In Praise of Pinoy Comics Artists

BY MADS BAJARIAS | I have recently written about artist Gerry Alanguilan's laudable initiative in creating a museum of Pinoy comics art. Alanguilan plans to build the museum in San Pablo, Laguna, his hometown and a place with a strong artistic tradition. Meanwhile, the online museum is already a rich resource and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get an overview of Pinoy comics art.

Despite Alanguilan's busy schedule (he juggles multiple comic book projects and dispensing advice to aspiring comic book artists and writers), he took time out to answer our questions.

When did the idea of putting up a museum for Pinoy comics art first come to you? How is it going so far?

GA: I began thinking about doing a database for Philippine comics art way back in 1999. In fact, my first attempt is still online here.

The desire was always there, but I was seriously lacking in both material and a much deeper and important reason for doing it. It wasn't until much later when a lot of young artists came to me showing their works for critique, and I saw that they had been very much influenced by Japanese, American and European artists. That got me started again to think about our own old artists. I believed we had a lot of comics artists who were not only very talented and produced some magnificent pieces of comics art, they were also known internationally.

These were artists like Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Alex Niño, Tony De Zuniga, Rudy Florese, Ruben Yandoc, Rico Rival, and many more. They were known more abroad for the work that they did for American comics in the 70s. Because comic books are highly regarded as collectibles in the US, there has always been a great effort to archive and republish good material over there. The offshoot is that the works of these artists in the US have always been available.

Such is not the case here in the Philippines: After our old komiks were read, they were generally thrown away. There has been virtually no effort at all to collect, archive and preserve decades-worth of really beautifully-made comics. As of now, it is not possible for a casual reader to go to a bookstore and buy anything about our old komiks artists and their works.

This set me on the path to collect as much old komiks and original art as I could get my hands on, sacrificing much of my life savings in the process.

I began collecting not really for my personal satisfaction, but to put together as much material as I could so I can preserve, scan and then upload them into an online museum where everyone can see and appreciate them.

Through the online museum, I can share with a new generation of Filipinos the artwork that have never been seen since they were first published, in many cases, decades ago.

I have always believed that we had a great legacy of great comics art, but I didn't realize how large this legacy was until I began collecting, and I discovered many artists who I've never heard of, but were individuals of unique talents.

I try as much as I can to update the museum when time permits. But at this point, I think I've only uploaded something like 5% of what I have in my collection. There's lots of work yet to do!

Among the artists featured in the museum, whose work really blew you away?

GA: The work of Francisco V. Coching is by far the one that has impressed me the most. The more I study his works, the more I'm bowled over by how incredibly talented he was. He has been in the running for National Artist for a couple of years, and it's such a shame that he can no longer be eligible for the distinction as I heard that there seems to be a new ruling that those who have been passed over are no longer eligible. This is really tragic.

The work of Coching, both art and stories, have been a strong and indelible part of Filipino culture for many decades. In a time when comics lorded it over radio, TV and cinema, Francisco V. Coching was creating stories that reflected the heart and soul of the Filipino more than any artist. But because his accomplishments are decades old, and because Filipinos have short memories, it's so easy to dismiss what contribution he has had. And that's really tragic. I hope to spread awareness of Coching's genius for today's generation, in what little way I can.

I read that you have a subscription to Liwayway Magazine, how would you describe its current work compared to those of earlier times?

GA: Not really a subscription, but I do buy a copy often. A few years ago, the komiks section of the magazine did not impress me at all, although artist Jun Lofamia was able to produce artwork of a quality that I rarely saw in contemporary comics. But in recent years, Liwayway's komiks seemed to have enjoyed a renaissance of sorts. The artists have gotten a second wind perhaps, and produced artwork of a much better quality than they have previously.

Your single frame of "Timawa" is breathtaking, tell us when will the comic book come out? We missed "Wasted" and have regretted it.

GA: Thank you! "Timawa" is currently being serialized three pages a month on the pages of The Buzz Magasin, published by ABS-CBN. It began serializing with the September 2007 issue.

"Wasted" can be read online here.

Who will "Timawa" battle against? (We hope some corrupt public officials get slaughtered in it!)

GA: Although "Timawa" is the title, that's not really the name of the character. That's just what people call him because they don't know what his name is. But in the mythology of the story, he's an "Apolaki Warrior," the latest in a long line of warriors defending the weak and innocent, stretching back throughout Philippine history. They have an opposite, the "Sidtaka Warriors," whose sole purpose is to wreak havoc wherever and whenever they can.

Tell us a little bit about what keeps you busy nowadays.

GA: "Timawa" is something I do regularly, and when I'm not doing it, I concentrate on my self-published comic book "Elmer." You can find information about "Elmer" as well as download the first issue for free here.

Once in a while I accept jobs from abroad, including adapting classic short stories for Graphic Classics. The latest one I did was an adaptation of "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe.

I also contributed a short story for "Liquid City," an anthology of comic book work by mostly South East Asian writers and artists to be published by Image Comics later in the year.

I'm about to start work on the CD cover of American heavy metal band Crescent Shield's second album.

And that's just the ones I can talk about right now. (Smiles)

Thank you so much, Gerry.

GA: Thanks for getting in touch. I appreciate the chance to talk about the museum and my work.

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