The case of a curious comics creator
By J. Vincent Sarabia Ong
May 02, 2009
The Philippine Star / SUPREME section
The millennium has ushered in the media age for the world of comics. Superheroes have outgrown their four-walled panels and are striking out into bigger mediums such as TV and film. Their lore is expanding into a broader audience through the multimedia machine. Yet, is there more to comics today than sticking your character’s face on lunch boxes and even a pair of undies?
Filipino comic writer, publisher and Iron Man follower Jaime Bautista is trying to solve this mystery of where our beloved strips can go today. He’s doing it by plotting his comic career outside the usual lines of capes and tights. He is exploring what comics as a medium in itself can do before making his stories jump into other media forms. Today, he and renowned artist Arnold Arre are exploring how to teach kids and maybe even us adults how to save in these trying economic times with a project called Private Iris. This comics funded by Blue Cow, the publishing arm of Pioneer Life Insurance, features ultra-tech girl Iris Able who’s rather antisocial because she is too smart for her age and height. Yet, her wits get the best of her as her only friend Danton convinces her to use her smarts to solve crimes in school and teach her peers subtly to save their allowances too.
The Secret Origin Of Jaime Bautista
Before teaching us how to save our wallets, Jaime’s super secret origin as a comic writer is that he taught comic book theory in his alma mater Ateneo de Manila during the summer. One of his students, Elbert Or, challenged him that he couldn’t teach comics unless he made one. As his mutant powers of luck peaked, Jaime discovered that his uncle Choy Cojuangco owned a publishing company called Mango Textbooks. So, Jaime quickly collaborated with Elbert to create his romance comic Cast to be published under Mango in his own imprint called Nautilus Comics.
The story of Cast, which has a fan following, is about the romance behind a high school play. According to Jaime, writing about relationship-driven stories, despite being an Avengers action reader, was natural for him because of his fascination with the profundity of human interaction. Jaime says that he was always intrigued about solving the mysteries of life with stories and that to have readers answer their life problems by reading his stories.
This is why it was logical for Jaime to choose his crime busting partner for Private Iris to be artist Arnold Arre for his penchant for love stories too. He calls their duo the Lennon- McCartney of local comic book teams because they like to make silly love songs.
An Eye-Opening Comics
The creation of Private Iris was its own puzzle because Jaime didn’t like and did not know how to write mysteries when he was pitching it in 2006. It was because he was more absorbed with giving birth to a character with spunk and ironically didn’t want to solve mysteries in the first place. Later on, Jaime says, he gobbled up all kinds of detective stories from japanese comics to TV series to get a clue.
Jaime says that he jumped into the project because he was intrigued by a comic book promoting financial intelligence and insurance. He saw it as a challenge and a way to broaden what comics can do aside from sell their own merchandise. Moreover, it was a way to help readers with a real problem today, which is managing money.
Private Iris was also a test on his writing skills because he couldn’t be too preachy or dumb down the story for his young audience. Jaime cites Archie comics as his model as he remembers a storyline where readers learn that Archie has a college fund. He says that it played out well because Archie had a natural dialogue with Veronica who wanted to use his fund for a date. The story ends with Veronica’s dad, Mr. Lodge, shaking Archie’s hand without making a big spectacle of his good example.
After reading every issue of Private Iris so far, I can see how Jaime is trying to weave these elements into his story by putting out issues such as parents who mismanage funds to how Iris saves her allowance for her Batman-like gadgets. Yet, each issue feels rushed as some plots are introduced in a clumsy manner like its kidnapper in Case 5 whose motivation is still a mystery to me. Also, the wordiness per panel can make me rather flip through Astro Boy-like manga illustration than read it. Yet, Private Iris has the potential to be an overall eye opening experience as Jaime injects some quirky science facts into his story and these facts are further explained in the fun page at the end of each story for the boys.
Private Iris just needs to keeps its plots simple and introduce mature or complex themes only when they can be smoothly told in a single issue because its title character has enough rebel attitude to keep readers looking for the next case.
Solving The Mystery Of The Local Industry
Jaime’s Private Iris, although still young, is at the very least a pioneer in moving the comic medium into new directions such as increasing one’s financial IQ. To join Jaime’s movement, we just need more writers like him who are willing to jump into new projects and of course research as much as he did. Then, of course, the crucial portion, which is to simply write away.
And when asked when will there be a truly Filipino comic book, Jaime says not worry because these values will come out from the writer whether or not his character is wearing a barong tagalog. We just need to develop the skills first, write, and we will give to something great, original and definitely Filipino.
* * *
Did you know buying a Private Iris can help save your younger brother cousin, kid or nephew P100?
Learn more about Private Iris at http://www.privateiris.com/home.html