Tuesday, December 23, 2003


Inquirer News Service

'Brave, bold step'

"Siglo: Freedom"
Edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Vin Simbulan
Mango Books, Quest Ventures and Kestrel IMC, Inc.
2003, 140 pages

ONE look at the elegantly spare cover, and readers will know that "Siglo: Freedom" is unlike anything else out there. Nothing indicates that it is a collection of comic-book stories. The loaded title, the beguiling design -everything about "Siglo" says this is a project that takes itself very seriously.
And readers should take it seriously as well, because "Siglo" is a brave, bold step forward for Philippine comic books.

The first in what is intended to be a yearly series of anthologies, "Siglo" is the brainchild of the people who crafted the prize-winning anthology "Isaw, Atbp." They have evolved that narrative effort into a more mature, more daring form. The project challenges popular ideas of what a comic book is and isn't.

Pushing the envelope is an impressive and diverse collection of comic book talent: Gerry Alanguilan, Dean Francis Alfar, Nikki Alfar, Arnold Arre, Jason Banico, Marco Dimaano, Andrew Drilon, Honoel Ibardolaza, Lan Medina, Elbert Or, Vin Simbulan and Carlo Vergara.

"There are no men in tights flying through our panels, or young geniuses firing lasers from their giant robots to fight off alien invasions," the editors write in their introduction. "But that does not mean we have a shortage of heroes. On the contrary, you will find tales of the courage and heroism of ordinary people as they struggle to attain their own unique brand of freedom."

Escapist it isn't

Obviously this is very serious stuff, so readers looking for escapist escapades should head elsewhere. It's so literary, it would easily be considered pretentious if it didn't work. But work it does.

Each set in a different time and place in Philippine history (and future), from Jolo in 1913 to Manila in 2004, the 10 tales in "Siglo" tackle a different vision of the quest for freedom, told through the writers' and artists' unique perspective. Staged in black-and-white and told mostly in English, each tale showcases the creators' diverse strengths and distinctive storytelling qualities.

Dean Alfar and Drilon's opening story juxtaposes the learning of a new alphabet with the painful lessons of a people's subjugation. Nikki Alfar and Dimaano's second story puts one woman's quiet liberation next to a man's loud call to arms.

Banico and Ibardolaza's take on a stage magician's fateful trip to Cebu is a parable in the tragedy of smoke and mirrors. Simbulan and Or's post-martial law story is a personal journey of living beyond a father's considerable shadow.

Delivering a punch

The stories are accessible and well-crafted, but the solo tales, written and illustrated by a single creator, deliver a particularly palpable punch.

The most lighthearted of the otherwise heavy stories, Dimaano's romantic tech tale, is sweet and heartfelt, much like his "Angel Ace" high jinks. Alanguilan's gritty take on a collaborator's change of heart, however, is as violent and as illuminating as his best work in "Wasted."
Arre's foreboding look at the future is a bracing, hypnotic visual departure from his usual work, though the message remains vintage Arre, classic and new in its own way.

Ibardolaza, also an award-winning writer of children's stories, displays a stunning range of visual style by conjuring a playful, wistful and perhaps heartbreaking portrait of young friendship amid the sugarcanes.

It is only right to pay special attention to the solo stories from two young but prime talents. Or's subtle unraveling of the scenes behind an arranged Chinatown marriage in the 1950s is a study in generational differences and in the efficiency of clean, solid storytelling.

Drilon's chaotic, noisy, dark roller-coaster ride through a wired, tangled techno-trapped metropolis provides a rousing, disturbing, fitting finishing kick to this ambitious anthology.

A thoughtful trip

The 10 stories stand apart and yet obviously follow one another, leading readers on a thoughtful trip through these disparate eras in Philippine past, present and future. And though the tales are patently works of fiction, something does ring authentic and convincingly true in the creators' aching portrayal of how freedom has been sought, sometimes attained, sometimes denied. It all feels so real.

Beyond just the collective talent in this collection, it is the singular vision of, the big picture being drawn by, "Siglo's" creators that pulls powerfully at the reader. Honest and edgy, it is that big idea whose time has come; the kind of comic book other comic-book people talk about all the time but never actually make.

It will be valuable to note that comic-book fans and non-comic book fans will be able to recognize good work when they see it, as the straightforward yet inventive storytelling in "Siglo" will appeal to serious readers. Don't expect any fluff. Don't expect fantasy.

There are times when readers can immediately identify that crucial step forward in a genre's evolution. Behold the footstep. A powerful collection of tales from a journey that is both fragmented and yet undeniably connected, "Siglo: Freedom" is a passionate paean to a people's seemingly endless search for the many things that have proven both invaluable and elusive.

Available at all Comic Quest branches.

Friday, December 12, 2003



"Komikeros: The Filipino Contribution to the Comic Book Medium"
Part 1: 1970s-1980s
By Budjette Tan

There were no comic book stores in Manila during the early 80s. That made comic book collecting very difficult for a kid like me. Supposedly, the best way to get new comic books was to go to Dao, a place located near the U.S. Air Force base where lots of PX goods (including comic books) ended up in these big warehouse-type markets. If you didn't want to travel all the way to Dao, the other place to get comic books was in bookstores that didn't even bring them in on a regular basis.

The largest bookstore in the Philippines reprinted foreign books and comic books on cheaper paper and sold them at lower prices. As a result, the characters in comic books all looked pale and sickly. Everything looked pink and green at the same time.

Not a good time to collect comic books at all.

As a kid, I remember finding tattered copies of "House of Mystery" and "House of Secrets" in my toy chest, probably left there by one of my uncles. One secret I didn't know was that some of those comic books were drawn by Filipinos. Back then there was no Internet, no Google to check who's who, no Wizard magazine that gave you inside info on the people behind the panels.

The first time I recognized a Filipino name in an American comic book was in an issue of "Batman." The artist was Alfredo Alcala. I knew he was Filipino because my favorite comic strip artist was Larry Alcala and I knew that anyone named Alcala just had to be a Filipino. But I only became certain when my dad got me a copy of the "History of Komiks* in the Philippines and Other Countries", a thick, hard-bound book that contained a directory of Filipino comic book artists.
["Komiks" is the Filipino term for comics, a word whose origin is obvious even if you did not know that the Filipino alphabet does not have a "c" in it. "Komikero" means "cartoonist" or "comic artist." But you've probably already figured that out by now… - J. Torres ]

I was surprised to find out that the Philippines' national hero Jose Rizal actually drew a comic book story. Back then, all I knew about Rizal was that he was executed because of his so-called subversive writings and novels. In 1886, Rizal wrote and drew the fable of "The Monkey and the Tortoise" in 34-panels, a work considered the very first comic story made by a Filipino.

Going back to Mr. Alcala, the book also said that he won international recognition for his work on "Voltar", a character he created that was inspired by the "Conan the Barbarian" novels. Years later, he became one of Marvel's long-running artists on "Conan." When I met Mr. Alcala at the 1994 San Diego Comic-Con I saw him in Artists Alley drawing - what else?- Conan the Barbarian! Right beside him was Ernie Chan, another Filipino artist who became an illustrator for "Conan" as well as "The Incredible Hulk". There was just something so fascinating with the thought that something read and adored by people around the world was actually made by a Filipino.
It was also the Comic-Con that I got a copy of "Secret Teachings of a Comic Book Master: The Art of Alfredo Alcala" and had it signed by the master himself.
Later on, I hunted down copies of "Swamp Thing" drawn by Alcala and was just blown away by the great detail and intense mood he was able to put into those pages.

Alcala created more disturbing images for the pages of "Hellblazer" and allowed us to visit that galaxy far, far away when he drew pages of "Star Wars". He passed away in April 2000 after a long battle with cancer.

Mr. Alcala was recruited into DC Comics by editors Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando and Filipino artist Tony de Zuniga, who all came to the Philippines in 1972 looking for talent to add to DC's pool of artists.

At DC, De Zuniga worked on titles like "Jonah Hex", "Black Orchid" "Batman", "Superman", and "Supergirl." For Marvel, he illustrated "Thor", "X-Men", "Punisher", and "Conan the Barbarian" for eight years.

Another artist that was recruited during that talent search of '72 was Nestor Redondo. Mr. Redondo did a tour of duty on DC's horror titles and was eventually asked to take over the art chores of "Swamp Thing" from Bernie Wrightson. He also did artwork for "Rima" at DC, "Conan" for Marvel and comic book adaptations of "The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." He then went on to do work for the Marvel Animation Studios in Los Angeles.

I met Mr. Redondo at the '94 Comic-Con and remembered how he was such a soft-spoken man, and how he had plans to return to Manila and teach comic book illustration to aspiring Filipino artists. He unfortunately passed away before he could do that, but his fellow artists continued his plan and conducted workshops in his homeland.

Many artists are grateful for Mr. Redondo's helping hand, including, Rudy Florese, who was able to get his break at DC thanks to Redondo. Florese drew "Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan" and "Korak, Son of Tarzan." He also contributed to the Now Age Books Illustrated series of classic stories published by Pendulum Press Inc., as well as adaptations of "The Mutiny on Board H.M.S. Bounty" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel." All the while, Florese continued to contribute to local Filipino comics. After suffering two strokes between 1995 and 1999, he returned with his family to San Pablo City. He passed away on April 4, 2003.

The 1972 talent search also found Alex Niño, who did art chores for "House of Mystery", "Black Orchid", "Captain Fear", "Space Voyagers", "Bold Adventures", and "Star Reach Classics." The first time I saw Mr. Niño's art was in "DC Sampler 1984", which contained a two-page spread promoting the title "Thriller"- and no, it did not star Michael Jackson! (Hmmm… I betray my age… how many of you kids out there got that joke? Ummm, never mind.) Mr. Niño also did fantastic work for "Heavy Metal" and for the Sunday "Tarzan" strips.

It was also the Sunday funnies that featured the art of Floro Dery, who was the artist for the syndicated Sunday "Spider-Man" strips from 1982 to 1992. Again, I had no idea that Spidey was drawn by a Filipino. So I got all excited when I saw a sample of Dery's Spider-Man strip in "The History of Komiks" and that got me drawing (well… more like tracing all my Spider-Man comic books.) Needless to say, I became a big Spider-Man fan thanks to that animated series with that funky theme song. Dery moved on to become a concept designer for "Transformers: The Movie", which, in my opinion, contains very important life lessons.

Other Filipinos who got their break through American horror comic books are Tenny Henson, Fred Carillo, Rudy Nebres, and Romeo Tanghal.

Henson is a veteran of "Weird War Tales", but also got the chance to draw "Batman", "Superman", "Captain Marvel", and "Plastic Man." Henson went on to work on animated series like "Richie Rich" (Hanna-Barbera); "Blackstar", and "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" (Filmation).

Carillo also worked on "He-Man" but before that he drew "Phantom Stranger", "Black Orchid", and "Ghost Stories."

Nebres, who's most recent work is seen in "Crossgen Chronicles", started his comic book career during the 1970s on Warren Magazine's "Creepy", "Eerie", and "Vampirella." His detailed artwork was also seen in the pages of "Iron Fist", "John Carter: Warlord of Mars", "Kull the Conqueror", and "Arion, Lord of Atlantis".
Romeo Tanghal is a name I constantly saw credited as inker of Marv Wolfman and George Perez's "New Teen Titans". Before that Tanghal also did pencils for "House of Mystery" and later on became an inker for books like "Batman", "Captain Atom", "Doctor Fate", "Justice League of America", "Green Lantern", "Wonder Woman", "Dazzler", and "Thor."

Since I was born in 1972, I only got to see the works of these great artists as badly reprinted editions or as sample pages in "The History of Komiks." Thankfully, some of their work has been reprinted in trade paperbacks, although most are lost in some back issue bin or in some kid's toy chest.

During the 70s and early 80s, the Philippine komiks industry was at an all-time high. The circulation of komiks out-ranked the leading newspapers. Komiks were read all over the country. The stories were so popular that they were adapted for film and became box office hits that spawned sequels and TV shows.

Despite all of that, some Filipino artists decided to try their luck abroad. As you may have noticed, some of them moved on to work in animation companies. Why? Maybe the work was better. Maybe they wanted to find new challenges. Maybe the pay was better. Some of them tried to spread their good fortune by providing work for other aspiring artists. They did this either by recommending them to their American editors or by setting up comic book companies in the Philippines. Most of these komiks companies have closed shop by now.

A new influx of Filipino talent and comic book studios appeared a decade later, during the mid-1990s. But that's a story for another day. (Actually, I'll tell you all about it next week.)

"Komikeros: The Filipino Contribution to the Comic Book Medium"
Part 2: 1990s-present

When you open a comic book you'll see that the pictures are drawn in little boxes. These boxes are called panels. The spaces in between the panels are called gutters. Right now it feels I'm stuck right there - somewhere in between all the action that's happening in the comic book industry - stuck in the gutters.

As of this writing, I still have 600 copies of my comic book gathering dust in the space behind the TV set in the living room. Yup, my comic book, my story, published using my money (and a whole lot of money borrowed from my kind uncles living abroad). I printed and launched that comic book last year and have only sold so much. How did I get myself into this mess?

I'd really like to blame myself, but it's more fun to blame others. So, let me included the people who inspired me to go into the comic book business.

At the top of my list is Whilce Portacio, who rose to fame as an artist for Marvel's
"Uncanny X-Men" in the 90s. He eventually became a household name in Manila when he published the comic book "Stone", which was about a Filipino action star who had a collection of agimat (magical gems) and discovered this mystical world filled with creatures reworked from Philippine mythology.

I first came upon the name Whilce Portacio back in 1989, when I was collecting the "Punisher" comic book because I was into that "grim-and-gritty-justice-must-be-served" frame of mind and because the comic book had that grim-and-gritty artwork. Whilce later took over art chores for the "X-Factor" in 1991, which made him even more popular. It was during that time that I found out he was a Filipino based in the United States. That discovery just fuelled my dreams of succeeding in the world of comic books. I thought, "Hey! If he can do it, then so can I!"

Years later, Whilce came home to the Philippines and set up Starfire Studios, where he trained comic book artists like Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, and Edgar Tadeo. Thanks to Whilce the three of them got to illustrate Marvel's "Wolverine", with Leinil doing the pencils and Gerry and Edgar doing a tag team on the inks. They eventually worked on "Uncanny X-Men", like Whilce before them. This terrific trio combined their super-talents to produce "High Roads" for Wildstorm recently.
Yu and Alanguilan are now busy mapping out the Man of Steel's history in "Superman: Birthright." But before they drew the Man of Steel, they actually drew another high-flying character.

"Aster: The Last Celestial Knight" was published by Entity Comics in cooperation with the Philippine-based C.A.T.S. Studios back in 1995. It was penciled by Oliver Isabedra and inked by Alanguilan. Two other artists who worked on "Aster" and their spin-off books were Yu and Jay Anacleto.

Anacleto later became famous because of his photo-realistic art style in "Aria." Anacleto's next assignment is to visualize the pictures taken by cameraman Phil Sheldon in Kurt Busiek's "Marvels 2: Eye of the Camera."

Aside from inking, Gerry Alanguilan has already made a name for himself with his graphic novel "Wasted", which has received much praise from the likes of Warren Ellis. He's also illustrated the super-detailed future-world of Comics Conspiracy's "The Ochlocrat."

Alanguilan has also been slowly building his own little corner in the Internet. His website has attracted attention, not only because of his great art, but because of an essay addressed to his fellow Filipino artists, pointing out that those currently adopting the popular big-eyed manga look did nothing for the quest for a distinct Filipino comic book art style. It was because of this essay that people started to post really long commentaries in his online guest book and soon enough, started really long debates. Things got so confusing that Alanguilan had to set up a new message board where people are able to post more topics and have longer debates.

Alanguilan should definitely be considered a prime mover in getting the Filipino comic book artist known around the world thanks to his online efforts. He also organized a mailing list for Filipino comic book creators and it was through that list that I found out about a certain prolific Filipino comic book writer.

Last year, I got to read J. Torres' "Sidekicks" and loved the story of a school for superhero wannabes. He also wrote comic books like (well, if you're reading this column, then you probably already know what he's has written, but just in case you don't) "Alison Dare", "Jason and the Argobots" and "Copybook Tales" (a semi-autobiographical work about a Filipino comic book writer). When I saw that Torres was part of the Filipino Comic Book Creators mailing list, I completely freaked! I used to console myself that writers had a harder time breaking into the comic book industry and that I shouldn't really feel bad that so many other Filipino artists are getting published because I'm not a very good artist anyway. Well, Torres definitely changed my thinking on all that.

Torres has been doing the very thing I haven't been doing all these years - he's been writing and getting published. While I've written a grand total of one, two, three… ummm… four comic books, he's already written four series of his own! He's also had the chance to write the X-Men and will be getting the Teen Titans into a whole lot of trouble soon. To top it all off, he's even been nominated for an Eisner!

Also nominated during the 2002 Eisner Awards was Arthur de la Cruz's "Kissing Chaos." Yes, he wrote it and also illustrated it too. ARRRRGH! The only time I ever wrote and drew something was back in grade school and it was a comic book called "Cosmic Man", a hero who piloted his cosmic ship, fought crime with his comic gun, caught evil-doers with his comic net, and… well, you get the big cosmic picture.
Every time I go to Comic Quest to get to my weekly fix, I see the works of these guys on the shelves and that just makes me crazy enough to keep going, to keep writing, and keep trying to find ways to get my story published. It's all their fault.
Next time you go to a comic book store look for the works of these other noteworthy Filipino comic book artists:

Rafael Kayanan has been around since the 80s and was first published in "Firestorm." He also did art for Acclaim's "Turok" and I was greatly impressed by the action sequences and amount of detail that was in every panel. I guess it's no surprise that Rafael can draw such realistic action scenes because he's a martial artist and has worked as a fight choreographer and trainer in Hollywood movies. He's also done art for the Eisner nominated "Life and Times of Leonardo Da Vinci" (Vertigo). A portfolio compiling his pen-and-ink work will be made available in 2004.
While some of the Filipino artists in the 80s made a transition from comic books to animation studios, this next artist did the reverse. Eric Canete was part of the team that brought us the erotic and enigmatic missions of "Aeon Flux." He later became an artist at Wildstorm and worked on titles like "Mr. Majestic" and "Cybernary 2.0." He once again joined Peter Chung to work on the Animatrix. Hopefully, he'll find time to return to work on a comic book project or two. Lan Medina, who did work for "Stone" and "Aria", recently won an Eisner for his work on Vertigo's "Fables." He's currently illustrating the most emotional alien to explore space "Silver Surfer."

Wilson Tortosa is now living the fanboy's dream of being able to work with Alex Ross and has helped successfully make the comic book version of "Battle of the Planets" a certified hit! Roy Allan Martinez's dark art appeared in several Image comic books and he then moved on to do some wonderful art in "Wonder Woman."

Francis Manapul is the lucky guy who gets to draw the sexy curves of "Witchblade" and Carlos Pagulayan is the one gets draw "Elektra" in more sexy and deadly poses.
Another enviable bunch of kids are the creators of "Taleweaver." Leonard Banaag (writer), Philip Tan (penciller), and Gary Mayoralgo (inker) make up the first all-Filipino creative team to get their story published abroad.

Philip is now working on - as if all you X-fans don't already know - "Uncanny X-Men." He even got the chance to redesign the merry mutants' costumes. But before that, he worked on the comic book "Mutant Earth" with special effects master Stan Winston.

Another Filipino artist getting a lot of good reviews these days is Adrian Alphona, co-creator of "Runaways" for Marvel's Tsunami line. His clean-line art style and fantastic facial expressions has made this book a runaway-hit! (Sorry, couldn't help it.)
One of the many Filipinos working at Dreamwave is Sigmund Torre, who's worked on titles like "Dark Minds", "Wolverine/Punisher", "Neon Cyber", and "Metroid Prime."
Inker Gary Mayoralgo has done worked on "Mutant Earth" as well as "X-Force" and "Everquest." Gerry Talaoc has been inking since the 80s and has worked on "The Incredible Hulk", "Alpha Flight", "Daredevil", and "Strange Tales." Jonathan Sibal's inking credits include "Supreme Power", "Avengers", "Wolverine", "The Darkness", "Fathom", and "Tomb Raider."

Ben Dimagmaliw is the Wildstorm colorist who executed the extraordinary hues in Alan Moore's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "JLA: Act of God" among others.

I would now like to make special mention of comic strip artist, novelist, and playwright Lynda Barry, who is one-forth Filipino but has written/drawn many stories about being Filipino. In her most recent book "One! Hundred! Demons!" she revisits her childhood and shows us what it was like growing up with her Filipina mom and grandmother. It would be great to see more stories like these. We have so many Filipinos working in the American comic book industry, yet so few are writing and drawing about who they are and where they are from.

In the Philippines, there is an active comic book scene that started around the mid-90s. There are lots of komikeros out there getting their stories printed in whatever form they can afford: manually photocopied or printed off-set, in color or in black-and-white.

Despite the fact that it is still a constant battle to convince the typical comic book buyer to spend his hard-earned allowance/salary on a Filipino comic book rather than his favorite Super-Mutant title, some books have already developed a fan-based and get good support from their readers. It is also encouraging that the Manila Critic's Circle, composed of teachers and professors from different universities, has begun to acknowledge and award graphic novels in the annual National Book Awards.
As it is, we have an impressive list of creators - a new generation of Komikeros that have taken up the torch (or is it, the pen?) that was once carried by the likes of Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala. I hope to be part of this list one day.
For now, I have to get out of this gutter and go back to writing.

Open new file.

Page one, Panel One.



As a follow-up to Budjette Tan's two-part article about the Filipino contribution to Western comic books, I thought it would be interesting to chat with some of the artists he mentioned. Budjette put out the call for me and two to respond almost immediately were Leinil Francis Yu ("X-Men," "Wolverine," "High Roads") and Gerry Alanguilan ("Stone," "Wetworks," "X-Men"), currently the penciller and inker on "Superman: Birthright" respectively.

Although born in the Philippines, I've lived most of my life here in Canada and haven't visited my birthplace since I was a teenager. But since I love to hear what the comic scene is like in other parts of the world I thought this was a perfect opportunity to pick someone's brain about what comic books sell on that side of the pond, what it's like for freelancers and aspiring creators there, and generally what the state of the industry is in the Philippines. Surprisingly, it all sounds quite familiar. So, when these creators talk about their trials and tribulations breaking into the industry both at home and in the US, they're sending out a universal message to aspiring creators the world over.

After I geek out a little bit and ask what it's like to be working on a Superman book, we get into a discussion about the manga invasion, presumptions about "cheap labor" from foreign countries, and how it's often about who you know that gets you the gig. Budjette joins us in this conversation. And you need not be Filipino to appreciate what was said…

TORRES: So, what's it like working on a Superman book?

YU: I'm having a blast! Though I wish I only needed to draw 2 pages instead of 22.

TAN: That would be called a pin-up, not a comic book.

YU: Nah, a two-page spread. Heh.

TAN: Ha.

ALANGUILAN: It's terrific working on Superman! I can't believe it, I'm actually working on the BIG guy!

TORRES: To me, way over here in Canada, it's a pretty big deal that a couple of Filipino guys are working on a Superman book. It's the whole "local boy done good" but… er, long distance? Anyway, what's the reception to that been like over there?

YU: Here... it's ok... everyone just keeps asking me for free copies... heh.

ALANGUILAN: It's always sold out here to the point that we have to give our comp copies to stores to help them out.

TORRES: Does the local media make a big deal out of you guys working on Supes? Here, every so often you'll see press about a Canadian artist making a splash on the American comic scene.

TAN: Are you kidding?! Nil and Gerry are always in the newspapers!

YU: No!
ALANGUILAN: Really? Where?

TAN: Well... they've been in the major daily... twice? thrice? Almost every year they talk about you guys for one reason or another.

YU: We get some unwanted attention... ask Gerry.

TORRES: What do you mean by "unwanted"? Like stalkers?

TAN: Some people think Gerry is Whilce Portacio.

YU: Everyone here read comics… ten years ago. Not now. So, they always say: "I thought Superman died?"


TAN: A lot of heart-broken girls write Gerry because of his graphic novel "Wasted."

YU: At least he gets cute girls.

TAN: Too bad he's married.

ALANGUILAN: Yeah... a lot of cute girls like "Wasted."

TORRES: Okay, let's talk creator-owned projects. Everyone here would love to do that in the US market, right?

YU: I've tried it and it's not for me. It stresses me out to see that it's not selling well.

TAN: What do you mean? You didn't like your experience with "High Roads?"

YU: Good reviews are always overpowered by bad sales.

ALANGUILAN: Well, I'd love to do that, J.! I'm trying to find a US distributor for "Wasted" now.

TAN: Gerry, why don't you try Image?

ALANGUILAN: I don't think it's for them. It's more of an indy thing.

TORRES: You never know, Gerry. Try Image. Really. What's the worst that could happen? They say no. So?

ALANGUILAN: I'm just waiting for Cold Cut to approve carrying it.

TAN: Image seems to release several b/w graphic novels a year. You might want to try.

TORRES: So, how would you describe the local comic scene? What about the Filipino comic book industry?
TAN: The local comic book scene is alive and kicking! Lots of what would be classified as "indy" books since there are no big companies like Marvel and DC over here.

ALANGUILAN: It needs a lot of work. A lot of unprofessional stuff is being produced, but there are some gems once in a while. "Zsa Zsa Zatturnah" in particular. But the really good thing is a lot of young creators are excited about doing comics.

TAN: The industry that was once dominated by Atlas Komiks is not doing well. Atlas is like our Marvel/DC Comics. Circulation is down and their work is not as outstanding compared to what was produced during the 60s and 70s.

TORRES: So, we're talking mostly self-published and small press companies?

ALANGUILAN: A lot of self pub and indy comics are being produced, yes.

TAN: Small press with 500 to 1,000 copies circulation and "zinesters" who Xerox 10
or 20 copies of their books.

TORRES: What about genres? What types of komiks are being produced locally?

ALANGUILAN: Surprisingly varied stuff is being produced. Ten years ago there were
lots of superheroes, but there's less of it now with more real life stuff.

TAN: But we do have our fair share of horror titles, adventure, fantasy, and of course, super heroes. And also romance stories as well.

YU: There are successful manga influenced comics around.

TAN: In the past two to three years there have been a whole lot of manga-look-alike books.

TORRES: Would it be safe to say that it's a fairly diverse market in terms of genres?

ALANGUILAN: It's quite diverse... but we're talking about a very small market mostly concentrated in Manila.

TAN: Yeah, it's not dominated by spandex/mutant books.

TORRES: Since it's been brought up: How big is manga over there? Is it as popular as it is over here from what you can see?

TAN: It's insane! It's taking over the world!

ALANGUILAN: Atlas should be included since they've just produced "Charm," but I hardly see anything from them now.

TAN: "Charm" is a rip-off of a comic book called "Witch," which is being printed locally by the biggest magazine company in the Philippines. "Witch" is a manga-esque book created by Disney.

TORRES: We're looking at something like 60% of bookstore sales of comics coming from manga product. I don't know what the direct market stats are like, but most shops I walk into have a growing manga section.

YU: I guess it's shaping up to be that way here, too... but a few notable bookstores still have huge comic sections devoted to American mainstream comics.

TORRES: What American comics do they carry? The Big Two? Any indies? What formats? Monthlies? Graphic novels? Both?

YU: Trade paperbacks of DC and Marvel comics only.

ALANGUILAN: I know those book stores, notably Fully Booked. A lot of Marvel and DC stuff, but lots of Crumb books too... and "Tintin"...

TAN: Fully Booked also brings in books from Dark Horse and indies like Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore's non-mainstream work.

TAN: The two big bookstores mostly bring in American trade paperbacks and graphic novels. They have yet to develop a section for manga.

TAN: There is one store in Quezon City that has a whole section of manga books. So far, the biggest I've seen.

YU: Let's burn it down, Ger.

TAN: Can't burn it down, Nil. Because the same store sells Gerry's "Wasted." Heh-heh.

YU: Heh.

TAN: CCHQ is the name of the store. Half of their stocks are manga (original and translated).

ALANGUILAN: Yeah, there is an impression that manga is very popular literally everywhere.

YU: Give it up, Gerry, manga is the new Beatles.

ALANGUILAN: There is something there that people respond to quite well...

TORRES: Gerry, I know you've expressed "concern" over the manga "influence" on Filipino art in the past. Would you care to elaborate a little on that?

ALANGUILAN: My main concern is that of originality. Drawing in a popular style to me, is like leaning on something that is proven. I would like to see artists standing on their own talent than lean on what others have done.

TORRES: Let's talk about style then. Once upon a time, you could point out a Filipino style in komiks. I don't think you can say that nowadays. But is that something you consider important?

ALANGUILAN: I agree that there was a predominant Filipino style established decades ago and you can still see it in the works of Lan Medina and Roy Allan Martinez now. But Filipinos have grown more diverse because of more diverse influences. Globalization has come into play here... and I'm not one to demand that Filipinos draw in one style just for the sake of nationalism. I'm more for originality and the search for an individual style.

TAN: This new generation of Filipino comic book artists grew up reading American
comic books and watching anime. So, I guess, that's why the styles suddenly shifted.

ALANGUILAN: Especially with the Internet and the proliferation of art books and the ease in which one has access to them... it's so easy to be influenced by from something from say... Scandinavia. Which wasn't possible before.

TORRES: So, who are your artistic influences, Gerry? Leinil?

ALANGUILAN: Right now I'm rediscovering Nestor Redondo and I think some of that has rubbed off on me. It's evolving I think... the way I draw.

YU: I'm influenced by American artists mostly from comics. Outside of comic books, I really like the works of Norman Rockwell and Mort Drucker from Mad magazine.

ALANGUILAN: Yeah... Mort is pretty evident. I'm inking it now.

YU: Heh.

TORRES: How important is it to you guys to be recognized as Filipino comic artists?

ALANGUILAN: It's quite important to me. I need people to know that it's a Filipino that's doing this. Lord knows Filipinos need the props up once in a while... especially now with all the bad news coming from over here...

YU: I'm mighty proud and it feels good to meet Filipinos abroad who like my work and are inspired by it.

TAN: I don't know if it's me being too patriotic, but I think it's great to find out that the skill and talent of a fellow Filipino is recognized internationally. We are considered a Third World country, but we possess world-class talent.

TORRES: You know, we have so many Canadians working in comics but they're virtually invisible in the sense that you can't tell from their style that they're from a whole other country. But like you guys feel, I a certain sense of pride… okay, maybe pride's too strong a word… but at least I'll go "hey, that's cool" when I do hear that such and such a creator is Canadian or Filipino.

YU: Is Canada a country now? JOKE!!!

TAN: We feel proud because America has been dominating so many things, including the pop culture scene, that to have someone rise above that seems to be an achievement.
TORRES: I have friends in Argentina and Mexico and Australia and for them it's all about getting work in the US because the local industry can't support all the homegrown talent. Is getting published in the US the "Holy Grail" for comic creators over there?

TAN: I personally want to work for Marvel and DC, because I grew up reading their characters and want a chance to tell stories in their universe. It's like being able to finally play in the playground you've always wanted to enter.

ALANGUILAN: Getting that US job benefits Philippine-based artists in lots of ways. They get to do their countrymen proud by being able to work competitively with people from different countries. The pay is good, even if it may not seem so in the US.

TAN: Well... you get paid in dollars, which is always a big thing to anyone not living in the US.

TORRES: Could you make a living doing comics in the Philippines only?

YU: IMHO... hardly.

TAN: Make a living doing local komiks? Sure! But you have to write/draw 10 or more stories to earn a lot.

TORRES: 10 or more stories... per month?

TAN: Yup... per month.

TORRES: That's insane!

ALANGUILAN: The pay here cannot compete at all. The last time I did work for those traditional comics, I got like $6 for 4 pages of pencils, inks, letters and writing!

TORRES: 6 American dollars?

ALANGUILAN: Yep! 6 US dollars.

TAN: And that rate hasn't changed much in the past 20-30 years.

ALANGUILAN: The newer companies pay better I think. Like Culture Crash. I don't have figures though.

TORRES: Do you get paid the same rates as American artists?

YU: One thing I hate is the assumption that we get the job because we're cheap labor.

TAN: Yup... Nil and Gerry are not cheap.

YU: Is Michael J. Fox paid less because he's Canadian?

TORRES: No, but it's cheaper for him to film in Vancouver than in LA. I think it's a
fair assumption that some comic companies might want to exploit the "cheap labor" there. We all know it's happened to some degree in comics and I was just wondering what the situation was over there these days.
ALANGUILAN: I personally don't get paid less than my American counterparts. They didn't get me because I was working for $6 a page. I get paid the same as everyone else. The best local pay I got was like 80 US dollars a page, but that was only one page a month for a local music magazine.

TAN: Until local comic book companies/studios can pay higher rates, I think the local artist will continue to seek jobs outside the country and be lured by the greener grass abroad.

YU: True. Heck, I think we were willing to work for free just to break in....

TORRES: I wouldn't say that too loudly!

TAN: I still get email from college kids who say, "Will work for free!"

YU: Heh-heh.

ALANGUILAN: When I started out, I was actually willing to work for free just to get my name in a comic book. Unfortunately, this is something that some people can take advantage of. And I won't deny that it's happening. But with the Internet, it's harder to be taken advantage of especially when you have an international community at your fingertips to tell you what's really happening and how much you really should be paid.

TORRES: Yeah, God bless the Internet. I can't imagine doing what I'm doing now, say, five years ago.

YU: We started with minimal Internet over here. We used fax machines.

TAN: But you guys made Fed Ex rich!

ALANGUILAN: A lot of Filipino artists managed to work for DC and Marvel and be very successful even without the benefit of the Internet, so it's possible. But it's definitely easier nowadays. It's still hard, but not as hard.

YU: But life really is easier...

ALANGUILAN: Life may be easier but it's more expensive.

YU: It basically boils down to longer deadlines and quicker interaction.

TORRES: Hey, I used to have to attend shows and visit other cities to talk to editors
about work. Nowadays, I don't have to even leave my house anymore!

TAN: You have better chances of getting discovered thanks to the Net.

ALANGUILAN: Honestly, I've gotten jobs because people saw artwork on my site.

TORRES: There you go. You didn't have to go to a con or send your stuff to an editor.

TAN: Even with all this technology, it's still a matter of knowing the right person. Meeting that friend of a friend of the editor of that book. Maybe I'll get a job now through Friendster. J

TORRES: You're so cynical. But I thank you, and Gerry, and Leinil for taking the time to do this.

TAN: You're welcome! Thanks!

ALANGUILAN: Thanks, man!

YU: No problem… Gerry, get back to work!

Saturday, November 01, 2003


A brief history of Komikeros in the American comic book industry

Part one of my report is now online, thanks to J.Torres, who needed someone to sub for him while he attending some conventions.

I do hope I was able to mention all the prominent Pinoys who did work for American comic books.

If I missed out on anyone or got my details wrong, please email me at: budj (at) rocketmail (dot) com.

Special thanks to these websites used for reference in the writing of my article:

Thursday, August 28, 2003


From 'Off Hours' section of PCWorld (Phils) Sept
Pinoy Comics Online
By Ria Elainne C. Mendoza

I remember the Saturdays when I would walk to the market quite early to buy a copy of Funny Comics. Each trip was filled with anticipation at the new adventures that wily little boy, Niknok, had gotten himself into. During summers, when I was vacationing with my relatives in the province, my cousins and I opted to rent copies of Funny Comics at the nearest sari-sari store. Summers were always harder because we had no allowance.

But because the world is what it is now, most of my reading is done online. My daily dose of funnies -- and I admit, even horoscopes -- is delivered directly to my inbox. And as the cliché goes, the world is at our fingertips, giving us a whole menu of international selections that will entertain us and tickle our funny bones. Despite this, there is one thing that never goes away: that hankering for good, old-fashioned Filipino art and humor. And thank goodness, so many are online. Many of our artistic countrymen are conquering the World Wide Web with their splurge of color and drama. Boxed they may be, but they are wowing the world all over.


"Ding, ang Bato!" is a call that would strike a chord with most people who were already breathing and thinking in the 70s (I caught the reruns in the 80s). If you're thinking along the same lines, this is Vilma Santos, the fifth actress to put on Darna's sash, as the young, crippled Narda from the numerous film adaptations of Mars Ravelo's Darna (www.marsravelodarna.com). This spunky lady with her ebony black tresses and Malayan features, skimpily clad in a pair of red bikinis generously accessorized with gold but alien metal stars, is a true Filipino icon with true Filipino values. She has the beauty of Venus, the strength of Samson, and the sculpted but feminized -- and therefore curvaceous -- body of Apollo. Fifty-three years have already passed since she first captivated our country and now she's back with a vengeance. She pirouetted her way onstage at the recently concluded dance musical Mars Ravelo's Darna performed by the Ballet Philippines in CCP (www.ballet.com.ph/darna/castcrew.htm). And though months have passed since the first series was released in February, Darna is still making waves as a revamped, full glossy, body-beautiful heroine in the three-part series by Mango Comics(www.mangocomics.com/darna). Duly authorized by the heirs of Mars Ravelo, this series will show Darna as a college student fighting drug pushers and terrorists.

The Land of Hinirang

If you want a whole alternate land during a specific time in our history, hop over to www.hinirang.com, where comic book luminaries Nikki and Francis Dean Alfar (Kestrel Studios, www.kestrelstudios.com), Jason Banico (Dynatica Comics, www.dynatica.com), Carl Vergara (Carver House, carverhouse.blogspot.com), Marco Dimaano (Angel Ace, www.angelace.com), Arnold Arre (Tala Studios, www.arnold-arre.com) and Vincent Michael Simbulan (producer of Isaw At Iba Pa under Quest Ventures and manager of Comic Quest), have gathered. Here they offer readers a host of stories, essays, and Web comics about this enchanted land where higantes and tiq'barangs are but normal. You will meet characters like the demonica puta whose name is Immacolata (art and story by Marco Dimaano) and the nameless lady and her mystical sea creature in Asin (written by Nikki Alfar).

What’s great about this site is, it will link you to the respective pages of all these comic book big shots. For instance, you can go to the site of two-time National Book Awardee Arnold Arre (for The Mythology Class and Trip to Tagaytay) and take a peek at his latest graphic novel After Eden (Arnold was also the illustrator and designer for the 5th Philippine Web Awards, www.philippinewebawards.com.). You can visit www.alamatcomics.com where Carl Vergara's Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is featured.


Over at www.beerkada.tk, you’re sure to meet a familiar-looking bunch of friends. There's the shy type, the slow type, the pornographic type, the kikay type, the activist type, and other people you would be able to relate to with such ease. Beerkada will easily remind you of your own barkada, your gimiks, your adventures, your embarrassing moments together... yes, just like your, real, live college buddies (ten years ago, or was it twenty?).

Pugad Baboy

Of course, who could ever forget the cholesterol-dominated world of Pugad Baboy by Pol Medina, Jr.? Hop on over to Mang Dagul and Polgas' backyard at www.pmjunior.com.ph before the round of rounded characters heckle you to death about the mermaids and clams growing in your beer.


Care to explore a different world? Head on to www.mikrokosmos.tk where Jomike Tejido, creator of Mikrokosmos, gives you a refreshing and sometimes disgusting insider's view of the world of insects. It's a green, green world as Jomike and the rest of the Mikrokosmos gang promote environmentalism. It’s a rich cache of information as varied as the insects that the writer/illustrator favors.

And others

We still have numerous talents out there, but space limitations dictate that we stop here. Since we're already online, though, check out Robert Magnuson's Shirley's Pets at www.shirleyspets.tk, Sanduguan at www.geocities.com/capsulezone and for more links, go to www.filipinolinks.com/Entertainment/Pinoy_Komiks. Have a great time browsing our local comics, may it be drama, action, or comedy -- that's Pinoy talent for you!

Friday, August 15, 2003

by Arune Singh, Staff Writer
Posted: August 14, 2003

In Part One of CBR News' focus on "Superman: Birthright," Mark Waid spoke about writing the acclaimed series for DC Comics. Along for the ride with him are a tremendous creative team and one of those members is inker Gerry Alanguilan, who puts the final touches on artist Leinil Yu's art. The inker found time to speak to CBR News about "Birthright" and about the place of inkers in the industry.

"I had been inking Whilce Portacio almost exclusively on 'Stone,' 'Tales of Darkness' and 'X-Force,'" explains Alanguilan of his career before "Birthright." "But once in a while, I help out inking a few pages of 'Wolverine' and 'Uncanny X-Men' pencilled by Leinil Yu when they had to meet a deadline really quick. I got to work full time with Leinil on 'New X-Men Annual 2001' and on 'High Roads' for Cliffhanger/Wildstorm. We find that we work really well together both professionally and personally (we're both good friends), that it seemed natural that I continue to work with him on Superman.

"Superman is a project that I just can't say no to. He's the one that started it all, the ultimate super hero. I don't consider working on Superman as a job, I consider it an honor. I can scarcely believe I'm actually involved in this. I really didn't dream of working on Superman when I was a kid. I dreamt of drawing Wolverine and Iron Man and Conan. That's because I knew that through hard work, I could probably do it. But Superman...I didn't even think of it. It was just too impossible. Too unthinkable. But now that I'm here...Wow!!"

Part of the reason for Alanguilan's enthusiasm is that he is a big Superman fan, like many of the people involved with this project, and feels the character offers a great ideal for people to aspire to achieve. "Superman will always embody an ideal that I would always aspire to achieve. That would entail ultimate goodness, honesty, integrity, bravery. Such concepts may appear too boring to some, but not to me. The world is such an ugly place already with all the troubles we've been having. As humans we swim through all that muck everyday. It can get really depressing and you could lose yourself if you allow yourself to. Superman is like an anchor, the one you think about that cannot be touched by all this hate, this anger, this fear. You read his adventures in comics and somehow you feel hopeful because despite of everything, he still strives to do what is right and what is good."

As he said above, working on Superman has been an honor for Alanguilan and previous to working on the character he found it all a bit intimidating. "Superman hasn't been a dream project to me because I felt that it would be too impossible for me to achieve. If I dreamed of it, then I would have been considering myself worthy enough to be part of telling his story, which I wasn't. I felt so totally unworthy. When I started working, I was slowly able to work on characters I actually did dream of doing like Wolverine, X-Men, New Mutants (who were going by the name of X-Force by the time I worked on them), and Fantastic Four. Although I was a fan of Superman, it really didn't occur to me that I could actually work on one of his books. Now that I'm here...it's just been exhilarating."
While Alanguilan does realize that Superman has a ways to go before he connects with fans like he did in times past, he also realizes his role on the book leaves him little room to help that process along. "As an inker, my scope of influence is somewhat limited, so there's really nothing else I can do job-wise except to do my best work, as I've always done, and if it's possible, give something more," explains the inker. "But then outside the job, I can always promote the book on my own like what I'm doing on my site. I'm glad for the chance to promote that book whenever I can."

Conjuring up a Superman like altruism, Alanguilan says he has one major goal on this series and frankly, it's not about him. "I came in with the sole purpose of making Leinil Yu's pencils come alive in ink and make him look good. Leinil's pencils evolve with every project, and I need to evolve along with it. His style has become more simpler but more elegantly composed. It's both easier and harder to ink. Easier because some pages don't take that much time to finish. Harder because you really have to think about every line because there's not that many of them, and ensure that each line is correct and looks good."

It's not often that you see a comic book inker interviewed these days- Jimmy Palmiotti and Keith Champagne are two of the more common ones- but that's not something that bothers Alanguilan. "The lack of inker interviews doesn't bother too much, as I really believe our work, if done well, doesn't stand out and attract attention to itself. Our work should help the penciller tell the story, and as such, inkers should help the penciller's work reach its potential. But come to think of it, I really would welcome more inker interviews. Inking is such a misunderstood part in the process of creating comics. A lot of readers seem to have a mistaken belief of what inking is all about and because of these mistaken beliefs, inkers are attacked erroneously. If more inkers get interviewed, a much broader understanding of what inkers do may well result and we don't get so unfairly trounced for things we aren't responsible for."

There are a number of misconceptions fans have of exactly what an Inker does, a fact that a certain Kevin Smith movie makes good use of for comedic effect, and Alanguilan was happy to set the record straight. "I was laughing my head off in the opening comic con sequence in 'Chasing Amy' where a fight breaks out between an inker and a guy accusing him of being just a tracer. It's funny, but I do admit it furthers the misconceptions that inkers are indeed just drawing over lines that the penciller has already drawn.

"If people do a little digging, they would realize that the best inkers in the business are some of the best artists as well. People like Kevin Nowlan, Dexter Vines, Mark Buckingham, Klaus Janson, Whilce Portacio, Al Williamson, and Jerry Ordway, fantastic artists in their own right, are also some of the best inkers we have had. I only say this because I truly believe that being a good artist is required for one to be a good inker. If you are not an artist to begin with, you can't even begin to know what the heck to do with that pencilled page in front of you.

"Another misconception is the belief that it's always the inkers fault that the penciller's work no longer looks good. I read too much feedback from readers where they say so and so penciller's work is wrecked because of this or that inker. This would be a valid opinion if the readers saw the original pencils to begin with. I really believe that nobody can justifiably assess the work of an inker vis a vis the penciller's work without seeing the original pages. Why a particular page sucks could mean many things, and not just because the inker sucks. It could mean that the penciller was pressed for time and had to finish that page in an hour and the inker just had to make the best of it. The penciller may well be having a bad day and just hacked out the page, or he was sick, or yeah, it just may well be that the inker himself is having a bad day. But the point is, beyond the penciller, inker and editor, nobody truly knows what the circumstances are that went into the production of a sucky page. Opinions assessing that page is at best speculation, and the sad truth of it is, the inkers are almost always the one who gets the short end of the stick.

"An example: I get feedback for 'High Roads,' and readers tell me how much they like Leinil's work better during 'Wolverine' because it looked grittier and darker and they blame me because Leinil's work no longer looks that way now. I get to tell those who do write me that it's just the way Leinil's pencils look like now and I'm just following his lead. But what about the rest?"

In the case of "Superman: Birthright," Alanguilan says that he is doing what he feels is best for inking and that if someone does "trace" pencils when they're inking, it's not wrong- to each their own. "It's not really a matter of right or wrong, but a matter of what looks good and what doesn't. Leinil's pencils are quite precise and all the information is already there. For me to add too much or remove anything too much would affect the work and take the finished page away from what Leinil intends. So I always keep in mind what he is trying to achieve, and help the pencils reach it with the inks. I really don't think of it as tracing, but developing what Leinil has done to its full potential."

There's been no major bumps in the road for the inker on "Birthright," but he says one change early on somewhat disrupted the flow of things. "The transition between editors at the start of the series gave us some problems, but they were easily worked out. I gotta say that there's really nothing hard for me on this series. This is Superman. I love what I'm doing. Everything becomes easy. This is due in part to Editor Eddie Berganza and Assistant Editor Tom Palmer Jr., who have been very accommodating and helpful. Like the rest of the creative team, I can feel in their correspondence that they really care about this character and that makes you feel really good about being part of this project."

If a penciller or writer approaches a Superman project, it's easier for most outside the industry to understand how the creators might feel intimidated, but in the case of inkers, one has to wonder what kind of pressure they feel. "All I need to concern myself with is to alter my style to fit the penciller on any given project, be it Superman or be it another character. It was a little intimidating working on Superman, and I have to admit it took me a long time to get going on the very first page I got to ink. But after I have worked on some 10 pages, I got my rhythm and it's been a breeze ever since."

The creative team along with Alanguilan on this project have really made an impression on the inker and he says it's been fun. "I've been involved with some very high profile books in the past, but this is the very first time that I feel that everything just clicks. The story is very involving and exciting, Leinil is doing some of the best stuff he's done, and Dave McCaig the colorist is just blowing us away with every page. It actually took us a long time to find the right colorist for it. We had always assumed that we would be working with Edgar Tadeo, who had colored us so amazingly well in 'High Roads.' But he had to beg off Superman because of previous commitments. And for a long time we went through different colorists who wanted to try out but nobody worked out. There were some colorists that we wanted but they were unavailable.

"In our desperation we called up this artist who had been working on a local music magazine who was doing really cool innovative stuff. We met with him and although he seemed a little too weird, he was very talented and it if it worked out, we would have loved to have him aboard. When he turned in his samples man...Superman looked like he just stepped out of a psychedelic nightmare, colors shooting all over the place. Leinil and I both sat in our seats sweating. It looked interesting... but it would certainly short circuit our readers' minds and parents would be picketing us off the book. ha! ha! Thankfully enough, Leinil found Dave McCaig, whose work in 'Doom Patrol' looked really impressive to him. Personally, I just love Dave's colors and I tell him so with every opportunity."

The feedback for "Birthright," with the second issue already on stands, has been pretty much positive on CBR's Superman Forum and Alanguilan finds that it's much the same everywhere else. "I've been visiting many message boards and I'm glad to discover that the feedback has been generally positive. There is some negative feedback due to the confusion if 'Birthright' is in continuity or not. What's surprising to me is that the readers really care about the minutiae of everything and anything Superman. They care about where the 'S' symbol comes from, where the curl on Superman's hair come from, and other details like that. It only goes to show that people do still care for Superman, and that's a good thing."

Though he's a big Superman fan, Gerry Alanguilan says he's only watched one of the new television shows featuring the Big Blue Boy Scout. "Strange as it may seem, I'm not too much into animation, so I really haven't seen 'Justice League.' I do watch 'Smallville' from time to time. It was surprising to find out that Lex Luthor and Clark Kent are such good friends in this show. It fills me with dread to finally watch the show that would destroy their friendship and make them mortal enemies. It's also a pleasant surprise to see that the Lana Lang of 'Superman 3' is now Martha Kent. Plus, Kristin Kreuk is so super hot. Whew!! Forget Lois, Clark!! Lana is IT!! :)"

Besides "Superman: Birthright," Alanguilan is involved with other projects and is happy to let readers know where else they can see his work. "I do enjoy inking a lot, but I don't see myself doing it forever. I started in the industry with the full intent of drawing comics. Inking comics had been fun for the past few years, but I would like to start drawing as well. I've already been both writing and drawing comics here in the Philippines long before I started working on US comics. I've been contributing illustrations for various publications including 'Fleshrot Book 1' for Frightworld Studios and Graphic Classics (HP Lovecraft, Jack London). I recently finished pencilling and inking an 'Ochlocrat' one shot for Comics Conspiracy with writer Doug Miers, and I've just finished pencilling, inking and lettering a 17 page adaption of 'Bram Stoker's Judge's House' for Graphic Classics, out September 15. I've also contributed a couple of stories I wrote and drew for the upcoming 'Prophecy Magazine.'

"In my native Philippines, I was able to come up with several comics I've written and drawn, most notable of which is 'Wasted.' It's gotten favorable reviews from Steven Grant, Warren Ellis and the 'Comics International' magazine. It's so far just available here in the Philippines and I'm currently looking for a small distributor in the US. 'Wasted' is also currently being shot as an independent film for which I provided the screenplay."

Knowing how much fans always want to stay ahead of the curve, Alanguilan offers some hints for the future of "Birthright," but also says, he doesn't know a lot of what's to come. "In the issue I've just finished inking, fans of the first Superman movie will probably get the same rush when they read it. I really can't say much more than that. he.he.

"Coming into this project solely as an inker, it would be difficult for me to answer certain questions as they require certain information of which I am not privy to. Although I am working on the book, I wasn't involved in the thought process that went into the creation of the concept. In fact, I've yet to know what will happen in the next issue and how this will all end. I'm pretty much a fan, just like a lot of people, waiting for what Mark Waid has got up his sleeve month after month with this book. And like a lot of people, I can't wait!"

August 2003 issue
By L. Marcelline Santos-Taylor

At the Philadelphia Convention Center, site of the East Coast Wizard Comic Book Convention, a line forms at the Wildstorm/DC comics booth. At the end of the line, sits a genial looking fellow artist Whilce Portacio. He smiles and signs autographs, smiles and signs, smiles and signs. Then the line stops moving when a pony-tailed Asian fan hands him a stack of comic books to sign. One of the convention coordinators steps in and informs the fans that there is a two-book limit. Pony-tail isn’t too happy “ Come on,” he tells Whilce, “give your Asian brother a break, dude.” He manages to sneak in five instead of two books and grudgingly moves back to the end of the line.

To many young artists and comic book aficionados, Whilce Portacio is a hero much like the comic book characters he has worked on including the Uncanny X-men, Iron Man and Stone. The latter being the first comic book based upon Filipino myths and legends to be released internationally. He has played mentor to a crop of young Filipino artists like Gerry Alanguilan (Wetworks, Stone, X-force,Wolverine and Superman: Birthright) and Leinil Yu (X-men, Wolverine and Superman: Birthright), who are now enjoying success in the U.S. comics industry.

Born in the Philippines some thirty-something years ago, Whilce moved to America when he was two years old. His father was a career navy man so most of his childhood was spent on military bases. “Living on military bases gives you the freedom of safety,” shares Whilce, “Because there was so little crime our parents let us stay out with friends till 9:30PM sometimes and my friends and I, being boys, explored every inch of everything labeled ‘military’ and ‘restricted.” The young Whilce loved to read and spent many Sunday mornings after church at the library pouring over Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It was not until he was ten years old that he discovered comic books. “My next door neighbor wanted to throw out her husbands comic book collection while he was at work and instead gave them all to me,” says Whilce.

His high school years were spent in Hawaii. And although he always had a knack for art, he never thought of becoming an artist professionally. “Until I found out I was too short and had bad eyesight from watching too much TV,” Whilce shares, “I wanted to be an astronaut…then I wanted to be a rock star but couldn’t sing…” With his innate artistic talent, he started to pursue a fine arts/advertising degree at the Philippine Women’s University (PWU) in Manila only to return to the States after his second year. It was then that fate stepped in and chose a career path for him.

Armed with a stack of art samples, Whilce attended the San Diego International Comic Book Convention. He so impressed Marvel Comics editor Carl Potts that he was offered a job on the spot. From penciller, to inker, to writer, Whilce career as a comic book artist took off. Since then he has worked in various capacities on titles like Alpha Flight, The Punisher, X-factor, Uncanny X-men, Iron Man, and X-force. For the X-men, he even created the famous X-men character Bishop. Currently, he is a studio manager and artist for Wildstorm/DC Comics, working on the series Storwatch: Team Achilles, dubbed as “hard-edged military fiction.” His “discovery” at the Comic-con has inspired many young artists to follow their dreams.

Whilce confides: “I was excited (about getting a job on the spot for Marvel Comics) of course but strangely not bowled over or overwhelmed. I knew it was a job and people depended on me (so I had to do it well). There was so much to learn. I was responsible for my grandmother and my sisters so I had to make money being the Kuya…no time to think just do…” Playing big brother comes naturally to Whilce. It is the most Pinoy thing about him: “I was born to be a Kuya,” he says. And the most American thing: “I think I can fix anything,” he smiles.

In the mid-90s, Whilce was back in Manila. He lived in a large old house on Balete Drive in Quezon City, where he once again found himself playing kuya to a rag-tag family of artists. After fifteen years in comics Whilce felt he had reached a plateau both professionally and personally.

“I decided to take a (self-imposed) vacation to find myself so to speak and one thing lead to another. I just rented a spooky cool house on Balete because a friend’s family owned it and the people came. As we made more friends it just became right for us all to hang out…Then we all said, hey we’re a bunch of talented people let’s pool our talent together and make some money for rent and have as much fun as possible.”

His semi-retirement proved productive. He taught comic book/art workshops for the LEARN center of his old school PWU and helped launch the careers of a new breed of Filipino comic book artists.

“I fell into teaching so easily,” Whilce says, “it was kind of a release for me -- a way to let loose all my thoughts and experiences." Fifteen years is a lot of comics, Whilce had a lot to say. Teaching at a school and preparing new artists for "real world" jobs was a way for him to see himself as others did -- a comics idol and role model. He quips, "Work never prepares you for that role. (With work), you just think of the deadlines and the next vacation." He was definitely onto something.

Another offshoot of those Manila years was the creation of his own comic book company called Avalon Studios. Avalon released titles like Aria, Hellcop and Stone. Stone received international acclaim and will go down in history as the first comic book based upon Filipino myths and legends to be released to the international market. Like most Filipino-Americans, Whilce had been interested in understanding his two cultures. For Whilce, writing Stone meant finding his roots through Philippine mythology.

“My feeling is that the Philippines is in a rut because we do not know as a whole who we are in the world. If we can’t find a common identity as a country, how can we banner together as one people and achieve the things that we know we can achieve (as Filipino people)?”

In the future, he plans to revive his original concept of the Stone book – a compilation of “ghost stories” that Filipinos hear growing up, as described by Philippine scholars and psychics and illustrated by top artists. “Hopefully, a definitive look into our psyche,” he says.

Whilce Portacio is back in the US. Not too long ago, Whilce suddenly fell into a coma and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. “Even though I almost died, I am very blessed to have come out of it with barely a scratch. Fortunately, all I need to do is watch my diet and exercise a little more. My diabetes is very borderline and controllable,” he says sounding grateful.

Perhaps it is this brush with death that has made him a bit reflective about how his life’s turned out. Via e-mail, he writes: “My first fifteen years in comics were spent learning the skills God gave me. My five years in the Philippines were spent finding out who I was and ended up with finding my own family to love and protect. So my future time on Earth is dedicated to my wife, my son, my two daughters. My life right now is 9-5 working manager/artist then the rest of the day and night devoted father and husband…to some a very ho-hum life but for me, I have reached a very meaningful stage in this wonderful life.”

From caring Kuya to loving Padre de Familia, Whilce Portacio, foremost comics illustrator and author has definitely found his place in this world.


BIO-NOTE. L. Marcelline Santos-Taylor is a freelance writer. She writes the column Manila Girl for the Filipino Express. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and toddler son. You may e-mail her at manilagir101@hotmail.com

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

By Oliver Pulumbarit


Comic book creators wield considerable might. Like writers and artists in other fields, they can create worlds upon imagined worlds where the fantastic can happen, where the lives of their creations take entertaining twists or turns upon their wicked whims.

The early '90s gave birth to several gatherings of such enthusiastic minds, inspired by successful Filipino-American comics illustrator Whilce Portacio. Every group would have a host of brainchildren, ideas for comic books and stories that were manifested, more often than not, with doses of brilliance and naivete. I belonged to one such group during college, a bunch of aspiring creators and aficionados that included Gerry Alanguilan and Nick Manabat (who would immediately leave for the US to work on the Image title Cybernary).

This young batch of dreamers would spend countless Saturdays in shifting venues, planning and bandying around ideas and designs for the ideal team of Filipino superheroes. By early 1994, another enthusiast group comprised mostly of La Sallistas would release Flashpoint, a quirky merging of mainstream super-conflicts with Vertigo-esque sensibilities. This was followed shortly by CATS Studios' Aster, a cosmic superhero series that was published and released in the US by Entity Comics.

For many of us Pinoy geeks, things were looking up for the latest generation of wonder-weavers. The rock band scene was also experiencing renewed vigor during this period, and the muses seem to be extremely generous in sharing their permeating inspiration.

Before the inevitable union of many of these factions as the umbrella organization Alamat Comics in November 1994, several ashcans (usually photocopied editions sized at half the regular format) and other publications sold out in comic shops like CATS, Filbar's and Platinum. These included Exodus, an Image Comics-inspired conglomerate of komiks artists; Memento Mori, an anthology of provoking short stories for mature readers; and Comics 101, another anthology that showcased a number of potential projects from diverse creators.

It was a time when creative juices flowed (not that it doesn't anymore), especially for people who used the potential of the sequential form to tell very personal stories. Gerry Alanguilan's cathartic Wasted was a result of a devastating failed relationship. He gave me and his other friends photocopied installments of his work, which eventually got collected as an Alamat book, and was also serialized in Pulp Magazine.

Another effort, the six-issue Sigaw Saklolo, was practically a playground for free artistic expression, each photocopied issue a collection of some of the most hilarious, bizarre, and ruminative comic strips, poetry, and commentaries. Pagan Press, meanwhile, is another pre-Alamat title that featured works that deviated from the norm, the Santos brothers' all-ages chronicles of Indigo Valley later spinning off in a series of books.

Alamat saw the blurring of some territorial lines, as creative teams shifted and collaborated in making tales that catered to a wide range of tastes and genres, helping each other out in projects that were just waiting to get worked on. Dhampyr, written by Flashpoint scribe David Hontiveros, was illustrated by yours truly and John Toledo, earning us a National Book Awards nomination for 1998's best comic book (I just had to bring that up, didn't I?). It was about a natural vampire hunter and his unasked-for reunion with his bloodsucking relatives.

Hontiveros would also work with many artists of diverse styles in Pantheon and Avatar, which exemplifies his versatility in handling genres. These were back-to-basics, smart super-adventures that hearkened back to clear-cut, good-versus-evil spandex epics.

Alamat had a lot of promising titles that didn't get to fulfill its promise of being ongoing series. Projects like ARCHON and Alamat 101 were interesting reads that had to discontinue due to unforeseen circumstances. Other non-Alamat independent titles that showed tremendous potenial are Francis Lim's Peace, a meticulously written and illustrated science fiction parable; and Arnel and Mannie Abeleda's Piece of Weapon, a hardboiled crime drama set in 1970s Manila.

It's obviously not easy creating comics because they take untiring devotion, money and an adherence to competitive standards. Arnold Arre's wondrous Trip to Tagaytay and Mythology Class won National Book Awards, and it looks like his massive romantic graphic novel After Eden is poised to win another one in September. Arre's passion for the medium is impressive (that's an understatement), and one cannot begin to predict what world he'll come up with next.

The 3-issue Batch 72, written by Budjette Tan and also illustrated by Arre, was another place that had its own fanciful rules (a superpowered Philippines) and similarly interesting inhabitants (a superpowered college band). Marco Dimaano's Angel Ace, drawn in a manga-influenced style, has his flying heroine trounce bad guys in fast-paced and humor-filled exploits.

There have been dark realms, like the one in Jason Banico's Baylans, a paranoid alternate reality Philippines where supernatural forces and cyber-guardians unite to free the land from the land's subjugators. There's also The Lost from Kestrel Studios, Dean Alfar's peril-fraught universe where many fictitious characters have become real, some of which threaten the lives of their creators.

Last year's National Book Awards winner, Quest Ventures' Isaw Atbp., possesses three inter-connected short stories (by Vincent Simbulan, Arre, Dimaano, and Carl Vergara) as well as poetry from a number of creators. Kestrel Studios has two issues of Ab Ovo, which basically has all the creators from Isaw Atbp., as well as from the community of Pinoy creative types from some of the other local titles. Ab Ovo has poetry, introspection, and brief sequential yarns that tangentially involve jeans (yes, it's true).

Vergara's lauded gay-themed books, the dramatic One Night in Purgatory and the hilarious Darna parody, Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni ZsaZsa Zaturnnah, are both carefully crafted and immensely entertaining depictions of alternative lifestyles.

Darna herself has resurfaced in a new self-titled mini-series from Mango Comics, while anime lovers get their Japanese-flavored fix in the colorful, and hugely popular Culture Crash anthology series.

Filipino comics have been interesting metaphysical playpens for omniscient storytellers and picturesmiths who love the medium. There have been aborted projects, unfinished efforts, and many lessons learned, but as long as there are eager readers willing to visit their brave planes of existences, the local powers-that-be will keep creating and infusing them with unpredictable lives, whether superhuman or otherwise.

Oliver M. Pulumbarit has worked on four of the aforementioned titles, as well as on "Lexy, Nance & Argus", which was serialized in Pulp Magazine.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

DARNA! by Hugo Zacarias Yonzon
MTV INK, April 2003, Vol. 3, No. 3

When I was a little boy, my uncle taught me a trick using firepowder found in used paputok. We’d gather all the firepowder we could fins, and put it together a spoonful’s worth into a mound. He would make me stand a foot or so from the pile of firepowder and he’d light it using a long, twisted strip of paper. The firepowerder would ignite and there would be a bright flash, lots of smoke, and I was instructed to shout “Darna!” This is my earliest memory of Darna, Needless to say, you should try this at home.

If you need to know why that little trick was called “The Darna,” then you probably didn’t grow up in the Philippines. That, or you’ve been carefully shielded from exposure to Filipino pop culture. Mars Ravelo’s super-heroine first appeared as Varga in comics in 1949. Comics back then were the soap operas of today, closely followed from week to week. You think some semi-pornographic men’s magazine’s circulation is impressive at 120,000? Try about a million for Fil;ipino komiks back in the 50s. When Ravelo, the highest-paid comic book serye writer in his day, moved to work for another publisher in 1951, he shrewdly brought his creation with him, circumnavigating certain restrictions by renaming her Darna.

Drawn by the country’s top illustrator, Nestor Redondo (Varag was drawn by Ravelo himself, who gained more fame as a writer than an artist), Darna was an instant hit. That same year, it was made into a film. The first Darna was Rosa Del Rosario, who reprised the role for the second film, also in 1951. Since her debut on celluloid, Darna has been remade into film a whopping 14 times. That’s more than any American super-hero can claim! Darna has been played by a bevy of popular Filipino stars from Sharon Cuneta (in a cameo in Captain Barbell) to Dolphy (as a temp Darna in Darna Kuno) to Nanette Medved and Anjenette Abayari. The most popular Darna of all, Vilma Santos, portrayed the role four times from 1973’s Lipad, Darna, Lipad! To 1980’s Darna and Ding.

Some critics would dismiss Darna as a Wonder Woman rip-off. More accurately, Darna seems to be more directly inspired by Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel (Shazam!) with some Wonder Woman elements thrown in. Captain Marvel’s alter ego was a young boy named Billy Batson who shouts the wizard Shazam’s name to call on thunder and lightning to transforms into the power Captain Marvel. The similarities end there, however, Darna is a Filipino icon through and through.

One of the popular elements of Darna is the mystical stone which fell to earth, and which the curious young Narda swallowed. In the original series, Darna swallows the stone only once. The movies, however, in their many versions, made it so that Narda would have to swallow the stone before each time she shouted “Darna!”, giving rise to the immortal line, “Ding! Ang bato!” This element is original Ravleo, with a hint of influences from Filipino mysticism, Filipino myth describes an agimat or enchanted stone which is swallowed and gives its possessor superhuman abilities.

Darna is an enduring Filipino pop icon who finds relevance in society even in these jaded times. Although Darna’s last appearance on the silver screen was in 1994, and her last appearance in comic book form escapes my memory, Darna is still very much a familiar and popular figure in local pop culture, Darna has, in recent years, even endorsed the Toyota Tamaraw FX. Her presences is so ingrained in the Filipino psyche that even a cleansing bleach can imply so much with the statement “Ding, ang takip!” (complete with bright backlight).

Darna is, put simply, the greatest Filipino super-heroine ever. Her mystique continues to appeal to Filipinos young and old. The old remember how she was in film and print, and the young get taught stupid and dangerous tricks with firepowder called “The Darna.” She appeals to women because she embodies female empowerment in all sense. Narda’s role model and authority figure is her grandmother, who raised her and her brother Richard (Ding, comes from Carding, the colloquial term for Richard). Richard, practically, the only recurring male character in Ravelo’s series, was the archetypal damsel in distress. He always needed rescuing. Darna’s nemeses were mostly female, her arch-enemy was the serpent-coiffed Valentina, for example. Among her gallery of rogues were Armida, Ang Babaeng Lawin; Ang Babaeing Tuod; and Ang Impakta. This isn’t to say that Ravelo limited Darna’s tussles to all-girl affairs. Darna fought men, too—most of them uneducated thugs and drunkards.

The unflattering portrayal of men in the series does nothing to reduce the male demographic, however. Darna is strong, stylish, and sexy, star-spangled bra and all. Portraying Darna in nearly every film was always the latest, hottest young starlet. Lipad, Darna, Lipad! was Vilma Santos’ image-changing role. The moment she dressed up (or down, as it were) in that unforgettable two-piece, it announced she was ready for Burlsek Queen, her break-out role. Then there was Nanette Medved. Can you picture a running Anjanette Abayari? Is it any wonder that she has throngs of male fans, too?

Darna also resonates very strongly with member of the third sex. She’s Madonna, she’s Kylie, she’s Regine Velasquez. Overheard at the Mango Comics’ launch at Eastwood last February 28, where people who bought the comic were given the chance to have their picture taken with a model in a Darna outfit; gay man 1: “Tara, magpakuga tayo kasam ni Darna!” gay man 2: ”Ayoko! Gusto ko AKO si Darna!”. Women admire her, men want to be with her, and gay men want to be her.

2003 promises to be a big year for the 50-year old super-heroine. Kicking off what has been dubbed as Darna Year is Mango Comics’ launch of the new, English edition version of Mars Ravelos’ Darna. Done in the tradition of American comic books (DC, Marvel, Image, etc.) computer-colored and printed in five-color Heidelberg machines, Mars Ravelo’s Darna is Mango Comics’ way of paying homage. Having been out of the comics scene for an incredibly long time, Darna returns with a bang. The three-part series is written by Boboy Yonzon, an award-winning film writers and director; penciled in turns by Ryan Orosco, Lan Medina, and Gilbert Monsanto, the latter two being comic professionals who’ve done work for American companies; and inked by Monsanto.

The limited series will be followed by a Darna tribute album, slated for release in June. At the same time, from the end of May to mid-June, there will be a Mars Ravelo’s Darna staged by Ballet Philippines. It’s Ballet Philppines’ most ambitious project eve, done on a scale they’ve never attempted. In this incarnation of the super-heroine, there will be flying. When I say flying, I mean, piano wire, Chinese movie, Matrix-style flying. (When I saw the pre-production training and initial choreography, I was blown away). It’ll be directed by theater veteran Cris Millado, and choreographed by Denisa Reyes.

In these uncertain times, Darn fills a much needed void of inspiration. There’s always a need for heroes, especially, one we can call our own. This year, Darna flies again.

By Abi Aquino
Cosmopolitan (Philippines), May 2003, Vol. 7, No. 5

Long before fire engine bustiers and knee-high boots were even considered fashionable, one woman has been breaking convention and soaring the skies as humanity’s champion against evil. Now, looking unbelievably fresh and sexy at age 53, Darna has captures the imagination of a new generation of fans everywhere, with a comic book relaunch plus a dance-musical slated for August of this year.

It was in 1951 that Darna made her comic debut in Pilipino Komiks, conceived and written by the great Mars Ravelo. The story – a young girl who finds a mysterious stone and transforms into an other wordly being—immediately caught on to readers and became a hit.

Daughter Rita Ravelo says, “Darna was a my father’s answer to Superman. Some people think that Darna was patterned after Wonder Woman, but there was no Wonder Woman in the Philippines at that time.”

The comic was the first of it’s kind then— it featured a Pinay superhero who battled equally intimidating Pinay criminal masterminds. The story itself reads like classis tale of female empowerment—young girl raised by her grandmother discovers the secret to unlocking the superhuman strength in her by uttering the mysterious word—“Darna!”

Together with her faithful brother Ding, Darna went on to battle creatures of pure evil—arch enemies who were women as well. Some of us will vaguely remember spending afternoons watching RPN 9’s Piling Piling Pelikula and seeing a young Vilma Santos duking it out with a horrifying dyed Planet Woman. But the most famous of Darna’s foes was Valentina, a woman with a head full of snakes for hair, and the power to command armies of asps, constrictors, and other slithering serpents.

Like its flying heroine, the comic series soared. Within that same year, a movie version of the same name was released.

Now, fifteen movies and several comic series later, Darna remains one of Ravelo’s most enduring and popular characters. It was no great surprise that Mango Comics, a local comic book company, picked the saucy stone swallower as it’s maiden offering. Boboy Yonzopn, publisher of Mango Comics and a close family friend of the Ravelo family, relaunched Darna in time for her golden anniversary.

“When you say `Filipino superhero,` the first thing that comes to your mind is Darna,” sasy Zach Yonzon, editor-in-chief of Mango Comics. “It’s a Filipino creative legacy.” In this version, the fun flying super female gets a few nips and tucks in the costume department, and amps up her special powers as well. “Apart from her superhuman strength and her ability to fly, she’s also developed certain bionic and kinetic powers that originally weren’t there before,” says Zach.

Prima kontra bida Valentina gets a shapely redo as well. “In the original series, she was the town freak who wore this shapeless nightgown. In our comic book, she’s sexier and saucier,” he shares.

Darna’s alter ego Narda gets a facelift too. “We wanted to flesh out Narda’s psyche, because really, if you think about it, the premise of an ordinary being having a superhero as an alter ego has such interesting possibilities,” Zach explains. In this latest incarnation, Narda is more than just the human vessel for Darna and becomes a richly drawn character with more mature and complex emotions.

Aside from the comic relaunch, a Darna dance-musical by Ballet Philippines is slated for August 1 to 17. The production is touted as a multi-media spectacle, from pumping techno music to aerial stunts guaranteed to knock the win out of audiences. BP Principal dancer Christien Crame dons the winger tiara, and seasoned actress Jenine Desiderio and Chin-Chin Guitierrz will take turns as the spiteful Valentina Mango Comics joins the fun by providing kick-ass graphic designs for the sets. The show promises to be a riot of color, dance, and song—one giant comic book come to life.

The new millennium spins and twists found in both the musical and the comic book are at times wild, surprising and ultimately fun. But all these serve to enrich the tale and enhance the classic spirit of its title character—Darna remains as confident and courages as she was when she first flew in 1951.

Laging mabait at matapang si Darna,” says Rita. “That will never change.” Perhaps what makes the character so darn cool is that she holds an alluring balance of dual qualities: She’s mabait yet matapang. Strong yet sympathetic. Sexy yet dignified. And she looks damn great in a pair of teensy-weensy red pekpek shorts.

“My father’s mother was a very strong, independent, and hard-working woman, “Explains Rita. “You’ll notice that most of Mars Ravelo’s female characters such as Dyesebel, Roberta, and Darna are string-willed and brave—women who survived insurmountable odds. I personally think that Darn’a is my father’s tribute not only to his mother, but to all the courageous women out there.”

Darna choreographer Denisa Reyes, shares a similar opinion. “She’s the kind of ate, the kind woman that everyone can look up to. She’s strong, she’s bold, she’s the Pinay that we all are now.” Zach Yonzon says, “Other superheroes don a costume, but they’re basically the same person in disguise. But Darna is a separate entity from Narda—with the magic stone, Narda becomes Darna. It’s the idea of transforming into a better person that rings true—not just to females but also to everyone else. It’s the promise of becoming a better version of you that attracts readers.

“We’ve created a lot of Pinoy superheroes but the one who resonates the most is Darna. Darna is strong. She’s confident. She’s a woman.”

Text by Cesar Miguel G. Escano
Photography by: Lester V. Ledesma
MEN ZONE Magazine, Vol. 6, No.11, May 2003

The Philippines’ premier superheroine has finally arrived. Even after 21 serialized Tagalog comic books, 14 movies, and appearances in a few television commercials, Darna’s star shines brighter than ever. If 2003 being “Darna Year” is any indication, this brunette bombshell is here is stay.

Her schedule is already fully booked this early. A new comic boo released this March kicks off the festivities for “Darna Year.” Its publisher is set to release a tribute music album this June. A commemorative exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is slated this July. August witnesses the world premiere of Darna: A Dance Musical. A production of Ballet Philippines, it is touted as the most expensive and ambitious project ever in Philippine theater history. Last March 1, Mango Comics launched its maiden title, Darna, in Eastwood City, Libis.

A concert featuring Dirty Kitchen, the Mongols, Soft Pillow Kisses, Narda, and Sugarfree was the highlight of the event. The bans played Darna-inspired songs, which appear in an upcoming tribute album. The event also present to the public the golden anniversary issue of Darna, the first in a three-issue limited series.

The re-launch marks the 50th anniversary of Darna’s first appearance in 1951. For publisher and writer Boboy Yonzon, the new series represents the culmination of several years of planning. Mars Ravelo, the creator of classic Philippine comic characters such as Darna, Dyesebel, Kaptain Barbell, and Lastikman, died in 1988. In 2001, his family broached to Mr. Yonzon. The idea of a new Darna series to celebrate her golden anniversary. A family friend of the Ravelos, he gathered a team of rising Pinoy talents in the comic book industry.

Mr. Yonzon listed some of the changes to the new and improved Darna during the comic book launching. “She now has telekinetic powers. She’s sexier and she’s now analytical like a detective,” he said.

In her earlier incarnations, Darna was a super-powered heroine from the planet Marte. Her alter ego was a young girl named Narda, who finds a magical stone from a crashed meteorite. Swallowing it and shouting “Darna,” Narda changes into a statuesque brunette who combats supernatural creatures.

In the new series, Narda is all grown up. Leaving the countryside for the metropolis, she is now a teenager studying in one of the top universities in Metro Manila. Her alter ego Darna, imbued with more powers and a sexier figure, fighters terrorists and super villains. Unfortunately for Darna, her new enemies’ powers have increased in proportion to her own. In the first issue, Darna trashes a terrorist group and a gang of would-be rapists.

Valentina, her arch-nemesis in previous incarnations, slithers into view at the end. She does not trade blows with Darna but hints to her soul-absorbing powers, an improvements over the former version’s ability to command snakes, whet the reader’s appetite for a climactic battle sometime the next issues.

Valentina is the central villain in the limited series. But if the creative team behind the new Darna has it’s way, more adversaries will follow. Mr. Yonzon said a regular monthly series might follow depending on how well the public receives the three-issue limited series. But even now, his team has updated classic Darna villains such as the Babaeng Lawin and Impakta, both from the movies and comics. Like Darna, her enemies have been redesigned and given boosted powers.

Mango Comics even plans to introduce new enemies. The creative team, however, refused to disclose any details. The comic represents a leap from Darna’s first appearance in Pinoy Comics issues no. 99, which came out in March 17, 1951. Its glossy pages are colored by computer and printed locally. A team of pencillers led by Gilbert Monsanto, a marquee name in international comics, has take the cudgels for Nestor Redondo, who was the first illustrator for Darna.

Darna fans might be surprised to discover that their superheroine first appeared under a different name. In 1947, Mars Ravelo teamed up with illustrator Nestor Redondo to produce “Varga” for Bulaklak Comics/Magazine. Her adventures, however, ended after a few issues. A few years later, the two re-launched the superheroine with a new name “Darna” was taken from “Adarna,” a mystical bird in Philippine folklore.

In an interview, Mr. Monsanto said the new Darna is cosmetically similar to her previous versions. His team made only minor tweaking to her design, namely giving her a more voluptuous figure and streamlining her costume.

“During our talks, my team decided to stick to her classic look. If we did drastic changes, people might not recognize Darna,” Mr. Monsanto said.

He narrated that his team toyed with ideas such as giving Darna shorter hair and making her wear a pantsuit. In the end, his team stuck with the classic Darna look made famous by Nestor Redondo. Mr. Monsanto noted that the Ravelo family gave its blessings to the new Darna, design changes included.

On the cover of the first issue, Darna poses akimbo, a swirling cloud announcing her. A simplified tiara and more intricate wristbands number among the changes to her costume. Of course, let’s not overlook the obvious: The new Darna shows more skin in her bikini-like outfit. Her costume is definitely more daring than her cycling shorts and tank top number in the past. Male readers will drool over her cleavage and surfboard stomach. Plus, she has muscles females gym enthusiasts would envy. “We didn’t have a problem with making our Darna sexier than her past incarnations. Sexy women abound in today’s comics, after all,” Mr. Monsanto said.

Darna began on paper. Her adventures have been immortalized on television sets and movie theaters. The third dimension, on stage that its, awaits the Philippines’ favorite superheroine.

Ballet Philippines is hard at work for the world-premier of Darna: A Dance Musical this August. Written and directed by Chris Millado, the musical boasts elaborate dances and a lavish production. The sets are comic book-inspired. An all-Filipino cast performs ethnic-inspired dances.

Several scenes feature Darna and other characters flying on stage. According to Ballet Philippines marketing director Monica Llamas, one particular scene features six characters flying at the same time. Ms. Llamas described the musical as a not-so-serious comedy. Everything is original, she emphasized. “Don’t expect a Miss Saigon,” she admitted but quickly added, “But the musical will make Filipinos proud.”

The launch of a new Darna comic book prepares the public for the upcoming musical. Those at Mango Comics and Ballet Philippines consider this development a coincidence. Both parties though share a common desire to see their favorite superheroine properly honored: Hence, “Darna Year.” “Everything to do with Darna has to have some synergy,” Ms. Llamas said. “Darna Year” is envisioned as a series of events to pay homage to the legacy of Mars Ravelo, whose creation has captured the hearts of Filipinos since her debut in 1951. Its organizes also intend the year-long celebration for introducing Darna to a new generation of Filipinos and, eventually, the rest of the world.


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