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.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Friday, May 30, 2003

Q&A : Carlo Vergara

Look! Up in the sky! Its a bird! Its a plane! Its... Zsazsa??

BusinessWorld's Arts & Leisure staff sat down with spoof komiks creator Carlo Vergara to discuss what he calls 'the stupidest and most expensive hobby ever.'

Zsazsa Zaturnnah might not be as familiar as Wonder Woman or Darna but she is starting to gain a following among Filipinos regardless of sex, age or economic background. A spoof of the popular Darna, she -- "she" is usually a "he" on regular days -- is the creation of Carlo Vergara, a jack of all trades who conceived, drew and published the newest Philippine superhero.

BusinessWorld (BW): Can you tell us about the characters in Zsazsa Zaturnnah?

Carlo Vergara (CV): The characters are based on real people, the hodgepodge of personalities that I've encountered. Some of them, you could call stereotypes but when you get to know them, you find out that they're not. And you find out what makes them tick, you find out what drives them, what motivates them. And that's what I try to inject here. In essence, I wanted Zsazsa Zaturnnah to be a story about the common person who just wants to live, who has his own angst about life, who just wants to earn a living, etc.

At the back of the first part, it says it right there, "Huwag mo nang itanong kung bakit (Don't ask why)." This is the entire essence of Zsazsa Zaturnnah. You go through life, encounter all these things, and you wonder why they happen.

But ultimately, you don't have to ask. You just have to move and that's what I wanted to bring here, that these are characters who just want to live.

A stone falls from the heavens, a giant frog attacks the town. You have these intergalactic amazons who want to overtake the land, and, okay, let's fight them, get it over with and move on.

I hope that's what people see. Apart from the humor, apart from the one-liners and punchlines, I'd like them to see that the story is about people. It's about people who cope despite being faced with challenges all around. They're people like us.

BW: You said that the characters are based on real people. Are you part of the cast?

CV: Admittedly, each of the characters has a part of me. I'd like to think that's common in a lot of creators when they write different characters.

BW: Which character do you identify with the most?

CV: It would be the lead, Ada. Life is absurd and the only way you can deal with it is to live it. That's Ada's core motivation and you could say that's my motivation, too.

BW: Why "Zsazsa?"

CV: One, it's a spoof so I really needed a catty title. The name Zaturnnah is just one of those campy superhero names. These things just pop into your brain. Maybe it's because Zsazsa Padilla is "semi-seen" as a gay icon.

BW: What about the villains?

CV: The Amazonistas from Planet XXX are obviously based on Darna and the Planet Women because I remember watching that as a kid. Yung orange ang buhok (Those with orange hair)! (laughs) The only image I remember is Darna on top of a building fighting this Planet woman.

In one of the climactic action scenes, I'm calling to mind that action scene between Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, silang dalawa lang (the two of them alone). That's the kind of action I wanted because it's essentially mataray (sharp, bitchy).

BW: You're a Filipino movie fan. Lumalabas kasi (It comes out), in the dialogue, the killer Sharon Cuneta lines

CV: I was more a fan of the trailers. Yes, I would watch the films of Sharon and of Maricel Soriano because they were fun (laughs). Not because they were fun for comedic value because I took them seriously back then. I enjoyed watching them. Of course, you have the classic lines in the trailers and they're all there (in Zsazsa). You could say that the things I've encountered in entertainment, TV, film are there.

BW: Can you take us through the creative process?

CV: On my end, I've always been a fan of trying something new. When I started with One Night in Purgatory (a Pinoy graphic novel), I wanted something that was simple, yung two tao lang ang nag-uusap (just two people talking), have an issue between themselves. And see where it goes from there.

When that was done, and I had gained a bit more confidence in the medium, sige let's see where it can go further. And the first image that came into my mind was a homosexual with a large stone, trying to ingest it which you can see in the first issue. That was one of the first images that came to my mind. And then it started to take on a life of its own. Since Zsazsa is mostly a spoof, the resources are easy to get. You take the stereotype and see what you can do with the stereotype to make it more different.

So when people ask me when the next adventure is going to be, I tell them, I want to try something else first.

BW: Did you plan for it to come out in two parts?

CV: It was supposed to come out in one part, one single volume. In a sense, graphic novel nga siya talaga (its really a graphic novel).

However the money issue was a problem so I was forced to cut it into two. So when you read part one and part two separately, I don't know, there's a feeling that it's not right. You have to read it from the start, towards the end you get the full impact.

The next thing I would like to try out would either be a horror thing or a sci-fi thing and if you're going to ask me if there are going to be gay characters in it, I'm going to put gay characters in it because when was the last time you saw a gay protagonist in a horror or sci-fi story taken seriously? That's where I want to go.

BW: What's the process, is it like scriptwriting where you have sequence, dialogue?

CV: Yes, the analogy is that you create a comic book in the same way as you would do a movie. The only difference between film and comics is the medium itself but then the process before that is pretty much the same. You have a concept, a script, you go through the script editing process and then you choose what your character is going to look like, what they're going to wear, etc., and then you put it all together on paper.

Parang siyang film (its like film); it's cheaper than film. And of course there are some things that you cannot achieve with comics but that you can on film. It's a good compromise, nevertheless that you get that effect on comics for a lesser price.

BW: If price was an issue, why do it in two parts?

CV: It's cheaper in a sense that combined it would be close to 150 pages worth of comics. If I had a 150-page book printed out (less that 1,000 copies), ang laki nun (that's big). Ang mahal 'yun (it would cost a lot) but if I cut it in half, mas mura in installment (its cheaper in installments). Hindi isang bagsakan (not all in one blow).

BW: For the ones who buy (the comic)?

CV: Not really for the ones who buy (but) for me. I'm not the richest person in the world. Everything is, like, savings from rackets (odd jobs), little projects on the side.

BW: So you paid for everything?

CV: Yes, for everything. I would call it "the stupidest and most expensive hobby ever." It's crazy and I'm very thankful for the kind of response that people have been giving this book. So kahit papano (no matter how), I'm able to pay back the printers.

I haven't been earning at all from my comics work which is good because I don't have to pay taxes. But then of course, you'd want it to earn a bit to keep it going.

BW: In this case, were you able to break even?

CV: For the first one, lumampas na ng (we went past) breakeven point which for the small publishers like me is unheard of. For the second one, hindi pa naman (not yet). But if you're talking about a taxable profit, I don't think I'm going to reach that.

BW: Why graphic novels?

CV: I was interested in comics way back. Ever since I was in high school, I was into X-Men, Marvel. I wasn't so much a DC fan. But I really didn't do comics until after college and I started One Night after Arnold Arre released Mythology Class because it was the first time that someone actually pooled his resources together to come up with something that was born out of his passion for the medium. As history would have it, it won a National Book Award and of course, we, his friends were like, "Yay, we want to do that too."

That's how I started. It was more about testing myself (to see) if I could do it.

BW: Did you have any formal training in drawing?

CV: No, but I was drawing since I was four or five. Mga stick drawings. And because I was an introvert, I didn't have many people to play with when I was a kid. So drawing lang ako ng drawing (so I kept drawing) until it just developed on its own. I would copy from my favorite comic book artists and eventually developed my own style.

It helped that I had that stint in theater as an actor. Because as actors, we get exposed to scripts, on how scripts pan out, structure-wise. And so I use that when I write my own scripts and then you think of terms like blocking and lighting and all of that goes into how I do my comic books.

BW: Can you tell us about your stint in theater?

CV: In college I was part of the Harlequin Theater Guild in La Salle but that was after I graduated. I was supposedly an honorary member because I joined them after I graduated. I think I did three or four productions.

I had to get a job. In 1994, the audition article for Angels in America came out in the Manila Chronicle (so) I decided, hey, why not try and do this? So I auditioned and I got a big role, it was a dirty role, a sleazy role. I had the opportunity to have one whole scene where I get to seduce a guy. And in the next scene, I would be in bed with him.

Anyway, after Angels I got poor reviews which were okay with me because it was my debut professional theater stint and it was a difficult role because you had to have some knowledge in American political history which I did not have.

So after that, I did a few workshops with New Voice Company and appeared in another production. After that, I had to leave because some of my friends and I had to start up our own graphic design studio. I did a couple of theater productions after, independents naman. One was for UP and another was for some fly-by-night theater groups. I loved to do them because I miss theater and acting. Even until now I still miss acting but now they're all doing musicals.

BW: You don't sing?

CV: Only for the benefit of my friends in videoke sessions but not in front... The experience with the second production (I Want to Make Magic) I had for New Voice, it was a good learning experience. The concept was, you take songs from different musicals and then put them in a sequence with an underlying story, that kind of thing. I had a solo in there, and uh

BW: You didn't like it?

CV: No (stops), training was great but 'ika nga nila, hindi kaya ng powers (laughs) so huwag na lang (as they say, my powers were not great enough so don't do it).

BW: But that background really helped in doing the comic books?

CV: Yes, it really helped particularly when in comics kasi, subtlety can lose your audience unlike film. In film, you can have a small piece like, The Age of Innocence with Winona Ryder where you can have a close-up shot with no emotion, and yet it engages you.

In comics it's hard to do that. The pattern when it comes to comic book reading is mabilisan (speed). It's very rare that you stop and stare at the page.

BW: But don't you end up spoon-feeding your readers?

CV: To some extent, I do a bit of that. But since comics in themselves are very subjective sometime, you can afford to leave some things for the readers to interpret on their own.

It's hard to explain the dynamics of comic book creation. I always tell my friends, "I don't fart this." It's not something where I just sit down and do something and, voila!, it's there. There's a lot of thinking that goes into it, much more than what ordinary people might think. So this one, 150 pages, took me about six months from start to finish so it's not like, "Uy, gawa tayo ng komiks," "O sige" (Come on, let's make comics. Sure). It's not that simple.

BW: Given the choice, would you have wanted it in color?

CV: It would be nice to have color but going back to the analogy with film, there are some films that work in color, there are films that work in black and white. Because we have been trained -- not by choice but by budget -- to have our works in black and white, I personally had to tweak my style and learn, relearn to draw in black and white to get that effect. Siyempre sinasabi nila na kapag colored, mas maganda (Of course they say it would be nicer in color). But there are some pieces that won't work in color because black and white has its own atmosphere. If ever I would be asked to do a story in color, I would have to rethink the way I do things. So it's just adapting.

BW: What comments or feedback have you received re the comic book?

CV: For Part 1, I got a number of letters for Part 2, I only got one. The feedback I've been getting is mostly word of mouth. What I've been getting are text messages. It's amazing because this is like -- if ever -- the only time, the first time for a comic book about a gay beautician who gets a stone from the sky, transforms into a woman. It's campy, it's a spoof people have been sending copies abroad. They buy for their friends.

I've had news na dahil wala ng kopya sa (since there are no copies left at) Comic Quest, they buy the display copy na may nakalagay (that is designated) "For display only."

BW: Do the vendors actually sell the display copies?

CV: Yeah, because they have no choice. The person would not want to leave until he gets his copy and the only copy then was the display copy. Naka-Pentel pen na display copy at medyo lukot-lukot na yung cover (The display copy was written on with Pentel pen and the cover was somewhat crumpled).

I've had another feedback (about a) a customer (who) had to buy (the comic) three times. The other two copies he bought before he lent to friends and they never returned it (laughs). And then, when I was printing the first part, nahiya pa ang accounts person sa printing press because the workers at the press, inuuwi nila ang ibang prints (the accounts person of the printing press was embarassed because the press workers were bringing home some copies).

On the other side of the spectrum, I get a text message from someone saying, "Hey, Zsazsa is making the rounds in the ad agencies in Makati (laughs).

BW: Parang (Its like a) calling card?

CV: Oo (Yes). (laughs)

BW: May pirated version na ba (Are there pirated versions already)?

CV: (Laughs, jokes) Sa Recto may mimeographed copy na (Recto already sells mimeographed copies). (Laughs again). For someone to do that, it means na it's something worth doing. Right now, I'm in that "whatever works" mode. As long as it gets out there.

May mga nagsasabi sa akin (Some people are telling me), "Sell the movie rights!" And I'm like, it hasn't even permeated into the consciousness of the masses. It's just among a few select people who just pass the comic around. If ever there's a publisher who bites and asks for a new adventure -- which I already have in mind -- yes, I will consider movie rights. But not now, it's too early.

BW: Other feedback?

CV: Friends buying for friends. Straight people read it, have a good laugh with it. It has crossed sexual preference, it has crossed economic background. When people ask me, "Are you happy?" (I tell them) Of course, I'm happy but I'm more overwhelmed than happy. Because this is unthinkable. I've been in this small comic book industry for quite a while and this is such a small circle of people who do their own comics, self-publish, etc.

To my mind, this has never happened before. And I don't know what it is about this gay beautician who transforms into a woman that does it.

BW: Have you ever considered hooking up with a bigger publishing firm? I'm sure you've had a lot of offers to do that.

CV: No, I haven't. My next step really is to have Parts 1 and 2 together, the way I had envisioned it

BW: By another company?

CV: Yes, who could distribute it to the major bookstores because right now, (the comic books) are only available at Comic Quest and Comic Central headquarters on Katipunan Ave. and that's it. Because I can't monitor it if I distribute it any further. Talagang ako lang (it's really just me). It's a one-man thing. So I hope that a publisher bites to reprint in one volume Zsazsa.

Of course, there are going to be a few extras. I'd like to add a few conceptual sketches, how it came together. Hopefully, I can invite some big-shot, like Pol Medina, Jr. (Pugad Baboy cartoonist), to write a foreword. Plus other stuff so kahit papano, ma-e-entice ang mga tao (so somehow, people will be enticed).

BW: Did you get any reaction from the people who made Darna? Did you have to ask permission?

CV: I didn't feel that I needed to ask permission because it's a spoof and if you subscribe to spoof as being the highest form of flattery then there shouldn't be any issue about it.

BW: Have you gotten any negative feedback from people who think that you're enforcing stereotypes?

CV: I have always been against the way homosexuals have been portrayed -- as the sidekick, as the butt of jokes and we all know that. But a stereotype wouldn't be a stereotype if it didn't exist. The stereotype exists; it's real. What I attempted to do with Zsazsa is take the stereotype and do something with it. There must be more to the stereotype, there must be more meat in there.

The two protagonists (Ada, the beautician and Didi, his gay assistant) are your stereotypes but then as one homosexual reader said, "We don't laugh at them. We laugh with them." And that's what I wanted to achieve. Give them three dimensions so that you'll want to care for them, that you'll want to see more of them.

I haven't received any negative feedback. I hope I get some kind of negative feedback because the perfectionist side of me wants to know what you think. If you don't like something, tell me. And if it's valid, I will work on it. In terms of feedback, there's objective and subjective. I'll take objective feedback any day in whatever language. Kahit mura-murahin mo ako, basta objective ang essence ng feedback mo (even if you curse me, if the essence of the feedback is objective), I will take it. If it's subjective feedback, OK lang. You're entitled to your own opinion.

My first book, One Night in Purgatory, had a few negative comments which were objective, and that's good. Here (with Zsazsa), I've gotten nothing but "It's funny, it's great." And that's good.

View the html version of the article at

Monday, May 26, 2003

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

After Eden (Anino/Adarna House)
Batch 72 # 3 (Alamat)
Ab Ovo (Kestrel/Pipeline Media)

Filipino-made comic books have been sparse in recent years, but most of the few that exist deserve to be seen, read, and re-read. Various Pinoy storytellers have expressed themselves in these mostly black-and-white playgrounds, breathing life into chronicles that just had to be told in their own compulsive, creative ways. A determined few keeps coming up with their original worlds, playing gods with their characters’ destinies and inspiring different readers with equally disparate tastes and inclinations.

Two-time National Book Awards winner Arnold Arre’s romance graphic novel After Eden is a 254-page labor of love, in more ways than one. It tells the magical tale of former childhood friends Jon and Celine, who rediscover each other at the right time 21 years after they parted. But their scheming, selfish “friends” plot to break up the perpetually cheerful new union, while cosmic players with enigmatic agendas observe the whole thing from a plainly hidden vantage point.

Mesmerizing in its smooth storytelling flow, After Eden is one of those rare feats that keep the reader captivated from beginning ‘til end. Arre’s adept use of simple but expressive illustrations, fused with charming dialogue and a venturesome plot makes for a memorable and heartwarming read. It works all too well in turning hardened cynics into lovesick mush.

The story’s six characters are distinct and well-rounded; connected by mutual love or hate, innocence and confusion, and yearnings that need to be met. Amidst the pop culture references and poetry of rain-soaked heartbreak and forgiveness, it makes you believe that, yup, love does conquer all.

Arre’s penciled art can also be seen in the much-awaited Alamat release, Batch 72 # 3 (with the cover masthead The Last Batch 72 Story!), written by Budjette Tan and inked by Arvie Villena. The series follows the (mis)adventures of a mostly superpowered barkada/college band of the same name, in a Philippines that’s populated by extraordinarily enhanced human beings.

Issue 3 concludes the “It’s a Mall, Mall World” arc, where Kupcake and the gang try to escape the clutches of the rampaging “S & M Popsicle” villain, Morgue, during a midnight sale in the massive, pyramid-shaped Ultra Mall.

But hope arrives in the form of a celebrity superteam, the young heroes of the Justice Corps. Hints are dropped regarding this world’s long and colorful crimefighting history, as Morgue’s threat attracts the attention of retired costumed protectors and an aging ex-villain.

Batch 72 is an amusing book; its fantastical premise offers a place where anything and everything can happen. The team is comprised of eight members with really interesting personalities, but the spotlight still has to shine on at least half the barkada, though. Hopefully, this won’t really be the last issue of the series, as the characters hold a lot of promise. A spinoff title starring the Justice Corps also wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The ashcan-sized Ab Ovo , meanwhile, features self-contained short stories; musings about life, love, individuality and other subjects. The black-and- white art is enhanced by the addition of a spot color, red, in varying shades.

Concentrating on simple but thought-provoking ideas, writer Dean Alfar--together with artists Carl Vergara, Sid Santos, Josef Garcia, Tony Bucu, Bok Jamlang, and editor Nikki Alfar--succeed in sharing thoughts that question, and in creating imagery that’s comfortably laid-back.

Its four brief stories are perfect for quiet weekend reading. The pensive “Fabula Rasa” speaks about non-conformity. “The Maiden and the Crocodile” ponders love and betrayal. Things go philosophical with the 2-pager “Ab Ovo”; while two lovers contemplate impending breakup speeches in “So(rry)”.

Whether you fancy passion, hyperpowered fun, or serious introspection, you can bet that these Pinoy books have got ‘em covered. And then some.

After Eden, Batch 72 # 3, and Ab Ovo are available at Comic Quest.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Philippine Daily Inquirer
April 20, 2003

In this year’s Summer Reading List, Bernie Sim, MTV Ink writer and illustrator recommends: “(Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni) Zsazsa Zaturnnah” by Carlo Vergara

It’s about time someone (“One Night in Puragtory” creator Carlo Vergara to be exact) came up with Darna comics. This two-part, black and white local comic made me laugh so much, milk came out of my nostrils (well, after I drank it, of course). Influenced heavily by swardspeak, so-bad-it’s-good Pinoy movies, and pop culture, Zsazsa’s brand of slapstick humor and crazy gay wit will have you tittering in no time. I give it three snaps in Z formations.


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