Open Your Mouth: Issue #27

Thu, November 6th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
J. Torres, Columnist

"Komikeros: The Filipino Contribution to the Comic Book Medium"


Part 2: 1990s-present

When you open a comic book you'll see that the pictures are drawn in little boxes. These boxes are called panels. The spaces in between the panels are called gutters. Right now it feels I'm stuck right there - somewhere in between all the action that's happening in the comic book industry - stuck in the gutters.

As of this writing, I still have 600 copies of my comic book gathering dust in the space behind the TV set in the living room. Yup, my comic book, my story, published using my money (and a whole lot of money borrowed from my kind uncles living abroad). I printed and launched that comic book last year and have only sold so much. How did I get myself into this mess?

[Art by Whilce Portacio]I'd really like to blame myself, but it's more fun to blame others. So, let me included the people who inspired me to go into the comic book business.

At the top of my list is Whilce Portacio, who rose to fame as an artist for Marvel's "Uncanny X-Men" in the 90s. He eventually became a household name in Manila when he published the comic book "Stone", which was about a Filipino action star who had a collection of agimat (magical gems) and discovered this mystical world filled with creatures reworked from Philippine mythology.

I first came upon the name Whilce Portacio back in 1989, when I was collecting the "Punisher" comic book because I was into that "grim-and-gritty-justice-must-be-served" frame of mind and because the comic book had that grim-and-gritty artwork. Whilce later took over art chores for the "X-Factor" in 1991, which made him even more popular. It was during that time that I found out he was a Filipino based in the United States. That discovery just fuelled my dreams of succeeding in the world of comic books. I thought, "Hey! If he can do it, then so can I!"

Years later, Whilce came home to the Philippines and set up Starfire Studios, where he trained comic book artists like Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, and Edgar Tadeo. Thanks to Whilce the three of them got to illustrate Marvel's "Wolverine", with Leinil doing the pencils and Gerry and Edgar doing a tag team on the inks. They eventually worked on "Uncanny X-Men", like Whilce before them. This terrific trio combined their super-talents to produce "High Roads" for Wildstorm recently.

Yu and Alanguilan are now busy mapping out the Man of Steel's history in "Superman: Birthright." But before they drew the Man of Steel, they actually drew another high-flying character.

"Aster: The Last Celestial Knight" was published by Entity Comics in cooperation with the Philippine-based C.A.T.S. Studios back in 1995. It was penciled by Oliver Isabedra and inked by Alanguilan. Two other artists who worked on "Aster" and their spin-off books were Yu and Jay Anacleto.

Anacleto later became famous because of his photo-realistic art style in "Aria." Anacleto's next assignment is to visualize the pictures taken by cameraman Phil Sheldon in Kurt Busiek's "Marvels 2: Eye of the Camera."

Aside from inking, Gerry Alanguilan has already made a name for himself with his graphic novel "Wasted", which has received much praise from the likes of Warren Ellis. He's also illustrated the super-detailed future-world of Comics Conspiracy's "The Ochlocrat."

[Art by Leinil Francis Yu]Alanguilan has also been slowly building his own little corner in the Internet. His website has attracted attention, not only because of his great art, but because of an essay addressed to his fellow Filipino artists, pointing out that those currently adopting the popular big-eyed manga look did nothing for the quest for a distinct Filipino comic book art style. It was because of this essay that people started to post really long commentaries in his online guest book and soon enough, started really long debates. Things got so confusing that Alanguilan had to set up a new message board where people are able to post more topics and have longer debates. Alanguilan should definitely be considered a prime mover in getting the Filipino comic book artist known around the world thanks to his online efforts. He also organized a mailing list for Filipino comic book creators and it was through that list that I found out about a certain prolific Filipino comic book writer.

Last year, I got to read J. Torres' "Sidekicks" and loved the story of a school for superhero wannabes. He also wrote comic books like (well, if you're reading this column, then you probably already know what he's has written, but just in case you don't) "Alison Dare", "Jason and the Argobots" and "Copybook Tales" (a semi-autobiographical work about a Filipino comic book writer). When I saw that Torres was part of the Filipino Comic Book Creators mailing list, I completely freaked! I used to console myself that writers had a harder time breaking into the comic book industry and that I shouldn't really feel bad that so many other Filipino artists are getting published because I'm not a very good artist anyway. Well, Torres definitely changed my thinking on all that.

Torres has been doing the very thing I haven't been doing all these years - he's been writing and getting published. While I've written a grand total of one, two, three… ummm… four comic books, he's already written four series of his own! He's also had the chance to write the X-Men and will be getting the Teen Titans into a whole lot of trouble soon. To top it all off, he's even been nominated for an Eisner!

Also nominated during the 2002 Eisner Awards was Arthur de la Cruz's "Kissing Chaos." Yes, he wrote it and also illustrated it too. ARRRRGH! The only time I ever wrote and drew something was back in grade school and it was a comic book called "Cosmic Man", a hero who piloted his cosmic ship, fought crime with his comic gun, caught evil-doers with his comic net, and… well, you get the big cosmic picture.

Every time I go to Comic Quest to get to my weekly fix, I see the works of these guys on the shelves and that just makes me crazy enough to keep going, to keep writing, and keep trying to find ways to get my story published. It's all their fault.

Next time you go to a comic book store look for the works of these other noteworthy Filipino comic book artists:

Rafael Kayanan has been around since the 80s and was first published in "Firestorm." He also did art for Acclaim's "Turok" and I was greatly impressed by the action sequences and amount of detail that was in every panel. I guess it's no surprise that Rafael can draw such realistic action scenes because he's a martial artist and has worked as a fight choreographer and trainer in Hollywood movies. He's also done art for the Eisner nominated "Life and Times of Leonardo Da Vinci" (Vertigo). A portfolio compiling his pen-and-ink work will be made available in 2004.

While some of the Filipino artists in the 80s made a transition from comic books to animation studios, this next artist did the reverse. Eric Canete was part of the team that brought us the erotic and enigmatic missions of "Aeon Flux." He later became an artist at Wildstorm and worked on titles like "Mr. Majestic" and "Cybernary 2.0." He once again joined Peter Chung to work on the Animatrix. Hopefully, he'll find time to return to work on a comic book project or two.

Lan Medina, who did work for "Stone" and "Aria", recently won an Eisner for his work on Vertigo's "Fables." He's currently illustrating the most emotional alien to explore space "Silver Surfer."

[Art by Francis Manapul]Wilson Tortosa is now living the fanboy's dream of being able to work with Alex Ross and has helped successfully make the comic book version of "Battle of the Planets" a certified hit!

Roy Allan Martinez's dark art appeared in several Image comic books and he then moved on to do some wonderful art in "Wonder Woman."

Francis Manapul is the lucky guy who gets to draw the sexy curves of "Witchblade" and Carlos Pagulayan is the one gets draw "Elektra" in more sexy and deadly poses.

Another enviable bunch of kids are the creators of "Taleweaver." Leonard Banaag (writer), Philip Tan (penciller), and Gary Mayoralgo (inker) make up the first all-Filipino creative team to get their story published abroad.

Philip is now working on - as if all you X-fans don't already know - "Uncanny X-Men." He even got the chance to redesign the merry mutants' costumes. But before that, he worked on the comic book "Mutant Earth" with special effects master Stan Winston.

Another Filipino artist getting a lot of good reviews these days is Adrian Alphona, co-creator of "Runaways" for Marvel's Tsunami line. His clean-line art style and fantastic facial expressions has made this book a runaway-hit! (Sorry, couldn't help it.)

One of the many Filipinos working at Dreamwave is Sigmund Torre, who's worked on titles like "Dark Minds", "Wolverine/Punisher", "Neon Cyber", and "Metroid Prime."

Inker Gary Mayoralgo has done worked on "Mutant Earth" as well as "X-Force" and "Everquest."

Gerry Talaoc has been inking since the 80s and has worked on "The Incredible Hulk", "Alpha Flight", "Daredevil", and "Strange Tales." Jonathan Sibal's inking credits include "Supreme Power", "Avengers", "Wolverine", "The Darkness", "Fathom", and "Tomb Raider."

Ben Dimagmaliw is the Wildstorm colorist who executed the extraordinary hues in Alan Moore's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "JLA: Act of God" among others.

I would now like to make special mention of comic strip artist, novelist, and playwright Lynda Barry, who is one-forth Filipino but has written/drawn many stories about being Filipino. In her most recent book "One! Hundred! Demons!" she revisits her childhood and shows us what it was like growing up with her Filipina mom and grandmother. It would be great to see more stories like these. We have so many Filipinos working in the American comic book industry, yet so few are writing and drawing about who they are and where they are from.

In the Philippines, there is an active comic book scene that started around the mid-90s. There are lots of komikeros out there getting their stories printed in whatever form they can afford: manually photocopied or printed off-set, in color or in black-and-white.

Despite the fact that it is still a constant battle to convince the typical comic book buyer to spend his hard-earned allowance/salary on a Filipino comic book rather than his favorite Super-Mutant title, some books have already developed a fan-based and get good support from their readers. It is also encouraging that the Manila Critic's Circle, composed of teachers and professors from different universities, has begun to acknowledge and award graphic novels in the annual National Book Awards.

As it is, we have an impressive list of creators - a new generation of Komikeros that have taken up the torch (or is it, the pen?) that was once carried by the likes of Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala. I hope to be part of this list one day.

For now, I have to get out of this gutter and go back to writing.

Open new file.

Page one, Panel One.

Budjette Tan would like to once again, special thanks to http://members.cox.net/komikasa/ and http://www.komikero.com for providing some reference material used in the writing of this article.

J. Torres would like to thank Budjette for filling-in for him, as well as for his help in organizing next week's round table. Oh, and for mentioning him amongst all these other multi-talented, lip-pointing, chinelas-wearing creators.

Next week: If all goes according to plan, another virtual round table discussion and more on the Filipino "komiks scene."

Meanwhile, point your lips towards this forum and then open your mouth.

Thank you for your attention.

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