main man and the one responsible for the amazing shades and hues that carpet every box in every page of ARCHON. “But of course, to be able to do this, one should have first mastered the basics of manual coloring, painting by hand.” Russel was not even a Fine Arts graduate—he majored in Psychology in Miriam but has now transferred to a Business Administration course in UP.

The Virtual Media studio, despite its hoity-toity name, is merely a small part of the Tomas residence, with two computers, a printer, a professional-sized drawing board, and piles and piles of comic books both local and foreign. Plastered on the walls are several posters and flier which showcase Russel’s mastery of computer graphics manipulation.

His brother Jay Jay, together with David Hontiveros, 27 a graduate of La Salle and devotee of the somber award-winning Sandman comic book by Neil Gaiman, whipped out the storyline and several of the characters. Joseph Fouts did the pencilling and the inking.

ARCHON, which stands for Assistance Response Contingent and Hazard Overseer Network, is about a team of intergalactic heroes with supernatural powers tasked to protect the universe from evil. Leading the pack is Troy, a brilliant half-Greek-half-Filipino. Other interesting characters include Shinu, a snake-man with the sword-swinging abilities of a samurai; Ordnance, a cyclop-Robocop-type of tougie you wouldn’t want to bump into when you’re walking in a dark street; Myrrdin, a sorceror who draws his powers from the environment and has a twin brother, Totem, with tattoos that come to life in the event of combat.

These are, as might be observed, extensions of the superhero archetypes operating within the good-guys-beat-the-crap-out-of-the-bad-guys quotient. And why not? These characters have long been swimming in the fecund imagination of these artists dating back to their grade school days. Many of these illustrators and writers were your typical daydreaming kids who spent most of their classroom hours filling notebooks with doodle of cartoon idols. “Yes, some of these characters were the very same ones I created when I was still a kid,” confirms Russel.

“Basically, for our artists, the very thought of creating their own books is almost like a dream come true. Now they’re presented a chance to give free rein to their imagination professionally. The financial side of it is a bonus.”

Budjette says, “That’s why Alamat merely functions as a marketing arm, handling the dirty work. This way, we free the creativity of the artists and leave them to focus entirely on the craft.”

Concerns about money and all the other conundrum that goes with it, Budjette reveals, have been the least of their concerns. And how they regretted it. “ We learned the hard way. We didn’t pay much attention to the business and marketing side of it. So we’re only getting it all down now. We realized the important of maintaining a healthy relationship with the bookstore owners. Before, we could only afford photocopies posters, now we have them in full color.”

The people behind ARCHON, like its idealistic defenders, are setting their eyes on the beyond. “We plan to release it internationally,” said Budjette, “and we think we’ve got a pretty good chance at it.” He, together with Russel, visited the States last year to attend the [San Diego] Comic Convention. There, they were able to meet and show their material to the people of DC Comics and received an enormously positive feedback. “They told us to show them more, and normally, in this business, that’s a very encouraging sign. That means they’re interested in us.” But the Alamat kids are about to surrender their independence and “integrity” – not just yet.

The initial batch of ARCHON comics sold over 10,000 copies (sic) in select shops, topping even the sales of Marvel titles. “We want people to buy it because it’s Pinoy. But most of all we want them to buy the second issue because they liked the first one,” hopes Budjette.

The sensational Japanese manga (comics) swept across the US and Europe a couple of years ago, and left comics artists attempting to imitate their fast-paced excitement and braggadocio. As for the prospect of Pinoy titles invading the same territory, “we’re banking on the quality of the stories.”

“The American market is so huge that by capturing even just 1 percent of it, we can already live on that. It is big enough to have a certain following for bad books. And those are bad books. Us, we’ve got better quality than those naman siguro. What we’re trying to do now is create an awarenewss of our titles,” says Russel.

While making the ARCHON personnel blast the living daylights out of dreaded galactic villains may seem like the best job in the world, the money involved will certainly pull one down back to reality. Budjette says that for printing costs alone, 1,000 pieces of a black-and-white title, will cost P30,000. A full-color release can go as high as P80,000 for the same volume. That’s why ARCHON tied up with Mega Publications to help with the printing. Retail price is P90, almost the same as that of foreign brands. While they’d rather have it maintained at the lowest price possible, the culprit for the increase is this: it’s printed in Hong Kong.

Some of the Alamat titles out are Tattooed, Shadow/Scions, Angel Ace, TKS(The Kill Stalker), Indigo Valley and Timawa, all done by different teams. But the best-selling so far is not the superhero genre but the whacko Adventures of Pugad Baboy, which is almost sold out. Another project in the drawing board is Batch72, expected to continue in the same hilariously offbeat spirit.

“We’d like to expand our audience as much as we can, that’s why we try to get into schools. In Xavier, the sales were quite impressive,” Budjette related. “But lately, there’s the problem about the school authorities. They say these comic books are too violent.” Well, that’s reality, man. There’s always a censor anywhere.
Brown Spaces
by Reginald Vinluan
Philippine Collegian, December 5, 1995

“It is an early culture groping and stumbling its way towards a dimly-sensed maturity! Yet the air seems to throb with a sense of life! There is a vitality such as I have never known!”
-- Silver Surfer (The Silver Surfer # 1)

Although my favorite cosmic harbinger was describing his initial observations of earthly civilization, he could have easily been talking about the emergence of the Filipino comic book.

In these past months we have been witnesses to a seeming graphic novel renaissance in which local publishing lines like CATS, Alamat and Camp have cropped up to do battle with what foreign comic book publishers have to offer. In the future, they say, the well-known Caucasian heroes in tights may soon lose sales to bare-foot brown-skinned Pinoys in bahags with agimat-induced powers and a healthy liking for bagoong to boot. However, as our new heroic symbols for Filipino cunning and courage take to the skies populated by the likes of Superman, Storm, and Spawn, there is the nagging question of which direction they are actually flying off to, and why is it that our old super-powered pioneer, Panday, has been left on the ground.

The first to rocket off to the cosmos of international comic publications as early as last year was Aster, a celestial knight character created by Oliver Isabedra and the CATS creative team. There are two titles, Aster and its spin-off The Harriers, currently out which are wholly produced by Filipinos but published and distributed by a well-known independent company called Entity Comics. Due to an agreement with their publisher, it seems that the CATS titles bear no trace of their roots or ethnicity and concentrate solely on the adventures of the main character in a convoluted Good-vs.-Evil wracked universe inspired by a thousand and one science fiction epics ranging from Jack Kirby’s Galactus mythos to George Lucas’ Star Wars.

In the same vein, TAEKWONDOGS, the yet unreleased but severely hyped title from Camp Comics, led by advertising wunderkind Gil de Palma, takes from a variety of sources. This tale about a clique of Homolient (a de Palma pun: “homosapien” fused with “alien”) kids with the ability to transform into muscular kick-ass canine muties is a bit of WildCATS flair, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tongue-in-cheekiness, and X-Men grit.

Both publications, aside from having clean, stylish, top notch art, share that same dream of being embraced internationally, with Camp focusing on the Asian market and Aster gunning for the American audience.

Alamat comics, however, is one company that is bent on cultivating a Filipino audience while developing the industry. In fact, it was Budjette Tan, the company’s EIC who tagged this year as “the year of the Filipino comic book.” True to their word, if there is a new comic book company which is actually attempting to properly expand the definition of “Filipino Comic” apart from being produced by Filipinos, it would be Alamat.

A conglomerate of independent studios joined together by balikbayan, Bishop creator, and comic artist par excellence Whilce Portacio, Alamat is made up of the people behind Memento Mori, P-Noise, Exodus, Comics 101, Pagan Press, Powerhaus Productions, Shadow Comics, and Flashpoint. These are studios which have, prior to banding together, already produced at least a first issue or a primer for their titles by either pestering publishers like Sterling or, for the less industrious, xeroxing a couple of hundred copies of their works.

The people behind these works are well-off adolescents who have fulfilled what many a comic book collecting teenager has always dreamed of doing—finally getting their notebook scribblings and personal fantasy worlds published.

When asked about their target audience, Eric Santos, an Alamat writer and editor, quickly raises the dichotomy between the new Pinoy comic as opposed to the komiks of old—the popular newstand fare and barbershop required reading which we are used to. Alamat aims to provide an aesthetic and literary quality to their comic books comparable to the foreign works of DC, Marvel, and Image. The works are then automatically geared for the middle to upper middle-class private school bred comic store regulars, rather than the average man-on-the-street. Recent developments resulting from the enthusiastic responses to some Alamat titles received at the San Diego Comic Convention have also assured them of international distribution, which is essentially their second priority.

Scott McCloud, in his book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, points out that the potency of the comic medium lies essentially in its iconic nature. The stylized drawings, plus the symbolic and metaphorical personifications of most characters, draws the reader more than other “detached” forms of art or literature, efficiently sucking them into the fantastic. Consequently, this inclination explains why adolescents, who are groping for models for their still developing personalities, are so attached to the medium of comics. Hence, the challenge of a “Filipino comic” is to produce true “Filipino paradigms” or at least capture our ethnic sensibilities in the characters.

The most obvious manifestation of this is the birth of the tribal-inspired characters in titles like Lakan, and P-Noise. Set in pseudo-Blade Runner, chaotic, apocalyptic futures, these titles talk of heroes inspired by ancestral myths and empowered by folkish tribal magic to save a Philippines on the brink of either alien or foreign invasion. In Exodus, a Wolverine character, peculiarly dressed in what seems to be Spanish matador garb, spouts Bisaya as he claws at the enemy. However, even with the inclusion of such characters, their stories still come off as The Adventures of the X-Men in Tribal Wear. Surprisingly, of all the superhero titles out, it is Flashpoint which has the most potential, even though their heroes don’t sport traditional Igorot attire. In their first issue, David Hontiveros and Alex Santos weave the story of a supposed Virgin Mary apparition in a barrio being a front for an alien attack which is eventually thwarted by a pack of other-dimensional adventurers. An intelligent mix of Pinoy humor, mysticism, and drama is evident all throughout the already four issue series.

Unfortunately, for all its hoopla, the Vertigo-inspired Memento Mori series, a comic with literary not superhero pretensions, lacks a true Filipino feel, despite its clever prose and elegant art. The most striking story so far—Hubert Posadas’ “On The Pillar of His Conceit”—is saved from its blatant Sandman inclinations with cunning insertions of Filipino dialogue. Other than that, they all come off as the detached, haughty yarns of snotty art school brats. In the same vein, Gerry Alanguilan’s Wasted, a chronicle of the wanderings of an angry teenager with a gun, who comes to epitomize the worst of our urban teenage anxieties, is so melodramatically angsty, it destroys its potential to critique its surroundings. Thus, the main character being drawn to near-suicide and subsequent aimless wandering by a two-timing girlfriend and an incorrigible father loses its irony and becomes a mere sick—rather juvenile—joke.

All these efforts, however, should be acclaimed and applauded, if not for the sincere creative expression and entertainment they afford. The pioneering efforts of the Alamat group to build a local comic book industry is laudable and the mere eclectic variety of their titles shows a genuine respect for the stories their talents have to offer. In fact, Ricky, an Alamat artist says that the very Western and detached nature of the titles that are currently out is due to a need to break the local colonial-minded comic buyers market and the international audience. Eventually, he says they will venture out to print the stories they want to tell—“true Filipino stories.”
Let us hope that they gain success soon, because what will really distinguish a Filipino comic from its foreign competitors will be its adherence to the culture it comes from. For all Alamat, Camp, or CATS’ clear storytelling potential and impeccable art, what they need is the down-home earthiness that our own komiks carry. The international market noticed Japanese comics for its eccentricity and unique nature, after it was already extremely popular as a medium in Japan—not vice-versa. Even the European comics hold a feel unique to their lands of origin.

Maybe, before we go off launching new heroes into the stormy skies of the international comic market, we should first give Panday the power of flight.

Childhood Dreams
Twentysomethings move to compete with comics giants
by Christine A. Gaylican
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 6 December 1997, page C4

A group of Filipino entrepreneurs had dared to venture into the uncharted waters of comics publishing, an industry long dominated by giants Marvel and DC.

Driven by childhood dreams to create and publish their own comic books, the motley group of twentysomething collaborated and did come up with their very own-- the Alamat group of comic books.

The members of the Alamat group have full-time jobs as graphic design specialist, and are into comic publishing for sheer love of comic-book writing and illustrating.

"Alamat functions as the umbrella organization of different graphic art studios," says Alamat president Budjette Tan.

The group is composed of the graphic design studios Powerhaus Unlimited Inc., Virtual Media, Fractal Cow/Binary Soup, Imaginasian, Deranged, Exodus, and Cheap Thrills.

Their full-time hobs in graphic design are definitely an edge, for what the Alamat members practice or prefect in their project for clients, they can also apply in creating comic books.

For instance, the designers at Powerhaus Unlimited produce brochures for advertising firms, and those at Virtual Media make album cover layouts for recording firms.

Both groups practically use the same techniques in the art and layout of the Alamat comic books.

For the last three years, the Alamat comic books have been slowly carving a niche in a trade still ruled by American titles.

The first Alamat comic book was Volume 1 of "Indigo Valley" and "P-Noise" released in Alamat's flip-book format, Alamat is able to bring to readers two to three new titles in one issue.

The July 1997 second issue of Pol Medina's "Polgas Digests" included excerpts from "Angel Ace," "Indigo Valley," "Batch72" and "Tattooed".

Best Seller

"Polgas Digests" are so far Alamat's most saleable comic book, followed by "Angel Ace" which resembles the Japanese television anime "Ranma" and "Sailormoon;" the "Indigo Valley" Adventures, "ARCHON," and "P-Noise."

" `Indigo Valley` seems to attract more women than men and younger audiences as well. P-Noise and ARCHON attract more teen-age boys because they have an X-Men action-adventure feel to them," observes Tan.

Than and his comics colleagues hope to surpass the phenomenal production and sales of "Polgas Digests" of 10,000 copies, and to exceed their quarterly production of 3,000 copies.

Alamat targets the A, B, and upper-C market of high school and college students, and young professionals who are also collectors of Marvel and DC comics. Alamat titles are now in limited Metro Manila outlets and soon, the provinces.

"The market in Manila is still small, but we managed to survive, to break even and to earn a little profit," says Tan.

He and Eric Santos of Powerhaus use their own vehicles in personally distributing the Alamat comic books to the leading outlets in Metro Manila-- Filbars, Comic Quest and CATS Collectibles. Alamat comics have also reachs the bookstores-- Bookmark, National Bookstore and Booksale, among others, which usually get 20-30 percent of the comic books' cover price.

From scratch

Powerhaus Unlimited serves as the legal arm of Alamat and handles the marketing, distribution and promotion of comic books. Powerhaus' Santos and Tony Bucu supervise the management and production aspect, while Tan heads promotions.

Tan and his partners had little or no background in running a business and learned the fundamental the hard way.

"At first we ran Alamat as a college organization or a club," recalls Tan of their first year as a business.

They consulted their parents as well as relatives who were in the publishing business, and eventually learned how to use their creativity in putting the group in order.

They researched on comics publishing in the United States, conducted their own survey, and sought the advice of local distributors of Marvel and DC comics.

"We also established ties with comic bookstores and got tips through the Internet," says Tan.

For Alamat's first issue, the group members used their personal resources-- mean, money borrowed from parents or from relatives, according to Tan.

High Expectations

They presented their comic books to some publishing companies and were able to get company sponsorships for the succeeding issues of some titles.

Mega Magazine and Publications, Inc., for example, helped finance the first release of Virtual Media's action series "ARCHON" in full color. While Sterling Co., supported Apex Studio's first four issues titled Flashpoint.

The corporate sponsors, however, expected too much of the first earnings of the Alamat comics. "They expected to make millions on the first issue," says Tan.

At P60 to P90 per comic book, Alamat is cheaper compare to Marvel and DC's P120 to p150.

Bucu says that 60 percent of the cover price of Alamat comic books go to printing, which could amount to P30,000 to P40,000 per issue and excludes color separation expenses and artists' fees.

"The expenses in producing a quarterly comic book release roughly amount to P100,000," says Bucu.

To cut down on the printing cost and maintain their present market prices, only the Alamat covers are in full color; the inside pages are in black and white.

Product endorsements now also come as inserts or full-page advertisements on the Alamat comic books to cover costs.

"Sometimes we accept `x-deals` from companies like stations NU107 and MTV in exchange for some promotion for our comic books," says Tan.

Not for Money

Powehaus pays an artist a minimum of P100 per page. The artists may be a penciller, inker, or colorist.

Tan, who also writes for Alamat, says that because most of his fellow artists in the group are "doing it for the love of drawing comics," money is at the bottom of their list of reasons for getting together.

"Most of the writers and artists are doing this for free, " he says. "Any money we earn from sales, we have to put back for the next production."

Though the comic books released with the Alamat logo are made by the different studios, there seems to be no competition among them as far as the art work is concerned.

Tan and Bucu agree that the "B-factor" -- for barkada-- works for them in resolving the rivalry issue.

"The different studios in Alamat were originally barkada from their school or work and have gone through a lot together," says Tan.

The studios have been known to swap artists when the need arises, such as when an artist with a specific skill is not available in one studio. Alamat in effect is becoming an artists' pool, which Tan and Bucu attribute to Whilce Portacio who advised the studios to band together.

Pinoy and proud

Portacio, a US-based Filipino artists who made a name for himself as illustrator of "The Punisher" for Marvel's "X-Men" and "X-Factor" comics, and as one of the pioneers of Image comics. When he visited Manila in 1994, Portacio counseled the graphic studios of Tan and friends not to compete among themselves and organize under one name.

"He told us to gether under one name and under one logo," says Tan, "so that when people see this they'll say, `O, gawa ng Pinoy yan,` and they'll be proud of it."

Organizing themselves on November 3, 1994, the graphic studios picked the name Alamat, which connects the beginning of something new and promising. And their logo-- a shining sun, designed by Exodus studio's Lando Inolino jibes with their very purpose.

"We decided to use Alamat not because we're hoping to become legends, but because back in grade school our teachers used it in storytelling usually to mean the beginning or the start of something new," relates Tan.

If the brains behind the group persist with their creativity and determination, Alamat just might be a legend, too, in the Philppine comic book industry.

Panels & Pages: The First Manila Comic Book Art Exhibit

By Ruel S. de Vera
Sunday Inquirer Magazine, 15 October 1995, page 10

All sorts of people are milling around the small booths at Robinsons Galleria, choking the corridors leading to the stairs. A constant buzz rises from the crowd. Is it a special outlet for NFA rice? Nope, no lines. Lotto? Not that either.

These curious spectators are visiting "Panels & Pages: The First Manila Comic Book Art Exhibit." For many of the curious onlookers, it was surprise to hear the word "comics" and not find the old Zino, Dino and Galema. Instead, they are bombarded by swirling images of brawny superheroes and high tech soldiers battling across posters, all done in the flashy and glossy style we associate with American comic books. Except that these were done completely by young Filipino artists.

"Panels & Pages" displays the combined efforts of Alamat, a loose alliance of comic book artists who have taken it upon themselves to start a comic book industry similar to what we see abroad. Alamat is composed of 11 "studios" set up by individual creators in order to help each other promote their porducts.

Budjette Tan, Alamat editor-in-chief, explains that each studio is an independent entity in itself, with its own stable of writers and artists, and which publishes its own line of comic books.

Russel Tomas, another Alamat organizer, related that "Panels & Pages" was a joint project of the Alamat group and the Galleria management.

The origin of Alamat returns to that primal middle-class young male story of discovering comic books and wanting to create their own. All the members of Alamat remember being enthralled by the colors and characters of Superman and their ilk, falling in love with the inked and colored panels early. The members of Alamat are different in that they not only kept reading these books as they grew older, but also started creating their own.

In the late `80s, mini-comics or photocopied comics began appearing sporadically. The most successful was the seminal "Sigaw Saklolo," whose violence and creative dynamism captivated many of the dreamers. These mini-comics did not survive, and also failed to generate the attention needed to give birth to a local comic book industry.

In the last two years, new groups independently produced their own comic books which aped the products of American companies such as DC and Marvel. These groups were mostly teenage buddies who banded together. There was, however, none to organize their sporadic efforts. Among those early studios were present Alamat members Memento Mori, P-Noise, Exodus, and Comics 101. Add to that the Aster comic, which was distributed abroad.

The stage was set with the return of balikbayan Whilce Portacio. Portacio, who left the country for the States at age 2, was one of Marvel Comics' hottest artists, rendering the best-selling X-Men and creating the enigmatic Bishop. Portacio became an even bigger comic commodity after he joined an exodus of talent to the hotshot Image Comics. He even featured the art of several local comic book artists in an issue of his Image title "Wetworks." (Incidentally, Grail, one of his Wetworks characters, is Kapampangan and yells "Susmaryosep!" in battle.)

Portacio has been coming back to the Philippines regularly over the last six years and was impressed by the talent he saw. Late last year, Portacio gathered the talents which he considered promising and suggested they get their act together. "He convinced us that the best way to find space in shelves full of American comic books was to band together under one name and logo, so that the comic buyers could remember us," Tan recalls.

After the meeting, six studios decided to pool their efforts. The studios Memento Mori, P-Noise, Exodus, Ex-Gods, ARCHON, Flashpoint and Comics 101 chose the name "Alamat" which means legend, and adopted the shining sun logo designed by Lando Inolino.

Tomas says that since then Alamat has sponsored several exhibits of their work in Club Dredd and an earlier, smaller exhibit also at Galleria. He says that "Panels & Pages" is their true first major exhibit, aimed at reaching a larger audience.

The audience that turned out to see their work was not only large, but wide. The old and the young, the merely curious and truly involved all came over to look at their work. Even those who were just walking around found themselves jumping from booth to booth for an hour at least.

The work on display can only be described as being varied. During the exhibit, the studio Powerhaus, led by Eric Santos, launched the back-to-back comic book featuring the quirky "Indigo Valley" and the high-flying superheroic "P-Noise." Also there are the soon-to-be-launched science fiction book ARCHON from Virtual Media as well as fantasy "Lakan: Bloodshed and Tears" from Creative Underground. Tomas, who writes ARCHON, says his comic and Lakan will be launched this coming December.

Two other offerings stand out because of their eccentric fare. "Memento Mori" offers up surreal, often cryptic renderings similar to DC's Vertigo line. What is probably the most bizarre comic book comes from the aptly named Deranged Comics. "Wasted" is a grim, politically-incorrect and bloody comic from Gerry Alanguilan which features a rejected rock musician roaming the Metro streams with only his angst and .45 cal. pistol as companions.

Tomas and Tan both admit that they have a long way to go before they manage to establish a truly Filipino comic book industry, but say that the signs have been encouraging. The experimental "ashcan" previews sold out at comic stores. In a recent triumph, Alamat comic book are now displayed along with foreign comic books at the Platinum comic store shelves.

Tomas says that their target audience for sales are those who collect foreign books. He says that Alamat can provide a thigh-quality comic book at a price cheaper than that of the familiar Marvel or DC labels.

"Panels & Pages" was also a fine opportunity for networking as eager young aspirants came to the exhibit with their portfolios, hopeful of being able to join the group. "This is a fine opportunity to encourage talent," Tan say, adding that the studios were almost on the lookout for talent. Tomas admits that there was some rivalry between the studios at the start, "but that got ironed out after it became obvious that we really were helping each other."

One indication that the local comic book audience was really tuned in to the exhibit was the crowd that came to a talk and autograph session with Portacio on the exhibit's last day. Portacio spoke of his experiences with the companies abroad, and his plans of setting up a studio here. "Na-in love ako sa Pilipinas," Portacio beamed, admitting that he planned to settle down here.

He said that the talent here could eventually give the artists abroad a run for their money if they keep at it. The audience laughed, cheered and asked question, clearly involved and knowledgeable about comics.

Tan considers "Panels & Pages" to be a rousing success, having brought Alamat's brand of comic books to a new audience. "This is just the beginning," he says. The creators of Alamat all say that they love their art and have the scars to prove what a struggle it has been. They also say that they will keep this up as long as they can, and hope to eventually wok on comics full-time. Alamat knows that they are on the right track, and that their efforts have already helped our own comic books turn a new page.
by Red R. Samar
MANILA BULLETIN, January 27, 1996, Page B-13

For these young and budding comic book creators, it was one call they couldn’t afford not to heed. After all, it came from no less than famous Filipino comic book superstar William “Whilce” Portacio.

Portacio, who is co-creator of X-Men and creator of Wetworks comic books in the United States, recently came back to the country to be permanently based here. While still abroad, he had already been hearing news about the beehive of activity that has been happening in the local comics industry. Pitching in his expertise to encourage the industry’s development, Portacio called for a meeting for a rag-tag group of comics publishers.

“He (Whilce) heard that something was happening in the local comics industry with small publishers like us releasing titles every now and then. Whilce wanted to do something to help us. He then suggested that instead of competing with one another, why couldn’t we just band together under one name, with a logo that everyone can recognize as proudly Philippine made” says 23-year old Ferdinand-Benedict “Budjette” Tan, president of Cheap thrills comics studio.

Portacio’s suggestion was taken seriously. A series of meetings among the “small” but dedicated publishers ensued all fo them guided by one ardent wish—to fortify their ranks and be taken industry. “Alamat” was born.

Alamat, the umbrella organization of local comic book publishers, is compased of Cheap Thrills, ARCHON, Flashpoint, Memento Mori, Exodus, and Lakan. These are all local comics publishing houses for quite some time now. Merged into one entity, the group has trained its collective vision on conquering the local comics market, which is at present dominated by full-color foreign titles. With Alamat’s entry, a unified group thriving in its very diversity, a change in the scenario is certainly in the offing.

“Alamat is there basically to help promote one another. When we were starting out we were just releasing our own books. Now as one group, we hope to make people aware that there are also good comic books that are created by Filipinos, which they can read, which they can related, “ Tan avers.

Aside from the benefit of a unified marketing effort to push the comic books, the merger also proved to be a great help in the creative aspect of the business.

“We ended up borrowing ‘talents’ from one other—artists, pencillers, writers, colorists—whenever there is a need for an extra hand in the production of other comic books. Most of our writers and artists do a lot of switching around between different titles. Likewise, we also assist in promoting by running an ad in each of the book we come up with,” says Tan.

Although more of a loosely-based organization than a formally-structured boy, as each comic book company maintains total independence from one another especially in the creative area, there are still ground rules that each group has to follow for everybody’s common good.

“Although wala na kami with whatever they want to do with their book, we have a sort of common understanding of rules to follow, like try not to have any profanity, nudity, or these stuff in our works,” points out writer David Hontiveros.

The unified comic books publishers’ first offerings—ALAMAT 101—is a three-in-one book consisting of THE FLYING PHANTOM, ANINO, and TIMAWA.

Although ALAMAT 101 and the rest of the titles in the Alamat checklist (Comics 101, Exodus #1, Flashpoint #1-4, Indigo Valley/P-Noise #1, Memento Mori, #1-2, Shadow comics/Scions #1 and Wasted #1-5) have yet to match the gloss of DC or Marvel Comics, they have already managed to make their presence felt in the industry.

A perennial stumbling block in the success of any comic book business is the high cost of production.

“Right now we can only produce a thousand copies because of our budgetary constraints, but we manage to come out,” Tan says.

Tan explains that production cost one issue per thousand ranges from P30 to P40, an instant P30,000 to P40,000 cash outlay. And this, for all Alamat members, is an issue not to sneeze at, considering that most of them are either studying or are fresh graduates and employed in companies.

And because of the financial constraints, only the cover of Alamat comics have color. The inside pages are in plain black and white, which hardly hold any appeal to visually-oriented readers.

But somehow, there are salient features that Alamat has which makes it different from your usual comic book fake—the incorporation of local sensibility among its titles.

For instance, David Hontiveros and Gerry Alanguilan’s TIMAWA delves into relevant social issues that are all too familiar with us Filipinos. Thus you find scenes of urban squalor, reference to rapist mayors, and victims of heinous crimes in their works. They talk about traffic, the urban poor, social injustice and whatever there is to find in Philippine society.

The group Alamat is also trying to revolutionize the Filipino comic book reading habits with the incorporation of local superheroes like P-NOISE, SCIONS, and TIMAWA.

“We are trying to get away from the stereotype with superhero image that we have been so used to. Since Filipinos are the ones doing it, we might as well make use of our own local ideas. We also try to put in the stories positive Filipino values and a dose of local humor,” relates Tan.

The future indeed shines bright of this enthusiastic bunch. As part of their expansion plans, Alamat will be releasing next month its ARCHON title back-to-back with Pol Medina’s popular PUGAD BABOY. Many are still in the offing. But for now, all of them are being moved by one common goal—to make a legend, or in the vernacular, an alamat of the works that are proudly Philippine made.
ALAMAT COMICS: Is this the start of something big?
By Betty C. Uy
Manila Times, 10 January 1996, Section B, page 18

There is a good reason to cheer on the local comic book industry. Despite perennial production problems and the market dominance of established foreign titles, local comic book publishers are slowly gaining ground, producing titles of increasing polished quality. Now available at comic book stores, for example, is the first issue of Alamat 101, a three-in-one book (The Flying Phantom, Anino, and Timawa) by the publishers' pool Alamat, which hopes to whet the public's appetite for locally-produce comic books by coming up with titles on a regular basis.

Although Alamat 110 and the other titles in Alamat comics (Comics 101, Exodus #1, Flashpoint #1-4, Indigo Valley/P-Noise #1, Memento Mori #1-2, Shadow Comics/Scions #1 and Wasted #1-5) have yet to match the gloss of Marvel or Vertigo, they have manager to make the public aware that there is a nascent local comic book industry, which with the proper attention, could compete with the X-Mens of the comic book universe.

"Right now, the main selling point of Alamat is that it's made by Filipinos," concedes Alamat's Ferdinand-Benedict "Budjette" Tan. "Curiosity makes readers pick it up and say, `Uy! Gawa ng Pinoy! Ano akay `to?' "

At the very least, an says, people are aware of Alamat's existence, either by reading the titles firsthand, by hearing about them or from just plain seeing them in newsstands and bookstores.

"But like I've been telling everyone in Alamat, we have that advantage but we cannot rely on that in succeeding issues, " he goes on. "We have to produce good art and stories to keep them buying."

While the problem is certainly not in the creativity department-- Alamat has a steady supply of artist, writers and colorists who "love comic books and don't complain" (about the industry situation)-- it is the inevitable production hitches that constantly bog down its operations. Publishers have to work on the books in their spare time (all still need their day jobs) so more often than not, deadlines are not met. "Ideally, in a perfect world, it should take four to five months to produce a book," explains Tan. "One month to write it, one month to do the pencils, one month to ink it, one month to color it, and another month to letter it. Usually it only takes two weeks to print it for a thousand copies, but of course, everyone has work and go to school so it usually takes longer for us to produce the book."

Publishers also have to deal with the considerable financial costs of putting out a title. The production cost of one issue per thousand ranges from P30 to P40, an instant P30,000 to P40,000 outlay. This is fine if you get your money COD (courtesy of Daddy) but a daunting sum to throw up in the air if you're a tax-paying, corporate-indentured citizen of this republic.

And because of the financial and time constrains, only the covers have color. Inside pages are in stark black and white, not exactly a hit with the visually-oriented readers. "Bakit black and white?" is the number one question readers ask of the Alamat staff. "If we have the money to produce a full-color book it will come out good," Tan says confidently.

Production problems notwithstanding, Alamat is one of the best reasons around why comic book buffs should start considering local talent. Although most of the stories are heavily influenced by American comic book idioms, there is a healthy dose of local sensibility in the titles. Gerry Alanguilan and David Hontiveros's Timawa, for example, incorporates relevant sociology (scenes of urban squalor, references to rapist-mayors and victims of heinous crimes) in the exposition of that central comic book theme of the triumph of good over evil. The heroes of P-Noise are a hodge-podge of Filipino characters, from a pre-Spanish era nobleman to a re-tooled Marine (rescued by science from death and made into a flesh-metal-and-plastic killing machine), from an Olongapo city mestizo to a barrio boxer, all recruited for a paramilitary operation called "Project: Maharlika."

At first glance they all look like copies of foreign comics," says Tan. "But we'd like to believe that the mere fact that Filipinos are doing it, we're putting in things that we learned because we grew up as Filipinos. These comic have filipino values."

For Tan and the other movers behind Alamat, combining their talents in an umbrella organization of comic book publishers (Cheap Thrills, ARCHON, Flashpoint, Memento Mori, Exodus, and Lakan) is the best strategy for the industry at the moment. That was point out to the rag-tag group of publishers in November, 1994 by visiting comic book superstar Whilce Portacio (of X-Men fame) who suggested that "instead of competing with one another, why don't you join together under one name, with a logo that everyone will recognize as proudly Philippine-made?"

Now, several comic books and exhibits later, the exhilaration of actually producing viable comic books has worn off. Alamat is now faced with the nitty-gritty details of survival and slugging it out with the established foreign titles. "Reality has come in and has bitten us, " says Tan. "We finally realized that it isn't enough to know the artistic aspect of making a comic book but also the business side of it." The core staff has now divided itself to handle certain aspects of the business: marketing, advertising, and soliciting. To be sure, this side of the coin is not as fun as producing the comic books themselves, but the Alamat team has learned to balance the artistic and business scales if Alamat titles are to sell.

Still a distant goal is seeing Alamat titles take prominence on comic book shelves. Right now, they hardly can be noticed amidst the Spiderman, Batman, and X-Men titles. The Alamat group wants to turn the table around by producing many books as possible and consequently having their own shelf space, with American comic book pushed to the corners.

Professionalism, art, and refinement in writing are areas of improvement Tan wants realized. "We all suffer from the same faults of missing deadlines because we find excuse and we have lots of them. What we really like to do is make this a full-time job for it to really earn money and for us to quit everything that we're doing. And for those who have not yet graduated, to graduate."

Expanding the market base is another consideration for Alamat. There are plans to distribute the comic books outside Metro Manila. Negotiations for distributing in the United States are in progress.

At the moment, the struggle is on to keep producing those titles. In February, ARCHON will launch its comic book back-to-back with Pol Medina's very popular Pugad Baboy. Lakan and Memento Mori (which is mostly made up by art and film students) and Exodus also will release different titles within the year. This output, of course, will not be enough to knock X-Men off the top of the public's reading list, but with perseverance and genuine talent, we have not doubt Alamat will get there.

People are born naked. That makes us equal, but it doesn't end there. According to old legends, there are people born with strong powers, exquisite beauty, and supreme intelligence. Come modern day stories, there are people said to be born with a snake or a fish for a twin. There are people believed to be born with silver spoons in their mouth. There are also people born with pencils and crayons on their hands.

Set the stage for ALAMAT, a soon to be legend in the Filipino comics industry.

Born five years ago from a young pool of comic artists, ALAMAT was conceived to band together different comic groups under one force. Whilce Portacio (Uncanny X-Men, Wetworks, Stone) comeback in 1994 lit a spark to this generation in pulling their acts together. Under one name, they aimed to popularize Filipino talents generating a new industry amidst the presence of American comic books.

The legend goes back to the story of adolescents who never outgrew reading and breathing comic books; adolescents who dreamed of creating their own and making it big. Budjette Tan, ALAMAT President relates, "Basically ang ALAMAT barkada sila na mahilig magbasa ng comics and they love to draw and write". Some of them even started creating comics without any intention of being published. Seeing great possibilities, they jumped right off the idea asking bookstores and printers about the 'this and that' of comic publication. It was not easy though. At first, no one would teach them how and this was where the challenge lies: to survive.
Now on its fifth year, ALAMAT is a one solid group from a number of 'studios' who initially took the challenge. The studios, Flashpoint, Virtual Media, Deranged Comics, Exodus and Powerhaus among others have made ALAMAT live up to its name, representing a new beginning of future stories that has yet to be told in the future.

Late 80's saw the dawning of mini-comics, of which, Sigaw Saklolo became the era's only success. In about the same time, different groups independently produced their own comics. However, there was no one to brace their effort. Some of these independent groups are also present members of ALAMAT.

Fast forward to 1993 up to 1994, four books of Flashpoint were realeased simultaneously. Months later in 1993, 'ashcans' were released by some comic-book groups to let the readers check their stories. These experimental 'ashcans' were sold-out. It was yet another conquest when their comic books were displayed on store shelves along with foreign comics. Dave Hontiveros, ALAMAT 's Group Editor, has this to say,

"We fare very well in the sense na maliit lang talaga 'yung comic-buying market. We actually sell roughly by the same amount. I think our struggle really is to break through a wider market. We have to get to the people who don't buy comics to actually go into a comics store and say, 'hey, it's a Philippine-made comics for Filipinos, let's buy it'."

The logo of this group is the shining sun that embodies their optimism in making a new level in the local comic book industry. True to its promise, ALAMAT has introduced a bizarre set of heroes clad in high-tech costumes and features. There are heroes set on different Pinoy adventures of aswang and kapre. Others deal with magic, mystery, sci-fi action and galactic comedy. ALAMAT has already came out with Indigo Valley, Lakan: Bloodshed and Tears, Age of the Valkyrie, The Flying Phantom, Payaso, Timawa, Pantheon, Mythology Class, Angel Ace and the many stories extracted from every artists' imagination and wit.

It's a continuous struggle but members of the group are very optimistic regarding the limitations. Nonetheless, they are trying to cope by publishing at least one book every two months and by collaborating with other artists. The collaboration opened doors to the publication of Karen Kunawicz's "On the Verge", "Polgas: Ang Asong Hindi" with Pol Medina Jr. as senior editor, Luciano Uyan's Rizal: Isinalarawan, artworks for Agenda magazine, a short-lived net magazine, newsletter and anything that is connected to drawing. According to Budjette, "It's one way to break the barrier of comics. We're bringing comics into something people are more familiar with."

In bringing comics closer to people, ALAMAT has already done exhibits, art workshops, talks and seminars in various schools, malls and rave parties. They usually do this every time they launch a new comic book. Today, ALAMAT is a more recognizable name.

"The biggest change is that people know about ALAMAT, kasi, when we started we have this vision na we can do it. You know, after five years, it's safe to say we know what the factors are, the limitations. We work at that naman, it's not easy pero when everything goes smoothly and everything goes right, it's a good feeling, there's a sense of satisfaction, because you know that you're doing something that not everybody else is doing."
Another blog?!

Well, not really. As the sub-head of this blog says, it is a compilation of articles, interviews, and reviews about Filipino comic books and their creators.

This is will also serve as the temporary site of all the articles written about Alamat before they're all neatly organized and placed in the revamped Alamat site.

But this site will not be limited to Alamat Comics. As much as possible, I'll post any article that has anything to do with Filipino comics, komiks, komix... hence the name of the site.

It's also called KOMIX 101 because I consider this required reading for anyone who wants to write a report, thesis, term paper on the local comic book scene / industry. Every now and again, we get email from students asking us all sorts of questions for some report that they're writing. Hopefully, this will answer their basic questions about Filipino comic books.

Eventually, I hope to put up a site that will become a resource for anyone doing research about comic books.
I just remember the time I was research for my thesis paper on SANDMAN and had to go through card catalogues and old newspapers in the library. This site should make things a little easier for you kids today. :)

Please email me at: alamat@comicbooks.net if you find any article / link that should be included in this site.
Thank you.


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