Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hits, misses, and breaks with Filipino comic book great Steve Gan

Hits, misses, and breaks with Filipino comic book great Steve Gan
by rick olivares

As the credits rolled up following the screening of the feature film of Guardians of the Galaxy, Steve Gan’s sister-in-law gushed, “There’s your name!”

However, Gan, missed seeing his name where he was credited along with Steve Englehart for creating Star-Lord, that hitherto nondescript 1970’s cosmic hero by Marvel Comics that was now taking the world not to mention comic fandom by storm.

Gan, now at 69 years of age laughed at the way things have played out. Sitting inside Comic Odyssey in Fullybooked, Promenade, Greenhills, he surveyed the thousands of full-colored comics on the racks and in the bins. There are now dozens and dozens of Filipinos plying their trade in the American comic book scene as well as the local industry where these creators have attained superstar status. “I missed out on that too,” quipped Gan.

“At that time we came in, even if you say there was a Filipino invasion of American comics in the 1970s, no one knew about it,” he related of those salad days.

After the late Tony DeZuniga invited then DC Comics officials Joe Orlando and Carmine Infantino to check out the local artists, a press conference was held at the National Press Club. Yet only a few local artists -- Alfredo Alcala, Gerry Talaoc, and Rudy Nebres to name a few -- were recruited as they had few slots available to draw for DC. When some of those artists jumped ship to Marvel, the opportunity arose for Gan to join them.

“We were mostly given the black and white magazines to draw or were asked to ink other people’s works,” narrated Gan. “Only later were we given a chance to do full art. And I was lucky to be given that chance too. I went to the United States one time but got very little work from both DC and Marvel – some issues here and there, a few pin-ups. After that, I felt that I was done and went back home to do Filipino komiks.”

At the time of that “invasion,” the Philippines was completely unaware of what these men were accomplishing but it did influence some of he next generation of Filipino artists such as Whilce Portacio and Gerry Alanguilan. Portacio swears by Nebres’ work as a massive influence on his decision to draw comics for a living.

While less splashy than the super-hero themed American comics that were all the rage, the locally produced komiks that dwelt on horror, romance, adventure, or even western stories were selling at the very least 100,000 copies per issue. Publishing houses were putting out dozens of titles a week and sometimes, even twice a week to cope with the demand.

“For me, drawing American comics was a job (where they were paid in the beginning $20 per page),” confided Gan. “My heart wasn’t into it. I will not deny it was a huge opportunity but when it came to drawing the local komiks, I poured my heart into my work.”

Gan celebrated his return to the local scene by co-creating a second iconic character, “Ang Panday” with Carlo J. Caparas. “FPJ (the late actor Fernando Poe Jr.) also had a lot to do with how the character looked,” admitted Gan. “He provided input on how the character should look since he was going to portray him in a movie.”

Today, the retired Gan admits to being happy to see his name and his accomplishments revived and recognized. Marvel recently paid him some money for his royalties earned from the Guardians of the Galaxy film. As he awaits royalties from the comic reprints, video games, and licensing, Gan wishes that the Philippines caught up more with the Western countries in terms of creators rights of which he has not seen a centavo for his efforts for “Ang Panday.”

“Hopefully,” he said in the vernacular. “I will see some of it in my lifetime.”

While watching the Guardians of the Galaxy film, Gan was engulfed with mixed feelings. “It’s different,” he remarked watching actor Chris Pratt Star-Lord. “The backstory is different. So is the costume. He isn’t what Steve (Englehart who co-created the character and first wrote of his adventures) and I envisioned. But I guess I should thank those who revived him for a new generation because now I am getting some credit for my work. Make no mistake of it, I am proud of what I did for Marvel and DC. I read Spider-Man as a kid. Loved his adventures. When I drew for them, I was thrilled although But I felt I never got a full break. But things have somewhat worked out in the end.”

Today, Gan has a stack of art commissions on his table. It has been years since he drew professionally and he has to re-learn his craft (he noted that the style, techniques, and paneling are much different today from his time). At the time of the Guardians screenings, he was invited to a number of comic book specialty store guestings where he signed for fans and posed for photos.

As Gan, wrapped up the interview, he posed for some photos and signed some comics from Conan the Barbarian to Skull the Slayer. Did he ever miss this?

“Not at all,” he laughed. “After all I never experienced this before.”

Monday, December 29, 2014

My favorite comic books of 2014

My fave comics for 2014
by rick olivares

For me, 2014 will be the year where I committed more to independent comic books. It is the year where I mostly eschewed the Big Two and found my solace in alternative and indie comics that was more about solid storytelling as opposed to event-driven books.

My problem with the mainstream books is that they are driven with shock value plots and maximum profits in mind.

The independents?  No matter if they don’t come out as regularly as you would like, you can still see on a monthly basis the quality that goes into its production and the onus is still on quality storytelling.

There are a lot of indies that I read but the ones I listed are my faves (not in order) and would also like to recommend them to others.

Independents - Image Comics dominated the independent comic book scene and it isn’t just my list. I think the comic book community realized that Image puts out the best number of comic books today bar none.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples – A science fiction fantasy that will remind you of the space epics of the late 1970s and early 1980s yet with a more liberal slant. Written by one of the most original writers in the business today – Brian K. Vaughn – and drawn by this generation’s Warhol – Fiona Staples. It’s a genre and mind-bending masterpiece on display…. and monthly too!
Velvet by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting – No more Tom Clancy? Ed Brubaker steps into the breach. The duo of Bru and Epting continue their stellar clack and dagger stories that they famously brought in Captain America (that begat the Winter Soldier storyline) and continues with this excellent period piece that would warm Sean Connery’s heart.
The Mercenary Sea by Kel Symons and Mathew Reynolds – Think Josh Whedon’s Firefly set in the pre-World War II South Pacific. You’ll also get that Jonny Quest vibe reading this. One of the most lushly drawn and colored books in the industry today!
Deadly Class by Rick Remender and Wesley Craig – Hogwarts for assassins! Except done in the Quentin Tarantino way!
Manifest Destiny by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts – There was a reason why the west coast was called the “new frontier” and “wild.” A revisionist historical fantasy set in that famous Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Vertigo – One of those bastions of quality storytelling. Took a backseat to Image but they still put out some great stuff.
Astro City by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson – An introspective look at the life of superheroes, villains, and ordinary folks in the fictional city of Astro City. Visit and read one of the consistently best written comics and come away with that look of wonder in your eyes.
Fables by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham – Through the decades, we’ve had stories of the mythical gods and characters living in the modern world. The heir to Sandman. A modern classic with new takes on those childhood yarns. And after 12 years, this book looks like it is going out with a bang.
Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman and JH Williams – Like Gaiman never missed a beat!
Dead Boy Detectives by Mark Buckingham, Toby Litt, and Gary Erskine – A wonderful read. There is life in the afterlife!

Marvel – Their best books are unencumbered by those wretched events that have destroyed comics.
Daredevil by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee – Ole Hornhead has always attracted some of the best writers and artists. When this duo wraps up their run in a few issues, it will go down as one of the best in DD’s history.
Thor God of Thunder by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic – If I dare say, this run has just unseated Walt Simonson’s 1980’s tour de force as the character’s best. Compelling and audacious storylines that are pulled off with aplomb. Beautifully drawn and painted art. Incredible battles fit for a god. And if I were to name the best comic book (in terms of story and art) for 2014 – Thor, God of Thunder is it!
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona – The heir to Hawkeye as the best Marvel book with an indie feel to it. Now if they can only stop having Wolverine as a guest.
Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Mike Allred – Not since Nexus has there been a fun read about a space-faring hero.
Amazing Spider-Man by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos – Spider-Verse has got to be one of the best storylines in Spidey’s history. And one of the best in comics this 2014

DC – So much for the New 52. They should just have 52 books of Batman.
Batman by Scott Snyder, Danny Miki and Greg Capullo
Batman Eternal by Scott Snyder and Joe Quinones
Earth 2 by Mike Johnson, Nicola Scott, and Andy Smith

Limited Series:
Transformers vs. GI Joe by Tom Scioli
Multiversity by Grant Morrison and company
The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy
Death Vigil by Stjepan Sejic

Filipino Komiks – Some of the best put out by local creators this year! And you should do yourself a favor and pick them up!
Tabi Po by Mervin Malonzo
Maktan 1521 by Tepai Pascual
Ugh by Hulyen
Marianing by Nikolo Salazar
Rodski Patotski by Gerry Alanguilan and Arnold Arre

Graphic Novels
Just So Happens by Fumio Obata
Blacksad: Amarillo by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
Fatherland by Nina Bunjevac
Jane, the Fox, and me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Took the "Which Sandman sibling are you?" quiz!

Took the "Which Sandman sibling are you?" quiz (here's the link) and I was found out to be Destiny! Not bad. 

The supernova that was Nick Manabat

The supernova that was Nick Manabat
by rick olivares

Imagine meeting comic book superstar artist Jim Lee for the first time ever in your life. Either you stammer and finally manage a weak, “Hi,” ask him to sign your X-Men and Batman comics, or even have a picture taken with him. It could even be all three.

However, for Nick Manabat who was at that time staying at the San Diego home of Whilce Portacio, Lee’s co-superstar artist, his icebreaker was, “Can you help figure out how to work the microwave oven?”

It is hilarious. An unknown anecdote in the short life of Nicolas Manabat who led the second Filipino invasion of the American comic book scene in the early 1990s. However, that is pretty much up to par with Nick who his father, Alex, describes as “unconventional and extremely low-key.”

“From the time that he inherited his older brother Robert’s comic book collection, Nicky fell in love with the medium,” recalled the father during a conversation at their home after this past Christmas. “He was already into art and while in school in Australia where he grew up, he was oft asked to draw things or prepare the props for plays. Anything that involved art and creating something, Nicky was involved.”

After Manabat won first prize in an art competition sponsored by Filbar’s comic book store to coincide with Portacio’s triumphant Philippine homecoming following stellar runs on The Punisher, X-Factor and Uncanny X-Men, he received an offer from Homage Studios to work as an apprentice in what was then the hottest den of artists in all comicdom.

“This guy could be the next comic book superstar,” recounted Alex of Lee’s comments after he went over his son’s portfolio with Portacio.

At that time, Homage Studios had just left Marvel Comics to co-found Image Comics. From a small studio that initially included Lee, Portacio, inker Scott Williams and painter Joe Chiodo, it had grown by leaps and bounds to include Marc Silvestri, J. Scott Campbell, Scott Clark, Aron Wiesenfeld, Trevor Scott, Ryan Benjamin, David Wohl, and Michael Heisler to name a few of the hot artists of that time. “And my Nicky was a part of that,” beamed Alex.

“My family couldn’t believe it,” expounded Mr. Manabat of the golden ticket handed to his son. “He was going to do comic books in America and was going to be paid at least $36,000 a year (at that time the exchange rate would peg his basic income at a gross of PhP 972,000)! It was like a storybook dream come true for Nicky, and of course, our family.”

Nick initially worked on designs for Portacio’s first creator-owned book, “Wetworks” that featured a military special operations team that was bonded with symbiotes that enabled them to battle supernatural foes. As the launch of the book was postponed to various non-publication issues, Lee pulled out the then 22-year old artist for another project that turned out to be “The Cybernary;” hence, that initial awkward meeting at Portacio’s home where the young Fil-Australian asked the man who drew the biggest selling comic book of all time (X-Men #1) how to operate a microwave oven.

“Both Jim and Whilce saw Nick’s potential,” narrated Alex. “Whilce even told me that they all expected the comics that Nick would work on to be best sellers.”

Nick’s American comics debut was in the pages of Deathblow (Jim Lee’s comic about a black ops soldier) in February 1993 where he drew the back-up story, “The Cybernary,” that was about a criminal who exchanged her life for a colleagues and was turned into a cybernetic warrior.

That initial nine-page Cybernary story (written by co-creator Steven Gerber whose claim to comic book fame was that he created Howard the Duck for Marvel) immediately drew raves as fans compared his dark and moody art to Phillipe Driullet, Simon Bisley, and H.R. Giger. And in the letter columns, fans seemed to take more to The Cybernary than the book’s main feature, Deathblow.

Nick followed that up by turning in some fantastic pages for the “Wetworks Sourcebook” and a Cybernary chromium trading card for Wizard magazine. “He was also given a script of ‘Stormwatch” to work on,” added the father.

“Incredibly, Nicky never had any formal art training,” revealed his father. “He just drew a lot. And he consumed a lot of sketchbooks not to mention pens. One time he would lay down on the ground and held his hand up like he was blocking out the sun and I asked him what he was doing. He answered, ‘I’m trying to look at what it would look like from this angle so I can draw it properly.’”

“He made use of heavy inks,” added Mr. Manabat who had previously lived in Hong Kong where he manufactured children’s toys. “But he had to unlearn that later on so if you noticed his work on the ‘Wetworks Sourcebook’ and ‘The Cybernary #4,’ it was lighter and made for better coloring.”

A perfectionist, Nick spent long hours at his work station. “He was such a perfectionist that if he didn’t like something in his sketchbook, he’d tear it out and throw it away,” recalled his father. “I heard from the Homage guys (that later became Wildstorm Studios) that the other artists would race to the garbage bins to recover Nicky’s discards and take them home as mementoes.”

Being a newbie with not much of a portfolio in comics, the young Manabat did not have a table in the artists’ alley in the San Diego Comic Convention of 1994. But he did join his Wildstorm mates behind the table. When he spotted British painter Simon Bisley who had such a massive influence on his style, Nick said, “I need to get his autograph.” And he did.

“He was extremely happy to be where he was,” noted Nick’s father. “We had to reassure him that he belonged because didn’t think he was good enough. Here is a guy who was so used to living in Australia (for 17 years of his life) that during a trip to SM North EDSA, he went there barefoot. I told him this isn’t Australia, son. But Nicky was like that – very unconventional.”

Not soon after, Nick fell ill and when brought to UCLA’s Medical Center, he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue. “Nicky had not been feeling well for sometime but he never complained,” said Alex Manabat. “By the time we brought him to the hospital, the doctors informed us that the cancer metastasized. There was nothing we could do.”

While Nick was at the hospital, the first solo limited series for “The Cybernary” was released with artist Jeff Rebner taking on the artist’s chores. In the cover for that first issue, cover dated November 1995 but released two months earlier, Rebner paid tribute to Manabat by scribbling: “For Nick.”

And ironically, Nick Manabat passed away on the 5th of November 1995 barely two months after his 25th birthday. He was cremated and his remains brought back to Australia.

Today, 22 years after Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio offered Nick Manabat a contract, Filipino creators are continuously making waves in the American comic book scene. Some like Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, and Jay Anacleto to name a few who came up the ranks along with Nick, have become stars in their own right. A new host of talented creators are also drawing raves for their work as well while the local independent scene is alive and teeming with talent.

Once in a while, Alex Manabat, who to this day is still in the toy business, drops by the comic book stores to have a look around. He doesn’t buy comics anymore but looks around and periodically checks out the kiddie shows on television to see what is popular and in vogue. “If Nicky were alive today, I know he’d be in the thick of things. And he will be loving every minute of it because he would be living every kid’s dream. This time with a lot of other people.”

Author’s Note: In the third paragraph, I mentioned Nick at the helm of the second Filipino invasion of American comics. The first was in the 1960s when DC Comics editors Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando went to the Philippines and signed up artists such as Tony DeZuniga, Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Alex NiƱo, Rudy Nebres, and Steve Gan to name a few to work on American comics. Whilce Portacio came up almost by himself in the late 1980s where he drew raves and attention for his Japanese-style art.

 The Homage Studios caricature by J Scott Campbell. Nick Manabat is the third guy from the left on the second row (and behind Brandon Choi who is in the middle between Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio).

A Stormwatch story Nick was supposed to work on.

Sketch for a Cybernary cover. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

A comic haul of Filipino talent

TOP: Marvel Comics Presents: Alfredo Alcala inked Larry Dixon in a Longshot story and Kelly Jones in a Comet Man story. The Cybernary by the late Nick Manabat. King Conan Ernie Chan embellished John Buscema. 
BELOW: Two issues of the Black Knight with full art by Tony DeZuniga; Arak Son of Thunder the one of the left features art by Carmine Infantino and Tony DeZuniga the issue on the right features full art by Alfredo Alcala. Power Man and Iron Fist featuring pencils by Rudy Nebres.