Inquirer cartoonist launches graphic novel

by Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 22 2009 04:45 PM | Updated as of Oct 24 2009 08:37 AM

The cover page of "12", Manix Abrera's graphic novel, published by Visprint Inc.

MANILA - Cartoonist Manuel "Manix" Abrera, of "Kiko Machine" fame, is taking his art to the next level with a new graphic novel called "12" or "Dose." 

"12" is a collection of short stories told entirely with just pictures and no words. The graphic novel wowed audiences at the Komikon 2009 in SM Megamall last Sunday, where "12" was officially launched.

The full-color spread, published by Visprint Inc., costs P500. 

"Astig siya. (It's awesome)," said Abrera in an interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak prior to the Komikon. "It's weird. There's drama and history. Different stories. It's very different from [my regular comic strip] 'Kiko Machine.'"

Abrera said he decided that a graphic novel was the logical next step to his 9-year career as a comic strip artist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. 

He spent 2 years developing "12" because, he explained, some stories are worth writing (and drawing) beyond the usual 5-inch comic strip. 

"Sobrang hilig ko kasi talaga ang comics. Parang dumating nalang siya na, oo nga ano, bakit hindi ako gumawa ng [graphic novel]? Mga ideas ko 'yon na magandang ilabas sa format na ganito," he said.

According to Ella Umadhay, Visprint Inc.'s production supervisor, Abrera's novel has sold about 100 copies since its launch last week.

The publishing house has yet to distribute copies to major bookstores like National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and Powerbooks, but Umadhay said the market response to "12" has been enthusiastic.

With the initial positive response to his latest offering, Abrera said he already has other graphic novel projects lined up in the future. 

To date, Abrera has published 6 comic books, including collections of his "Kiko Machine" series.

'The best at drawing pimples '  

Taking after his famous editorial cartoonist dad, Jess Abrera, the young Manix showed a flair for drawing.

He copied the style of X-Men illustrator Jim Lee with fervor, to the point that his father had to remind him not be chained to a particular drawing style. 

As a Fine Arts student at the University of the Philippines, he started creating comic strips for the Philippine Collegian around the year 2000. 

The first strip he made for the paper was of a pimple-faced character named "Boy Tagiyawat" who was being heckled for his acne.

In anger, Boy Tagiyawat went up to the heckler and squeezed one pimple, dousing his enemy with pus. That sealed Abrera's place in the Collegian as the best at drawing pimples.

Comic lover

He started a comic strip series with his friend and bandmate John Paul Cuison called "Garapata Blood", which tackled the humors of college life.

This evolved into "Kiko Machine" (a wordplay on the Batibot character "Kiko Matsing"), which became Abrera's claim to fame. 

The strip is notable for its funny punchlines, exaggerated plotlines, and simple dialogue that use mostly Filipino colloquial terms.

Its distinct "Pinoy" humor comes from the fact that Abrera draws from humorous situations or conversations he overhears in daily life - such that he never runs out of ideas.

He scribbles things he finds funny in a small notebook he carries around with him. "That's the key, you have to be observant," he said. 

After the "Kiko Machine" comic series was published in the Inquirer, Abrera decided he would make a career out of it, even if it meant he wouldn't make money at first.

He said there is money in comics if an artist works hard to improve his craft.

"When you enter the arts, you should have a mindset that there's no money there. But you'll do it anyway because you love it. Alam mo yung feeling na kahit hindi ka bayaran, gagawin mo parin?" he said.

Even now, Abrera almost swoons when he talks about his job, often punctuating his sentences with: "Mahal na mahal ko talaga siya. (I really really love comics.)"

Pinoy comics alive 

While doomsayers have predicted the death of both newspapers and comics because of the rise of the internet and a seeming lack of funding, Abrera begs to differ.

"So many people say comics will die, that the 'Golden Age of Komiks' is over. I think not. They actually use the internet to publish comics. Comics is alive, only in other forms," he said, citing emerging Pinoy webcomics and the proliferation of independent comics (indie comics) at Comics Conventions.

Abrera said he is a big fan of indie comics because their creators publish the books themselves, by photocopying their drawings and selling them cheap at ComiCons.

"Sometimes the indie comics are even better than published ones. Sobrang saludo at hangang-hanga ako sa kanila kasi nailalabas nila 'yong mga ginagawa nila. 'Yong iba binibigay nila ng libre, for the love of it talaga," he said.

Some indie comics artists get approached by publishers for book deals.

Abrera said Comic conventions are great venues for comics artists to showcase their work and for publishers and comics-lovers to show support for the Philippine comics industry. 

Though published comics artists have to deal with censorship for their work at times, Abrera said artists can always find imaginative ways to circumvent this.

"Like my Dad (Jess Abrera) was told he couldn't draw President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo anymore. In his irritation, he drew a mole that talked. It's funny right, he was censored, but he made a way that was funnier," he said. 

Abrera hopes more Filipino comics artists will use the internet to publish their work, following the likes of the Webcomic Republic and "Cheer Up Emo Kid".

"Marami nang nakikilala sa ibang bansa. (Many of them are well known in other countries)," Abrera said. 

Comics must be socially relevant 

Manix Abrera at an exhibit. Photo credit: Wonder Boarders. http://wonderb.multiply.com.

After 9 years of drawing comic strips non-stop, all year round (except on Sundays), Abrera has become a respected icon in the comics industry. 

He learned from his father and the Philippine Collegian that comics must not only make people laugh, they must be socially relevant as well.

"Comics should have both form and content. But I don't spoonfeed. I want readers to think [about issues]," Abrera said.

Some "Kiko Machine" strips, for example, subtly reference Philippine social issues. During the 2007 national elections, Abrera came up with a comic strip where a character named "Bertong Badtrip" saw another boy cut in the line in front of him. 

An angry Bertong Badtrip complains, only to be told that the person who cut in is "the son of the mayor" or "related to the governor." Pissed, Bertong Badtrip replies: "Pwes, anak ako ng Diyos! (I am a child of God!)" 

Though he got some angry e-mails from parents about the "blasphemy" in the comic strip, Abrera said he was able to draw attention to power-tripping politicians and nepotism. 

"Maraming galit sa akin (A lot of people are mad at me)," he joked. "But it's better to have a negative reaction than no reaction at all."

Abrera added that he makes it a point to answer each letter or complaint he receives from all his devoted fans. Report and photo by Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.