Archive for June, 2016

A Filipino Graphic Novelist

by on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

Paolo Herras and his graphic novel Sumpa

Paolo Herras, who writes both graphic novels and screenplays, met with me last September in a coffee shop in Eastwood Mall in Quezon City. After the interview we went to the Meganon Comics both at the nearby comics exhibition. His work makes some interesting connections with the supernatural in pre-colonial Filipino culture.

Paolo’s story

Maika Ezawa (Mark 9 Verse 47) and Paolo Herras (Sumpa and Strange Natives) at the Meganon Comics booth at Eastwood.

Meganon Comics will be there!

Filipino comics or graphic novels live in a fringe arts community and only appear during local comics events. This year our group, Meganon Comics, along with other comics creators, created the KOMIKET, the Filipino Komiks & Art Market. A lot of us are only available at these pocket events and on Facebook. We were reaching the same group of readers and selling the same number of issues, so we wanted to branch out.

The comics community consists of students, yuppies and a handful of local comics “super readers.” Most of us are hobbyists. Only a few rely on comics as a source of income. People create comics as a way of getting their stories across. It’s very pure, and that’s why it’s also very beautiful. It’s work made by the community for the community. That’s why we greatly appreciate it when people buy our work, or when we meet new readers.

Our work is very much influenced by mainstream comics from the West, like Marvel, DC, Image, Vertigo, Archie, Asterix/Obelix and Tintin, which appeared in comics bookstores. Then in the 90s we had the influx of animation and manga from China and Japan. At first, locally produced work was highly derivative, and then each artist developed their own unique, distinct style added with local flavor. What makes the comic book Filipino is the melting pot of these influences—the story.

Meganon Comics ventures forth into different literary and art markets in search of new readers of locally made comic books.

For example?

One of the successful ones available in bookstores is Trese (Thirteen). This is a noir-type detective story of supernatural crime. Another is Zsazsa Zaturnnah, whose lead character is a gay beautician who swallows a big enchanted stone and turns into a female superhero. These books made it into mainstream publishers and bookstores, and some even crossed into musicals, theater and film. The winner of the 2015 National Book Award is Rodski Patotski, about a genius baby who turns into a beautiful young lady and loses brain cells when she falls in love for the first time.

After these creators have been exhibiting at local comics events, have enough material and have gained popularity, they get picked up by a mainstream publisher or self-publish their work. Publishing your work is still one of the best platforms for wider reach.

Meganon Comics registered as a publishing company in 2014. Whenm we were planning we said, “Okay, if we print a run of 1,500 books how are we going to sell them? We don’t want to spend so much without knowing how we’ll earn our money back.” We were lucky to get a booth at the Manila International Book Fair. Fully Booked [a bookstore chain] also wanted to carry our titles.

Our first batch of books are Noodle Boy (Romantic Comedy); Mark  9Verse47 (Fantasy/Action) written by Maika Ezawa; Strange Natives: The Boy with Capiz Eyes illustrated by Carlo Clemente; and Sumpa, meaning both “curse” and “promise” illustrated by Brent Sabas.

When we launched at Fully Booked we partnered with some of our friends who also publish their books, like Aaron Felizmento and his sci-fi material, Minkowsky Space Opera and Gwapoman 2000. We also got picked up by Lazada.com, so we’re available online.

We printed our titles with the initial fund of the comic book sales, the zines and our own savings. Sustainability is always an issue. We decided to publish five titles this year. Since graphic novels are both literature and visual art, we’ve been attending both art & literary fairs.

We are always happy and grateful to meet people who support us and invite us to their own events. That’s how we grow.

What’s your readership?

Comics are an impulse market, so you never really know what will sell at a particular event. The three target markets are students, yuppies and parents with kids. The major genres are humor, supernatural, action/fantasy and romance. Because of the adult coloring book craze, we created Comicolor, a thirty-six page coloring book which features the different art work of our graphic novels.

So what do you write?

Each of my work is different, but they’re all rooted from my writing journey in creative writing, film and advertising. Conceptually, a lot of my stories are rooted in defining, redefine or familiarizing myself with my cultural identity. That’s why it goes back to a literary play on the supernatural or magic realism. The Philippines is a country that is still rooted in a tradition that believes in the supernatural or the spiritual. We treat our patron saints like spirit-protectors.

I’m really interested in Filipino themes. I grew up in an English-speaking home, with my grandparents, who were raised in the American period. We didn’t speak Filipino at home.

The Boy with Capiz Eyes. Capiz is a translucent sea shell you see in Filipino light fixtures or fixed on windows. The story is about a disobedient little boy who was sent to his grandmother in the province. He angers a forest spirit, who gives him eyes made out of capiz. The eyes give him the ability to see the spirit world. He learns how to respect nature and traditions. So it’s a story like the emperor’s new clothes because you don’t see the traditions if you don’t know them. Strange Natives embodies the Filipino trait of not being able to see the past, our traditions and our connections.Buhay Habangbuhay explores how one can discover a new life after the death of a love life. Here, death means change. The heroine is a white lady ghost when she’s happy or peaceful and she’s dark when she’s angry or emotionally negative.  It shows that people aren’t just white or black, they’re both. The message is about choosing to be a being of light.

You also do film?

Yes. Buhay Habang Buhay was just turned into an indie film at the 2nd CineFilipino Film Festival held in March 2016.

Where are you giving workshops?

I taught the Comic Book Creator’s Workshop under the Komiket University last June and we’ve just started this May at Fully Booked BGC. We might have one in Cebu this November. So we hope to inspire other creators to tell their stories. Storytelling is for for everyone. We all have stories we’d like to tell the world.

Journey to the Philippines, Part 2

by on Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Interior of the church in Antipolo where Bean & Tina were married

By Marita Lopez-Mena

Tina and Bean after the wedding ceremony

A year after my first visit to the Philippines, my brother Rick’s son, Enrique (Bean), invited me to attend his wedding in the Philippines. He was marrying a lovely Filipino woman, Christina (Tina) Angeles from Antipolo, on February 25 th , 2016. My brother, Rick and his wife, Linda, proposed that we fly to Paris and spend a few days, on to Manila via Seoul, South Korea, and then Paris again for a few days on the return leg of the trip. Who could resist that itinerary? Unfortunately, I caught a cold and it only got worse by the time we arrived in Antipolo where Tina’s family resides. Fortunately, Tina’s family includes a physician who just happens to live next door to where I was housed with the groom’s mother, Nancy. She prescribed a slew of prescriptions that went to work on the cold symptoms in short order so that by the time of the wedding I was fit to participate as a “candle sponsor” with the “auntie” from the other side of the family. The wedding took place in an open air church in Antipolo that was large and modern, yet beautiful and embracing.

The ceremony was held with at least one hundred of Tina’s family members present. There was a full complement of ushers and bridesmaids, and the bride’s sister’s young daughter was the flower girl. The priest officiated at a ceremony that was simple and touching. The wedding was in the Filipino tradition, a first for our American side of the family. Celeste (Cele), sister of the bride’s mother, showed me the way to the altar to light my taper before lighting her own on the other side. The lighting of candles symbolizes a joining of the families and the presence of God at the ceremony.

The couple was attended by “veil and cord sponsors” (the best man and the bride’s sister as matron of honor). After the couple exchanged rings, they knelt so that the best man could place the bride’s veil over the couple’s shoulders, pinning them together to symbolize that they dress “as one” to the world. A decorative cord in a figure eight design was then affixed by the matron of honor, also binding the couple together in a bond of fidelity and equality throughout the marriage. At the end of prayers the ceremony concluded and these symbols were removed and the bride and groom were received by the congregation. Relatives of the bride’s parents (Lino and Victoria Angeles) were each separately photographed with the newlyweds. Our family foursome also posed happily with the newlyweds.

Painting by contemporary artist of a photo at Pinto Art Museum

View of gallery from outside at Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo

A wedding reception was held out of doors nearby at the family’s Christina Villas Resort, which has a spectacular view of the Manila skyline. The traditions continued with the wedding party being announced as they entered the reception area, followed by the newly- wed couple. There was a lovely dinner, primarily fish and other Filipino fare, which included the bride’s favorite foods. After eating the couple engaged in various games with members of the wedding party, and concluded with the “prosperity dance,” wherein people pin currency to the bride and groom as they dance. The couple pledged the money they received to charities. The band, G7, played throughout the night heating up the festivities with great dance music for the crowd.

The next day Bean and Tina took Rick, Linda and me for a visit to the nearby Pinto Art Museum. The building began as a vacation home for a Manila neurosurgeon, who is also an art collector. As his collection grew he commissioned more buildings by an artist (who still lives on site), and created an artist-in- residence program. The exhibition we viewed was eclectic, and included work from the collection and pieces done by artists who had attended residency programs. The outdoor spaces were filled with stone work and tropical gardens – a beautiful place to walk in nature, as well as eat at the little restaurant, read, and see art through the open doorways.

View of a gallery at Pinto Art Museum in Antiipolo

Doorway at Pinto Art Museum.

Two days later the wedding party flew out to Caticlan and then took a ferry to Boracay for some beach time. It is an area that attracts tourists, especially because of the good diving to be had there. Rick and Linda did some diving, even though the water was very rough that day. One evening we had a wedding party dinner on the beach, hosted by my brother, which was buffet style and filled with a good sampling of Filipino food. The chicken adobo we ate there reminded me to make my own family’s adobo recipe recently. The beach is lined for over a mile with restaurants and shops – a serious tourist haven. My favorite memory is of children building intricate castles in the sand and then cheerfully kicking them down. At night people lounge on the sand by candlelight (some were in bean bag chairs!) to eat and drink.

Marita, Rick, Linda at Barbara’s Restaurant in Intramuros

After a few days the bride and groom headed home to the United States and Rick, Linda and I returned to Manila. In addition to sight-seeing, we took a trip out to Green Hills Shopping Center to the pearl booths and visited shops in Intramuros that sold fine Filipino hand crafts. We did a lot of cultural exploration including a visit to the massive Philippine National Museum where we saw gallery after gallery of exhibitions of Filipino art, both classic and modern. We also visited the Museo San Augustin housed in a church and convent, home of the Augustinian Friars since 1571. It is also located in Intramuros near our hotel – the Bayleaf. We then walked the grounds of Fort Santiago, a 16 th century military fort that today hosts visitors who can enjoy open air theatre, picnics areas and promenades.

Gardens De San Diego

Ft Santiago

Ft Santiago with Manila skyline

Another fort, Baluarte De San Diego, was designed in the circular form and built in 1586 by Jesuit priest, Antionio Sedeno. The fort was replaced, however, in 1644 after it fell into disrepair. There was a British occupation of the fort in 1762, subsequently in 1863 it was damaged by an                 earthquake. The worst came when Baluarte De San Diego was totally destroyed in 1945 during the battle of Manila. But, the resilient citizens of the Philippines once again undertook the fort’s restoration from 1979 – 1992. The Gardens De San Diego, were also of great interest with a magnificent archway and rambling garden beds that incorporate vines and containers of plants.

The highlight of the trip for me was visiting the San Sabastian Cathedral, the only steel cathedral in the world, where we found the family crypt. Buried there was our grandmother, Dona Ortiz de Leon, who died in 1927, a cousin, Felicidad Ortiz, our aunt, Encarnacion Lopez-Mena, her husband Judge De Chanco, and their son Enrique (known in the family as Enriquing) De Chanco y Lopez-Mena. We stood in the dimly lit crypt in the presence of these far away relatives from another continent. At last the American wing of the family visited our ancestors, people we had only heard about all our lives. Before leaving we lit candles and had a moment of silence with our kin.

The Lopez-Mena graves in the family crypt