Arnold Arre interview in Sunday Inquirer Magazine (January 15, 2006)

The Writer's Life : The Comic Book Wizard Casts His Spell On Pinoy Characters
First posted 06:49am (Mla time) Jan 15, 2006 By Ruel S. de Vera

Editor's Note: Published on page Q5 of the January 15, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

THE very idea crackles with the unleashed energies of those battling that prime scourge of the creative: boredom. This was how Arnold Arre came to think of what it would be like to see a tikbalang, that strange, horse-headed denizen of Filipino folklore, taking a purposeful stroll down modern Metro Manila streets. “In 1993, to escape the humdrum of ad agency life, I began doing a series of sketches in between projects. They were simple drawings of tikbalangs and engkantos in modern settings like Edsa and Makati. I don’t know of any other reason except that they were fun to draw,” the 34-year-old Arre explains.

That spark of an idea transfigured itself into “The Mythology Class,” an ambitious four-issue comic book series that cleverly wove together adventure, friendship, romance and a taste for Filipino legends, published by pioneering Alamat Comics in 1999. Now, for the first time, “The Mythology Class” is available in a special collected edition from Adarna House’s Anino imprint, with Arre making revisions and additions. An entirely new audience will be able to enter Arre’s world of quirky heroes and witty magical beings—in a battle to save terrestrial existence as we know it, of course—through this 350-page tome.

Along the way, Arre has grown comfortably into the role of visual visionary. His distinctive, accessible art and dialogue-heavy plotting continues to grow stronger. In fact, he just represented the Philippines at the World Comic Convention in Bucheon, Korea. “What’s great about meeting artists from all over the world is that you get to see the cultures that influenced their work. You also get to share ideas about the comic industry in general and how it is changing. All in all, it was a great conference. I got to see Seoul and taste authentic kimchi,” he says.

Love of movies
A very visual person since his childhood, Clem Arnold Lawrence Arre is the son of an engineer and a literature teacher; this diversity in disciplines is further reflected in Arre’s siblings, a college professor and an architect. “I loved collecting comics and talking about them with friends in school or at home, but at that time I was already confident with my skills,” he recalls. That’s why Arre thought that he was fated to become a filmmaker. But after a failed attempt at making a film in high school, Arre changed plans, electing to hone his drawing skills instead. “I came to love the medium of comics again and it has never changed since. I still apply my influences in film when I’m imagining panels or scenes so my love of movies is still there.”

After earning his Fine Arts degree from the University of the Philippines in 1994, Arre worked as a freelance artist and designer, ultimately working for foreign clients and a succession of big advertising agencies. “I began looking for comics that dealt with the topic of Philippine mythology but I couldn’t find any except for children’s books. I felt a need to retell Philippine mythology, and that’s what started it all,” Arre recalls. “So I decided to make my own comics, but it would take me four more years before I would actually sit down and flesh out the entire book.”

Aside from the mythological elements, Arre added the barkada aspect by thinking up a colorful group of youthful protagonists. “I missed college life during that time so one idea was to give the story a little bit of the experiences I had with my friends in UP. The story just wrote itself from that moment on.”

The best part
That soaring story centered on UP anthropology student Nicole Lacson, a girl who holds a passionate love for Filipino myths passed down from her grandfather. Together with a charmingly motley assortment of companions, she meets the mysterious Mrs. Enkanta and races to recapture the escaped enkantos in the human world. “The Mythology Class” attracted critical praise, and also opened the eyes of many Filipinos to the changing landscape of local comic books.

“It’s really a nice feeling, being able to do your own version of stories that have been passed on for centuries. It would be a shame if all these are lost, so this was my way of preserving these stories that make up our culture and identity and retell them to this present generation. I frequently get letters from readers saying that I’ve managed to pique their interest in Philippine mythology. For me that’s the best part.”

Arre won a Manila Critics Circle Book Award for “The Mythology Class” and for his one-shot, the future tale “Trip To Tagaytay.” He continued to expand his horizons with a full-length graphic novel, “After Eden,” in 2002. Aside from exhibits, Arre also collaborated with other talents, including a turn as artist for Gerry Alanguilan’s (“Wasted”) take on “Mars Ravelo’s Lastikman.” Out of all that work, Arre planted his own flag in the field by establishing Tala Studios. The studio takes its name from the ethereal, flying messenger from “The Mythology Class.”

Arre’s partner in Tala Studios is artist/graphic designer Cynthia Bauzon. They met back in college, when Arre would see her in the corridors. “I never really got to know her better,” he says. “I got the chance in 1997 during the release of the Eraserheads’ ‘Fruitcake’ book which she beautifully illustrated. To be honest I felt a bit intimidated by her talent when I saw her work.” The two kept in touch even when Bauzon had to leave to study in New York for two years and, upon her return, the two became an item, eventually marrying. “I would say that she taught me a great deal in terms of illustrating and graphic design. I’m a better artist now because of her.”

New perspective
Working on “The Mythology Class” after so many years was like “opening a time capsule” as Arre’s style had developed quite a bit since the series first came out. “It’s because I felt as if I’ve spent so much energy in writing, drawing and releasing the original version back in ’99 that I decided to take a break and write other stories. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would eventually release a collected edition, but I was so tired back then that I just wanted to enjoy the thought that my hard work is out there and finally being read. Also, the pause gave me a chance to see the book from a new perspective since I’ll be looking at it as a reader and not as an artist.”

Aside from the DVD-style extras included in the new edition such as preliminary sketches and promotional art, Arre redid some of the pages. “There’s more interaction now between the characters. Also we get a glimpse inside Mrs. Enkanta’s world. We get to see more of the mystic house and how the enkantos are related to it. I changed some of the scenes that for me seemed rushed.”

For those enchanted by the events of “The Mythology Class,” Arre has a welcome revelation: More may be on its way. “A sequel maybe, I’m not really sure. Maybe a spin-off.” Those ideas remain in the future for now. Immediately in Arre’s sights are sveeral book projects.

“The first is a compilation of short stories/comics I've done or contributed to anthologies. The second one is a youth-oriented story; imagine ‘After Eden’ set in Manila minus the fantasy elements. For the third one, I'm choosing one of our classic stories—I’m thinking either ‘Florante at Laura,’ ‘Ibong Adarna,’ or maybe ‘El Fili’—and setting it in present day Manila. This one is tricky since I have to retain the essence of these classics while giving it a contemporary edge. And finally the one that I’m really excited about is a superhero comic that I’ve been working on since 2002. The only detail I can give for now is that it's ‘non-spandex.’”

Open to adventure
So are these new endeavors moving away from the mythological elements found in Arre’s best-known work? “With the book I plan to release next, I would say yes. Actually it really depends on how I treat the story and the mood I’m in. Sometimes I feel like going back to exploring or even expanding on what I’ve learned about Philippine mythology then there are days when I feel that those ideas can wait.”

As he pushed forward on his own quest of finding new dimensions to explore, Arnold

Arre exults “The Mythology Class” finally reentering print and taking its place among the important works in Philippine comic books, one that is once again open to adventurous young readers. “It’s a chance for me to share my work with new readers to let them find out that there’s more to our myths than they think. For those who read the original version, I want them to feel like they’re meeting old friends.”


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