This interview originally saw print in the SINDAK Horror-Thriller Magazine(April 2006 issue). Originally written in Filipino, I translated it into English for our international readers.
MEET THE `TRESE` CREATORS
By Athena Fregillana, SINDAK #1, April 2006
Pictures by Paul Del Rosario
Originally published in Filipino.
Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo are part of a new generation of comic creators who are trying to save our almost lifeless comic book industry. How did the TRESE series start and why is this being considered one of the famous Pinoy komiks today?
If you are a comics lover, you might have already bought an issue or already have the whole collection of Trese comics, the product of the creative mind of Budjette Tan and the astounding art of Kajo Baldisimo.
They started work on Trese when Kajo sent a text message to Budjette, saying that he wanted the two of them to work on a comic book. “Kajo wanted to do something on a regular basis. I asked him if was he loosing his mind, because at that time we both had day jobs in advertising and we were working on very demanding accounts.” But this did not become an obstacle in putting together the concept for Trese and Budjette considered that it would only be a one-shot deal. Budjette said, “Ok, fine, we will make one comic book and after that, we’ll probably get so busy with work that we’ll never do another issue again.”
That’s why Budjette thought he could use the concept of Trese which he had been thinking about for a long time. “My first job was in a radio station and ended up writing a show on paranormal stuff. We create a character for that show called Anton Trese. He was the narrator of a horror show. He wasn’t really a fully-fleshed out character. He was just a voice who introduced each show and he called himself Anton Trese.”
Years later, Budjette started to write a comic book story and thought he could use Anton Trese for that tale. The only thing he knew about the story was how it started and it started with a dead lady in white on Balete Drive. He didn’t know how he’d end the story, so he asked help from his friends who were also into comics.
“My friends suggested things on how to make the story better. Years later, Kajo texted that he wanted to make a comic book, which made me remember the story of Trese.”
When Kajo first drew Trese, he was a tough, kick-ass guy. But they thought that people might think they just copied the Keanu Reeves character in the movie Constantine, which was based on the graphic novel Hellblazer. So, they decided to make Trese into a woman.
“Kajo liked the idea of making Trese a female paranomal detective,” said Budjette.
Kajo didn’t have a difficult time in drawing their heroine. “Actually, I’ve always liked female lead characters in comics and movies, so it wasn’t hard for me to create Trese,” said Kajo.
Trese’s intense looks came from a combination of people that inspired Kajo. Even Maja Salvador is part of that list. According to Kajo, Trese somewhat resembles him. “It’s important to have that one characteristic that people will remember. If you take a look at Trese’s hairline, that’s just like my hairline. I made it part of her character design because I thought it would look weird for a woman to have a hairline like that.”
So, why did they decide to make a horror comic book? Budjette said, “I guess it was because of my influences. I’m just more comfortable telling ghost stories. Admittedly, it’s more difficult to scare someone in a comic book as opposed to trying to scare someone with a movie, where you have the benefit of music and lighting and timing, where you can suddenly surprise the audience. So, it’s also a challenge to do that in a comic book.”
We’ve all heard ghost stories that usually leave us with many loose ends. We don’t usually find out what happened to that ghost, where did that ghost come from, what did he do when he was alive. Which is where Trese comes in, to help discover and solve what happened in a particular crime. “Our intent is that the story should always have a criminal act, but there should always be a supernatural twist,” said Budjette.
From a single text and from what they thought would only be a single issue, they just finished their seventh issue. “When Kajo finished the first issue, he said, `What’s next?`. The next three issues were just notes in my notebook. And before we knew it, we were finishing issues on a monthly basis,” said Budjette.
It took them a year before they could release their latest issue because of their workload at the office. Both Budjette and Kajo work in advertising agencies.
Both of them have a love for making comics. Budjette is very passionate in writing comic book stories but rarely gets to do so. He said, “The plan was if Alamat Comics took off, I would just write comics forever. I guess the market wasn’t ready for comics or we didn’t know anything about selling comics. It came to a point when Alamat as a group became smaller and a lot of people focused more on getting day jobs. So I ended up in advertising.”
On the other hand, Kajo just resigned from his advertising job last January. He had to make a decision between doing advertising and doing comics. He felt that couldn’t to do at the same time. Although, he still does some projects for the ad agency from time to time. “So I’d have something to eat,” Kajo joked.
These days, Kajo works on Trese and other comic books full-time. “I started to notice that people were buying it. There were serious supporters who waited for the next issue. I felt that it was my obligation to make my work better.”
The current plan is to release a compiled version of Trese. “We are already talking to a publisher [Visual Print Enterprises]. It’s the same publisher of ZsaZsa Zaturnnah. Our agreement with them is three books. Book 1 will be issues 1-4, Book 2 are issues 5-8 and Book 3 will be issues 9-13. It won’t be colored. Not yet. We hope to eventually do that,” was Budjette’s happy news.
They also got an offer from Unitel Production last year to adapt Trese into a movie or TV show. “After Unitel read it, they liked the idea that it was episodic. The contract is open to that sort of execution,” said Budjette. But they haven’t gotten back to Unitel because their main goal now is to finish the story of Trese.
Since they’ve uploaded Trese in tresekomix.blogspot.com, they received many readers from other countries. They even have a regular reader from Iceland.
“When we launched our first issue, Comic Quest [comic book store] got a call from France asking about our comics. The store assistant had a hard time trying to understand what the caller wanted. The next day, the store got a call from the French Embassy. Turns out the first caller, asked help from the embassy to contact the store and reserved a copy,” Budjette said.
As mentioned, aside from comic book stores, the Trese stories can also be read online. This came about when Budjette noticed that some American comic book companies would upload the first issue of their comics in order to attract new readers. “We were already late with one of our issues, so I thought we might as well upload it on the site. I also realized it was going to be Friday the 13th and timing was perfect.”
The two friends are truly happy with the success of Trese. Kajo said this was instant reason to do better and improve their work on their upcoming issues. One cannot avoid getting criticized but such comments are welcome as well. They mentioned one lawyer who emailed and said a certain detail of the story shouldn’t have happened because of a certain law. Budjette said, “It’s nice to get those kind of comments. It helps us know how to improve the next issue, considering our first couple of issues were all done in a rush… we just wanted to get it all done in 20 days.”
“Which was why, during lunch break, I always have liquid paper and drawing materials beside me,” Kajo recalled.
Budjette and Kajo have given us with something inspiring. They made us feel their dedication in their creation of their comic book Trese. They showed their determination to tell their story despite the many obstacles in their way. The success of their comic book creation is already within their reach. Their advice for the everyone who wants to make comics: “Don’t let go of your dreams.”
13 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT …
1. My affair with comics started... when I was in grade school. My classmate gave me UNCANNY X-MEN #188 and #189 as a birthday gift. #189 had a cliffhanger ending, so I just had to hunt down the issue after that and the every issue after that.
2. I love comics because.... it’s fun! I grew up reading comic books. Especially when the story has that perfect balance of great words and great art.
3. My influences in comics are.... Chris Claremont, Stan Lee, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore.
4. If I am a comic character, I'd like to be Martian Manhunter, so I can fly around, turn invisible, change shape, and read minds (which will come in handy when dealing with client).
5. In the future, I want to collaborate with.... Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Carlo Vergara.
6. My favorite comic character is Cyclops because he’s a great leader and strategist.
7. I'm inspired when... it’s 3AM and the deadline is in a couple of hours.
8. I'm addicted to.... coffee! And comics!
9. If I were a villain in my comics, who would I be? I want to be the Kingpin of Crime.
10. I love Ka-Jo because.... he makes me look good! Makes my words come alive! He bugged me to do the impossible.
11. Will I date a girl like Alexandra Trese? Ummm… sure, as long as we go to a brightly-lit place… near a church.
12. If Trese is to be adopted in movie or TV, my choice of actress is.... Alessandra de Rossi.
13. I'd like to be known.... as a great storyteller.
1. My affair with comics started… when my parents brought home a second-hand pinoy (religion) komiks fully illustrated by Mar T. Santana (i forgot the title). It has stories of Jesus and stories of people who love and hate (and eventually came to love) Jesus.
2. I love comics because you get to tell a story by drawing it. I love telling stories by drawing it. Sarap.
3. My influences in comics are TMTM (To Many To Remember). But the few who are on top of my head: Nestor Redondo, Mar Santana, Hal Santiago, Jim Lee, Travis Charest, Brian Hitch, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and lots more (about 413 more)...
4. If I am a comic character, I'd like to be WOLVERINE! (wolverine na nakaka-teleport at nagiging invisible! Patay ka!!!) [Wolverine with the power to teleport and become invisible!]
5. In the future, I want to collaborate with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis. Sabay-sabay sila. [I want to collaborate with them all at the same time.]
6. My favorite comic characters are: 1. Trese, kasi astig siya. 2. Wolverine, kasi astig siya. 3. Superman, kasi mabaet. 4. Batman, kasi masipag. 5. Rorschach, kas may katok. [1. Trese, because she kicks-ass. 2. Wolverine because he kicks-ass. 3. Superman, because he’s nice. 4. Batman, because he works hard. 5. Roschach, because he’s scary]
7. I'm inspired when love is all around me, and so the feeling grows. It’s written on the wind, it’s everywhere I go...
8. I'm addicted to any vehicles that turn into robots. Someday i will make cartoons, comics and toys about this unexplored concept and make tons of pesos. Even make a movie...
9. If I were a villain in my comics, who would I be? I will be an evil Wolverine who can teleport and turn invisible and call myself Nemesi-rine! Patay ka!!!
10. I love Budj because he loves buying, reading, and making comics. If he starts hating comics, then i'd want a divorce.
11. Will I date a girl like Alexandra Trese? Oo naman! Whew! Hottie! Kaso lang, laging may tchaperon. Saka hindi madaling patawanin. Saka may baon lagi na knife. S#!%.'wag na lang... [Of course! Whew! Hottie! Because she always has a chaperone. And it’s not easy to make her laugh. And she always carries a knife. . S#!%. I don’t want to date her!]
12. If Trese is to be adopted in movie or TV, my choice of actress is.... Maja Salvador! Hi Maja!
13. I'd like to be known as; 'Kajo, isang Pilipino na buong-pusong nag-alay ng pawis at dugo upang makatulong na
isakatuparan ang pagpapatuloy at pagtatanggol ng sining-salaysay na tinatawag na komiks at siyang may lihim na pagtatangi kay Maja Salvador.' Hi Maja! [Kajo, a Filipino who whole-heartedly offered his sweat and blood in order to help and fulfill and defend the progress of the art of comics and how he secretly longed for Maja Salvador. Hi Maja!]
Published in the SINDAK Horror-Thriller Magazine(April 2006 issue).
Interview by Athena Fregillana