|The Philippine Star
YS-8 Friday, September 11, 1998
WRITTEN AND DRAWN IN STONE
By Kap Maceda Aguila
Four years, comic book fans have been fascinated
with superheroes in spandex who lacked the fashion sense to wear their
briefs under their pants.
On the whole, titles where contrived
to appeal to kids (or the kids-at –heart). It was a medium dominated by
the big players – namely Marvel and DC. Of course, you could also say that
the Wakasans and Funny Komiks of yore fought for their own readership,
pinned precariously on sidewalk newsstands and the fave palengke supplier.
But these titles, though quite popular then gradually lost steam and favor
as their shoddily-printed pages became more, well, shoddy.
For a time, businessmen explored
the idea of coming out with local reprints of the adventures of Archie
and his Riverdale crew, the Disney gang, Superman, Batman and other imports
However, the true comic book fan worth his staples was aghast at the concept.
So what if he paid more? At least it was the “genuine” article.
That defined the collector philosophy
and the rules of the comics game. For the Filipino who wanted a piece of
the comic pie or share in the comic dream, it meant play or perish.
It was a daunting task. The business
was never wanting in talent and creative juices. Eager beavers waited on
the sidelines for vacancies and opportunities. And what is in the US alone.
Some, though, are meant to play the
game and change it forever.
Rewind. It’s the 1960’s. A small
boy is dead to the world, engrossed in sketching an Apollo rocketship.
This son of a career USNavy man was born in Sangley point. Formative years
where spent on Midway Island, site of a famous World War II naval skirmish.
The name’s Portacio…Whilce Portacio. Hop
along for the ride because he’s going places.
WHILCE TO SUCCEED
Let’s get to the point: he’s good. Correction,
he’s damn good.
Marvel Comics editor Carl Potts hired Whiles
on the spot – impressed by a stack of samples the latter carried under
his arm to a San Diego comic convention. He was off to a very auspicious
start in a field that would be kind to him.
The penciller honed his chops on titles
such as Alpha Flight, The Punisher, X-Factor and Uncanny X-Men, building
a reputation for Whilce that put him in the league of Jim Lee and Todd
McFarlane. Later, he co-founded Image Comics, which upped the ante in the
industry by introducing computer technology in comic production.
It was in this outfit that the Filipino
put forth one of his more popular creations, Wetworks. This mutant superhero
team also boasted a Filipino (a Kapampangan, to be exact) protagonist called
Grail. Needless to say, this was a proud moment.
The Pinoy had arrived.
But then Whilce did something totally unexpected.
SEMI-RETIRED KIND OF LIFE
Afternoon at a sandwich place in Megamall.
A rat scurries behind Whilce’s shoulder and disappears into a service.
“First time, last time,” Whilce smiles. Looks like this joint lost a couple
Back to business. The retirement was purely
a personal decision. He talks into the recorder. “I’ll be honest with you,
wala pa akong buhay.”
All comics and no play make Whilce a dull
penciller? Not the case, certainly. The man just needed to smell the roses,
too – not just draw them.
“I gained a lot of fame, success; my family
was settles,” he enthuses. “It was a nice opportunity to take a few years
Whilce planed back to the Philippines and
divorced himself from comics, at least for the meantime. He did odd jobs
and things like “dressing up River Maya, keeping Eraserheads company” and
spent a year at a Balete Drive house with other artists making movie posters
and album covers.
As many know, Balete Drive has won renown
spooks, white ladies and supernatural residents. The big house Whilce lived
in wasn’t spared from these. A feng shui geomancer counted five spirits
in residence and black elementals in the basement. To make things more
interesting, a tiny gravesite was discovered in one corner of the abode.
Talk about creepy.
FEAR IS UNIVERSAL
Whilce narrated of these happenings to
old comicbook pal Brian Haberlin. “He
started getting hungry for material,” Whilce
explains. That paved the way for Whilce’s return to the medium.
Personally, Whilce had also been
toying with the notion of doing a book on dwendes, kapres and other characters
of Filipino lore.
“After 12 years of superheroes, I
wanted to try something different,’ Whilce says. ‘That’s legends, myths
and horror. You can still have the action, the bravado, monsters, enemies,
beautiful women – but it’s a different genre.”
Whilce maintains that genre fits
into the human psyche and has the potential to tap into people’s fear.
“It’s a remembered fear to latch on and grab,” Whilce says. “The superhero
genre, as much as I owe to it, has very little development and background.
It’s because the characters are so fantastic – like Stallone and Schwarzenegger
characters in movies. You don’t know much about them.”
The DC subcompany Vertigo, which
released the popular adult comics Sandman, exemplifies the viability of
Portacio and Haberlin’s Avalon Studios
explores this further and gives budding Filipino artists a break, too.
Although the base of operations is in California, Whilce and Brian have
conveniently divided the Avalon labor. Brian has a pool of established
writers in the US; Whilce provides the artistic talent from the Philippines.
Just as well.
“I kept running into talent,” he
One of those talents is Gerry Alanguilan,
who has been contracted to ink Stone.
Whilce first met the architect sometime
in 1992. But it would be sometime before the two would become a duo. Gerry
showed his portfolio to Whilce, who found his lines too stiff.
“Nag-architecture ka, ano?” guessed
Gerry got to work. But first, “I
had to relearn my drawing polish – from the stiff style of architecture
to the flowing lines of comics.’
It took him all of four years, but
it was well worth the effort. He was on top of Whilce list, and finally
got the chance to work with him on a Wetworks issue (number 14 to be exact),
Whilce believe the inker and penciller
should mesh and be compatible. Indeed, the two are a proverbial hand-in-glove
Last month, Avalon officially launched
Stone, it’s banner title. “The Chicago fans gave us and Stone a warm welcome,”
Stone chronicles the adventures of
Gerry Alan (yes, named after Alanguilan) “That in comics has somewhat waned
in the last six years. Traditionally, people cease collecting comics once
they get married and more expenses come their way. A new generations then
steps up to offset the losses. But it seem’s today’s kids (or again kids-at-heart)
The way Whilce sees it, there are
simply more things to spend on that are competing with the comics budget.
Take the PlayStation, for instance. Technology seems to winning the war
for the wallet.
But the great penciller isn’t writing
off comics yet. “Comics will never die. We are Hollywood’s new baby,” he
Most popular case in point is the
big box-office smash Men In Black (MIB). It was based on an obscure comicbook
that I’ve never seen,” says Whilce. “That tells you way, he doestn’t have
to get Antonio Banderas to play his role,” laughs Whilce. At any rate,
bida Gerry Alan is a vain Filipino action star who later comes across dwendes,
tikbalangs, kapres, manananggals and their ilk. Agimats make the already
tasty plot more engaging. Whilce likens the experience to taking a vacation
or trip. “You need a character to take the reader by the hand. That’s Gerry
Alan. He’s going to react the way an international audience will react.”
Speaking of which. wasn’t Whilce
worried that the international readership wouldn’t get it?
It was a worry. But when Whilce showed
Brian the tikbalang, the latter said, “Oh, a centaur!” to the manananggal:
“A female vampire!” There was an instant reference.
Excitement and enthusiasm are evident
in Whilce’s voice as he speaks. “This is a chance for me to introduce our
legends and myths and gave them an international audience. We will be compromising
here and there (for clarity’s sake), but the basic concepts will be true
“You can’t educate with the first
stroke,” he continues. “ You have to get the readers interested first.”
And this early, Stone has gotten
a lot of attention. Even before the book came out early this month, movie
offers had been coming Whilce way. “It’s definitely a good omen,” he says.
One offer came from a big US company; another Japanese firm has signified
interest. Don’t get too excited though. “Negotiations take about two to
three years,” Whilce explains. To sweeten the pie further, a soundtrack
to a comicbook has also been compiled by Sony. Wow.
Not just mortal have been taken by stone.
Whilce begins, “I’m a meticulous artist,
and it takes me a while, especially when creating a new look. But there
were three drawings – of a kapre, a black dwende and a tikbalang – that
I did in two minutes. I didn’t really think about it.
Later, he showed about 25 study drawings
to the geomancer. “The feng shui practitioner took the three, not knowing
this, and told me that’s how it look like.”
And if you think this is something, even
famous psychic Jaime Licauco says that denizens of the netherworld are
happy that they’re being given the exposure – and not just to stupidly
Whilce avers, however, that interest how
much Hollywood is into comics. We are a big source of ctories and characters.”
Whilce also stresses that the game is about
marketing. Avalon is more than just a company that churns out comics. It
is well-prepared for other media options – the movies just being one. TV,
animation, toys, trading cards, T-shirts, games, mugs…the list is endless.
Times have changed, indeed.
“Avalon is breathing new blood into the
industry,” he continues. For the comicbook faithful, it signifies not just
Whilce’s return, but a renewed passion for success and excellence. “Brian
has the number one production house for comics (the digital color house
Haberlin Studios),” Whilce volunteers.
It doesn’t mean Whilce has severed ties
with his onetime comic coops like Marvel. He explains, “We still have close
ties with everybody in the industry. Actualy the talent pool is very small
now – with talent crossing over to animation, computer, etc. But we’re
giving (the industry) new blood and reputation.”
Whilce and Avalon don’t aim to just get
a nice slice of the existing pie (it comes to around 5,000 regular buyers).
Heck, they want other pies – pies we never knew existed (hungry yet?).
“We want to make a real difference,” comes
the remark. I’ts actually one reason why Whilce and Brian wanted a market
that is US based. Truly, it makes more sense and renders the business more
Being an old-timer in the industry
gave a lot of valuable insight to the man. For instance, the formula for
success takes books and keeping them coming out.” Whilce also seeks to
tap the fantasy market, one that has traditionally been opposed to the
superhero genre. Think of all the card players, gamers and other fantasy
enthusiasts that can be converted.
And not just converted into Stone
maniacs, but into loyalists of Filipino talent and lore as well.
One wonders how much that Apollo
rocket sketch would be worth today.