Friday, October 30, 2009

LNA Go Planetary, Elemental

Happy Halloween! It’s time for my annual Lexy, Nance & Argus blog drawings. This year, they’re cosplaying as fan-favorite heavenly bodies and as firebending Avatar characters. Oh, and Jim and the kids are masquerading as cosmic Marvel entities.

Cybertron Lexy, Mogo Nance, Death Starg

Firelord Lexy, Avatar Arg, Nancezula

Beyonder Jim, Romalecsa, Gylactus

Storytelling Evolution

Here’s a rundown of some comic books that I worked on, because I haven’t really talked about them except, well, you know.

Dhampyr (1997)

I began drawing David Hontiveros’ story back in the mid-‘90s. I was in my early 20s; I was still learning anatomy, perspective, and facial structure… and it sometimes showed. David’s script was challenging; he allowed me free rein on the character designs, but he also had very specific narrative techniques that I had to adhere to. Initially, it was supposed to be released as three separate issues, but I convinced him that it would be better to have it published as a one-shot, 3-chapter book. I inked some pages penciled by John Toledo, who also helped out with some page layouts. Ultimately, interpreting David’s story was very educational; I sometimes regret cramming some panels with unnecessary details. The 80-page Alamat book was a finalist in the 1998 National Book Awards.

Avatar # 1: The Legend of Baal (2000)

I illustrated eight pages (a cover/credit page and seven sequential pages) for this spinoff of David’s Pantheon title. This time, he asked me to go wild and Kirby-esque with the designs, and gave me more than enough room to cut loose. I enjoyed drawing this backup story, which had monsters, aliens, and super-scuffles. Oh, the pages doubled as tryout submissions that I sent to Whilce Portacio in late ’99.

Babe Force # 3: Cancer Killer (2002)

The 2-page backup story was written by the late Doug Miers, then-publisher/creator of Comics Conspiracy’s Generic Comics. It was fully penciled; I just spotted blacks on the clear photocopies I scanned. The book was released in late 2002 in the US. To view the pages, go here.

Ab Ovo # 2: Ellen and Gina (2003)

This one was written by Vinnie Simbulan, who wanted me to draw the story in my cartoony “Lexy” style. The four-pager focused on a group of gossiping gal pals.

Lexy, Nance & Argus: Sex, Gods, Rock & Roll (2004)

Five years ago, I finally compiled my old comic strip, which appeared in music mag Pulp from 2001 to 2002. It’s the first thing that I both wrote and illustrated, and I’m glad that it was able to reach an audience through the magazine. After it ended, some people actually waited for the characters’ new adventures, so I told the rest of the story and self-published. I wanted to prove to myself, most of all, that I could do it. It’s gotten mostly positive reactions and reviews.

Lexy, Nance & Argus: Family Album (2005)

I did this as a Komikon “exclusive,” an ashcan-sized collection of spot cartoons, a supplement or addendum to the LNA comic book. Samples of the 24-page minicomic can be viewed here.

Siglo: Passion (2005)

My contribution to the project was a colored pinup. Dean Alfar asked me and other local creators to contribute some drawings for the book’s gallery.

Underpass # 1 (2009)

I was contacted some months ago to draw another of David’s stories. I guess he and co-scripter Budj thought of me when they discussed its sexual content (I did make a sex-themed comic book, after all). I opted to use a mostly monochromatic style using mixed media. I did away with clutter and heavy blacks. Initially, I did a page using another style, but I was really unhappy with it that I tore it after finishing. Anyway, I do hope Summit keeps publishing comic books. I saw copies displayed at National Bookstore Glorietta’s comics section, by the way.

Other comic book contributions include a page for Exodus # 2, a pinup for the Wasted compilation, three drawings for Pantheon, and a cover for Psigns of the Season. Whew.

Halloween Reading

Some of these comic books are scary, others are cute, and all are memorable reads:

A Peanuts Halloween- I got this for free last year, an ashcan-sized Halloween giveaway that reprinted Charles Schulz’ strip about Linus’ faith in the existence of the Great Pumpkin. He’s never seen him, but he just knows he’ll make an appearance to prove Charlie Brown and Lucy wrong. Of course, Linus waits in vain. Yeah, the analogy is thinly veiled, but it’s funny and I love it.

Marvel Premiere # 28: Legion of Monsters- It’s not really a team, but this standalone story brings together Morbius the Living Vampire, Ghost Rider, Werewolf by Night, and Man-Thing. A mountain appears in Los Angeles, and a benevolent being emerges. Too bad Werewolf attacks him, and the four monsters lose their sole chance of being “cured.” I bought the National Bookstore reprint of this when I was about seven. This issue introduced me to some of Marvel’s horror characters.

The Vampire’s Christmas- Homeless vampire Tobias Esque isn’t a fan of the holidays, but he discovers a different kind of holiday cheer, anyway. In this strangely feelgood story, Esque is reminded of Christmases past, before and after becoming undead.

Sandman # 25- This is a creepy one. During the Season of Mists, young Charles Rowland was left alone in a boarding school, and discovers that some departed students and their headmaster have returned. He also meets Edwin Paine, the friendly young ghost in the attic.

The Cryptics- Cute little monsters Drac, Jackie (and Hyde), Wolfy, and Seaboy are the children of mythic creatures. Their adventures are light, colorful, and fun.

Death Jr. Halloween Special- Like the Cryptics, the kid characters here aren’t exactly normal. There’s DJ (the Grim Reaper’s son), Pandora (who’s obsessed with opening boxes and containers), Stigmartha (whose hands bleed when she’s nervous), Smith and Weston (conjoined twins sharing a big brain), and The Seep (a limbless snarky fetus). In this story, they’re pelted by teenagers with eggs while trick-or-treating. Enter DJ’s dad.

Tales of the Vampire # 3- These are stories that happen in the Buffy universe. One such vampire tale focuses on the series’ version of Dracula, who has become a joke. A group of Slayers confronts him and retrieves his hypnotized new manservant, Xander Harris. It’s a little sad, because the tired old vampire lost his only “friend.”

Star Wars Tales: Planet of the Dead- Han and Chewie land the Millennium Falcon on an eerie planet, where they hear odd sounds and are greeted by zombie-like beings. A native tells them that this was caused by an accident, so Han tries to break the cycle of hauntings by helping the passengers “avoid” their fate.

Donald Duck: The Halloween Huckster- This was among last year’s freebies. Donald meets a weird salesman, Kasper Kanterville, who befriends him and joins him in frightening friends and neighbors during Halloween. It’s bizarre, for a Disney comic, but it’s quite entertaining, too.

Detective Comics # 455- I bought this comic book as a kid, excited by the promise of Batman fighting a vampire. It didn’t disappoint; it was dark and quite scary for a young reader. Now, it’s a little cheesy (the vamp is named Gustav Decobra, too close to Dracula, methinks), but the way Batman defeated his undead opponent is still cool. The art is by Mike Grell, who was obviously inspired by classic horror movies.

Also fun reads: DC Universe Halloween Special 2008, Hector Plasm: Totentanz, and the Courtney Crumrin books. Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fighting the Horrors of Hate

Some of the comic books I read weeks ago were older ones that tackled gay issues. They intelligently discussed the very real problem of homophobia.

Green Lantern 154-155 (2002)

The two-part story “Hate Crime” is about the Matthew Shepard-esque attack on young Terry, Kyle (Green Lantern) Rayner’s assistant. Enraged by the violent crime, Green Lantern tracks down his friend’s attackers, unsure if comatose Terry will recover from his serious injuries. Okay, while I’m not a fan of Judd Winnick’s recent works, he excels in talking about socially relevant or controversial topics. They don’t always blend smoothly with the stories, but in these two issues, the writer was able to present the issue while making Kyle Rayner question his purpose and heroism. It’s gripping, meaningful drama.

AARGH! (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) (1988)

Alan Moore spearheaded an endeavor that gathered writers and artists against Clause 28, a British law that prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality.” Moore and a number of comic book creators, including Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim, Howard Cruse, Robert Crumb, Jamie Delano, and Frank Miller, voiced their concerns in the black and white anthology. Providing a variety of insightful commentaries, AARGH! demonstrates the diverse artistry of the contributors. It’s enlightening, empowering, and ever-relevant.

The Mirror of Love (2004)

Alan Moore’s eight-page tale, originally drawn by Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch for AARGH!, is reinterpreted by Jose Villarubia, whose moody, striking photographs give the author’s work a different vibrance. Moore’s words, divided and laid out in dozens of pages, are as moving and vivid as ever, illustrating the difficult struggles of gay people throughout history:

“Where life endures we’ll love, and afterwards, if what they say is true, I’ll be refused a Heaven crammed with popes, policemen, fundamentalists, and burn instead, quite happily, with Sappho, Michelangelo, and you, my love. I’d burn throughout eternity with you.”

Beautiful.

Inhuman ‘Body’

Megan Fox plays a cheerleader-turned-undead being who eats high school boys in “Jennifer’s Body,” a horror-comedy flick penned by the screenwriter of “Juno,” which explains the laugh-out-loud, self-aware, and snarky witticisms. Fox and Amanda Seyfried play unlikely best buds whose lives are changed forever when an indie band visits their town. Jennifer wreaks havoc shortly, preying on horny guys for sustenance. The movie has a post-“Buffy” aura; its strange, savvy mingling of sex, undeath, and pop culture references cleverly pokes fun at teen angst, fame, and gullible fandom.

“Jennifer’s Body” will be in Metro Manila theaters starting Oct. 28.

‘The Echo’: ‘Sigaw’ adapts well to its new setting

(Published Oct. 25, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

Filmmaker Yam Laranas remakes his well-received 2004 horror film “Sigaw,” replicating some atmospheric parts, and evolving scare tactics accordingly.

The universality of tales involving the inexplicable is exemplified in the new version, “The Echo,” set in New York’s East Village. The neighborhood has its own texture and character, and the ghost story easily adapts to its surroundings. The Americanized version works in delivering the scares even if you haven’t seen the original.

The role first portrayed by Richard Gutierrez is modified into a brooding ex-convict, Bobby, played by Jesse Bradford. Shortly after his release, Bobby decides to live in his late mother’s musty, dismal apartment unit, and before long, begins noticing strange and spooky patterns. He starts having nightmares, and discovers a piano with bloody keys, among other things. But what he finds most alarming are the loud arguments next door between a violent cop (Kevin Durand) and his battered wife (Iza Calzado, reprising her old role).

Bradford makes the role his own, and manages to create a layered misfit-outcast character. He’s most vulnerable around ex-girlfriend Alyssa (Amelia Warner), but is believably detached and guarded with almost everyone else. Bobby inevitably helps out his abused neighbors, the mother and daughter trapped in the cycle of abuse.

The abuse angle and its repercussions are things we’ve seen before in “The Grudge,” but “The Echo” manages to infuse the subject with a different sense of immediacy. While domestic abuse is one of the more disturbing horrors of reality, it practically becomes another bogeyman in the film, thanks to the effective portrayals. Also, “The Echo” is able to keep things mysterious, even after some paranormal goings-on are revealed.

Sequences involving victims of the spectral presence can be truly predictable. Still, “The Echo” conjures up its own foreboding and ominous scenarios. The blaring sounds of chaos agitate just as effectively as its quiet scenes of despair and dread.

Cruel ‘Summer’

“500 Days of Summer,” about the complicated relationship between hopeless romantic Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and emotionally vague Summer (Zooey Deschanel), ponders the rules of intimacy and friendship, and quirkily examines heartbreak and recovery.

Witty and blunt, “500 Days” chronicles the disintegration of a beautiful misunderstanding: android-like Summer and emo-boy Tom, despite hitting it off initially in aptly soundtracked scenarios, inevitably disagree on the fine print. While it’s not always believable when trivial bits and pieces are thrown around, it’s nonetheless cute, relatable, and deep by turns.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Under and Beyond

I had a great time at the 2009 Komikon, held last Sunday at Megamall’s Megatrade Hall. The weather was fine, thankfully, and the venue was more accessible than the previous one. There were still hordes of people in the afternoon and in the evening; it felt good to see many happy geeks in one place.

The horror anthology Underpass was finally released. My fellow creators and I were there for the press con and the signing. Signing autographs was nice; it’s been a while since I did that. We signed quite a number of copies, and said “Thank you!” about as many times to those who lined up.

My contribution to the Underpass project is art for the 12-page “Judas Kiss” story, by David Hontiveros and Budjette Tan. Dave and I worked together twice before, on Dhampyr and a backup Avatar story, both Alamat releases. I have to admit, and I did say this at the panel discussion during the ‘Kon, that I had some difficulty starting it because it’s quite dark. To elaborate on that, it was hard to do some implied violent scenes, and their immediate aftermath. Anyway, doing the rest of the pages was a breeze because the script was very specific and I felt comfortable translating it using a mostly monochromatic style. In the pic below, that’s the Judas Kiss Specter standee (the bloodied figure), taken from one of the pages.

So, on to my thank you’s:

To my fellow Underpassers, for the company and creative vibe. Joining them at the panel and the signing table was cool. Dave, ‘twas fun talking about music and Dhampyr again.

To Cris Zarate and Benedict, for taking pictures. Cris, thanks for looking after my bag, too.

To Miko (or is that Mico?), for bringing his copy of Lexy and asking me to sign it! That was a pleasant surprise.

To online contacts and old pals and acquaintances like Manix Abrera, Nick Yarte, Chris Costello, Harvey Tolibao, Oscar Alvarez, Ariel Atienza, Joseph Fouts, and the other generous Komikon visitors, for dropping by and buying copies.

To that college student with the glasses, for picking me to critique his work. If you’re reading this: I wish I had more things to say. Sorry I had to cut it short; the line was moving. I hope you keep drawing and practicing. Take formal art lessons, if you’re really serious with pursuing a career in comics or animation.

And, to the Summit people, for taking care of us.

So, yeah. I had a great time. I hope I can be part of something again next year. Oh, Underpass will be sold alongside other Summit publications, some time within the week. Do check it out.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

World’s Greatest

I did a set of Avengers drawings last month, “Earth’s Mightiest.” Here’s my interpretation of the Justice League. I chose four lineups: the Big Guns JLA (Morrison era), the Super Buddies (the Bwa-Ha-Ha League), the Relaunched Justice League (or Post-52 JLA), and Justice League Elite (or the proactive underground team). I used markers, gel pens, colored pencils, and water color.

“We’re the Justice League. We’ve beaten up real gods and made them cry. You are nothing to us.”

--Martian Manhunter, Ellis-ed up, to Z (JLA Classified # 15)

Relaunched JLA

Super Buddies

Justice League Elite

Big Guns JLA

League Lambaste!

Scrumptious ‘Julie & Julia’

Meryl Streep and Amy Adams play women whose lives are changed by their love of food and cooking in the scrumptious “Julie & Julia,” a film “based on two true stories” and directed by Nora Ephron.

Streep spiritedly plays the giddy Julia Child, whose wildly feelgood charm and tenacity overpower any and all challenges after moving to France with her adoring hubby (Stanley Tucci). Julia’s story is paralleled by Julie Powell’s (Adams), who escapes her emotionally draining job by cooking at home. Julie’s tale happens several decades later, the developments in her life giving a clear, palatable analogy. Both women become adept at the art of preparing food; while Julia adventurously and quite effortlessly masters the intricacies of French cuisine, Julie tasks herself with cooking over 500 of Julia’s recipes in a year, and blogging about it.

Their stories ultimately converge in an unexpected but acceptable manner; a balance is struck nicely by the meaty performances. Streep captivates (no surprise there) with the overly energetic and indefatigable Julia, and Adams is ever-pleasant, even when portraying a relatively toned-down role like Julie. The film deliciously celebrates the women’s growth and triumphs, sating with rich, filling portrayals and tasty biopic-chick flick drama.

A very close ‘Engkwentro’: Pepe Diokno

(Published Oct. 18, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

“Engkwentro,” which won the Orizzonti (New Horizons) award at the 66th Venice Film Festival, presents an unflattering look at a generic slum community’s daily dealings.

Directed by 22-year-old Pepe Diokno, it paints a dizzying, dismal picture of teens involved with drug-peddling and gang terror, zeroing in on two teen brothers (Felix Roco and Daniel Medrana) who try to survive their rough neighborhood.

The mayor (Celso Ad. Castillo), an almost omnipresent figure made audible by radio broadcasts, openly declares war on crime. Some members of this community discover that a misstep can cost them dearly.

What inspired you to focus on vigilante killings?
This is my first full-length film. I’ve only done two shorts before this. Last year’s film was part of a program called “Rock the Rehas,” stories from Philippine jails. “Engkwentro” was born out of that. In this detention facility in the South, I met two brothers, Richard and Raymond, aged 15 and 17. I spent an afternoon with them. Their situation inspired the story. After I did some research, I found out that the vigilante problem has been happening since Martial Law. It’s happening everywhere.

How did the story and the structure develop?
The structure was born organically. The film is presented like it was shot continuously. It wasn’t; there are 51 cuts. But they were all digitally erased. It tells the last 24 hours of the two brothers. In order to feel the immediacy of the day, the only way to do it was continuously.

How difficult was it to create this fictional community and make it believable?
It was a lot of trial and error. Shooting in the southern part of the country wasn’t too feasible because of security and financial issues. I wanted to shoot with actual gangsters, but I realized it might cost them their lives. We moved the production to Manila and tried shooting in Navotas. We tried that for a couple of days but it wasn’t working, so we built a set.

How much was required to make the movie?
Cinemalaya gives a grant of P500,000. If you’re shooting a film with two characters set in one location, that’s more than enough. But for our film, which is outdoors, with lots of extras and an action movie, we spent double.

“Engkwentro” will have a special screening for “Ondoy” victims on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Cinemanila Film Festival, Market! Market! Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

Cutthroat ‘Island’

(Published Oct. 12, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

Stretch a slasher flick concept across 13 hour-long episodes and you get the new murder mystery series “Harper’s Island.”

The body count rises weekly, as a murderer stalks visitors of the picturesque island situated off the coast of Seattle. These guests are about to attend the wedding of Henry Dunn and Trish Wellington (Christopher Gorham and Katie Cassidy), most of them unaware of the grisly crimes single-handedly committed by a madman who visited the place seven years ago.

But some of them know that dark chapter in the island’s history well. Among the guests is Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy), the groom-to-be’s best friend. She’s a former resident of Harper’s Island whose mother was among the rampaging killer’s victims. The murderer was gunned down by Abby’s Sheriff father (Jim Beaver). But there’s a baffling new series of killings being committed by a mysterious assailant.

Just like the ‘90s “Scream” series of movies, most of the characters of “Harper’s Island” are easily distinct, falling into almost archetypal categories. There’s the good girl, the outsider, the old flame, and so on. When the slayings start, however, everyone becomes a suspect, and many of the characters are fleshed out just enough to reveal some possible motives. Figuring out the real deal in a gaggle of red herrings can be tough and challenging.

The slasher-murder mystery works, the whodunit puzzles a bit reminiscent of those in much smarter shows like “Twin Peaks” and “Veronica Mars.” And like in the aforementioned “Scream,” established facts aren’t always reliable, and there are untold secrets that will make sense of the chaos in due time.

The pacing can be frustrating, initially, since it takes a few episodes for the characters to discover the terrible things happening around them. Also, there are transparent horror clich├ęs and obvious ploys that don’t work too well.

But the payoff is worth the wait. Many questions are answered satisfyingly, sometimes shockingly. The revelations elaborate on the entire horrid affair, but it takes patience--and plenty of casualties--to get to some twisted truths.

“Harper’s Island” airs on Studio 23 every Wednesday at 9 p.m.

‘Sa Hamon ng Panahon’: Dark history reflected

(Published Oct. 15, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

The disturbing docu-drama “Sa Hamon ng Panahon” states that terrible human rights violations still happen in the country, long after the end of the Martial Law era. The accounts of witnesses and victims’ families recall inexplicable acts of violence, from physical and mental torture to merciless outdoor executions.

Produced by multimedia organization Kodao, “Sa Hamon ng Panahon” runs a little over an hour, and is directed, written and narrated by Boni Ilagan. Sensitively tackling the issues surrounding the murders of United Church of Christ in the Philippines members, it raises important questions, and answers some of them with clarity.

Events are re-created to illustrate the moments leading to the UCCP members’ killing by unidentified assailants; the reenactments aren’t always smooth (understandably so, because most of the participants are non-professional actors, according to Ilagan), but the narrative works, for the most part. Such scenes are interspersed between interviews in the fashion of news magazine programs.

Initial accessibility aside, the documentary isn’t for the squeamish. While images of the recently deceased may be blurred or switched into black and white in other crime-themed documentaries or similar presentations, there are briefly shown horrific and uncensored visuals here. Startling images of actual corpses indelibly burn themselves into your brain. It can be extremely discomfiting; the images emphasize the senselessness of such acts and the seriousness of the situation.

Commentaries and accounts try to make sense of the tragic events, bemoaning and condemning the continued disappearance and elimination of religious leaders and human rights activists.

“Sa Hamon…” was recently screened at the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani in Quezon City. The crimes depicted in the documentary are compared by guest speakers--survivors of Martial Law abuses--to the atrocities of yesteryears. Ilagan added that it’s a tale that “deserves to be told,” one that’s “written in blood and tears.”

“Sa Hamon ng Panahon” is frightening, saddening and difficult to watch, but the endeavor is indeed an important one.

For screenings and DVD release information, visit www.kodao.org. In the photo: Director Boni Ilagan

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Out With the River

Wow, it’s the middle of October, already. So here I am, soaking up the world, sometimes reacting to it, but mostly just feeling detached. In the last couple of months, I adjusted to some changes and challenges, and yeah, I’ve learned to accept some things and move on.

My sleep schedule keeps changing to match my work and other activities; I sometimes barely get enough time to rest, but there are days when I feel that I’ve gotten just enough. I’ve been doing pretty much the same things, like writing, drawing, watching TV shows and movies, and listening to Heather Nova’s River of Life over and over.

Of course, there’s comic book-reading. Among my fave monthlies is Peter David’s X-Factor. It’s not at all like the other X-books, in that it doesn’t strictly follow the goings-on in the X-Men’s world (except when they’re thrust into crossovers like World War Hulk or Messiah Complex). Anyway, in the latest issue (#49), Rictor talks about his relationship with Shatterstar, whom he kissed a few issues ago:

“It didn’t happen overnight, Guido. Besides, Shatterstar and I were involved long before Rahne and I.”

A few pages later, Shatterstar kisses Valerie Cooper in front of Rictor. Guido’s reaction: “This just gets better ‘n better.”

Yep. What he said.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Early Halloween Treat: Underpass

A few months ago, I illustrated my friend David Hontiveros’ 12-page horror story, Judas Kiss. Co-scripted by Dave and Budjette Tan, Judas Kiss will be appearing in the pages of the new Underpass anthology. The comic book will be launched next week at the Komikon 2009. Be there and buy a copy or three!

*** THE PRESS RELEASE ***

Set to launch this coming KOMIKON 2009 (October 18, Megatrade Hall 1, SM Megamall), Underpass is a graphic anthology featuring dark fantasy stories from some of today's greatest Pinoy comics creators.

Sim by Gerry Alanguilan
Judas Kiss by David Hontiveros, Budjette Tan and Oliver Pulumbarit
Katumbas by David Hontiveros and Ian Sta. Maria
The Clinic by Budjette Tan and Ka-jo Baldisimo.

The full-color anthology, which is Summit Media's first foray into Philippine-produced comics, will retail for P250. After the Komikon, Underpass will be available in major magazine shops.

The Aang Gang

I’m enjoying the awesomeness that is Avatar: The Last Airbender: Book 3. Epic battles between elemental heroes and villains, dramatic metamorphoses and epiphanies, and philosophical and spiritual insights… this show has it all. Hope M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming live-action movie does it justice.