Super Shop Girls
Posted: 1:52 AM (Manila Time) | Jan. 12, 2003
By Ruel S. De Vera
Inquirer News Service

Comic books galore

IT WAS an idea that got fleshed out, like penciled silhouettes suddenly gaining inked definition and colored substance. But as far as comic book origins go, this is a relatively ordinary one. Sisters Katherine "Katya" and Khristine "Tin" Cheng Chua were born four years apart in a brood of five to businessman Tomas and wife Sonita Cheng Chua. They had three younger brothers with names good enough for comic books as well: Khervin, Kherwin and Karl. Like other smart families, they enjoyed reading, but comic books were special very early on.

"My family has always liked comic books," 24-year-old Tin explains. "Even my dad has this bound volume of comics at home." Katya, 28, explains that, growing up in Jaro, Iloilo, "our parents taught us to love reading very early." Katya began collecting "X-Men" back when she was in first year high school and Tin soon followed suit.

Like many Filipinos, they just fell for the vibrant hues and shades of the Marvel, DC and Archie titles. "It's that nice mix of art and words," Tin says of the appeal of these comics despite their being relatively expensive. In fact, whenever the two would go and buy their comics, the salesgirls usually assumed they were buying these for their brothers. Katya enjoyed manga, or Japanese comic books, so much she actually learned to read Nippongo on her own.

After a few years, Katya graduated from St. Paul's in Iloilo and began managing a real estate company. Tin graduated from the Ateneo and began teaching at Xavier School. In 2000, the two quit their jobs, went to graduate school and traveled a bit. That's when the idea of putting together a comic book shop occurred to them.

"After a lot of trips abroad, we kept coming home with luggage full of books and comic books," Tin explains, "and we realized that there were people like us who wanted titles that other comic books didn't carry, like independent and Japanese titles." Adds Katya, "And we thought if we could get just one percent of the local market, we would be all right."

Yet the sisters didn't approach their dream with wide-eyed naivete. They needed a real plan. They embarked on scouting trips to Singapore and began getting in touch with distributors. "That took a lot of time, and it was frustrating," Tin remembers. With the patience of a caped crusader on patrol, the two kept at it.

For funding, the two prepared a true-blue business plan to present to their parents. "We had to submit a very detailed business proposal, complete with target market and everything," Katya explains. "They really taught us that when you embark on a business like this, you don't just rely on passion and idealism; you have to ground it on facts and numbers." A loan was soon secured and distributors signed on.

After two years of planning, the sisters opened Central Comics Headquarters, or CCHQ, in a building along school-studded Katipunan Avenue and prepared for the worst. "We had all these worst case scenarios," Tin recalls. "But we also have this joke that if it doesn't sell, we own it."

Diverse clientele

The two needn't have worried. Faster than you can yell "Shazam," -- indeed, even before CCHQ formally opened -- people were already asking about their wares. The store seemed to have magnetic powers, immediately attracting comic fans. The spacious store area, with its shelves of colorful, shiny books, parade American, Japanese and even local titles. "We made it a conscious effort to carry Philippine titles as well," Katya reasons. Aside from the mainstream lines from Marvel and DC, CCHQ also stocks an impressive array of indie titles as well as shelves devoted to specific authors. "The Neil Gaiman titles are the bestsellers," Katya says of the creator of the critically acclaimed "Sandman" series. One look at the Alan Moore shelf and one realizes: these girls know their stuff, all right.

The store draws a very mixed clientele: young and old, male and female. "And we're very happy about that," Katya says of their diverse customers. "At first, the guys didn't think we knew our stuff because we were girls and people have a misconception that comic books were only for guys," Tin smiles. "But then they talk to us and they realize we know a lot, too." Katya adds that they have learned a lot from talking to their customers. "And that's what's different about us, I guess, we really talk and interact with our clientele." Both add that because they graduated from arts-related courses, they've had to learn their business on their feet.

Yet the two easily admit that they're homebodies. "I think it comes from our being Ilonggo," Tin laughs. "We still keep country hours. We wake up at five and go to bed by nine." Another surprising fact about them considering how much they talk to their clients: "We're very shy."

Having come from a closely-knit family, they wish they had more time so they could go back to another lost passion: watching plays. "I'd like to think we're very laid-back people," Tin says of life in the big city compared to their life back in Iloilo.

Running the store is hard work and the two really put in long hours all week. "We love it, though," Tin smiles. "I don't think it's possible to be bored in a store like this," Katya says.

All this is part of a plan -- the sisters have always wanted to own their own business and now they have one, a hobby turned into a thriving concern. As CCHQ nears its first anniversary on February 1, there are many targets-paying back that loan, perhaps, even expansion. "We're really in it for the long term," Katya enthuses, "and we hope to pursue bigger things in the future." Indeed, for Katya and Tin Cheng Chua, the comic book adventure continues.

CCHQ is located at the third floor, FBR Arcade, Katipunan Avenue, QC. For inquiries, call 433-0898 or email ph.