August 1, 1998
ARTISTRY BEYOND BOUNDS
By Elisa P. Perez
After a two year hiatus, veteran comic
book illustrator Whilce Portacio launches the first internationally-released
comic book using Filipino themes and characters.
Titled “Stone”, the book is the first
release of Avalon Studios, the newest publishing venture of Whilce and
co-owner Brian Habrlin.
Scheduled to be shipped to US comic
book retailers this August, “Stone” is a supernatural adventure centering
on a mystique battle to take control of a number of gems called “Agimats,”
which are stones of power in Filipino folklore. The book will run for five
years with a total of 56 issues.
The funny thing is that Whilce doesn’t
have one Filipino writer in his staff to write a Philippine folklore-based
material. He has several researchers though.
Inspired by our own Filipino myths
and legends, “Stone” will have the main character Gerry Alan, a superhero
on television, locked in combat with a Tikbalang Prince of War, a vicious
Manananggal, hordes of Kisapmata destroyers, Magic Hunters called Redeemers,
Sirena Warrios, wise Nuno Revellers and hypnotic Kapres.
In the story, Gerry owns50 pairs
of Agimats, each giving its owner a different superpower. If both halves
of a given pair are brought together, the owner becomes much stronger.
However, bringing the pairs together isn’t all that good idea. The Agimats
are actually fragments of a demonic being who was shattered long time ago
and the more of them are brought back together, the more that being’s will
is felt in the real world.
Gerry’s character is a transition
from a superhero to a normal man’s perspective. Of course, he is not that
normal but he goes on to become much more what he thought himself capable.
Gerry isn’t very nice at first and he is everything a hero shouldn’t be.
He was forced to become a real hero to save human kind. From a typical
Hollywood Brat, he transforms to becoming his Filipino self again.
OUR TIME HAS COME
People are now turning away from the
super fantasies. Arnold Schwarzenneger’s character as Mr. Freeze in “Batman”
is great but it is hard for the audiences to believe that he could be real.
It’s only Hollywood’s shock value,” Whilce reason in an exclusive interview
with C’st La Vie.
Whilce has just arrived in Manila
after a very successful “Stone” launch in Chicago where he signed autographs
and did sketches for fans.
He and Brian manned the Avalon booth
six to eight hours a day with two TV monitors playing the “Stone” video
featuring Whilce drawings and 3D CGI images of “Stone” characters.
Also looped on the other monitor
were flash animations done on the computer for the internet. The Preview
Book, which serves as a sneak peak of the first three titles, were sold
out by day two of the convention.
Having been raised in the United
States, Whilce has a shallow knowledge of his own legends and myths. Therefore
he was just as curios to discover the richness of Philippine mythology
peppered with ‘underworld characters” like the aswang (witch), kapre (black
hairy giant with a large cigar), dwende (gnome or troll), engkanto (fairy),
tiyanak (goblin believed to be the spirit of an infant who died unbaptized),
and Tikbalang (with a horse’s neck, head and hoofs).
“’Stone’ is an emotional vehicle
to introduce the fantastic heroes and villains that foreign audiences have
never heard before, just like troll who acts as a tour guide and a royal
warrior family of horse-like creatures set to rule the world. I hope to
expose the international audiences to all the legends , myths and folk
tales locked in the Filipino psyche,” Whilce declares.
Whilce expressed disappointments
on the Filipino’s tendency to lose interest in our cultural background
while they indulge in Japanese-made creations like “Power Rangers” and
“Dragon Balls” which are miles away from what is Filipino.
“It’s unfortunate that the Philippines
has been overrun by other countries. Therefore, what has been handed down
to us are fragmented to say the least. As a creator, this is a fantastic
opportunity to embellish and fill in what was left out,’ he adds.
Whilce has been enjoying international
prestige for 12 years now and he could have launched a similar project
years ago but due to “politics”, he had to wait a while.
PINOY INVADES MARVEL
I have always wanted to create something
Filipino but everytime I do that something always comes up at the last
minute. I could create it anytime but am I reaching an audience? But slowly,
I saw that there was a market for it and from then on, there was no turning
back,” Whilce recollects.
For “Stone,” Whilce had to make a
compromise by injecting elements which peoplefrom other cultures can relate
to. His main goal therefore was acceptance.
That explains why the main character
originally named Gerry Alanguilan, his best friend, was changed to Gerry
Alan, which is easier to pronounce.
Whilce admits that there had been
changes in the visual representations of the mythical characters.
“I have to apologize for some inaccuracies
but I’m not doing a historical book,” he reasons.
Unlike some other lines, Avalon Studios
is owned by the creators and they are not written and drawn by the same
Owner/creator Whilce is a Fine Arts
graduate of the Philippine Women’s University (PWU). He is a founding member
of the highly-popular independent comics publishing conglomerate Image
Comics and is best known as the creator of “Wetworks” and “Bishop” for
Marvel Comics’ X-Men series. He is responsible for the training and landing
Leinil Yu (penciler) and Edgar Tadeo (inker) their jobs on Wolverine,”
one of Marvel Comics’ number one X-Men books.
Co-owner Brian on the other hand,
co-created the popular title ‘Witchblade” and his digital color house,
Haberlin Studios, is regarded as the finest in the industry. Writer Brian
Holguin (“KISS” Psycho Circus, “Cyberforce7”) has been tapped as the editorial
director of Avalon Studios. Francis Takenaga, who formerly manned the writing
helm of Image Comics’ “Wetworks” id some of the writing chores for “Stone”
and helped in developing other Avalon projects.
MADE IN THE PHILIPPINES
Avalon Studios is an international
company in scope. The main offices and production facilities and editorial
staff are located in California, USA. The comics will be published in Malibu
Beach, USA, and printed in Canada where it will then be distributed all
over the world. The main artist studio is located here in the Philippines.
All the artists involved in creating the artwork for the first three books
(“Stone,” “Hellcop” and “Aria”) are from the Philippines.
The whole Avalon line is heavily
influenced by European and Asian Comics both in its art and story, which
emphasizes magic and mystery more than American comics tend to. “Stone”
in particular decided to sport a horror edge.
“I think that genre has more power
to move us, whether you’re a child who’s still scared in the dark or an
adult who thinks he’s gotten over over his childhood fears but still has
a close attachment to what the fear was like back then. Even though they
are only scattered and fragmented stories, if you bring up the names of
manananggal or aswang, the automatic responses is fear,” he utters.
Whilce is overwhelmed by the broad
international support that “Stone” has been getting prior to its release.
Three Hollywood productions have already expressed interest to do animation
but Whilce vows to do it only if it will be produced by Filipinos or at
the very least will be shot here in the Philippines. He prefers a television
In addition, the number one independent
comics publisher Marc Silvestre of TopCow Comics (publishers od “Darkness”
and “Whichblade”) has signed on as the publishing partner for Avalon in
the US. Also, a deal has just been struck with Image Comics so that all
Avalon Comics will be published with the Image Trademark. This makes Avalon
part of the populous Image family of comics.
Local efforts are likewise being
mobilized to make “Stone” not only the first internationally released comic
book but a truly huge event.
Local “Stone” business partner Salito
Malca has landed a deal with Sony Records which will produce a soundtrack
for the “Stone” comic book by the end of August.
Recording artist from Japan, United
States, Britain, Australia and of course the Philippines are contributing
to the album. Sony Philippines recording artists Chill, Wolfgang and Razorback,
will record the song. The album will be sold on the internet and released
in record stores all over the world to coincide with the released of the
Avalon is also in agreement with
Harris Publishers (“Vampirella”) for a possible re-released of their once-popular
“Creepy” book, a collection of comic-style horror stories. They are looking
for comic book pencilers and inkers to fill the art teams on those books
for 1999. Interested illustrators can send photocopies of their works at
the Learn Center lacated at 5th floor of SM MegaMall. The center holds
comic book courses to train artists for the contact base for a nationwide
search for artist and inkers.