I decided that I would create comics for a living sometime in 1991, some 15 years ago. Before that, I was a licensed architect. I'm still a licensed architect now and I can practice it if I want to, but comics is all I ever really want to do now.
I think that moment of decision happened one afternoon as I was walking along Recto near Legarda. I usually walked home from wherever my work took me. Back then I would have probably have been walking home from a project nearby. I was a construction supervisor/draftsman, and I think I just passed my board exams.
"Supervisor" probably isn't the correct term. I was more like a construction foreman/supervisor. I would receive instructions from my boss in the morning, I'd head out to the project site and instruct each carpenter, mason, plumber, painter, laborer what they would do for the day.
Here's a photo of me during those days:
I'm the second one from the left. I forget what their names are now, except the one on the far right, whose name was Nestor. In this photo, I think we were coming home from a project in West Avenue in Quezon City. I believe it was the birthday of one of the guys and we were going off to have some drinks.
Anyway, of all the workers that worked under me, it was Nestor I became closest to. During breaks he would talk about his dreams and the things he wants in his life. He'd ask me about my own life and I'd be pretty open to talk about it.
But when it was time to work, I had to put my foot down. I learned that the hard way. I naturally want to be friends with everybody, but when you're in a position of authority, you really can't be too nice. It was a hard thing for me to do. One late November day my boss told me to fire Nestor. I couldn't argue because he wasn't performing as he should have. I tried to talk to Nestor about it before. I even covered for him a bit, but the boss was really sharp. Nestor had to go. And it became my task to tell him. "Magpapasko pa naman." was the only thing I still remember he telling me on that day. I gave him his wages and I had to let him go.
Years later when a couple of comic book friends visited me on a construction site, they told me how frightened they suddenly became of me when I'm at work. When I'm with then doing comic book stuff, I was totally different, they tell me. Which I hadn't noticed at all. I guess I learned not to be too nice after all. It's something I make plenty use of today.
But I had been growing disillusioned with the profession. It was great, but I was slowly realizing it wasn't for me. I was 23 and I didn't know what I was going to do with my life.
Ok, back to Recto, corner of Legarda in 1991.
Filbar's had a branch near the San Sebastian campus. I had been collecting the X-men for many years by then, specially after rediscovering them with the Dark Phoenix Saga trade paperback in 1985. I was a fan of the X-men since the 70's but I only had a few issues of the Claremont-Cockrum run.
I had been seeing the name "Whilce Portacio" since the 80's as an inker of various X-men and New Mutants issues. I remember being really impressed by his inks because it seemed so artistic to me.
In that branch of Filbars I saw a photocopy of a letter by Whilce, posted up on the wall. It announced his visit to the Philippines that December, and that he would be looking for artists to hire. I was immediately excited. I, of course, had been sending submissions to Marvel since 1986, but I was doing it only half heartedly, not being fully convinced I could do it. I mean, come on, I was a Filipino, living in the Philippines. To me, the United States was something that existed only on TV and movies. It was like a bright big fantasy land far far away. Well, of course I didn't really believe that, but dreaming of becoming a comic book artist in the US and working on the X-men were things I believed to be completely unreachable to me. I didn't even dare seriously dream it.
But reading further down Whilce's letter, I read something that completely changed my life. Whilce Portacio was a FILIPINO. Somehow "Portacio" being a Filipino name completely got past me. I remember being absolutely stunned. "Fuck! Pilipino si Whilce!" I remember exclaiming rather loudly. When I looked back outside the store to Recto, it seemed to me that everything was different. The color seemed to be different, somewhat brighter, somewhat less dark.
I realized comics had been in my life all along. I've been drawing and painting since I was 4. I drew my first comic strip when I was 6 or 7 . I had been drawing faces, figures and word balloons in the back of my notebooks from grade school to college. I should have realized it. Unlike the many young kids today who can easily "connect" with people of similar interests on the Internet, back in 80's there was no such thing as the world wide web. None of my classmates, from grade school to college, drew comics like me. Nobody read comics like me, except those I had influenced to do so. I felt so completely alone. Now all you kids have your Deviant Arts, Multiplys, Friendsters and Blogs, Toycons, Komikons and Sci fi cons.
We had none of those back then. I was making comics but I had no one to share them with.
Because of Whilce, I started to take creating comics seriously, and I started me meet many like minded folk like me.
Today, I can't think of anything else I'd rather do than comics. I want to do comics abroad, and I want to do comics here in the Philippines. I just want to write and draw, and I just want to share my stores with everybody. I've realized it was something I've always wanted to do with my life.
Friends I've met along the way go off into other jobs doing animation, advertising, call centers, architecture, and even I myself have been offered opportunities to make big money outside of comics. I'm sure I've been called stupid behind my back for staying with comics, and doing comics here in the Philippines. But what can I do?
I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to do what I really want to do. Sometimes people look at me now and they tell me I'm lucky. Some people say they're much more talented than me so why aren't THEY being given the chance? Such bitterness the likes of which I never knew existed make its presence known to me, envious perhaps of how far I've gone, and the kind of attention I'm getting.
I really don't know what to say to these people. They're of a mindsent completely different from me. There are a lot of people out there who are undeniably talented, and yeah, a lot of them are a fucking lot more better than me. The thing is, some of these people feel that just because they're good, jobs will automatically come to them. But really, that's not the way it works. You may be good, but you've got to work to get yourself out there, you know?
I didn't get here by being lucky. I got here because I worked really hard and I treated every setback as as challenge. Walang nakakaalam sa tunay na hirap na dinaanan ko. Pero kahit anong mangyari, kahit ang daming kontra sa akin, ang daming nagsabi sa akin na wala akong mararating, hindi ako nasiraan ng loob. Hinding hindi ako nasiraan ng loob.
I may never think of myself as a really good writer or artist, I may never ever be worthy to stand along with the greats like Francisco Coching or Nestor Redondo, and I'll always think something is wrong with my work and I'll always be thinking I have a lot to learn.
But if there is one thing I can be proud of, is the fact I got here because I worked really damned hard for it. And I'm prouder still of the fact that inspite of those difficulties, I'll never be bitter. I'll always love comics and I'll always love making comics. So unfortunately for many of you, I'm afraid you'll have to endure my stories and my art and my rants for as long as I'm alive.
And I hope it's a damned long time before I die.