By Ruel S. De Vera
Sunday Inquirer Magazine
MANILA, Philippines – This is a comic book story. Or at least a story about comic books, those multi-hued wonders that Andrew Drilon discovered as a child. His older relatives left comics lying around the house and he devoured them.
“I remember my imagination being fired up as a kid, because the comics had like a million colorful superheroes scrambling to save an entire universe from extinction,” he recalls. “No movie has come close in terms of concept and spectacle, and I guess at that point, I was hooked and wanted more.”
And more he got. The precocious and artistic Drilon began drawing: “I think I accidentally drew a decent picture of Spider-man one day when I was really young, in crayon. Just doodling and stuff and then suddenly—Spider-man! I must have impressed myself because I decided then and there that I had the chops for making comics, an initially deluded, but ultimately, fruitful decision.”
That decision led Drilon, now 22, to continue writing and drawing his own comics, venturing onto the Internet to craft a webcomics series called “Kare-Kare Komiks” on his blog (andrewdrilon. livejournal.com). These webcomics crackled with gleefully surreal energy, be they the meta-fictional adventures of Mang Tomas, The Storyhunter, or the melancholic meanderings of Caraboy. Then Drilon’s work began to get noticed—seriously noticed. After being selected to appear on comic scribe supreme Warren Ellis (“Planetary” and “Transmetropolitan”) on Ellis’s own site, The Engine, Drilon’s work was chosen to regularly run on The Chemistry Set, a petri dish for dynamically original comic creators the world over.
“These are wonderful,” Ellis was quoted in the press statement announcing Drilon’s new run on The Chemistry Set (www.chemsetcomics.com). “I swear, the Pinoy makes comics in the same way that the Icelandics make music … F__king genius.” Matt Fraction, the critically lauded writer of “The Immortal Iron Fist” and “Casanova,” was quoted in the same release: “Andrew Drilon does beautiful, otherworldly work—he makes comics like nobody else. ‘Kare-Kare’ is one of my favorite things on the Internet ever. It’s even better than that one time where they blew up that whale everywhere.”
Surfers and readers can catch Drilon’s panels on The Chemistry Set every first and third Wednesday of the month.
Even before he unleashed his creative energy on the Web, Drilon was already living the kind of life that writers literally can’t come up with. Andrew Joseph dela Cruz Drilon is the son of the late Alejandro Drilon. “He was a respected entrepreneur and public servant. He died when I was 14, but I carry his memory with me in all that I do,” Drilon explains. His mother, Christine dela Cruz, is the medical director for Asia-Pacific of Bristol-Myers Squibb in Singapore. “Basically, she’s a super-doctor for like, 13 countries, and she’s one of my biggest inspirations in life,” he says.
Drilon is the fourth or, in a way, the fifth of six siblings, because he has an identical twin brother, Anthony. “It’s awesome,” he exclaims. “My twin Anthony and I are like same-faced polar opposites. He’s intensely athletic and he’s also studying to be a doctor. Having a twin’s like being able to compare notes with an alternate-universe version of yourself!”
Drilon attended the University of the Philippines, eventually shifting to BA Creative Writing which, he explains, “I’m planning to finish as soon as I get back to UP.” What takes up most of his time now is creating comics. While he was growing up, Drilon saturated sketchbooks with superhero adventures. From passing them around among his classmates, he began photocopying and selling them. He eventually tried his hand at illustrating local comic stories, such as those appearing in the anthology “Siglo: Freedom.” Aside from freelance work, he also provides the art for the “RAN Online” strip for a Manila daily.
But it was in both writing and illustrating the comics stories that Drilon found a sanctuary. “‘Kare-Kare Komiks’ started out as a haphazard pile of short comics stories that I made for fun during my free time,” he explains. “I really liked them, but they were all kind of odd and hard to submit to any particular publication.” However, after taking the leap and submitting them for posting on The Engine, everything fell into place. As an emerging art form, webcomics were perfect for him. “It’s fun, free, and I can do anything I want,” he says. “The great thing about the Internet is the freedom of expression that it allows. And because I don’t have editors or marketing people making decisions for me or about my work, I can show it in its purest form.”
To provide this constant flow of crazy comic ideas, Drilon basically just doodles the weird images that pop into his head, sometimes even going into what he calls “this trance state where I’m just drawing and writing straight.” He reads a lot, he says, and adds, “It’s important for me to absorb as much music as I can on any given day.” His shape-shifting playlist includes everyone from Sigur Ros to “High School Musical.” He is abashed by the comments made by people like Ellis and is driven to hone his craft: “To be honest, I’m constantly dissatisfied with my art.”
Drilon’s distinctively edgy art provides just the right amount of whimsy and pathos for his strips. His webcomics are not your usual cape-and-tights menageries. Instead, he comes up with vibrantly oddball ideas (check out Mang Tomas literally jumping into an Archie comic strip) with superhuman tongue planted squarely in superhuman cheek.
His long-term goal is certainly ambitious. “I’m shooting for international print publication,” Drilon admits. “I’d love to one day work on comics for Marvel or DC! I mean, who wouldn’t want to chronicle the adventures of Superman, Batman or Spider-man? More importantly, I’d like to be able to live off my comics work one day. It’s a long shot, but I think it’s achievable.”
Beyond that, he is also excited by what Filipino talents can do on a larger scale— the world. “I think we have a lot to offer, and at the same time, I don’t think any one person can solely represent the diversity and richness of our culture. It needs to be a group effort. We’ve had our share of successes—Lan Medina, Alex Niño, Leinil Yu, Alfredo Alcala— but there should be more Filipinos putting comics out there for people to see. And the Internet is one of the easiest ways to do that. Personally, I’d like to see a Filipino writer make it big in international comics, because so far, our biggest success stories have been largely art-centric.”
These heady days, Drilon remains busy with a comic-related thing, his fortnightly stint on The Chemistry Set front and center. “I’m working on a young adult graphic novel right now, set in an unnamed Philippine province. No publisher yet, but I’ll see when I’m ready.” A kinetic portion of his excitement is reserved for “Kare-Kare Komiks” being released in print form. “It’s slated to appear early next year, with tons of extras and exclusive stories, all in glorious full-color next year,” he says. Meanwhile, Andrew Drilon spawns new myths fully formed in his head, or from his hard drive, making the most of this four-color universe of a life he’s building. “I just like telling stories and being able to share them,” he declares. “No matter how offbeat or unusual they may be.”