Friday, March 21, 2003

Darna for President!
By Larry V. Sipin
Manila Times / March 3, 2003

It’s been five hours since terrorists seized a high rise at the business district. Early on, they demanded a P50-million ransom, pronto!

Just so the authorities negotiating with them—who obviously have been buying time instead of producing cash—would realize they mean business, the ruffians decide to waste a hostage.
The designated executioner is about to pull the trigger on the hapless would-be fatality when….


A blur breaks through the stories-high window. The hitman is immediately neutralized with a roundhouse kick. The thugs pepper the intruder with their automatics, but the surprise presence evades the hail of bullets, dodging the deadly staccato until the villains are all out of ammo.
The hand-to-hand combat that follows sees the spoilsport swiftly putting the bad guys to sleep.

Who’s the hero?
Superman? Nah. The “Man of Steel” is wheelchair-bound, as if ya didn’t know.
Batman? Nope. Bruce never ventures out of Gotham City.
Spidey? Not him. The wall crawler can’t sling his web as far as here.
Daredevil? Guess again. The “Man Without Fear” obviously has his hands full in New York City.

The hero is…

…our very own…


‘YEAR OF DARNA.’ Mars Ravelo’s Darna is back in a golden anniversary comic book launched last Friday at Eastwood City. And I mean a world-class comic book at par with DC, Marvel and Image, which is not surprising because the art rooms of the world’s great comics companies teem with Pinoy talents. Young as they are, Darna illustrators Gilbert Monsanto, Ryan Orosco and Lan Medina are marquee names in international comics.

Add to the artists’ talents the fertile imagination of my friend, prize winning writer and cartoonist Hugo “Buboy” Yonzon III—head honcho of Mango Comics which holds the Darna franchise—and, you can only exclaim, “Wow!” You gotta see the comic book to believe it.

This year—billed as “Year of Darna” to celebrate the icon’s 50th year—three installments of the saga will be published. Buy ‘em, enjoy ‘em and keep ‘em all.

NOW GENERATION DARNA. Darna is a cultural icon born at a time when the Philippines was struggling to come out of the devastation of World War II. She served as a salve to a country looking for a champion.

In the very first edition of Darna comics, she faced the asp-haired Valentina, a Medusa-like arch villainness with an army of snakes. The first episode was such a hit that Darna instantly became part of Philippine lore. Fans couldn’t get enough of Darna even though the comics came out weekly.

Darna’s film debut came soon enough—less than a year after the comics hit the streets. Down the road, at least 15 Darna movies have been made, starring top actresses.

Sadly, however, Darna faded away.

Last time I saw her, she wasn’t fighting crime but endorsing a utility vehicle.

Hooray, Darna is back fighting crime, and how!

Little Narda, who transforms to Darna on swallowing a magic stone, is now a coed in Manila. Criminals in the big city, beware!

The Ravelos and the Yonzons were neighbors in PhilAm Homes, QC. Buboy and the Darna creator’s eldest son, Richard, were best friends. Having grown up where Darna was created,
Buboy is best equipped to retell the story.

Let’s hear it from Buboy, who drew the plot and wrote the script for the new generation Darna comics:

“The Darna golden anniversary issue retells how the beautiful, strong heroine came to be. It also brings back to life her most classic nemesis, Valentina. The allusion to Greek Mythology and the Egyptian lore of serpentine powers and temples are excellent opportunities for story telling and illustration. The extra-terrestrial progeny of Darna, as distilled in the stone that Narda swallowed, is another angle that is developed.”

The sad part of the exercise is that Darna isn’t real.

How I wish Darna wasn’t fiction. I mean, if she was for real, GMA wouldn’t be giving the military 90 days to finally wipe out the Abus, which they can’t do, not in 90 years. Darna can do that without the Abus knowing what hit them.

Imagine, if Darna were for real, we could elect her President and this country could live happily ever after.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Reviewed by Rhandee Garlitos
MOIST, Issue No. 1, page 38

A first venture in publication, Carlo Vergara tells the story od Deio and Casey, two best friends since childhood, who ended up being lovers until they parted ways. Years and relationships later, Casey calls up Deio for them to meet for old times’ sake and to inquire into each other’s lives and loves. Their meeting turned up to be purging of feelings their 18-month old relationship did not fulfill, and finally they recognize the true meaning of their friendship and relationship.

One Night in Purgatory tries to portray a topic in most sensitive of means through the medium of comics. The well-handled text goes well with the black-and-white illustrations. While one tends to get confused with the crisscrossing flashbacks and flash-forwards, the story is fluid. The end, however, seems too safe for comfort, and the reader is mislead into thinking that this was the best ending the author could come up to. Nevertheless, it’s a feel-good read and a head-turning tome for those who think that comic books are all fantasy and child’s play.

Monday, March 17, 2003


Chester Ocampo and Paolo Ferrer
The La Sallian, March 14, 2003

You might have seen the latest cartoon incarnation of the Justice League-you know, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and a handful of other not-so-popular superheroes like Flash and Green Lantern-we knew them as the Super Friends back in the 80s. We see these comic book legends again on TV fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. Don't you ever wonder why we don't have Filipino super heroes running around the boob tube? Where's Darna? What's Panday doing nowadays? Where does Captain Barbell work out? We don't see much of our komiks super heroes, do we? In fact, we don't see much of our komiks at all! Whatever happened to those cheap, four-color, newsprint, wakasan stories that our yayas used to read? Well, they're still there, but boy, have they changed.

Just to clarify, in this article, comic books produced in the Philippines will be referred to as komiks (with a "k"), just as Japanese comics are called manga. The popular misconception is, komiks are baduy; the stories, the art, even the paper they're printed on sucks. But there was a time, oh so long ago, when the medium didn't have such a bad rep.

Who's da man? Kenkoy!
Back in the late 1920s, before the advent of the all-powerful television set in the Philippines, komiks gradually gained popularity. Being a cheap mass-based medium of entertainment, komiks reached people from the bustling cities to the rustling provinces. Initially appearing only as a section in Liwayway magazine, characters like Antonio Velasquez's Kenkoy gave our forefathers loads of (what was then considered) humor. After World War II, komiks underwent a radical change in format, leaping from the pages of Liwayway and into the independent magazine Halakhak Komiks. Althought the venture was short-lived, numerous publications took after the concept of the independent komiks magazine. And because most komiks were published weekly, it became as religious a ritual as going to church.

Komiks, the Conqueror
Over time, komiks became more profitable and by the 1950s, different genres came crawling out of the woodwork. Enter: the legendary Francisco V. Coching. Using fantastic, eye-popping art and a fresh, novel-like treatment of his stories, Coching's work paved the way for what would go down in history as the Golden Age of Komiks. The subject matter of his stories ranged from grand, sweeping epics like Lapu-Lapu and Duwag Lang ang Sumuko to the downright mundane life of the Movie Fan. His versality and meticulous attention to detail and quality was constant in all his works. Throughout his career, Coching was able to create 56 komiks series; because of their inherent commercial appeal, it's no big surprise that a whopping 51 were adapted into motion pictures. Some of these movies starred no less than Gloria Romero and the "Action King" himself, Fernando Poe Jr, whose careers Coching "helped engrave." Up to now, his contributions to komiks and Philippine culture are remarkable feats that remain unchallenged.

This era also gave birth to one of the most enduring komiks characters of all-Mars Ravelo's Darna-and the superhero fantasy genre.

Other artists during this time like Nestor Redondo (who co-created Darna), Alfredo Alcala, and Alex Nino, also produced inventive, dynamic komiks that would inspire a new generation of creators. During this time, komiks was king of the visual entertainment hill. It was held in the same regard as painting and sculpture, but its ability to reach a wider audience made it surpass the other visual arts in popularity.

By the 1960s, television was slowly gaining ground in komiks readers' imaginations, presenting itself as a more engaging form of entertainment due to its audio-visual nature. Undoubtedly influenced by TV, cinema, and the international comics scene, komiks creators continued exploring the superhero genre. The continuing rise of TV's popularity in the 70s eventually unseated komiks as THE medium of mass entertainment. Gradually, komiks became a less profitable business venture. Some of the local industry's best illustrators were lured by more lucrative offers to work abroad. This diaspora of komiks artists left a gaping hole in the industry. The remaining komiks creators desperately tried to wrest audiences' attention from TV by pushing the envelope with themes such as sex, violence, and gore. Things got from bad to worse when Martial Law and censorship put a lid on the komiks industry's exploration of subject matter, momentarily stunting its growth in terms of content and market.

On its way to entropy
By the 1980s, television gained the top slot in the entertainment arena. Instead of buying the latest issue of Hiwaga or Pilipino Komiks, people were nailed to the floor watching Eat Bulaga or Lovingly Yours, Helen. The melodramatic audience that studiously followed the weekly komiks serials of Nerissa Cabral and Gilda Olvidado during the 70s were now hooked on the afternoon soap operas that aired on weekdays. Middle-class Filipinos during the 80s also started collecting Western comic books (mostly superhero fanfare) while the lower class still patronized the local komiks scene. It was during this time that komiks started being labeled as bakya entertainment. Colonial mentality dictated that the komiks enjoyed by the masses was substandard literature compared to Western comic books.

Komiks "rejuvenated"
In the United States, Image comics, the upstart, irreverent new company challenged the industry giants Marvel and DC in the 1990s. With Image's progressive outlook on comic book creation, the traditional companies were forced to make changes in quality and content. This new movement inspired komiks creators, who leaned toward the superhero genre, to redefine the local scene's standards. Thus, was born Alamat comics. Creating numerous local equivalents of superhero stories, the Alamat people stirred things up in the local industry. However, their works failed to reach a wide enough audience and the inconsistencies in their production made the market's interest in them fizzle. Meanwhile, the newsstand komiks were littered with stories that ripped-off imported pop culture phenomena like video games, movies, and of course,

Western comic books.
Since Western comic books now had local counterparts, the line between Comics and Komiks was clearly defined. The high-end comic books produced by Filipinos, which heavily take after their American influences, are now considered by many as "better". Unfortunately, it's true that komiks are produced in poorer print quality compared to the new local "comic books". Critical readers who prioritize substance over style would say that most Filipino comic books these days, despite their slick covers and fancy coloring, still fail to capture the essence of what made Coching's reign in the komiks scene the Golden Age: thought-provoking concepts, unconventional treatment of characters, and superior draftsmanship skills.

The fate of komiks
Due to Japanese comics (manga) and animation (anime) currently flooding the market, Filipino komiks artists follow suit to be able to compete. The influence of manga and anime on komiks is undeniably visible in recent releases such as Culture Crash, Angel Ace, and various independent titles. The Internet, cable TV, video games, text messaging, telenovelas-all these new forms of entertainment are competing for the attention and budget of the comic-book-reading minority. They have reduced the medium to a mere hobby or novelty-a far cry from its mass entertainment beginnings.

Unfortunately, the public at large remains completely unaware that the komiks they now see on the newsstands, even the Filipino comic books in specialty stores, were part of a legacy that once shook the world with its sublime art and novel ideas.

Friday, March 14, 2003


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 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.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Comic Book Creators Show Talent, Ambition
By Paolo Manalo

IT HAS BEEN around for more than a century, but the comics genre has yet to earn a legitimate position in literature and the arts, especially in the Philippines. During last year’s National Artist nominations, certain critics and columnists objected when they discovered that the late Francisco V. Coching, creator of such memorable komiks like Barbaro, Condenado, Talipandas, Thor, and Duwag ang Sumuko, was one of the candidates in the visual arts category.

Though Coching was not the eventual choice, to the naysayers the very idea that he could be in the running was an insult to the other nominees. After all, Coching was just a cartoonist, a dibuhista, someone whose lifework was pretty pictures mass-printed on cheap paper and read by the masses, and certainly not a visual artist in the “true” sense, they said. As for his considerable legacy as a pop culture storyteller, his choice of genre worked against him again. Komiks necessarily means the juxtaposition of images and words to create a narrative, and the presence of those images makes it doubtful a nomination for National Artist for Literature would ever be considered.

In recent years many scholars have defended the position of comics and comic books as a medium, and American comic book creator Scott McCloud has written a definitive, much-celebrated book on it—Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1995)—as well as a sequel, Reinventing Comics (2000). The public at large still believes that comics or komiks, whatever the spelling may be, should never be considered a high form of literature or even art. Some might argue that comic books have entered the classrooms with the introduction of several elective courses. A comic book writing course is taught from time to time at the University of the Philippines, but even the teaching of it is at an experimental stage.

In other words, the “invisible art” of comics occupies non-legitimized spaces both inside and outside the academe. Yet with its mass appeal, it is easily accessible to its highly appreciative cult followers in a country with a generally non-reading public. Though considered mainstream, it is not mainstream literature.

Even more interesting is the komiks-comic books divide unique to the Philippine scene. The division may be a matter of language. While komiks are written in the vernacular languages, comic books are read in English, specifically in the English of the American mainstream. But then Japanese manga fans will ask: how does one explain something like the locally produced Culture Crash, a graphic manga anthology written in Filipino which features the latest video games and the latest Western pop icons. Critic Patrick Flores said, “...[I]t fails to evoke a sense of milieu and complement its Filipino narrative.” It seems to have the feel of the komiks in terms of its language, and yet it is not komiks as far as its graphic iconography is concerned. It is not also what is perceived to be “local comics”.

Given the uniqueness of the medium, comic book language is not just limited to its oral and its written word substitutes as with other literary genres. In comics, there is also the graphic language to consider, which forms part of what Ludwig Wittgenstein calls language games. The local comic books follow the same language games of the American mainstream comic book in terms of the grammar and syntax of both the paneling and iconography. Even when local comic books are written using Taglish or Filipino dialogues and captions, they still follow the language games and conventions of their Western predecessors, not that of Filipino komiks. The latter refers to the locally produced graphic texts one buys at the palengke or newstands, or rents from a neighborhood sari-sari store.

The Filipino komiks has its legion of wakasan and itutuloy readers who await the weekly installments of graphic narrative in the same way that most households now put everything on hold every afternoon to watch the next episodes of their favorite soap operas and teleseryes.

Meanwhile, comic book readers wait for monthly issues, annuals and specials that they buy from their favorite comic book specialty shops in the malls and shopping centers. These titles are usually from American mainstream publishers like Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse. Some readers of foreign comic books in turn become the producers of the local comic books. The question is: aside from themselves, their friends and the smaller number of comic book readers, who reads and supports locally produced comics?

Pioneers in the early ’90s were mostly university-based creators. Their comics were more like underground zines, enjoying small but very loyal support groups. One thing that helped them move forward in terms of readership was the chance given to these creators to exhibit their works in mini-conventions held in the malls, sponsored by the local comic shops, of course. Some of the memorable titles that emerged during this period include Gerry Alanguilan’s Wasted, and the anthologies Comics 101 and Memento Mori.

With the exception of Alanguilan, whose artwork has been featured regularly in international comics and whose “Tales from the Big City” appears regularly in the pages of Pulp magazine, where are these other creators now? Where are the forgotten titles? Most were discontinued due to lack of interest and support before they were noticed by a wider, comic-book reading public.

The truth is, not all comic-book readers go out of their way to support the local comics. “Why,” a reader would ask, “should I get a Filipino comic book when it is expensive, in black and white, and has poor production values compared to its imported counterpart?” The more brutal collector puts it: “Why should I get comic books that are obvious clones of Image, Marvel and DC heroes?”

In previous years, many of the forgettable titles were inferior copies of the average American comics super-hero. With the packaging of these comic books, it was no surprise that they were aimed at an American market through an international distribution system. Still, 10 or so years later, there has yet to be a local comic book that is commercially successful locally, let alone internationally.

There is no professional local comic book industry. As sophisticated and professional as they may seem to be now in terms of production, these titles are still labors of love, without regular shipping or launching dates. Copies have a limited print run, not even half the number of copies that a komiks publisher puts out in a week. In certain cases, issues get delayed for a few months. Readers receive the first two issues of a supposedly ongoing series, then never hear of future issues again either due to lack of funds or lack of interest in the project.

Creators are lucky if they manage to break even with the issues that they sell. This does not happen often so it is a small comfort if these writers and artists are not in it for the money. They have their day or night jobs, mostly in the fields of media and advertising.

But as 2001 shows, despite the economic crisis, several small studios have risked time and money to produce new and exciting material to the small comics non-industry. With the prices of imported comic books getting more expensive as the peso devaluates over the years, local comic books have managed to price themselves competitively. Their prices range from P100 to P160. These small studios include the Alamat Comics Group, Kestrel Studios, Tala Studios, and Quest Ventures.

Reading last year’s local comics, it becomes apparent that there are fewer super-hero titles set in some generic Western world and more stories in a localized universe, mostly versions and revisions of a fin de siecle Metro Manila. The super-hero team is replaced by the barkada. These stories, like Arnold Arre’s short-attention span epic, The Mythology Class (1998), are usually populated by confused and idealistic teenagers, college students, and unhappy yuppies.

Arre was last year’s most prolific artist, his work appearing in the titles published by Alamat, Kestrel Studios, and Quest Ventures. This is not surprising since Arre is one of the more committed comic book artists whose work shows an understanding for the genre and its place in Philippine arts and literature. Though prone to certain narrative flaws and a cluttering of panels, Arre’s dedication to his craft is part of what makes him so prolific.

In Kestrel Studios’ initial offering, the limited, three-issue series called The Lost, Arre lends his talents to illustrate the script prepared by Dean Francis Alfar. In The Lost , Manila is the world filled with shattered dreams, literally. Certain forces are out to destroy the personified dreams and desires of a group of yuppies and possibly the dreams and aspirations of the nation. Issue No. 3 has yet to come out, but from the narrative, it seems that Alfar has more interesting stories to tell, and Kestrel has more titles to offer in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Vincent Michael Simbulan put out an anthology of interrelated stories called Isaw, atbp. with his Quest Ventures. There are no super-heroes or supernatural creatures, no explosions or car crashes throughout the work. Simbulan’s narratives examine relationships and the relatedness of unrelated events, much in the same way that the comic book operates through its juxtaposition of related and unrelated images and words. In his introduction, Simbulan writes: “Our love for this medium compels us to give something back, to reach out with our own stories.” No longer as passive players in the language games of comic book collecting and reading, he and his collaborators are active participants in these games.

Like Alfar, Simbulan confesses to not being able to draw past stick figures, and so Arre, Carlo Vergara, and Marco Dimaano illustrate his stories. Dimaano is known for his own Angel Ace. Last year, he had just completed his latest Ace limited series, Angel Ace Again (published by Alamat). In between stories are poems by Dean Francis Alfar, Nikki Alfar, Emrys Capati, and a sestina by Simbulan.

After some years, Alamat finally put out the long-awaited Batch 72 limited series by Budjette Tan and Arre. This 1995 title focused on a college band in a Philippines whose members have superpowers. It had the greatest potential for a title and the best timing since it came out during the peak of the alternative band explosion. But after an issue, nothing was heard about it again. This became a common problem with some forgettable Alamat titles: they began, and as soon as they did, they were discontinued. With Angel Ace Again, Alamat’s production has matured.

Last year’s best comic book was Alamat’s One Night in Purgatory by Carlo Vergara. It is the best example of a Filipino one shot. Purgatory is a simple and complex story of the changing states of friendship and commitment that can only be told using the medium of graphics. Though there were problems with the story’s language and the characters’ milieu, not to mention the melodramatic Cervantes epigraph, Vergara uses successful shifts in details, evocative panelings and multi-level juxtapositions to tell an organic, self-contained story. The comic book is the perfect medium for it. It allows the years between the two characters to collapse into one special night after which Purgatory successfully closes itself with the new day.

Hopefully, these creators will challenge themselves and their readers with more graphic storytelling, leaving behind the four corners of the comic shops that have nurtured and sheltered them these past few years. It augurs well for the future of local comics that the titles mentioned and the names of their creators were included in the Coching retrospective at the Cultural Center of the Philippines last November. Komiks: Katha at Guhit ni Francisco V. Coching, organized by the Coching Foundation, brought together the history of komiks and comics in one comprehensive exhibit.

This year comic book creators need to think of strategies to make their works accessible to a wider audience. They’ve already proven that they have talent and the ambition to work at what is so far a thankless career, but what they face now is the harder task—the need to read more in order to be read by more. (With assistance from Lia Bulaong)

About the Author
PAOLO MANALO teaches creative writing at the Department of English and Comparative Literature at University of the Philippines Diliman and is literary editor of the Philippine Free Press.


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