One may think that Fil-Am comic book artist Whilce Portacio has already accomplished everything he has ever wanted in his 30 plus years of being in the comics industry, and getting recognition for his works Uncanny X-Men, X-Force, Spawn, Iron Man, The Punisher, and many more. But there’s still something that Portacio wants to do as one of the most respected comic book artists in the world.
“In the coming days we are going to make a big effort to [promote] not only Philippine superheroes but to the whole mythology,” Portacio revealed during the media conference of Asia Pop Comic Con (APCC) last August 24. He has indeed been working hard to make his dream of integrating more Filipino culture to comic-dom.
While he did not go into full detail about the upcoming project, Portacio believes that now is the right time Filipinos can showcase their craft in creating comics, be it by drawing characters or conceptualizing new stories. Even acclaimed author Neil Gaiman, who has visited the Philippines a few times, is impressed with the way Filipinos write stories, and even cites the manananggal as his favorite mythological character.
“Our stuff has the potential to excite people,” Portacio said. “It’s about time to sit down and think of that perfect story, create the perfect big world that lives out there, out them together, and let all of our creatives play.”
In line with encouraging Filipinos to get their work noticed in the comic book industry, Portacio has advice for all budding artists and writers out there:
1. Use whatever tool is available to you. Having tried both hand drawings and digital illustration (he and comic book artist Brian Haberlin were the first ones who made use of Photoshop for digital illustrations back in the 1990s), Portacio does think that any budding artist does not necessarily need the latest tools for their work.
“Don’t get caught up with brands and stuff like that!” Portacio said, emphasizing that Filipino artists have great stories that are waiting to be published. “It’s just we have to get down and do it seriously,” he adds.
2. You have to start somewhere, even if the pay may be low. While such topic may be debatable, given the number of controversies regarding the low pay for freelance artists, Portacio thinks that an artist has to start somewhere, regardless of how much he gets paid. “Get the work out there; that’s how this industry works,” he notes, adding that companies will eventually notice one’s work once it gets published. “It does not matter how you publish it: someone will notice it and hopefully that person will be the right person to get your creation [in the big leagues],” Portacio adds.
3. Explore more original concepts. “What they want is something new, so I told them: Take Manila, take Filipinos as we are, with our warts and everything, not just pretty people,” Portacio said.
While major comic book publishers have been retconning their characters, Portacio suggests that budding artists should focus on new ideas that people have yet to see. Case in point: Patricio Ginelsa's Lumpia, a movie that involves around the Filipino snack as a tool and weapon. Several years since the original movie premiered in 2003 in the US, Ginelsa is working on a Lumpia movie sequel. “Take a character of who we are, take that oppressed feeling, take that psyche, and make him/her a superhero!” said Portacio.
4. Be confident with your work! One of the problems Portacio sees with some artists is the hiya factor when it comes to writing Filipino stories for an international audience. “We understand the American storytelling, we understand America, so we of all countries should have creatives who write Filipino and know how to write them for international audiences, for America, because we know what they want,” he elaborated.
After all, the comics industry will be here for a long time, as it is the starting ground for all the TV series, movies, and books we are raving about. “The story, the characters will always survive,” Portacio says. “But you got to get it out there, you got to be proud of who you are!”
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