AND THEY CALLED IT HINIRANG
by Ria Elainne C. Mendoza
Computerworld Philippines /17 Feb 2003
It was a relatively crowd-free time at MegaMall, being a weekday and all, this gigantic mall that houses one of the widest varieties of patrons - the rich, the yuppies, the teens, the hip-hops, the punks, the sporty, the intellectuals and yes, the creatives, all within its white, rectangular form. It is within this block that the creative spark of Hinirang was initially ignited. And it was quite poetic, that this is also where the interview for this article was held. And there they came, Nikki Alfar flanked by Dean Francis Alfar (Kestrel Studios, Jason Banico (Dynatica Comics), Carl Vergara (Carver House) and Marco Dimaano (Angel Ace). The full cast includes National Book Awardee Arnold Arre and Cynthia Bauzon (Tala Studios), Vincent Michael Simbulan (producer of "Isaw Atbp." under Quest Ventures and manager of Comic Quest) and Dino Yu (official Hinirang yowler and project manager).
Without even pausing for coffee, the interview started. Asked how Hinirang came to be, Nikki Alfar starts, "Marco and I were talking around and he had this idea - what if we make a Filipino fantasy setting? We talked about it with our friends and we were all excited but none of us could afford to publish books or comics just like that. Then Jason had a great idea - why don't we have a Web site!"
And because of the financial constraints, especially for a full color comic book or anthology, the group had to consider the alternative. Once they found out that it was an affordable and easy to manage solution, they acquiesced. Dean Alfar expounds, "With the Web (thanks to Jason, our resident tech head), it was an easy sell. I resisted at first because I did not know much about Web publishing. But we decided that if we wanted to try something out, we would give it our best shot. Since by and large we are all creative to an extent, we decided to contribute to Hinirang where our strengths lay individually. In the case of Nikki and myself from Kestrel Studios, our strength has been in writing, in the ideas, in the concept, because we cannot draw a stick figure to save our lives!"
"Primarily we wanted to have another way of working together which would be competence-based. From time to time we work together in print. For example for the National book Awardee "Isaw Atpb.," we were all represented," Dean adds. If you look at it closely, all these creative minds have been working on the same concept, though individually. "We realized that a lot of our individual works reflect what we call the Hinirang sensibilities - respect for the Philippines of the past, a love for our nation and a feeling of belonging to a country as an individual and as a creator. Any of us could go and create western-style work but it would not contribute to the Philippines (not that we're super-patriotic). Much of our individual work (whether it is Dynatica or Carver House or Arnold Arre-Cynthia Bauzon's Tala Studios or Marco Dimaano's work) have stories and characters that are rooted in the Filipino experience. What better things to write about?"
All of this historical and magical grandeur (just check out the art and readings at Hinirang and you will see what I mean) would not have materialized online if not for Dino Yu. While talking about the concept and basically doing nothing to advance it, Dino Yu yowled at them (yes, yowled, and fortunately they were kind enough not to mention the expletives), and said something to the effect of "are you just going to sit there and let the opportunity pass?!"
And Hinirang Came to Be
With that great push, Hinirang came online, in a medium that Dean Alfar claims, would let its creators go beynd the material boundaries of the printed page. It will extend its wings and reach Filipinos from all over the world. It will captivate even those who have never heard of tikbalangs or manananggals. It will open their eyes to a world of fantasy they have never seen before. Hinirang is a muted world that will draw you in, not with a lot of fancy visual effects but with words tightly written. It will not flood your senses with color, but it will tease you with the magic drawn by the artists topping the comic book industry.
"If you look at the materials in Hinirang, it is not quite the usual hi-tech culture of our western counterparts. The stories in Hinirang are more quiet, more angsty, more intense emotionally. I"d like to say that it is a unique flavor to the world that we created for now we are focusing on the more quiet, smaller stories, and when you create smaller stories, they add up and create the world eventually," Carl Vergara expounds. "It foregoes that those who may want to see how a Filipino fantasy setting may be treated. When we were toying with the story of Hinirang, I told my friends about it. One of them laughed. He said, what you'll have a Spanish-speaking manananggal, then he laughed thinking that it was absurd. Of course I rushed to Hinirang's defense and said, so what's wrong with that? We are so open to having all these other western writers write European-based fantasy settings and we readily accept it - new races, new languages and we are so open in accepting that. Here we have a Filipino setting and we can't accept a manananggal speaking Spanish? I think that is sad. What we are trying to do is to create a paradigm shift, that it is possible for some writers to go out of their way and create something new."
Jason Banico adds, "There are a lot of Filipinos who look for alternative settings, culture. Personally, when I wrote Baylans what I wanted was a venue for people to learn about our cultural heritage without necessarily researching or doing it as an academic piece of work, which is usually the case when people learn about these things."
"We are folklore nerds," is the beautiful summation of Nikki Alfar. To which her better half adds, "And we are not ashamed of it because that is where true magic lies. The plethora of riches in Philippine folklore is barely examined in this point of time. It is fairly known to a select few, primarily writers in that particular genre and students of those writers." They write about Philippine mythology, folklore and folk tales but with their own twists and interpretations because Hinirang is their Philippine fantasy. A Philippine fantasy set in what they regard as a romantic period full of potential. They can create from a number of inspirations, the Spaniards, the katao (natives), the Filipinos, the magical south, the monsters and mystical people against a rich geographical background. Lu Parlore d’Anjelia or The Parlor of Angels by Carl Vergara was the first long piece written for Hinirang. It was immediately followed by L'Aquilone du Estrellas or The Kite of Stars (which is currently located on Strange Horizons) by Dean Alfar and Lu Veneno d'Amores or The Poison of Love by Nikki Alfar.
Carl Vergara is responsible for the visualization of this virtual world we know as Hinirang.com. Before fully immersing himself in its creation, Carl first looked into the flavors that make both oriental and western designs. He noticed that western flavors include cooler colors because of the quality of the atmosphere, a lot of greens and blues. In contrast, oriental designs have warmer colors such as bright red, yellow and oranges.
"As far as Filipino settings are concerned, there is a lot of tribal-based, a lot of nature. I decided to go for the more muted earth colors: muted greens, muted yellow, muted browns. There are two objectives to that, first it captures the atmosphere of the world, and secondly, it is a site where you read - the colors don't overwhelm you. They don't cause eye strain, they are very relaxed colors. Then we have the icons, the other design elements, the European accents because it was the Spanish time I had to include to add to the atmosphere. The site is very simple, it is easy to navigate, not a lot of flair because that is not the point of the site."
True enough, it is easy to navigate, with only eight items at the navigation bar to choose from (Home, Background, Literature, Malayan Realms, Press, Catalog, Forum and Contact Us) and it does not overwhelm with bright, flashy colors either. The muted colors give off a relaxed atmosphere that invites a visitor to come and read. Within its pages is also a listing of the Persones ei Lugares (People and Places) for the whole of Hinirang and a Talaverbo (Glossary) for The Parlor of Angels. Malayan Realms contains a wonderful collection of articles explaining the different origins and beliefs as well as references for this wonderful fantasy world.
Hinirang means promise, and the creators of Hinirang view this as the "promised land." And by its meaning it shall be known. And by its meaning it shall live up to. Being individuals who have worked closely with one another from one project to another, they know exactly what they want. They have an intimate understanding of each other that will make this world grow beyond what it is now. Marco Dimaano gave it a name, Dino Yu huffed and puffed and gave it a big push, Jason Banico gave it a medium, Carlo Vergara gave it a face, Nikki Alfar, Dean Alfar and Vincent Simbulan gave it words, Arnold Arre and Cynthia Bauzon gave it color. And now that it is out there, awaiting visitors, they will continue to add to it where their skills and strengths lie, be it in writing, drawing, concept, design or combinations of each.
Before these comic book luminaries disappeared back into the crowd that makes up a weekday night at MegaMall, they promised uploads to Hinirang - soon, more comics, more illustrations, more stories. True enough, it has not been a week and they already have two new stories (Ang Mahiwagang Manok ni Menggay by Nikki Alfar and Terminos by Dean Francis Alfar). It is true that one need not travel far to experience a new world, and for you, it will only take a click to be transported to one that is strangely familiar.