Filipino Marvel fans recently got a sweet treat seeing Filipino characters grace the Marvel Cinematic Universe, thanks to Ned Leeds and his lola in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
And it didn’t happen in some throwaway sequence, too. It’s the moment the earlier Spider-Man incarnations, as played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, first meet. The moment Lola (Mary Rivera) tells her apo, amidst all the chaos of other universes zapping in and out of the frame, to clean up all the “sapot” the boys have shot around the house. “Sorry Lola,” says Garfield’s Peter Parker. “Yes, of course,” concurs Maguire’s.
“I never thought that I’d see that in my lifetime… a Lola lecturing two Spider-Men in Tagalog. That was incredible!” says US-born Filipino video game animator Benjamin de Guzman, a Spider-Man aficionado and a self-described comic book geek. “My reaction as an artist was, ‘I’ve got to draw this. I have to depict this in some way.’”
To honor the event, Ben dug up his collection of old Spider-Man comic books for inspiration, and proceeded to create a series of tribute covers that revolve around Lola Leeds. “I’ll pretend that she existed in this universe this whole time. I wanted to put that in an art form,” he says, recalling his thoughts then. “Since that representation is so important to me, I wanted to make sure that I put that on paper, well, on the digital space really.”
On January 7, Ben took to social media and launched “The Further Adventures of Ned’s Lola,” giving Filipino MCU fans more reason to bask in the global attention.
Ben didn’t need to look far for additional inspiration for his comic book art. “The movie is basically about a Filipino kid raised in the States by his grandma. I’m like, ‘That was me!’” Ben’s parents, he tells ANCX, separated when he was younger, so growing up, while his folks were at work, he spent a lot of time with his grandmothers.
What Lola Leeds did in the movie was something his Lola Olimpia Aquino (his maternal grandmother) would totally do IRL. “I completely saw that in her, telling me and my friends to clean up after ourselves,” Ben says laughing. “That is why this is such a big deal for me.” Olimpia Aquino passed away in 1995 when Ben was in college.
The 40-something artist describes Lola Olimpia as a devout Catholic, the type who always insisted he goes with her to mass. This inspiration totally came out in Ben’s cover art where Lola Leeds is up against the Green Goblin. In the comics, Lola brings out her oversized rosary and Ned is behind her saying, “Lola he’s not the devil! The rosary won’t work on him!”
Ben’s other lola, meanwhile, Florentina de Guzman, was a wizard at the kitchen. Which likely inspired the cover in which Lola Leeds is innocently and contentedly helping herself to some rice and dinuguan. “Lola! Venom isn’t made of dinuguan,” Ben imagines Ned telling his grandmother.
In yet another comic book art, Lola appears all set to sprinkle some seasoning on Dr. Otto Octavius. To which Ned says, “Lola, he’s not really seafood.”
There’s also a cover wittily depicting how Lola Leeds might be the real superhero, as she effortlessly defeats Sandman with her walis and dustpan. “When I started drawing these, I slowly realized that I was subconsciously putting my grandmas in the drawing. The one with Sandman, I was looking at it and telling myself, this is my grandma Olimpia,” Ben recalls, laughing.
Ben gave ANCX an exclusive first look at another cover art he has yet to post. It goes by the title, “Lola: Killing lizards with tsinelas since before you were born.” It shows Ned’s Lola thwacking the Lizard (Dr. Curtis Connors) with her trusty slippers.
Growing up with comic books
Ben says it’s the humor, comedic timing, and the very grounded approach in that living room scene that really resonated with Spider-Man fans. “It’s a simple living room, and a fantastic thing is actually happening in that living room. I feel like people can see that event happening in their household,” he says.
With his noticeable talent for making comic book art, it’s curious why Ben decided not to pursue it as a profession. He was always drawing as a young boy, and comic books were a big part of his formative years. He even used to make cartoon flipbooks. But when it was time to choose a career, he realized it wasn’t easy to get into the comic book industry. So he instead took up Character Animation at the Art Institute of Los Angeles. “It’s a lot more technical, more complicated. Since I’m big on video games, it was like a natural progression for me,” he shares.
For several years, he was doing quality assurance (game testing) for a gaming company. While doing that, he was also putting himself through art school. After finishing college, Ben got hired in the art department of the gaming company.
The Filipino animator may have taken a slightly different path from his comic book beginnings but the passion has always been there. “Actually, one of my goals is to eventually make my own graphic novel and try to publish it. I definitely would want to make it more Filipino-based,” he says, adding that he’s a big fan of Filipino mythology.
He considers American comic book writer and artist Whilce Portacio (The Punisher, X-Factor, Uncanny X-Men, Iron Man, Wetworks and Spawn) one of his biggest influences. “He came to speak to us at the university and I showed him my art. I could tell from his reaction that I wasn’t yet ready to put my art out,” Ben says, recalling that moment in his college days. “I remember him telling me to keep doing what I’m doing. He was the first comic book professional that I met.”
If his lolas were alive…
But back to the lolas. Ben remembers they loved being on the dance floor. “They were ballroom dancers,” Ben offers. His Lola Olimpia, a native of Pangasinan, possessed a cheerful personality. “She always wore a smiling face,” he shares.
Of his Lola Tina, he has faint recollections. She passed away much earlier, in 1989. According to Ben’s father, Lola Tina was always whipping up something in the kitchen. She didn’t mind preparing different foods for each of her grandkids. “Lola was always making sure that I was okay,” the artist remembers.
“Ned’s character might become a villain in the Spider-Man timeline, how do you think his lola would react to that?” we ask Ben.
He replies defensively, “I think because of Ned’s lola, I don’t think he will be in MCU. Maybe in some other universe. But I think she would keep him in check. In whatever timeline Ned becomes Hobgoblin, I think his lola would deter him from becoming that,” he says.
There’s no denying his grandmothers deeply impacted Ben’s life. They told him to be a gentleman. They told him to be courteous. If his lolas were alive now, he says they would likely tell him to go to church every Sunday, to be more prudent about his earnings, to be good to other people. “I can’t judge myself and say I’m such a good person,” the artist says. “But if anyone ever compliments me and say you’re such a gentleman, you’re so sweet, those [qualities] for sure were from my lolas.”
Photos and comic book art courtesy of Ben de Guzman