Thursday, July 22, 2004

Real life in a comic book
By Terrie B. Fucanan  
 
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2004/jul/20/yehey/life/20040720lif1.html#
 
In the superhero-dominated world of comic books, creators—usually for commercial reasons—are often compelled to stick to the old formula of an oppressed character who sets out to fight the bad guys.  To make him out of the ordinary, a situation concerning sci-fi technology or some accident is injected into the plot to give the hero supernatural powers. As a result, he flies high across the city at night, or glides over buildings, to hunt for the bad guys. At the end of every story, it is he—the good superhero—who prevails.
 
It’s the typical comic book story. And like all others of its kind, the story rests on the hero’s never-ending battle with the forces of evil through superhuman powers, which incidentally, are impossible for its young audience to relate to real-life situations. 
 
For the longest time in comic book history, there has been an unconscious desire among the young to read something that they could actually relate to—a story somewhere between the worlds of Superman and Manga reads, Gunsmith Cats, Oh My Goddess, and Ranma.
This sentiment is strong among Filipino comic book enthusiasts, as recently discovered by comic book creators Elbert Or and Jamie Bautista.  In an informal survey, they talked to students and held group discussions, and found out that for the young readers, the reality component is missing in the wide array of local and foreign comic book selections. It was then that Or and Bautista began their quest for a story line that will not only appeal to young readers, but also present the conflicts, inner struggles and fears of common teenagers.
 
And from this objective, Cast was born.  It is a full-color comic book series, available next month, that has none of the fantasy-based and sci-fi plots that comics in Filbars or Book Sale have. The story is weaved through the lives of teen-age high school boys and girls who, through a tie-up between their exclusive schools, come together to put up a school play on King Arthur. During the course of the production, the characters discover world-changing ideas, develop relationships, and encounter personal problems, which might just affect the school production all together.
The characters are illustrated in Manga with distinct touches of Filipino artistry as rendered by the Ronin Core Art Group. But while the art is in Manga, the typical teen-age Filipino psyche is very evident in the comic book’s characters. Repressed exclusive school boys; shy exclusive school girls; guitar-playing barkadas; and extremely strict school officials as well as the more open-minded ones are just some of the elements that make Cast quite significant to its target readers.
 
“Cast is a story about coming out of your comfort zone into a larger, scarier world where you can meet folks scarier than monsters, or be in situations more confusing than being in another dimension,” explained series creator and writer Jamie Bautista, who also founded Nautilus Comics to produce the comic book. “But it is also a world where you can meet people who are more fascinating than any caped marvel or experience things more exhilarating than flying.”
Cast also seeks to highlight the importance of adults in the young teenager’s life, in the persons of their parents and school officials.  “The current teen materials available right now often downplay the presence of parents, who only come into the scene during conflicts,” added Elbert Or, the 20-year-old creator and editor of the series. “We included adults’ direct involvement into the story to make it more realistic, which is what makes Cast a good read for the entire family too.”
 
Conflicts among the characters range from the simple “crush encounter” to love triangles, and deeper inner conflicts. The very first issue, entitled Cast: Pre-Production, also includes glimpses of producing the comic book, such as character designs, sketches, costumes and commentaries discussing the different aspects of production.
With regard to the plot, the creators are always asked why they chose a campus setting and hinge the story on a stage production.  The two believe that the campus set us will allow them a lot of room to discuss different issues in the future, including the more serious problems of teen suicide and depression.  The theater play element, meanwhile, came from Bautista who is former stage actor and a writer of prose.
 
“Comic books can also become relevant if creators are given the chance,” said Or.
Before Cast, the two young minds had pooled the best comic art illustrators in the country to produce Siglo: Freedom, another comic book from Nautilus, which tackles the heavier issues of politics and society.
 
Because of such ideas that deviate from the superhero formula, Or and Bautista find themselves beset with financial problems.  Sponsors are, of course, wary that such materials might not make the sales. Nonetheless, the partners went ahead with Cast because of their belief in the product. Beneath the entire effort, they say, is also an advocacy to give the often under-estimated Filipino illustrators a chance to show their talent, and eventually give them the higher compensation that they deserve.
 
“This is the burden of comic book creators.  There isn’t much freedom where your material is concerned because many are at the mercy of financing.  You have to show that the material is commercially viable,” said Bautista. “But we believe in our product, because it directly speaks to our readers.”
 
A comic book that shows day to day teenage struggles, produced by young artists who are facing their own professional and financial battles.  Reality can’t get any better than this.
 
 
Cast is available at bookstores and comic book shops like Comic Quest outlets and Central Comic Headquarters in Katipunan.  It is also being sold at branches of Anonymous.  Elbert Or and Jamie Bautista will also hold comic book illustration workshops at Powerbooks this month.  For inquiries, e-mail mars4@edsamail.com or jamie@bautista.com. 

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