Monday, April 21, 2014

Nice to be a small part in Wasted's incredible history

I remember when Gerry Alanguilan first thought of the concept for Wasted. He went to my house and said, "I have a story that I don't think you'll like." The reason why he said that was we were all conjuring superhero stories (except for Richie Borromeo who was doing a dark story). He pitched the idea to me and I listened. I do remember asking, "Will it work?" 

When the first issue of Wasted came out, Gerry wrote me a long letter explaining the book. He even wrote a dedication on the cover. "I hope you like it," he scrawled.

I did. In fact, I liked it so much I wrote an article about the series for the Philippine Daily Inquirer (it was the first one ever written about Wasted). I felt honored when Gerry reprinted it (an edited version though because it was long) in the first collected edition of Wasted (you can see that above). It wasn't included in the next two collected editions. Luckily, I still have one left. Am no longer high on first prints/editions but this copy of Wasted means a lot not just because of the story and our long time friendship but also because it sure is cool to play a small part in the story's history.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Stuff I want to get on Free Comic Book Day

I have always read independent comics for as long as I have been reading. I got my share of those Gold Key Magnus Robot Fighter and Turok. When I got to college I became even more fascinated with more independent titles. I picked up Pacific Comics' Starslayer, Comico's The Elementals, AC Comics' Femforce, and Aircel's Dragonforce whenever I found them.

Of course, when Image Comics was founded, that blew up my reading habits out of the water. I began to get stuff from Dark Horse and Valiant. Today, I get titles from Avatar, IDW, Kaboom, Oni Press, and Dynamite. In fact, I purchase more independents than those that come from Marvel and DC.

For this year's upcoming Free Comic Book Day, here's what I am looking out for:

Rebellion/2000AD's Atomic Robo

Hermes Press' Buck Rogers

Oni Press' Courtney Crumrin. Written and drawn by the talented Ted Naifeh. The new millennium's Hellboy.

Capstone Press' fun title The Adventures of Jellaby by the talented Sean Koo!  If you like Jeff Smith's Bone then check this out.

Sonic the Hedgehog and Megaman X flipbook from Archie Comics! Why am I getting this? Because of artist Gary Martin who has inked Steve Rude in Nexus and has done stuff like DC's Blue Devil.

And lastly, there's Avatar Press' Uber.

Other stuff I wish I could get include: Action Lab Entertainment's Skyward and Midnight Tiger and Comixtribe's Epic #0!

Friday, April 18, 2014

A blast from the past: correspondence with David Hontiveros

Years ago, I wrote to the creators of the book Dhampyr and that was writer David Hontiveros and artist Oliver Pulumbarit who I had known for a while. David wrote me back. I saved the two letters that both had artwork behind each letter.

Harvey Tolibao’s wit, wisdom & art

Harvey Tolibao with his work on Ultimate X-Men with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and his first professional work ever… Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for Dark Horse.
Harvey Tolibao’s wit, wisdom & art
by rick olivares

Harvey Tolibao almost never turns down a request for an autograph, picture, or even a sketch. That is until it becomes humanly impossible to do so. He once signed and sketched for a Singaporean audience for over five straight hours without any break. His wife, July, became worried and agitated because the artist needed a food and water break that she asked if they could put a stop to the line.

After his wife left to get some food, Harvey told them all to get back in line and he continued to put his signing pen to the books of fans.

When July came back, she was surprised to see this Singaporean cry unabashedly as Harvey, battling fatigue and hunger, still lovingly drew her a sketch. Then she understood.

“It can be a life-changing experience if you show a person kindness or indifference, meanness,” underscored Harvey. “Paano if that person gives up on his dreams? Pwede magiba yung buhay niya sa maraming paraan.”

It’s ironic that Tolibao says that because almost all through his life people at every turn told him he could never be a comic book artist or even savaged his work.

Harvey Tolibao pangalan ko; hindi “men”.
An American comic book agent was in Manila to take a look at portfolios. Harvey heard about it and brought his portfolio – an assortment of sketches drawn on all sorts of paper from boards, toilet paper, and the backs of placemats of McDonald’s restaurants – in hopes of landing a job drawing American comics.

During the first day, he wasn’t let in because he couldn’t afford to pay his way in. So he patiently waited outside for an opportunity to ambush the agent. Only he never had the opportunity.

The following day, he waited once more outside. With the seminar about to end, the organizer finally allowed Harvey to come in and make a last ditch effort. The agent took a look at his work and called over the remaining artists in the area. When they had flocked around the agent, he declared, “This has got to be the ugliest drawing of Superman that I have seen.”

Incredibly, instead of feeling bad from the stinging remark, Tolibao laughed.

One hopeful illustrator quizzically looked at Tolibao and asked, “Drawing mo ba yan, men?”

Tolibao smiled and answered, “Hindi ‘men’ ang pangalan ko… Harvey Tolibao.”

“Tinira na yung trabaho mo natatawa ka pa, men?”

“First time kasi may nag-comment sa work ko in English. At sabi na, “Harvey Tolibao” pangalan ko; hindi ‘men.’ Ikaw, trabaho mo yan, men?”

“Oo. Gawa ko yan at hindi ‘men’ ang pangalan ko… Stephen Segovia,” jokingly shot back the other artist.

And thus began what has since become an enduring friendship between the two artists (Segovia has since made a name for himself drawing Thor and other Marvel work) who began with big dreams in their eyes and today are living their dreams in four-colored panels.

Tolibao, a Bukidonon native, inherited his illustrator’s genes and talent from his father, Jesus, who used to paint movie poster and streamer advertising back when it was the norm. “My father drew everyone – Charles Bronson, the cast of Star Wars, Clint Eastwood and just about every big Hollywood actor and actress. “We used to go to all the cinemas in our area to take a look at his work,” recalled Harvey who idolized his father.

“I used to joke that I was the son of God as my father was born on December 25 hence the name, ‘Jesus,’” deadpanned Harvey.

It was also around this time that he discovered his grandmother’s treasure trove of Filipino comics from Aliwan, Filipino Komiks, Liwayway and other local publications and they thrilled Harvey no end. The younger Tolibao began to draw and paint as well much to his father’s dismay. “Huwag kayo mag-a-artist kasi walang pera doon,” he dissuaded his children.

Harvey paid no attention and joined every school competition reaping honors. He even drew his classmates’ homework in exchange for a meal. “We grew up poor and drawing helped me get through the day if not life. In fact, I cannot recall a time where I did not use my drawing to help me get through any situation.”

When he saw Jim Lee’s X-Men #1 (from one of his rich neighbors), the book rocked his world. “Iba yung style ng drawing. Pwede pal ang ganito,” he recalled of that fateful day when he saw Lee’s artwork that further inspired him.

“In Bukidonon, when children grow up, the either become a policeman or a teacher. Third choice yung farmer,” said Tolibao. “I didn’t want to be any of them.”

Thus Harvey abandoned his initial dream of becoming a scientist when he made his decision to draw comics for a living. He moved to Cebu for college mistakenly taking up Information Technology that he thought would teach him the rudiments of art.

Tolibao continued to draw and landed quite a few works while in the Philippines’ southern capital. He got so good that the Cebu Sun Star featured him in an article titled, “Harvey Tolibao’s world.” He showed it to his father who merely scoffed at the recognition, “Wala nang taong ma-interview sa Cebu kaya ikaw na lang isinulat?”

Instead of getting crushed, Harvey persevered. “It was just my father’s way of pushing us. It’s an old school way of encouragement unlike today. Nevertheless, I told myself that when I am in that position, I will do it differently.”

Tolibao got his break drawing an issue of Star Wars for Dark Horse (that made his father proud real proud and came back in a full circle kind of way). That was followed by an issue of Iron Man for Marvel that was his big break. Since then, he’s illustrated Green Arrow, Silver Surfer, Heroes For Hire, X-Men Legacy, Uncanny X-Men, Avengers Assemble, Psylocke, and IDW’s Danger Girl – among many others -- for which he garnered even more popularity.

If you can draw a woman you can draw anything.
While courting July who was then working in Singapore, Harvey would kill time by honing his illustrating skills at every opportunity. He drew people and buildings on the bus, on the MRT, or even while waiting outside July’s place of work.

One time, while on the MRT, a crowd of commuters gathered around Tolibao mesmerized by his sketches of voluptuous women that they missed their stops.

Tolibao’s version of Marvel’s ninja-mutant Psylocke (in the four-issue limited series he drew) and the assassin Elektra, as well as IDW’s James Bond/Charlie’s Angels-inspired Danger Girls of Abbey Chase and Sydney Savage have become fan favorites. Not bad for someone who was once criticized for drawing the ugliest Superman.

“The female form is the most difficult to draw,” pointed out Tolibao. “If you can draw a woman then you can draw anything.”

“Specialty talaga ni Harvey ang mga chicks,” lauded comics fan Jason Inocencio.

In a review of Danger Girl: The Chase, Adventures in Poor Taste writer David Brooke wrote: “As far as action sequences go though, the flow is clear and the pace well done. That’s largely due to artist Harvey Tolibao who has a realistic style that’s hyper detailed, particularly with the backgrounds. His style reminds me a lot of Leinil Francis Yu. His expressions, much like Yu’s, are up and down from panel to panel. Some look amazing, others a bit odd, particularly Abbey as he draws her with some huge eyes. The action is clear and concise though and the backgrounds also remind me of Yu. The sequence in this issue takes place during a parade in China with tons of people cluttering the backgrounds. The amount of detail Tolibao has drawn into these backgrounds is staggering and really livens up the panels.”

In another comic book fan site, Flickering Myth, reviewer Villordsutch said, “If you can draw your eyes away from the large bosoms, the other art work by Harvey Tolibao is fantastic; it truly is. From the rainfall to the fight scenes it is impressively drawn and coloured beautifully by Romulo Fajardo who brings us to a drab, rain soaked back street Shanghai and then blinds us with an eye straining glow from the computers.”

“It is nice to be known for that,” chuckled Tolibao about his penchant for drawing sexy women while drawing me a sketch of Abby Chase. “But I want to be more known as a well-rounded artist who can not only draw but also innovate. While in Singapore, I drew a lot of buildings and landscape and that helped me get some work with Leinil.”

It is because of his mania for detail for urban landscapes that he infused Parkour sensibilities to Green Arrow; something that he was criticized by his editors at the time but is roundly used today for the character.

Tolibao shrugged at the experience. “There’s always another day,” he said.

Tumigil ka lang mag-drawing pag naubos na ang papel at lapis
When Harvey arrived in Manila to earnestly begin his quest to become a comic book artist (the demand for Filipino illustrators grew after the terrific finds of Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jay Anacleto, Roy Allan Martinez, Edgar Tadeo that became the second wave of Filipino artists to invade the American comic book industry that was spurred by the success and help of Whilce Portacio), he met Carlo Pagulayan who had made a name for himself drawing the Incredible Hulk for Marvel.

One of Pagulayan’s first lessons for the budding artist was to learn how to tell a story through sequential art. Pagulayan gave him the standard 11x17 inch board. “Harvey, heto yung comics,” said the master to the padawan as he thrust samples of original art in the wide-eyed Tolibao’s hands. “Dito ka mag-drawing; hindi sa bond paper.”

Tolibao’s best friend, Carl Rieman Cortez, also had another nugget of wisdom for him, “Titigil lang akong mag-drawing kung ubos na yung papel at lapis sa mundo.” True enough, Harvey hasn’t stopped drawing since.

His father didn’t finish school to work and put his siblings to school. Harvey’s skill brought him to Manila and to places he never once thought he’d ever visit. He’s been to the huge American comicons and book signings in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indonesia. And now, it’s his turn to help budding artists hone their craft and be discovered.

“Your hard work and perseverance will get you through,” he reflected. “And respect for the medium. That is important.”

During one signing alongside Taiwanese-American painter James Jean, one person flew in all the way from a faraway place to have her books signed. The problem was, she needed to purchase one of the books from the store where the signing was held. Art books and hardcover graphic novels aren’t exactly cheap and the lady didn’t have enough for that. Store management didn’t allow Jean to sign to any of the books. That image imprinted itself onto Tolibao’s mind and he made a promise to himself to always give back to the fans.

On the occasion of another book signing – this time in Singapore – Harvey sat next to an artist who made a name for himself drawing Marvel’s Daredevil. Tolibao patiently signed and drew sketches for everyone who asked. At one point the queue for the other more famous artist transferred to Tolibao’s prompting him to ask the Filipino, “Who are you?”

Respectfully, the boy from Bukidnon with big dreams as a child answered, “Hi, sir. I am Harvey Tolibao and I have all your comic books.” The two shook hands and the young lad from Southern Philippines went back to signing and drawing sketches for everyone who asked.

His name is Harvey Tolibao. And not “men.”

Author’s note: It sounds more correct to write the title as “The Wit and wisdom of Harvey Tolibao.” But I wanted it to be a homage to that Cebu Sun Star article that first recognized the burgeoning artist in an article titled, “Harvey Tolibao’s World”.

With Harvey and his wife, July. And me holding up the sketch of Danger Girl Abbey Chase.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Heads up for Steve Magay's & Dax's Kayaw!

Heads up for Kayaw!
by rick olivares

I’m a sucker for stories (fiction and non-fiction) that have a military slant. I guess that’s because I have always been a military/warfare buff.

When I saw the ad on the Komikon page promoting Kayaw, I knew I had to get it. I am familiar with the term as my wife’s family hails from the Kalinga region. “Kalinga” originated from the Gaddang and Ibanag dialects and means “headhunting.” Theirs was a warrior society – and as series writer Steve Magay aptly puts it lived much like the Spartans of ancient Greece – and in keeping with that heritage called “takiling” – “kayaw” was the successful headhunting of an enemy.

So I eagerly dropped by Hollow Point Studios’ table at the Summer Komikon to pick up Kayaw.

Magay and artist Dax weave a story of the Kalinga who are locked in combat with  the Imperial Japanese Army’s 78th Infantry Division as commanded by the brutal Captain Yamamoto Kobayashi. In the midst of the subjugation of the Mountain Province is the arrival of Japanese Intelligence Officer Masamune Kamiko who has these mysterious tattoos on her arms meaning she’s a part of the yakuza or organized crime (that’s how it was in 20th century Japan unlike today where tattoos are now considered fashionable).

The story begins with the bombing of the mountainous Kalinga Apayao area by Japanese Donryu bombers while Yamamoto is torturing a captive Kalinga warrior. Yamamoto shows his brutal side by not only slicing off the tongue of the Kalinga warrior but also shooting a pair local informants/collaborators who have incurred his displeasure. Yamamoto is your typical sadistic officer in the vein of Malcolm McDowell’s evil Captain Von Berkow in the British war film, The Passage or Jason Isaacs’ Colonel William Tavington in The Patriot. As is with those two, you know that Yamomoto is going to get his just desserts.

When Masamune walks in Yamamoto is attacked by the captive who manages to free himself.

The first part ends with the Japanese readying themselves for an assault and Kamiko revealing her tattoos. While it is evident and obvious that the story is headed for a violent finish, it is Kamiko’s presence that provides the additional interest.

What is her role in all of this aside from trying to acquire intelligence? Does she empathize with the Kalinga? How does this all end?

Magay’s script flows and doesn’t feel contrived. I love Dax makes excellent use of light and shadow. Some panels are incredibly detailed while others have a minimal feel to them and the uncluttered look is just fine.

By the first issue’s end, Magay braces us for the violent conclusion. I’d love to see where they take this and hope it isn’t predictable. But am actually surprised that it’s ending because there are a least several issues worth of stories here based on the initial plots presented.

There’s Kamiko’s background that bears telling. The lives of the Kalinga warriors have yet to be shown or even a central character. There’s more to show with the subjugation of the Mountain Province. The Japanese tried but then decided to hold the town or city centers.

Nevertheless, I look forward to how they wrap this up.

Kayaw #1 costs P70 and that’s not so bad for 28-pages of a good story.

Furthermore, I like the story that I feel is an excellent companion piece to Image Comics’ The Mercenary Sea that tells of ex-military smugglers running the Asia-Pacific region before World War II.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Take a walk on the wild side: Mervin Malonzo's excellent horror graphic novel -- Tabi Po

Take a walk on the wild side: Tabi Po
by rick olivares

Have you ever met anyone who would dispel the fear of ghosts or the supernatural by admonishing, “Beware of the living.”

True. All too true. Now what if those things that frighten us are not only alive but also looked just like you and me and lived among us?

That is the premise of Mervin Malonzo’s Tabi Po where he deconstructs the myth of the aswang by giving them human form instead of the frightening monsters told by our elders during our youth. Malonzo places them in the midst of everyday life in the province and makes them absolutely chilling.

During Studio Salimbal’s “Let’s Talk About Comics”, a free wheeling discussion about the trade and where the industry is headed last April 6 at Fullybooked Bonifacio High Street, there was buzz about the book.

I had also heard about the book from friends. “If there is one book that you buy from the Komikon,” said Norby Ela, “get Tabi Po. You won’t regret it.”

I had only learned of it recently and resisted taking an online peek not when the first printed version would be released during Komikon that was a few days away. I didn’t want my reading pleasure curtailed.

And so that was my introduction to Malonzo’s work. And after spending part of the evening reading it, all I can say is, Tabi Po is the new 30 Days of Night (Steve Niles’ and Ben Templesmith’s excellent version of vampires in a story that is absolutely frightening).

Tabi Po tells the story of the mysterious Elias who wakes up in the middle of a tree in a forest with no recollection of who he is or what he’s supposed to do. All he knows is that he is haunted by a vision of a woman and at the same time has this maddening and overriding craving for human flesh. Elias then meets Tasyo and Sabel who are like him but have been around much longer. As they help him come to grips with his life as an immortal, they move into a nearby town with faked identities and where they have access to a steady supply of victims.

Malonzo’s painted art is like what you’d see in galleries where idyllic scenes from provincial life -- “buhay bukid” if you will – or even a bygone era abound. And that is what makes it even more visually arresting – savage even -- when monsters are placed in the midst of all this serenity. When it’s feeding time, the blood and gore rip apart all notions of peace and safety.

There are religious undertones and the way Tasyo and Sabel are illustrated, they look like nightmarish version of Jesus and Mother Mary/Maria Clara. When they take refuge in a rectory or even attend Holy Mass, that further shatters whatever illusions of safety and sanctity there is. Then your mind races to the first few pages when Elias finds work in a carnival; a place that is supposedly fun and where you can cast your cares away on thrilling and fun rides. So now you ask, is there nothing sacred left? 

But that is exactly what Malonzo is trying tell with Tabi Po. It takes you out of your comfort zone and what we all supposedly know about aswangs and blows it all away. That it is written in the Filipino makes it all the more “biting” (pun intended).

The book is daring. It jars you, disturbs you a bit (well, that depends on your comfort zone), and leaves you thinking about the story and certain images. They stick to your mind. And that is what a darn good story is supposed to leave you.

Whether you believed in Filipino folklore or not, you said, “tabi tabi po” when you passed by a punso. You know, just to be on the safe side. After reading Tabi Po (that is easily a classic-in-the-making, a must-have in anyone’s collection, a winner, and a story that begs for cinematic treatment), you wonder if the aswang who in the days of our youth only came out at night is that man at the corner who eyes you as if you were prey.

Tabi tabi po.

With TABI PO creator Mervin Malozno at the Summer Komikon.