TRESE in Manila Bulletin

Trese gets lucky
Ronald S. Lim

In the world of Alexandra Trese, heroine of the comic book series "Trese," there are many things that go bump in the streets of Manila whenever darkness falls, and the city’s enthusiastic club-goers only make up a small portion of it. Manananggals, tiyanaks, tikbalangs, and duwendes make their presence felt when the lights go out, and it is Alexandra Trese’s job to keep them in line.

This alternate Manila where the creatures of Philippine mythology roam free and wreak havoc on the lives of ordinary Filipinos is the creation of the team of writer Budjette Tan and illustrator Kajo Baldisimo. Members of opposing ad agencies who knew each other because of their shared love for comics, the two decided to start "Trese" in June 2005.

"Kajo texted me that he wanted us to work on a comic book project. He said he wanted to try and churn out a 20-page comic book every month. His grand plan was to draw a page a day during his lunch break. After 20 days, we’d have 20 pages of artwork. He’d then use the remaining 10 days to letter and lay-out the pages and do the cover," recalls Budjette. "I laughed and didn’t think it was possible because I was working on the Globe account and he was working on the Coke account, two of the busiest accounts in our respective ad agencies."
It turned out that the character whose story Budjette wanted to tell was somebody whom he had already thought of two years prior.

"Anton Trese was the name of the unseen narrator in a very short-lived radio show called The World of the Unknown. The radio station closed down in less than a year and Anton Trese was almost forgotten," says Budjette. "It was during my brother’s birthday that I told my friends about Anton Trese investigating the death of the White Lady of Balete Drive. A friend would come up with the twist in the end and provided another important piece about Trese’s family history.’

However, Budjette’s job as a creative director would prevent him from pursing this story in earnest, and would have remained completely with him if Kajo had not texted. Even then, the two would be unable to keep up with their monthly deadlines.

"When the day’s workload was heavy, I’d stop by the nearest Starbucks before going home and there write down all my ideas and script for Trese, then I type up the next day," describes Budjette.

Making the public aware of the comic book would take even more effort, involving a lot of photocopying. In fact "Trese" first circulated as photocopied mini comics that could be bought at local comic book conventions.

Eventually, the series caught the attention of Visual Print Enterprises, which ended up publishing the seven stories in two volumes: "Trese: Murder on Balete Drive" and "Trese: Unreported Murders".

But even before the creation of "Trese," both Budjette and Kajo were already deep into comic books, recalling childhoods when the ‘’Uncanny X-Men’’ and local komiks made regular appearances.

"I was very much into Pinoy komiks when I was in grade school. I read Wakasan and Pinoy Klasiks. I was introduced to Marvel comics in high school by friends who collect the X-men," recalls Kajo whose love for comic books would begin in the family.

"When I was in grade school, my uncle Jimbo showed me his drawings about an outer-space adventure. Back then, I always wanted to copy everything that my Tito Jimbo did. So, I created a character named Cosmic Man. He rode the cosmos in his cosmic ship and defended people with his cosmic gun and cosmic net and… well, you can see the whole cosmic-picture. I would make one copy, staple it and pretend to sell it to my mom. After she has read it, I would get the same copy and try to sell it to my dad," Budjette recalls.

Budjette’s parents nurtured this interest, buying him rare trade paperbacks such as "Marvel: Son of Origins" and "Secret Origin of DC Heroes and Villains." He would start collecting on his 12th birthday, after receiving copies of Uncanny X-Men #188 and 189.

Budjette is also the man behind Alamat Comics, a group of Filipino comic book artists established in 1994 with the encouragement of Fil-Am comic book artist Whilce Portacio.

"Whilce Portacio came back to Manila and met with all the comic book creators in Manila. He urged us to band together under one name and have one logo, like what they did in Image. Following that suggestion the group formed Alamat Comics," says Budjette.

While Budjette and Kajo have big dreams for "Trese" (such as continuing the story and selling in more outlets here and abroad), they have even bigger dreams for the Philippine comic book industry.

"I think the Philippine comic book industry just took a vacation. We should get ready to welcome it back because it’s almost here. In the 60s and 70s, the Philippine komiks industry sold in the millions and had a circulation that outranked the newspapers. The stories from those komiks were adapted into movies and TV shows. It would be great if we can get the industry back to even half that status," says Budjette.

As far back as the 70’s, American comic book companies have been hiring Pinoy artists. At present, there are probably a dozen Filipino comic book artists doing work for Marvel, DC, and other American comic book companies.

"We obviously have world-class talent, but I’d like to see the day when foreign publishing companies take interest in reprinting/distributing Filipino comic books and graphic novels," Budjette adds.

"Trese" has certainly inspired young people to take up comic book writing. Budjette and Kajo are aware of this and they impart this advice: Read and live.

"Do not just read comic books. Don’t let comic books just be the only source of inspiration for your stories, else you’ll just be repeating what has been said before. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on," says Budjette. "Find inspiration from life. When you fall in love, write down how it felt, try to describe it to a five-year old. Watch a band perform for the first time in some hole in the wall and remember how the singer stuttered and how his sweat glistened on his forehead. Talk to your parents what they dreamed about when they were kids. Talk to kids about what they’re most afraid of. And after all of that, go back and write."

"Trese’’ is available at Comic Quest, Comic Odyssey, Pandayan Bookstores, National Bookstore, Best Sellers, Powerbooks, Fully Booked, and of course, you can get a preview of the books at: