Manila Times interviews Lyndon Gregerio & Budjette Tan

Comic book artists Lyndon Gregorio and Budjette Tan painted in a thousand words

Comic books enthrall me.

The moment I picked up my Archie’s Digest Comic Book at the age of seven, I never stopped piecing through the ones that I would find lying around my friends’ houses, in school and most often in the dentist’s waiting room. I’d like to believe that my relationship with comic books began while dreadfully waiting for my turn at the dentist.

Comic books tend to captivate its audience because the pictures are more than enough to share a story.
They add the much needed color and excitement to an otherwise black and white story that gets blurred in between spaces.

As the years went by, Archie (and along with the many others I grew to love like Sabrina, Josie and the Pussycats and Superman) slowly drifted to the back of my bookshelf and was instantly replaced by novels that contained no pictures, not even one.

However, I think a trip to the mall one Sunday made me revert to my old comic book junkie ways.

I was walking in one of the most popular malls in Ortigas one Sunday afternoon and I was surprised to see a lot of young, eager faces that were dressed to the nines in costumes that they obviously put a lot of time, effort and money into. The industry has definitely grown into gigantic proportions and the excellent thing about this is the fact that in the heart of all of this fanfare were local comic book artists who were weaving their own tales and adding twists that make their comic books uniquely Pinoy.

My surprisingly newly rediscovered love for comic books has pushed me to search for the best and most interesting ones that our local industry could offer, safe to say that this time around, novels were ignored for my new discoveries.

Every single one us has that college experience that we wish we could relieve every once in awhile, lucky for Lyndon Gregorio, he, along with his readers, get to relieve them every day through his popular comic strip series, Beerkada.

Gregorio has always been a big fan of comic books. From the moment that he got his hands on a rented copy of Star Boy at the age of eight, Gregorio couldn’t put down his pen and drew on whatever blank space he could find. However, he put his love for comic books on hold in order for him to earn a degree in
Engineering from the University of the Philippines. He soon followed the footsteps of his mom and began teaching in the college of engineering in the same university; however, he felt that he wasn’t spending enough time on what he was truly passionate about.

It was during his college days that Gregorio stumbled upon the core theme of his popular comic strip series. His own college experiences, mixed with several aspects of his personality that produced the well loved characters Glen, Boopey, Andrea, Alan, Bryan, Jimmy, Fe and Jay 12 years ago.

Gregorio says of his inspiration for his series, “I write what I know and hopefully, there’s a crowd that would follow.” And surely, Gregorio has created a solid following for his beloved Beerkada.

Old time loyalists relate to the characters because growing up with the series has allowed them to experience the same challenges of shifting from college naivety to real world responsibilities thus making the transition easier for them to deal with.

For newbie followers, Gregorio’s ability to constantly evolve his characters to keep up with the ever changing times is an advantage because it attracts followers who were young enough to understand Beerkada when it was first released in 1998.

In Lyndon’s first graphic novel, his classic characters are given a spin and gifted with special powers to battle against an army of “jhologs” a popular term that definitely wasn’t around when Beerkada began.

To constantly captivate both new and old followers, Lyndon must constantly stay on top of his game and he credits his passion for the craft and his no pressure approach in the making his comic books exciting, “In theory I just live my life and get all the experiences. I make sure to balance it out between what people can get and I try to avoid obscure references, at best I should do classic references.”

Shifting from highly entertaining every day experiences to the dark unknown has introduced me to the world of Alexandra Trese. Alexandra Trese is the main character and the (literal) evil fighting hero of the Budjette Tan and Ka-Jo Balidisimo’s comic aptly titled Trese.

Trese, in Tan’s own words is a mix of CSI and Supernatural only he adds a whimsical spin to it by allowing characters from our much loved Pinoy urban legends, allowing the kapres to be kidnappers, manananggals as drug ring leaders and engkantos as your typical baby snatching criminals. It is only Alexandra the paranormal is the only one who could solve all of these unusual cases. Trese “is a crime series taking a turn for the weird.”

Trese’s first venture involved our beloved urban legend, the white lady in Balete Drive getting murdered and only Alexandra could solve such a mind boggling and shocking twist of events.

Stumbling upon this comic book has definitely excited me because it reminded me of my favorite TV shows about the paranormal as well as Medium. Only Trese makes the experience richer for me because the characters involved are the urban legends that I personally grew up with. Tan was intrigued by the normal Filipino culture’s acceptance of the white lady, dwende and other ghost stories, “It’s an attempt to show a familiar side of Manila, if you think about it, we’re probably the only country that would dare to put a headline on the tabloid that says ‘Mananagal in Manila’ and seriously take it as news. It’s normal for us and because it is normal, how else can we show it as something new?”

For Tan, entering the comic book industry at the beginning was because of his dream to draw and create Spiderman for DC and Marvel.

Budjette, just like most comic book artists first fell in love with comic books when he first encountered them during his grade school days. His first comic book Origins of DC Superheroes was given to him by his dad and from that moment on, Tan started to pen his own stories and create his own characters.

What started as a game between him and grade school friends turned into a passion for Tan and in college, along with his comic book friends, he self-published Comics 101, a compilation of stories among his college friends in 1994. Tan with his friends, were one of the very first to break away from the comic book norm back then where the local market simply imitated what DC and Marvel was doing.

He then moved on to creating Batch ’72 which was based on a group of superheroes who merely wanted to use their powers to form a rock band. Tan’s second venture into the comic book industry also reflected the political climate of the 70s as the central theme of the series was based on the idea that during the martial law, the government experimented with babies that led these babies to grow up with super powers.

After the release of several Batch ’72 books, Tan focused first on his day job. A graduate of Ateneo de Manila University, with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, Tan shifted his creativity from scripting comic books to creating advertisements for the prestigious Harrison Communications Advertising Agency.

However, a call in 2005 from an old friend and co-employee, Balidisimo, made Tan go back to his first love.
Balidisimo, the artist who draws the images that compliment Tan’s stories encouraged Tan to get involved
in another project, three years after his last series was published.

At the beginning, Tan was skeptical, with his busy workload, handling major accounts for the agency, Tan didn’t think they would have the time. But Balidisimo insisted saying that one hour a day would be all that it takes, that was enough for Tan to pull out an old script and for Balidisimo to draw images for it. The one hour a day was more than enough for the dynamic duo to create Alexandra Trese’s world of the unknown and the unusual.

Now, years into the business, Tan is inspired not by his dream of drawing a Spiderman comic for Marvel, but instead in his drive to show people, through his comic book creations something that they have never seen before, for Tan he is fully satisfied with his work when he creates an idea that he did not expect at the beginning of a project, “One of the indicators that I’ve got a good story for Trese is when I stumble upon a really surprising and unusual idea. An idea that makes me say ‘no one has ever done that before.’”

And for Tan, for his reader to look at something in a new, inspired way is definitely something that he aims to do towards the end of each case in Trese, “Like I never thought of looking at something that way and I think that if I can share that thought or idea or feeling with somebody else and if they connect to it then that would be great it’s really me trying to show a new side to things because Trese is a horror story it ends up becoming a darker side of things because you have to look at the darker side of things to see the brighter side of everything else.”

The success of these two comic books has definitely gained good reviews from comic book critics abroad and these two artists hope that the world will catch a glimpse of how truly entertaining our stories are.

Now as I dive into another set of comic books, I escape into another reality where I can be Alexandra or Fe. My mind drifts into a parallel universe that allows me to close my mind of daily nuisances and instead enjoy another person’s story brought to life by rich images and beautiful words. The thrill of becoming an entirely different character is as exciting as I remember and as I realize this maybe, this thrill is truly the goal of each and every comic book artist.