Sunday, October 27, 2019

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Aster, the first Filipino-comic book to be published abroad in the US

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Aster, the first Filipino-comic book to be published abroad in the US
by rick olivares

One week ago, Starfire Visuals, that studio that opened the door for many Filipino artists to work in the American comic book industry, was feted in the first SuperManila Pop Culture Convention.

In reality, there was another studio that published the first domestic based creative team whose work was produced in the United States…. CATS Studios. 

CATS Studios was an offshoot of CATS Comics and Collectibles, a comic book specialty shop that was very popular in the 1990s for its line of independent comics, NBA trading cards, and toys.

On October 26, 1994, American independent comics publisher Entity Comics released Aster #1; the first of several titles that were released by the Manila--based studio.  Produced by Don Chin and CATS owner Billy Lim-It, plotted by Ronnie Roxas and written by his younger brother Jun, Aster featured the artwork of Oliver Isabedra who was then a college student at the Ateneo de Manila.

Aster is the last of the Celestial Knights, universal peacekeepers bequeathed power by the Celestial Guardians. He is cast adrift and is amnesiac after taking part in a titanic battle where the combined might of his order and masters defeated the rogue Celestial Guardian Dessa. But defeating Dessa came at a price. Save for Aster, the entire order of Celestial Guardians and Knights were wiped out.

Unaware of what transpired, Aster crashes into a planet that is actually the same one where Dessa is imprisoned. Upon regaining consciousness as well as bits and pieces of his memory, Aster finds out that Dessa has not only escaped but is actively searching for the Gem of Saghal to once more power his mad ambitions.

The story draws heavily from the adventures of Flash Gordon, Green Lantern, Captain Marvell, and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

The buzz about Aster actually occurred months before when the ashcan edition (in glorious black and white and containing no word balloons) was released. Isabedra, influenced by then comics superstar George Perez, won over a lot of local fans for its dynamism and energy. When the actual comic came it out, it sported a cover by then-comics superstar, Jae Lee. 

Subsequent covers featured other luminaries such as Marvel’s Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, and George Perez.

Isabedra recalled a time when he spoke to Perez on the phone. “At that time, he (Perez) was about to begin his work on the cover to Aster #0 and I was so surprised that I really couldn’t say anything.”

When Aster #1 was featured in comic industry publications, Previews and Hero Illustrated, the buzz got even louder.

After the first four-issue limited series, another series came out as did others titled, Harriers and Shaiana, all featuring characters for CATS Studios’ imaginary, Fractal Universe.

Their studio grew as well. Coming on board were Sonny Fortich III, Jay Anacleto, recording artist and movie star Michael V, Mark Vuycankiat, Gerry Alanguilan, and Leinil Francis Yu.

It is with CATS where Alanguilan, Anacleto, and Yu experienced their first published work.

Anacleto inked Vuycankiat’s pencils on Aster #0 as well as the latter’s work on the three-issue limited series, Harriers.

Alanguilan was the one local comic book artist who had somewhat of a buzz then. His first published work was a pin-up in Aster #1 and his first inking work on Aster #2 (the regular series).

Yu provided full art on Aster #3 (the regular series) as well as four pages of Legacy of the Dark Moon that was printed as a preview in the CATS Tour Book of 1995. 

Michael V himself provided pencils for Shaiana #1 with Anacleto embellishing his work.

“Harriers and Aster: The Last Celestial Knight were my first professional work,” underscored Alanguilan. “I inked five pages or so and my inking wasn’t up to pro standards at that time.”

From 1994-95, CATS Studious was putting out three different titles at the same time; an impressive feat for a local studio. Just like that they folded. Anacleto, Alanguilan, and Yu decamped for Starfire Visuals. Isabedra claims he has no idea why it suddenly stopped. As he was already working in an advertising agency, he was too busy to lament its passing.

CATS Studios put out a total of 14 comics in a two-year span. The first ever Aster comic went through a second printing. That is an indication of how well it did. The covers for all 14 comics published saw variant covers that were color coded, foil stamped, and chromium. Not bad for a local studio.

In 2011, Jun Roxas and Alanguilan planned on reviving Aster and doing a sequel. Gerry’s hectic schedule though torpedoed the plan.

Prior to Aster #1 and CATS Studios, Filipinos who wanted to work on American comics had to either go to the United States or work on material provided to them by foreign creators. Aster saw the entire creative work conceptualized and produced by a wholly-local crew.

Today, there are dozens and dozens of homegrown talent working on American and even European comics. Anacleto, Alanguilan, and Yu are modern day superstars.

Aster might be largely forgotten by today’s fans, but it deserves more than a footnote in Filipino comics history. It was for a brief moment, a guiding star in the celestial firmament.

Monday, October 21, 2019

A reflection on my years of being a Marvel Comics fan

I am sharing what was essentially my sharing during the Make Mine Marvel panel at the SuperManila Pop culture Convention last Sunday, October 20 (at the Podium) with Jiggy Cruz.

My first ever comics were reprints of the X-Men issues re-Enter the Mimic (#75) and Bedlam is the Banshee (#76). My mother bought me these comics at the old Cherry Foodarama along Shaw Boulevard when I was five years old. She got them for me to keep me quiet and distracted while she was buying groceries. These were local reprints. I cannot remember who reprinted them. Was it Alemar’s? How much were these comics – 50 centavos. Yes, this was pre-OPEC oil crisis and during the early 1970s. So I am dating myself.

My Uncle Rolly had all the X-Men comics. It was a complete collection as he was a fan of the book. While visiting him one time at his home in Novaliches, I saw them and was enthralled. There were others -- Detective Comics, Hot Stuff, or The Avengers – but I wasn’t really into them. Except for the X-Men and Nick Fury Agent of shield. Why the later? Because of the awesome art by Jim Steranko.

These were American comics and not reprints. I have no idea where he got them, but I do remember badgering him every time I went there if I could have them. When I think about that time, I must have been really annoying to ask those comics – for free. Like he owed me something.

Eventually, he did give me everything (like 10 years later) and they weren’t in mind condition but I couldn’t care less. 

The first real comic that I bought (or my dad did) was Uncanny X-Men #94. We had just come from lunch at the old Shakey’s in West Avenue when we went to the old Mercury Drug Store at Delta. They had this rack of comics and there were quite a lot. But my eyes were immediately drawn to Uncanny X-Men #94 with the mutants being thrown out of their SR-71 Blackbird with the face of a leering Count Nefaria. I asked my dad to buy it but he said no. I was finally able to badger him into getting it one week later. So I guess – considering my Uncle Rolly did give me his X-Men comics – badgering works.

And I guess, you can say that X-Men were my first favorite comics and with Jonathan Hickman’s work, have reclaimed that title. 

I got my first Fantastic Four comics at a PX good store in Tarlac where my grandfather lived. I still have that actual comic which is coincidentally, the first time Johnny Storm wore his red costume.

But comics collecting back then was difficult. There were shops in Manila that sold them but you couldn’t bet on your favorite comic being there next month. 

I got my first Captain America comic book (Jack Kirby’s Mad Bomb) at the old Army & Navy Club along Roxas Boulevard. That was a club for military men and since my uncle was an officer, we would go there to swim, eat pizza and ice cream, and buy comics. 

I got my comics at this shop (where Papelmelroti is today and right in front of Gerry’s Grill) and comics cost about P7 which was a lot of money back then. It took me a year before I get could the follow up to The Doomsmith Scenario. In fact, the next X-Men issue that I got was #96 that was against the N’Garai. Then it was X-Men #107 that was the first appearance of the Imperial Guard. 

I got this hardbound trade of Amazing Spider-Man stories that featured the debut of the Spider-Mobile and him going up against the Jackal, Hammerhead, and Green Goblin. That cost 20 bucks and my parents refused to buy it. So I went to my grandfather. Being the eldest grandchild, he got it for me much to my parents’ chagrin. And they scolded me when we got home. And I loved that comic book to death.

The first Filbar’s branch was a small shop located at the corner of Edsa and Aurora Boulevard. It was hot and stuffy inside. He only had an electric fan and he sold his comics wearing a sando, shorts, and slippers. It was Annabelle who was his only helper back then. And comics sold for 10 bucks. He wasn’t able to secure a licensing deal yet as he relied on a friends of his – a stewardess to buy comics for him in the US.

He moved to New York street in Cubao when that building complex at the corner of Edsa and Aurora burned down. Yes, it burned down along with everyone’s comics. It took what – six or seven months before he re-opened at the New York branch. I remember going there with some other fans who would eventually become good friends to this day.

That is how I met Gerry Alanguilan, Oliver Pulumbarit, and others. 

Filbar’s was ahead of its time in terms of the comic book specialty shops. Maybe that was because we were so far from the United States. 

The mecca then for comic book fans was Greenhills. You had two branches of Filbar’s, Comic Quest – first in the old PCI Bank Arcade then in Shoppesville -- CATS, Comic Express, and Christhareth. In Ali Mall you had Platinum Comics. You had two in Katipunan and more. 

When I couldn't find what I wanted, I made that two hour bus ride from Manila to Dau, Mabalact that was just outside the largest American Air base outside Europe and North America, Clark Air Base. At the flea markets outside Clark, I could buy second hand (mostly) Marvel Comics. The downside was some of the time, they had this stamp or paper on it that said, "The subscription of Airman so and so or what have you." Yep, some had this subscription tags on them. Sometimes, they didn't. But did I care? Nope. Beggars cannot be choosers.

I picked up the early Punisher series – Circle of Blood and continued it when one Whilce Portacio became its penciller (Mike Baron was writing it, Scott Williams inking and Jim Novak doing letters). That was Punisher #8. Whilce drew like some Japanese artist. The name wasn’t Japanese so I wondered if he was Hispanic.

In 1991, Fil Barbasa told me that he was bringing over Whilce Portacio who he said was a Filipino. At that time, I followed Whilce onto X-Factor, a comic I never really collected except for its first three issues). And that was amazing stuff.

In 1991, Fil confirmed that Whilce was Pinoy and he had invited him over for some promos (since he was on Uncanny X-Men at that time). When Whilce arrived in January of 1992, being good friends with Fil (he went on to become ninong to my son Matt along with CATS’ Billy Lim-It), he said, interview Whilce. Fil also knew that back then while working at an ad agency, I also wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Back in college, I wrote for the Inquirer and did part time work at McDonald’s New fro tier to earn extra money for dates, and buying comics and records. I also augmented my earnings by doing the homework of some of my classmates.

Anyways, that February 1992 article on Whilce was the first ever article about him anywhere. And I was immensely proud of that. That actually opened the door for me writing about comics – Gerry Alanguilan’s Wasted, writing about Alex Ross’ Marvels, and others.

However, prior to that an incident prompted me to sell my entire collection to Fil Barbasa for 20,000 bucks. A King’s ransom back then but considering it was a complete collection of X-Men #1-204, it was a good price. And this was 1988 currency. Inflated but not what it is today.

During one class while in college (I had already sold my comics to Fil Barbasa), I saw a classmate of mine reading Uncanny X-Men Annual #11 written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Alan Davis. The X-Men went up against Horde and featured Havok. He returned to the team in Uncanny X-Men #119 if I am not mistaken. I asked my classmate if I could read it and he lent it to me during class.

While reading it, my professor asked me a question. It is a good thing I studied and was paying attention prior to my reading the comic. I was able to answer the question leaving him to say, “Okay, you may go back to reading your comic book.”

The next day, I marched into Filbar’s except they sold out on Uncanny X-Men Annual #11. So I got my copy at Comic quest at the old PCI Bank Arcade. Then I picked up the Excalibur prestige format debut and went got into the Fall of the Mutants storyline. I was back. 

I tried to buy back my old collection from Fil Barbasa but he refused to sell it back.

How big a fan was I of Marvel?

My eldest son’s name is Matthew. I named him after Matthew Murdock aka Daredevil. DD is my fave character outside the X-Men. I got into DD when Gil Kane was drawing the book and read it to this day.

And I guess like the old school fans, I wrote letters to the editor. I wrote after the death of Jean Grey in Uncanny X-Men #137 (not because she died, but I guess, how tastefully and heroically the story was). I wrote to Mark Gruenwald to tell him how much I enjoyed the Captain America and Diamondback storyline. 

Four of the five Marvel Comics where I had a letter printed.

But my first letter to be printed in the pages of a Marvel comic was Daredevil #358 followed by Groot #3, Power-Man and Iron Fist #3, and Silver Surfer #200. I also have an issue of Fantastic Four where I had a letter printed. This was during Karl Kessel’s run (unfortunately, I lost that comic to Ondoy).

In fact, when I stopped reading Marvel and all other comics after my outrage over AvX, the Cap-Nazi story, and Steve Rogers not being Cap (for the nth time), I wrote a very scathing letter to Marvel. 

I was upset. I was the fan who read and bought a lot of comics. I even defended Marvel from Todd McFarlane who I engaged in an online debate several years ago after he took shots at the company. 

As a fan, I read Marvel and other comics from cover to cover. I poured over the soapboxes, bulletins, letter cols, and even the ads. Yes, the ads. 

I also submitted entries for No-Prizes. 

When I was working in New York, I would sometimes camp outside the Marvel offices at Park Avenue south waiting for anyone (we didn’t know who was who so we figured anyone carrying a portfolio bag was a freelancer) we could hand over our scripts, resumes, artwork. 

I wrote a story for Cap titled, “A Line in the Sand” and one for the X-Men titled, “Monaco” that was inspired by an old Modesty Blaise story that I read. Yes, I love Modesty Blaise.

One time, Alex Ross was signing books at Midtown comics and I didn’t go to work that day. How long was that line? For those who have been to Midtown Comics in West 40th Manhattan, you are close to Times Square. And the line for Alex Ross reached all the way to Port Authority.

When I got up to Alex, he asked, what do you want me to write? 

I said, “Can you write, ‘Happy Birthday, Ricky?’”

Is it your birthday now?

It is.

Got proof of that? Your driver’s license?

I showed him my license and Alex stood up and said, “It’s Rick’s birthday today and I’m signing all his books.” Some guys in the line said, “It’s my birthday too!”

Yeah, yeah, laughed off Alex.

During book signings in the US, you can only have two or three books signed at one time. if you have any more, you go back to the end of the line to have the rest signed. It is actually good practice. Except that isn’t practiced here.

Unfortunately, I lost almost all those Alex Ross books – signed Marvels, Kingdom Come, and the over-sized treasury editions to Ondoy. Only three survived Ondoy – Mythology, Liberty and Justice, and a sketch book. I do have video of that signing with Alex but it is on Video8 cassette. 

I have been able to buy back all those lost Alex Ross works and more. However, they are not signed.

Jiggy asked me to distill 80 years or my 50-plus years on this Earth reading Marvel into my three stories that define an era.

I chose X-Men #137 The death of Jean Grey/Phoenix because this was a storyline that ran for 40 issues over a four-year span. The comics if I am not mistaken were bi-monthly for a while. The gradual story made it a great one. There was anticipation and proper development of an X-Men canon that still exists to this day.

My copies of Daredevil #227-233 that I bought way back in 186-87.

I chose the Daredevil “Born Again” arc from #227-223. That was the beginning of these grim and gritty stories. Frank Miller brought a crime noir storytelling approach to comics and became the template for everyone wannabe who shows a hero’s breakdown and descent into madness before finding redemption. Plus, it is a powerful story that even the Netflix version of DD borrowed from.

And lastly, Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. Aside from the different point of view of the story – an ordinary man – this brought to fore painted comics. Deep story telling returned (that Busiek brought to Astro City). It was also a series that made Easter Eggs popular; ones that were copied heavily by the MCU.

The second time I stopped reading Marvel and comics in general was four years ago. I stopped because I was not happy with this Captain America as a Nazi storyline, the legacy characters, and constant reboots. Plus, I was upset at what marvel was doing to the X-Men. You cannot tell me that Cyclops is a bad guy and that One More Day is a good story by any chance. 

I went back after one dinner with now Marvel Editor-in-chief CB Cebulski. I joined Jiggy Cruz, Leinil Yu, and CB for dinner at BGC and he took me aside. Both CB and I read the same comics, liked the same creators, and felt generally the same about what was wrong with comics today. He also knew that I had stopped reading and sold a lot of my comics after I got pissed.

CB asked me, “What can I do to make you go back to reading Marvel?”

I cited three things:
1.    Send the original X-Men back to their era.
2.    End this Cap as a Nazi storyline.
3.   Have these legacy characters go to their own title and put Tor back in Tor, Tony Stark back in Iron Man, and Steve Rogers back as Cap.
4.    Stop all these meaningless crossovers.

CB said “Done” to the first two. The third, he was trying to cut the down and had nixed two of three proposals on his table. 

I do not mind diversity. I just do not think it should be rammed down our throats. You cannot tell me that this character changes his or her persona overnight. That is a joke. If it has been weaved into a storyline over time, then I and I am sure even the older fans can accept it. 

Comics for the younger generation are good. But do not disenfranchise your older readers who made you who you are. The newbies have no track record to begin with.

Anyways, I am back reading The Immortal Hulk (that takes me back to the Bruce Jones days), House of X and Powers of X, and its spin-offs, Venom, and Daredevil. 

I have always been a Marvel fan. I stopped twice, and I don’t think there will be a third time. When that happens, I would have shifted this Mortal Coil.



Thanks to the SuperManila organizers Sandy Sansolis, Jacob & Eric Cabochan, and Ivan Guerrero.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Archie comics to feature variant Manila cover

Archie comics to feature variant Manila cover
By Rick Olivares

World-famous Archie Comics, celebrating its 80th year of publication this 2019, will give Filipino comic book fans an early Christmas gift when they release a variant cover of Archie and Friends Travel #1 featuring the timeless and fictional cast of teenagers at the Rizal Park in Manila.

The news was the big reveal during SuperManila Pop Culture Convention last Sunday, October 20 at the Podium in Pasig City.

Painted by rising Filipino digital artist Miguel Mercado, the cover will feature Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, Jughead Jones, and Reggie Mantle hamming it up for selfies in front of our national hero’s monument in Luneta.

The comic book, a special project by local comic book specialty shops Filbar’s and Comic Odyssey, is slated for release this late November and is the first ever Philippine retailer exclusive cover by Archie Comics. 

Archie has enjoyed a revival in 2015 after its relaunch by chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and the relaunch of the flagship title, Archie, that featured a modern take by noted writer Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples. That success has translated into a television series, Riverdale, developed by the CW that is currently in its fourth season.

Mercado has previously illustrated covers for Robotech, Sea of Stars, Sparrowhawk, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and Lady Mechanika among many others. His work on Archie and Friends Travel #1, is a fulfillment of a childhood dream. 

“I grew up reading Archie and I was very happy for the opportunity to do this more so with the cover in a Philippine setting,” said Mercado during the SuperManila Pop Culture Convention opening last Friday, October the 18th. “I chose the Rizal Park because it is iconic and what better place to set the Archie characters there. I am happy with the work I have done but this is something definitely enjoyable.”

Added Filbar’s President Jacob Cabochan, “Miguel’s aesthetic has a way of blurring time and space. Somehow, he makes old school charm feel both current and nostalgic. It’s uncanny.”

For his part, Comic Odyssey’s Sandy Sansolis said that this retailer exclusive “shows how important the Philippine market has become.”

The SuperManila Pop Culture Convention was organized by Filbar’s and Comic Odyssey.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

4 things to do this SuperManila Pop Culture Convention

4 things to do this SuperManila Pop Culture Convention
By Rick Olivares

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – It will be Christmas in October when Filipino pop culture fans get to stuff their goodie bags in the first ever SuperManila Pop Culture Convention at the Podium in Pasig City this October 18-20.

SuperManila Pop Culture Convention offers local fans three days of comic book signings from a battalion of Pinoy comic book legends and stars, but also panels featuring top creators, exclusive toys, a sneak preview of an upcoming Filipino variant of a comic book, artwork, and more. 

Here are four things for the Filipino fan to do in these three days of geek bliss.

1.    Meet this galaxy of Filipino talent
Filipino illustrators have worked in American comics since the 1970s beginning with Tony de Zuniga, Nestor Redondo, Steve Gan, Alfredo Alcala, Ernie Chan, Romeo Tanghal, Danny Bulanadi, and many others.  

Whilce Portacio and Rafael Kayanan carried the torch for Filipino talent in the 1980s when they worked the Punisher and The Fury of Firestorm respectively. And they presided over the second wave of talent that made a splash with the independent comics boom of the 1990s. Among those creators who came up from Portacio’s Starfire Visuals that was located at 55 Balete Drive in Quezon City include Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jay Anacleto, Roy Allan Martinez, Edgar Tadeo, Gilbert Monsanto, and Ryan Orosco who all worked on various titles for the burgeoning Image Comics

In this new millennium, a whole cavalcade of other creators have made names for themselves. Lan Medina is the first Filipino to win the prestigious Eisner Award for his work on Vertigo Comics’ Fables. Fans will get to meet Pol Medina (Pugad Baboy), Harvey Tolibao, Carlo Pagulayan, Stephen Segovia, Mico Suayan, Rod Espinosa, and many more.

2.    Check out the FOUR Funko Pop exclusives for SuperManila! 
The Philippines is acknowledged as one of the biggest pop culture collectors’ markets and this weekend, fans are in for a treat when the exclusive Funko Pops of the Arkham Asylum Purple Chrome Joker, the corrupted Venom, glow-in-the-dark Phoenix, and Harley Quinn as Robin Pop become available!

3.    Attend those informative, exciting, and geeky panels. 
Panels are a staple of pop culture conventions and one of the biggest attractions. There will be several panels with two each hosted by noted fans and hosts Jay Ignacio of local alternative band, Da Pulis, Jiggy Cruz and Jason Inocencio. 

Ignacio will moderate the “A Look Back at the 55 Balete” panel on Saturday, October 19 at 2pm. That address – 55 Balete – was the location of Starfire Visuals, the studio put up by Whilce Portacio that opened doors for Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan and others. 

The Sunday, October 20 panels will have Cruz moderating the “Make Mine Marvel” panel at 12 noon as well as the “Spider-Talk” panel at 3pm.

Inocencio will preside over The Creator Focus at 2pm where he sits down Whilce Portacio and Rafael Kayanan.

4.    Await the big reveal of the exclusive Filipino variant of an upcoming comic.
SuperManila organizers have promised that the big reveal of this Filipino cover variant of an upcoming comic will be senses shattering!

After the success of the Wave cover variants of the New Agents of Atlas and Aero comics, prepare to be astonished when this timeless character is given love and a taste of sugar by one of our rising artists.

And speaking of Wave, during the convention, fans are encouraged to sign the petition for the character’s very own Funko Pop and Marvel Comic. 

If you are a fan of pop culture, then the SuperManila Pop Culture Convention this weekend is the place to be.

The SuperManila Pop culture Convention is organized by Filbar’s and Comic Odyssey,