Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fare Thee Well, Lorne

Andy Hallett, who played the good demon Lorne in the TV series Angel, died Sunday after a five-year battle with heart disease. He was 33.

The music-loving Lorne, a trusted ally of vampire hero Angel, is one of my favorites. While he doesn’t look like the typical hero at all, he’s definitely untainted and one of the Whedonverse’s most selfless beings. Lorne often lightens the mood with his well-timed humor or his playful singing voice. The character appeared in over 70 episodes, and continues to appear in the ongoing Angel comic book series. It continues the saga after the show’s cancellation five years ago.

Goodbye, Andy. Thanks for entertaining us.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spongebob, Endless Summer Nights, Power Pets

And so my love-hate relationship with summer begins again. The heat makes me wish I had a tub or a pool where I can just dip in and soak all day. It was an okay week, though; I’ve done a lot of reading, among other things. I’m taking advantage of the quiet time to catch up on some TV shows and comic books. Something I didn’t expect was helping out my nephew with an art assignment.

I had to sculpt something out of a small block of soap. I didn’t want to make anything complicated, so I came up with something that resembled Spongebob Squarepants. It didn’t have limbs or anything, but it looked recognizable enough. The reference picture helped, of course, but the challenge was making a semi-3D version. That was an okay distraction, and the thing looked like one of those projects where parents helped out to make the homework presentable.

Anyway, I finally finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I only bought and read the Preludes and Nocturnes compilation, and individual copies of Ramadan, World’s End, and Death: The High Cost of Living back in college. I was also able to read a friend’s Season of Mists compilation all those years ago, too. I like the epic and intimate moments, and how the writer creatively utilized different story structures. I read Death: Time of Your Life too, which had really interesting characters (lesbian couple Foxglove and Hazel), and was similarly well-written. But I was disappointed that it didn’t focus on Death. Still, I find Gaiman’s Endless mythology very endearing, and most of his characters unique and memorable.

I read a bunch of other comics too. I’m enjoying recent Avengers books (especially Mighty and the Initiative: Reptil one-shot) as well as the shocking latest issue of X-Force. I’ve been looking at the comic solicits too. There are interesting books coming in two months, including this one: The Marvel Pets Handbook!

Wow. I wanna get this. On the cover: the Pet Avengers, Black Knight’s steed, Old Lace, Kosmo the telepathic dog, Odin’s goats, one of Red Ghost’s apes, Mole Man’s giant monster, Devil Dinosaur, Tippy Toe and Ebony, I think. So cool.

More cute than creepy ‘Monsters’

The animated “Monsters Vs. Aliens” is a colorful all-ages adventure featuring characters inspired by popular science fiction creatures from the ‘50s. Misfit monsters Ginormica, Missing Link, BOB and Dr. Cockroach (voiced by Reese Witherspoon, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen and Hugh Laurie, respectively) are released from custody to fight an alien invasion; they’re possibly the only beings powerful--and expendable--enough for the job. The characters, even the conquering alien villain voiced by Rainn Wilson, are likeable. But it’s primarily the giantess Susan/Ginormica who gets developed well. The story focuses on her self-worth issues and relationship conflicts a lot; you’d wish the others had just as much screen time and personality-shaping moments, not just stock silly antic scenes. Still, it’s cute and worth seeing, and there are some scenes that just pop and look cool in 3D.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mystics, A Gathering

Whether they’re connecting with their respective higher powers or harnessing existing eldritch energies, they’re formidable spellcasting heroes. If they were pitted against each other, we’d probably see the following matches:

Dr. Strange Vs. Dr. Fate
Scarlet Witch Vs. Zatanna
Talisman Vs. Tempest
Agatha Harkness Vs. Phantom Stranger
Ian McNee Vs. Faust
Wiccan Vs. Traci 13
Clea Vs. Enchantress
Shaman Vs. Manitou Raven
Amanda Sefton Vs. Witchfire
Forge Vs. Jason Blood
Rintrah Vs. Dr. Occult
Jennifer Kale Vs. Silver Sorceress

Of course, once they sort things out, they’ll team up. It’s going to be nothing less than magical.

Thanks to Benedict for the scans.

Triumphant talkers: Chelsea, Jimmy, Conan

(Published Mar. 24, PDI-Entertainment)

Text and illustration by Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Nightly entertainment talk shows have plenty to discuss and laugh about. Poking fun at celebrities’ inanities and a livelier than usual political scene, American gab-meisters have an easy time conjuring up mirth and irreverence. Here are three of the more enjoyable:

Chelsea Lately’ (11:30 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, ETC)

Comedienne and author Chelsea Handler mocks some showbiz newsmakers daily, dissecting gaffes and weirdness with a wisecracking trio, a roundtable panel of similarly witty comics. That’s a regular part of the 30-minute show “Chelsea Lately,” along with short sketches and an interview with a celebrity guest. The show has a relaxed atmosphere, allowing the opinionated host and her guests to discuss topics unabashedly, but certain words are bleeped out prior to airing.

The sketches, such as “Unlicensed Entertainment Therapist” and “Judge Lately,” are hit and miss. Handler consistently hits the mark, however, with her opinions during the roundtable portion. She’s a confident interviewer who generously communicates with her guests. She sometimes opens up about her own life, to hilarious results.

‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ (10:00 p.m., nightly, Star World)

Jimmy Kimmel may already be familiar to some viewers because he previously co-hosted Comedy Central’s popular “The Man Show,” which overflowed with beer and bikini-clad women. But that was years ago, and Kimmel transitioned smoothly to hosting his own program. The hour-long “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” follows the traditional late night format, in that he usually opens with jokes about current events, proceeds to comedy bits, does interviews and introduces guest music performers.

He keeps things lively and interesting. New viewers may be familiar with the guy and the show because of two music videos that immediately became widely viewed online. Then-girlfriend Sarah Silverman appeared in the funny “I’m F---ing Matt Damon,” where she declares that she’s been cheating on Kimmel with the actor.

Kimmel “retaliates” with his own video, disclosing sexual intimacy with Damon’s best bud Ben Affleck, while a “We are the World”-esque cast sings the revealing song. Affleck even appeared on the show and gamely talked about his role.

‘Late Night With Conan O’Brien’ (Recently aired on JackTV)

The epitome of geeky coolness, O’Brien securely balances comedic and hosting duties. His “Late Night” stint just recently ended. It benefited from his quick wit, but he’s the first to admit when a punchline failed disastrously. He comfortably interacted with oddball characters in mostly clever and nicely executed sketches, and even occasionally used his rapport with the show’s band in comic scenarios.

The self-deprecating host capably talks to guests and inserts humor throughout interviews, often making them relaxed enough to laugh and share more. How will his style change in 2009, when he takes over “The Tonight Show” after Jay Leno leaves? That’s anyone’s guess.

Enduring near-lethal ‘12 Rounds’

John Cena plays a New Orleans detective forced into playing a deadly game with a vengeful escaped criminal. The rules of the game are ever-changing and his enemy’s not exactly honest about them, but to save his fiancée, the cop has no choice but to keep playing it. Cena may be covered up in uniform or regular clothes but you pretty much get the same furious wrestler acting. The idea that there are rounds of planned mayhem sounds clever, but the death traps and supposed mind games just become tedious. There are okay action scenes, but it gets hard to care even before you start to lose count of the challenges.

’12 Rounds’ is currently in theaters.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Black Bolt Unleashed

War of Kings has gotten me excited unlike Marvel’s other previous space events like the two Annihilation crossovers. I’ve only read the Avengers: Kree-Shi’ar War in full recently, and War of Kings is shaping up to be something like it, but it feels much bigger and deadlier. Some spoilers ahead.

I never thought I’d say this, but the Inhumans kick ass! In Secret Invasion: War of Kings, Black Bolt uses Maximus the Mad’s technology to transform his city into a huge warship. He destroys Skrull and Shi’ar ships in his path. Soon enough, the Inhumans invade Hala and conquer the Kree.

In War of Kings # 1, deposed Empress Lilandra and the Starjammers are enjoying temporary sanctuary with the Inhumans, as guests in Crystal and Ronan the Accuser’s wedding. The mutant Emperor Vulcan of the Shi’ar ruins the occasion by sending in his Imperial Guard.

Damn awesome. It’s Kree versus Shi’ar all over again, but with different leaders. I hope Black Bolt uses his voice a lot, and his Infinity Gem, during the War. Smug, annoying Vulcan deserves a serious beatdown.

‘Punisher: War Zone’: Unfriendly territory

Marvel Comics vigilante the Punisher returns, this time portrayed by Ray Stevenson, previously seen as the vicious centurion Titus Pullo in the HBO series “Rome.” It’s a nice fit; he gets to kill and maim scumbags in “Punisher: War Zone” repetitively, in some flashy and gruesome action sequences. Interestingly, the unflinching killing machine makes a mistake: he eliminates an undercover agent during one of his trigger-happy massacres.

How can he wriggle out of that one? The debut of the disfigured Jigsaw (Dominic West), a nutty, Joker-ish arch-fiend from the comic books, expectedly leads to situations that eventually help redeem the Punisher--unbelievably--in the eyes of the grieving widow Angela (a dark-haired, lower-voiced Julie Benz).

Stevenson, like Thomas Jane in 2004’s “Punisher,” is just right as the character, a ruined family man who snaps and becomes a dedicated killer of criminals. We see some humanity when he briefly flashes back to tragic events, or when he converses with his accomplices Micro (Wayne Knight, yes, Newman from “Seinfeld”) and the fanboy Detective Soap (Dash Mihok as a bumbling character, for a change).

“War Zone” is pretty simple but darkly funny; it goes overboard with gore and endless hails of bullets. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. The nigh-impervious Punisher just robotically dispenses his brand of justice; the messes are unrealistically tidied up in due time. Pretty run of the mill, but still cathartic.

“Punisher: War Zone” is currently in Metro Manila cinemas.

Generosity, years after school

(Published Mar. 21, PDI-2bU)

A barkada tries to make the world feel a little better, one community at a time

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
Photo by Aldwin Aspillera

Once a Bedan, always a Bedan.

That’s how it is for some former San Beda College students, who keep in touch with each other to plan gatherings for less fortunate members of different communities. Through their annual outreach events, they help make things a little easier for others.

The volunteers in the Pater Benedictus Movement first met many years back, when they helped organize religious activities on campus.

“We were Peace Retreat Movement auxiliaries,” says president Mark Parlade. “The ‘auxis’ used to facilitate retreats every weekend for students. We’d basically run the retreats, with the aim of making these kids realize that they are loved by their family. We are basically just a group of friends from San Beda College (Mendiola) and Benedictine Abbey School (now San Beda College Alabang).”

They remained friends after school, and felt it was “natural” to spread values they learned during their time as auxis and Bedans. Butch Delos Reyes, Jing Canson-Abia, and Ian Abia spearheaded the movement about ten years ago, and the roster immediately grew.

“A lot of us brought in friends, wives, relatives,” says Parlade. “Now, we’re bigger than just a group of Bedan alumni. It started getting a little bigger when my wife, Nike, proposed to do it in Isla Puting Bato in Navotas, eight years ago. We would try to help as many families as we could from the island and the surrounding communities. For six years, we did our outreach there.”

After a decade of successful Christmas season events, Pater Benedictus is now registered with the DTI and the SEC as a full-fledged, non-profit organization.

“We wanted to be an organization so that we can issue receipts, and the companies we ask help from know that they’re dealing with a legal entity that they can trust. It’s a more professional way of doing it; we’re all still good friends at the heart of it. We are now Pater Benedictus Movement, Incorporated, after Saint Benedict. Our objective is to spread goodwill and make people from the most impoverished communities feel loved, especially during Christmas.”

Some Pater members give money, while others pack giveaways or organize events. Hundreds of groceries and toys are distributed.

Months before each community visit, ideas are pitched and studied. Last December, Pater Benedictus chose to visit Tala, the leper community in Caloocan.

“We found out that not so many outreaches have been done there. When people have leprosy, there’s a stigma. Others are scared of them.”

“We were touched by how genial, pleasant and grateful the people were. We helped over 200 families. We gave loot bags to 100 kids. You should’ve seen the kids; when the Jollibee mascot appeared, they mobbed him!”

Pater Benedictus is currently planning for the next event, and is welcoming new members, whether they’re Bedans or non-Bedans, professionals or students. They hope to bring joy to more communities in the years ahead.

“As corny as it sounds, there is always a way to make the world a better place. Nothing beats having your friends share that vision with you!”

For more information on Pater Benedictus Movement, Inc., contact 0928-6639435 or 0922-8480310.

The Men and Women of Power Pack

That’s Cully Hamner’s version of former super-kids Power Pack, from Marvel’s 2001 Millennial Visions. They’re in their 20s, except Alex, who’s now 32. The book has numerous “visions,” pin-ups of possible alternate reality versions or stories centering on different Marvel Universe characters.

Hamner’s future Power Pack is interesting:

Julie (Lightspeed) is a science type looking for a way to contact the Kymellians. She’s holding a book titled “Speed Reading.”

Katie (Energizer) dyed her hair black, has tattoos and piercings, and works in a Boston café.

Jack (Mass Master) lives in San Francisco, and has been in and out of rehab.

Alex (Gee) is a construction foreman and family man.

It didn’t become a miniseries, but it’s still cool stuff. In the main Marvel Universe (the 616 reality), the Power kids are mostly in their teens already, although the only one who’s appeared as an “updated” character so far is Julie. She’s attracted to fellow girls, as depicted in the Loners mini about two years back.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

‘Race to Witch Mountain’: Not so alien race

Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. the former wrestler known as The Rock, plays a cab driver who helps a pair of superpowered teen aliens (Anna Sophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) escape their relentless government agent and alien assassin pursuers. “Race to Witch Mountain” is simple and intended for a younger audience, a film loosely based on the book “Escape to Witch Mountain.” It may remind one a little of “Roswell” because of the “super-aliens look like some of us” concept, but it’s wholesome and kid-friendly. Johnson requisitely gets into action sequences as tough cabbie Jack Bruno (who makes older viewers wonder immediately: is he an ex-soldier, ex-bouncer, or ex-assassin?). He’s actually an ex-con who suddenly--and typically--becomes important in the grand scheme of things. His eye-opening mission is shared with a fellow astonished human, Alex (Carla Gugino), whose smarts prove useful at just the right (but unsurprising) moments. There isn’t anything new or mind-blowing here, no. Still, it’s a cute and pleasantly diverting adventure that kids will dig.

It’s currently in Metro Manila cinemas.

Back in the Summer of ‘89

One lazy afternoon that summer, I put a few stacks of 3R-sized family pictures in a photo album. It’s not that I was itching to do that; I just wanted something to do. I volunteered to organize them and stick them into the new sleeves, which were held together by a three-ring binder. One of the photos was a closeup of me (left) when I was in third year high school, just a few months before. Styling gel was kind of one of my best friends. A razor was not, although some would say it still isn’t, these days. Some weeks after this pic, I shaved off my teen facial hair for the first time, if I’m not mistaken.

I was mostly a regular teen, in that I was awkward and sometimes lacked confidence. By this time, I had already shown a keen interest in the arts. A friend suggested that I draw his older brother’s action comic book, about a squad of special agents. I drew costume samples and weapons, based on his ideas. I drew a few pages of his story. I knew that the drawings looked amateurish, and I was expecting the guy to dislike it, too. The project, which was supposed to be presented to potential publishers, was quickly shelved. The pages were literally shelved; the drawings were kept in a closet, never to be mentioned again.

But my interest in comic books, and the process of making it, didn’t wane. I’d buy a few that I really liked, and read the rest at bookstores and department stores. I was also expressing an interest in music; I remember liking When In Rome’s “The Promise” and “Heaven Knows” so I bought the vinyl version of the album after school started. I’d listen to my brother’s records and a bunch of my tapes often, and I’d jump and dance to them. There’s the old radio-phono-cassette player, behind my old high school friend (below), when it still functioned. I think that’s a 3D rota-air electric fan in front of it, by the way. This wasn’t taken in ’89, but about two years later. That guy is still my friend; he drops by and borrows comics from time to time. I remember him teaching me how to play basketball--in vain--one summer afternoon in ’89.

Anyway, below is a pic of me and my kid sister in Pasay, later that year. It was Christmas, I think, and we were at our late grandmother’s place. I was eating a Pinipig Crunch, and wearing a pair of acid-washed jeans. I was probably worrying about an Algebra test, or getting a college entrance application. Or, asking a girl to the prom.

Twenty years later, I still feel child-like. Sometimes, I cling to certain things that I’ve loved since I was a kid. And I just realized--while looking at the old photo album--that I’ve had arguments with every member of the family. The reasons vary, but I guess that’s pretty normal for any family unit. Time and maturity do heal old wounds, I suppose.

When I look at these old pictures, I see naiveté and innocence, and maybe an eagerness to belong and be validated. Still, I miss the way I looked back then, sometimes. I miss being fit. And I also miss not worrying about real-life, grownup things.

Two decades after, I’d say that I’ve gone through a heck of a lot of changes, inside and out. I’ve experienced failure and success, met people with whom I shared interests and moments, known bonds that were never taught back in the confines of the classroom, and regretted mistakes. I learned and unlearned things. I wondered about my survival, fulfillment, and legacy. I think about my place in the world, and sometimes, I think about not caring. Some days feel more half-empty than half-full.

I’d still say, though, that despite some recurring challenges and hair loss, I turned out pretty okay.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Armored Conflict

Armor Wars! Marvel Knights vs. Shining Knights, or Team Shellhead vs. Team Steel. Some of the Big Two’s armored heroes. Mixed media on Bristol. Thanks to Benedict for scanning these.

Armored Marvels:
Mach IV (Abe Jenkins, Thunderbolts)
Iron Man (Tony Stark, Avengers)
Beetle (Leila Davis, Redeemers)
War Machine (James Rhodes, Avengers/Initiative)
Box (Walter Langkowski, Alpha Flight)
Box (Madison Jeffries, Alpha Flight)

Armored Titans:
Skyrocket (Celia Forrestal, Power Company)
Steel (John Henry Irons, JLA)
STRIPE (Pat Dugan)
Steel (Natasha Irons)
Warmaker One (Scott Sawyer, Ultramarine Corps)
Rocket Red (Dimitri Pushkin, Justice League International)

Rapturous ‘Religulous’

Opinionated Bill Maher doesn’t believe in God or religion, and bluntly asks people of different faiths tough questions. The answers point to different interpretations of ancient scriptures, which inspire even more questions.

“Religulous” is a documentary focusing on human perceptions of the divine and questionable parts of major religions and their offshoot groups. It zeroes in on different aspects of the subject without losing its sense of humor--there’s even a funny juxtaposing of outlandishly clad rock stars like Elvis, Prince and Marilyn Manson (in full pope regalia!) with images of the Pope and other religious leaders--and Maher naturally keeps the debates lively.

It’s probing, compelling and, at times, disturbing because of the stranger-than-fiction content. Maher really is in his element, promoting doubt when “the other guy is selling certainty.” Whether one believes in the unseen or has major doubts, “Religulous” and Maher’s “Gospel of I Don’t Know” are things to listen to and think about.

‘Secret Six’: Supervillainy good

Some spoilers ahead.

Gail Simone’s unpredictable gang of rogues and wretches returns in an ongoing, must-read title. The 7-part “Unhinged” changes the team dynamic with the addition of two members (a former Bat-villain and an enigmatic new female character). It also introduces the horrific villainy of Junior, and a prized object that could destroy the team.

The last part of the arc, however, is pretty average; there are some twists that aren’t exactly unexpected, and there are odd parts altogether (such as the villains blasting their employer in unison, and the absence of Batman and company during the big fight in Gotham).

Imperfections aside, “Secret Six” is funny, sexy and gritty. Penciler Nicola Scott has improved and her detailed art is enhanced by Jason Wright’s textured colors.

It’s a fun, insane book, certainly among DC’s better team titles.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Finally, ‘Watchmen’

Zack Snyder does an impressive job of translating Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ highly acclaimed “Watchmen” to the big screen, changes to some important details notwithstanding.

Costumed American vigilantes in the mid-‘80s figure in world-changing situations in the gritty and audacious epic, which makes a successful transition to film. It’ll mostly please fans of the series, despite a re-imagined major story element. Some spoilers ahead.

The film version’s “master plan” works just as well as the original idea, since the missing artists--crucial to the book’s pseudo-alien invader plan--weren’t mentioned. While not everyone may like the alteration, it still works, as it ironically connects a scapegoated Dr. Manhattan to the climactic, globe-spanning attacks.

There are other unavoidable changes, but it’s an adaptation that’s still faithful to the essence of its source material. Many scenes are practically storyboarded already by the existing panels. The backstories are compressed well into a ruminative Bob Dylan song early on. The other songs--such as Nena’s “99 Luft Balloons” and an instrumental version of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”--are catchy and obvious, but nonetheless send the viewer back to the right era. The climate of fear inspired by impending war is present, albeit on a bigger, almost unimaginable scale because of the existence of one godlike being.

At two hours and a little over 40 minutes, “Watchmen” does an astounding job of making the characters as real and layered as their comic book counterparts, especially the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). The drama is replicated sublimely. It’s great to finally see the cast of anti-heroes in dynamic, well-paced motion. There’s also more gore, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since Snyder previously directed the bloody “300.”

Still, it’s a little annoying that some scenes had to be cut out for the local theaters. It’s still confusing--what’s acceptable and what’s not for an R-13 rating? It’s understandable that the distributor wants this shown at the mall cinemas, but it’s a film for adults. A steamy lovemaking scene is mangled, so the accompanying lyrics to “Hallelujah” get similarly distorted as a result.

Cuts aside, “Watchmen” is still a great film. It might disappoint or alienate non-fans or non-comics readers expecting the usual formula. But it’s a special, thought-provoking adaptation. Read the book, then watch the movie, or vice versa. Time and money well-spent.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Birds of Prey Vs. Lady Liberators

Girl Power! Drew these days ago. I really like Oracle’s changing team of crimefighters, the Birds of Prey*. Too bad the book got canceled recently. The Lady Liberators**, meanwhile, was a ‘70s group revived and revamped in recent issues of the Hulk and She-Hulk (which, sadly, also got canceled). They’re some of my favorite super-heroines.

*BoP: Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, Misfit, Barda, Manhunter, Hawkgirl, Vixen

**LL: She-Hulk, Thundra, Invisible Woman, Valkyrie, Storm, Hellcat, Tigra, Black Widow, Spider-Woman

Miguel Escueta wants to do epic rock

(Published Mar. 5, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Singer-songwriter Miguel Escueta was among promising performers who debuted five years ago, when “unplugged” music was already a fixture in the local bar scene. His solid renditions of songs by John Mayer, The Beatles and Goo-Goo Dolls were included in a compilation album of Magic 89.9’s “Acoustic Break” competition in 2003, where he won first runner-up. He played more covers in gigs for a year and a half, and eventually recorded his debut album “I am M.E.” (MCA Music).

Months before landing a record deal, he was finishing Business Management at the Ateneo De Manila University. While eyeing an assistant brand manager position offered by a prestigious company, he wondered about taking another career path.

Miguel said he found himself asking, “What about music? Bahala na. If I get this job, I’ll do it; if not, I’ll do music. I did not get the job, and I told myself, ‘Ito na, it’s music, all-out.”

Now 24, Miguel is busy planning a second album after the success of “I am M.E.,” which includes the well-received songs “Falling Away, “Isipin,” and “Take Me There.” Its repackaged version, “Amplified,” is a 2-CD set with extras like music videos and his versions of New Order’s “Blue Monday” and The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”

He plays at bars, but it’s on campuses where fans go “crazy all the time.” He constantly collaborates with his unnamed band, comprised of Jeng Tria (bass), Roy Secillano (drums), and Junie Devecais (lead guitar, album producer).

Miguel and singer Julianne also recorded a version of “This is Me,” a song from Disney’s “Camp Rock” movie.

What lyrics are easiest to write?

I write what I feel is poignant. I write what I feel at the moment. I’ve written songs after a breakup. I think my lyrics are very honest. As much as I take it from inside, I also make it a point that people could relate to it.

How do you keep your voice in shape?

I had laryngitis last year, but I’m 110% recovered. I have a professional vocal coach I see at least once a month. We have sessions to warm up my voice and stretch my pitch. I sing my songs and then she tells me, “This part, try to breathe more.” I didn’t know that she was the vocal coach for Pinoy Dream Academy.

Did guitar-playing come naturally?

I had fun learning the chords. I wanted to learn. Nasanay na nang nasanay. I don’t even consider myself a great guitar player. I just know how to play guitar. I know how to pull it off live.

How would you describe your music? Who are your biggest influences?

I think it’s an unconscious mix of the artists that I like. Sometimes I don’t notice that parang may Coldplay and Lifehouse elements. But the genre, it’s really alternative rock/melodic rock. Biggest influences: Coldplay and the Foo Fighters. Sometimes, I wanna be Chris Martin; when I’m angry it’s Dave Grohl.

Describe your rapport with the band.

Well, they have their own bands, but I think the most serious one is us. I’m signed as a solo artist, but parang band na rin kami gumalaw. Whenever I’m on tour and whenever I make music, I’m with them. I start with chords, lyrics. But the growth of the song, I bring it to them. It really grows, once you’re in the studio.

How was the Camp Rock song received?

I think they showed the video in many Asian countries. Sobra nga akong reluctant, “Sigurado ba kayo? Image ba natin ‘to?” Okay naman, kasi maraming kids who found out that I exist.

Did you have dreams of performing when you were a kid?

I didn’t think I was going to be a recording artist. I was a basketball player. In my senior year of high school, I was captain of the team and president of the student council. Music was just for fun talaga. My love for music just kept growing and growing. I really feel blessed to say, I really love performing. I love being on stage.

How different is your music now?

The newer stuff, people have been saying, it sounds like Foo Fighters. I’ve also been listening a lot to Our Lady Peace, their older albums. I was talking to the producer about the next album. We want “epic rock,” something heavy enough that we can play in the underground bars, and still be melodic to be in a movie soundtrack.

How do you feel about choosing this career?

It really doesn’t feel like a job, because I enjoy it. And at the same time, in terms of ‘yung kita, nakakaipon naman ako. The scary thing about being in this industry is, it isn’t as stable as a corporate job. But so far, it’s still good!

(album cover image from migsescueta.multiply.com)

Code Name Queries

My nephew saw two drawings that I was finishing (check out the new post, “Birds of Prey Vs. Lady Liberators”), and asked me a couple of questions.
- - - - -

Nephew: Why are they all boobs?

Me: ‘Cause they’re all girls.

Nephew: Are they the Girl League?

Me: They’re the Birds of Prey and the Lady Liberators.

Nephew: (points at She-Hulk) She’s Veggie Girl.

Me: That’s She-Hulk.

Nephew: (points at Hawkgirl) That’s the Bald Eagle.

Me: She’s Hawkgirl.

Nephew: (points at Storm) Is that lady really old?

Me: No, she just has silver hair.

Nephew: (points at Oracle, notices arnis sticks) Is she called Drum Girl?

Me: She’s called Oracle. She used to be Batgirl. But she can’t walk anymore. She’s on a wheelchair.

Nephew: Why? Did she slip on a bug?

- - - - -
Yeah, he’s quite creative, that kid. It must be something he picked up while watching cartoons. I didn’t elaborate on how Batgirl lost the use of her legs anymore, because the circumstances are difficult to explain to a kid.

I was drawing on Bristol backing boards. He asked which side I was using, and I said it wasn’t the shiny side, because the ink can smear on that surface. He told me that he knew that. He asked how I could fit all those characters into the space, so I replied that I drew them in pencil before inking and coloring.

The kid’s smart and already a good artist. I hope he keeps getting better.

In a Different Light

Twenty years ago, the Bangles’ “Everything” album was released. My older brother had the vinyl record of their previous album “Different Light.” I remember liking the band not because of “Walk like an Egyptian,” but “Manic Monday” and “If She Knew What She Wants.” I got “Everything” on tape, many months after songs like “Eternal Flame” and “In Your Room” became chart hits. I always found “In Your Room” playful and sexy, while “Eternal Flame” was part of my schmaltzy high school romance soundtrack.

But my favorite song from that album, and my fave Bangles song for that matter, is “I’ll Set You Free.” A tweaked, extended version of that was included in the Greatest Hits CD, which I got a while back. I always feel the message of the song when I hear it.

I’ll Set You Free

I remember eyes that shined as they looked so hard back into mine. Now it’s just a memory so I’ll set you free.

I hear you through the wire. Your words all sound like noise. What happened to the fire in your voice? Don’t try to hide the distance. It’s just too big to ignore. We work it out like business. It won’t work anymore.

I remember eyes that shined as they looked so hard back into mine. Now it’s just a memory so I’ll set you free. I remember words that fell like coins into a wishing well. It was never meant to be so I’ll set you free.

Still sometimes late at night, moonlight comes into my window. I can make believe that’s how it used to be. We made it look so easy. We never tried to resist. Somehow you stopped believing. Somehow we’ve come to this.

So now I must go on. What more can I do? What good is being strong, when all I ever really want is you?

All I want is you.

‘Cause you won’t, but I won’t. You won’t, but I won’t tell.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Art of Backpacking Across Asia

(Published Feb. 28, PDI-Super)
Robert Alejandro documents his travels in his inimitable way
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

TV host and graphic artist Robert Alejandro conducted sketching workshops last October as part of the Pinoy Backpack Festival at the Trinoma. His illustrated book, documenting his journeys as a backpacker across Asia, was also launched during the event.

“The Sketching Backpacker,” a tome collecting vivid journal entries while trekking with friends, is also a handy companion to backpackers who wish to discover the region’s scenic destinations, historic landmarks, and unique bargains.

Alejandro learned how to make his tight P50,000 budget fit in a span of ten weeks. Nine countries and priceless memories later, he’s glad that the experience was one he shared with fellow enthusiastic travelers, Pinoy and foreign.

“The best thing about it is making friends,” he says. “So you get to learn about the different cultures through the people. It’s so different, when you make friends through the backpack trip, kasi ang tagal ninyo magkasama. Ang Filipino parating nagtuturo ng kung anu-ano sa mga foreigners. And I remember trekking across Chiang Mai. Kapag naghihirap kayo, sabay-sabay kayo.

“The Sketching Backpacker,” which features Alejandro’s more intricate art style, is filled with black and white candid portraits of people he met in trains, buses, boats, hostels and beaches. There are detailed freehand drawings of old architecture and street scenes in Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, and Singapore, among other places.

Whenever his fellow backpackers looked around, he’d stay behind to do sketches of his surroundings. He only brought with him a few art materials, which he used up quickly.

“Ang galing naman ng gel pens,” he raves. “Before, I used tech pens to draw. Now, gel pens are perfect! I can buy them anywhere. And I would always buy paper. Wherever I go, I’d always say ‘I need to buy paper!’ I would buy along the way.”

The book also lists key local words and their English translations, as well some of the more affordable backpackers’ inns, meals and transportation fares.

Alejandro found himself soaking up different cultures and thoroughly enjoying a non-stop adventure, but he always kept in touch with loved ones back home.

“I would always call my parents and ask if they’re okay. But other than that, I remember telling myself, ‘Wow, I completely forgot how it was like in Manila,’ and that was the best thing, honestly. It was sad that we were going home, but almost three months? Busog na busog ka na rin noon!”

And the sketching traveler can’t wait to do it again. The life-changing trips taught him and his fellow backpackers some valuable lessons.

“There’s so much to look at. We were just looking at ourselves and we thought, ‘This is it!’ The world is so much bigger. I feel passionate about sharing this. Two of my travel mates, it was their first time to do this and it completely changed their outlook. I think it would be good for fellow Pinoys. It would make them more open-minded if they could do this.”

“The Sketching Backpacker” is available at Travel Club stores.

Plink Plink

By Benedict Bartolome. Art by me. TM and © B. Bartolome and O. Pulumbarit. Check out the next five pages at my art blog.