On the Verge
Karen Kunawicz
Mirror Weekly, March 12, 1998

Budjette Tan is back. And the tables have turned a bit. As President-at-gunpoint for Alamat comics, Budj is used to being interviewed for write-ups in paper, magazines, and TV (I’m just proud to say “On the Verge” was one of the firsts to feature Alamat—that was over three years ago!) Now it’s Budjette who’s writing about a new local comic and graphic literature group called ZENITH GRAPHICS—and I must say he’s written such a fun piece.

Mabuhay ang malikot na utak! I meant that in a positive, halfways wholesome sense, OK?

Xeroxed Monkeys at the top
By Budjette Tan

Ever heard of the Hundredth Monkey Effect? No, it’s not some kinky bestiality thing! Supposedly, researches were studying the behavior of monkeys in the island of Koshima, near Japan. Sweet potato is part of the diet of those monkeys. The monkeys somehow learned that if they wash the sand off the potato it tastes better. Soon enough, all the monkeys on the island learned how to wash the potatoes in the hot springs. Scientists later discovered that monkeys in an island several miles away had also learned the same habit of washing their potatoes before eating it. Scientists speculate that after the one hundredth monkey (it could be any number) learned this new habit, a sort of “critical mass” was reached and the data was somehow transmitted to the other monkeys across the sea.

Weird, but true.

What the heck does this have to do with my articles about Zenith Comix? Uhh… I’m not sure but you keep reading and I’m sure I’ll make a connection.

Scientists further speculate that a similar phenomenon happens with other living beings, including humans. Examples range from similar cave drawings found in different parts of the world, to monumental structures as the pyramids of Egypt and Peru.

We skip a couple of centuries and flash forward to 1992. Marvel Comics’ most popular artists leave the company to form their own group, Image Comics. One of those artists was Whilce Portacio, a Filipino. This generates great interest in comic books for Filipinos everywhere.

Whilce? Monkeys? Where the heck is Zenith in all of this? I’m getting there.

1993. DC Comics officially launches its “alternative” for matures readers only imprint: Vertigo Comics. Even tough so-called alternative comics have been around for decades, Vertigo Comics generated more attention an interest since it was being published by such a large company. DC Comics, who publishes the comic books of popular icons like Superman and Batman, were giving unknown, yet creative writers and artists a chance to explore stories and themes not usually seen in superhero comic books.

The monkeys of Image and Vertigo Comics sent their washed potatoes to the Philippines and influenced the monkeys here.

1994. Manila. The comic book shops experienced a deluge of ashcans—mini-photocopied comic books. It was easy to see that these aspiring comic book creators were influenced by either Image or Vertigo or both. Little did they know that they would all meet one November afternoon.

November 1994. The main monkey himself, Whilce, came home and organized those ashcan-kids into Alamat Comics.

February 1995. After Alamat’s first major exhibit, I was still exhilarated at what we accomplished and we were excited with the comic books that we were planning to publish. As we were packing up our stuff, taking down the posters and streamers, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were other people out there planning to enter the comic book scene.

We had no idea that around the same time we were organizing Alamat, a similar group was already bring formed in Iloilo.

“The underground never sleeps until it reaches… Zenith.”

ZENITH, the highest point reached in the heavens by a celestial body.

ZINE, self-published periodical about a particular subject matter, more often that not, concerning some aspect of pop culture (e.g. music, art, movie, TV, comics).

We go back to 1994, to Iloilo, where we see five zines being published /Xeroxed and circulated among friends and among those interested enough to read it. The forerunner of this zine revolution was Elvert Bañares.

1995. Elvert and several of his colleagues form SINING X (pronounced Sining Ekis). “We’re your usual group. We’re just friends,” said Elvert. “We are here because of the camaraderie, and of course, we got together because we are artists. We wanted to make a venue to show people how we do things, to show people who we are, how we can improve our craft…”

SINING X is currently composed of over 20 people, a collective of students, young professionals, independent filmmakers, poets, and writers. They believe that art has no limits. Which is probably why they have labeled arts as an “X”—something that has yet to be defined, something which can only be explained when they have achieve it.

Under SINING X is their publications division ZENITH, which is divide into two sections: Zenith Komix and Zenith Graphix.

ZENITH KOMIX features “superhero” stories, though not the type you usually see in Image Comics. Expect a more experimental type of superhero. Now available under this imprint are THE ILLUMINARY and THE CRIMSON.

THE ILLIMUNARY was written and created by Markus Lulandus; drawn by Mario Basilgo II and Jigger Ricardo. The “hero” of this story is Dante, who lives in on a planet that does not have a sun. Light and heart are monopolized and provided by one company. It is a story of how people struggle to find hope in a dark world.

THE CRIMSON was written and drawn by Karlm Carrascal. Set in New York during the 1930s, we follow the adventures of a detective called Kameron as he is hunted down by monsters called Oracles.

ZENITH GRAPHIX are works which they consider short films on paper. Under this imprint, titles like FUNGUS FEVER, LIWANAG, and ORAL + VIGIL use a combination of photographs and illustrations in order to tell their story.

If you’re not sure of which title to get, you can check out GRAPH-X, which is SINING X’s quarterly guide to all ZENITH publications. GRAPH-X No. 3 is now available and also features articles, poems, new comic book stories, as well as their upcoming releases.

Artists and writers are welcome to contribute their works to ZENITH. The group believes in supporting young and unknown artists. “We want them to grow with us as we go along,” said Elvert. But contributors must first present their portfolios to the editorial board which is compoed of Elvert, Jennifer Severino, Mary Anne Jimenez, Erwin Santiago, and Ned Trespeces. Elvert already warns contributors not to expect fame or financial compensation. Elvert explained, “We don’t think of it as a business. We see it as a form of self-expression. We just want other people to see out works and we just want [these comic books] to pay for themselves. We can’t keep doing this for free.”

All ZENITH publications are photocopied. According to Elvert, they are currently limited to photocopying their comic books because of financial reasons. They are not yet willing to risk thousands of pesos on a product which they are not sure will sell. With the photocopying method, at least their works are seen and read by people, and it won’t cost that much. They are working on a project called ENTER: CANNAD which will be printed and released this March.

Last December `97, SINING X held its first collective art exhibit at the NCCA Gallery called “Gothic Assembly”. The exhibit featured art works rendered in different mediums, from traditional illustrations to sculptures, to live performance art and short films viewed on multiple TV screens.

By April, you will be able to browse the SINING X web site, which will contain more information about the group, their projects and activities. This year they will also begin ZENITH PRESS, under which they will publish GOTHICA: CORPUS ET MEN, an anthology of gothic stories by Sining X writers; followed by SILENT ORB, a personal diary-esque collection of dreamscape ideas by Giovanni Respall.

Another project which Elvert has been trying to start is a local version of the zine “Fact Sheet Five,” a directory of zines in the United States and other countries. Elvert has been offering other zines the chance to advertise for free in ZENITH, but so far none have taken up his offer.

So, to all zine-monkeys and comic book-monkeys, if you want to get in touch with SINING X , here’s who and how:

Elvert Bañares
c/o Maria Calara Today Magazine
#70 18th Avenue
Murphy, Quezon city

Jennifer Severino
#2-H Alpha Victoria Homes
14th St., cor. Victoria St.
New Manila, Quezon City

For more informations, call: 141-919615, 141-137943, 1277-62272.

ZENITH is available at Comic Quest, Megamall.

Allow me now announce that the monkeys from Alamat will be releasing “Angel Ace” #3 and “TKS: The Kill Stalker” #2 in March. Now available from Alamat are “Dhampyr”, “Wasted”, and “Exodus” #2.

Thank you, I have to go now. I suddenly got the irresistible urge to go eat a banana.

Somewhere in the Philippines… alittle boy takes up a pen and starts to draw.