"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.