Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Remembering LASTIKMAN

I thought about revisiting Lastikman and San Pablo: 1978 (Siglo: Passion) to try to discover for myself what thoughts I may have about these two stories I've done two years after doing them. Although I thought about doing it before the National Book Awards nominations came in, it certainly makes it more relevant for me now.


It was during the launch of Mango Comics' Darna at Eastwood in 2003 that I was informed by Mango Comics that they were interested in getting me to write Lastikman for them, on the strength of my writing on my mini comic Crest Hut Butt Shop.

I guess the closest I can describe Crest Hut to be would be a gag strip/autobio collection. People who have read it seem to think it's funny. Well, I have to admit, I foolishly laugh at some of the things in there myself. It's kind of nice knowing that other people find funny what you find funny. It makes me feel less weird.

I did find it a bit unsettling though, that they would get me to write Lastikman because of Crest Hut. Because the humor of Crest Hut is something I would not have associated with Lastikman at all. It's a little off color, a bit angry, a little too honest, and it makes conservative people uncomfortable. I voiced this concern to someone, I don't remember now who it was, but their response was to just write from the gut and do what I want... as long as I don't get Lastikman to spout stuff like "fuck" and jack off.

It sounded like a sensible suggestion. So I followed it, and left the profanity and self gratification for another, much later character.

It still left Lastikman a very tough character and story to write. As much as I have enjoyed reading super heroes all my life, I really have a rough time when I try to attempt writing it myself. It's the reason why I never continued doing more TIMAWA. The stories were simply not there for me.

Mango lent me a photocopied collection of Lastikman's second adventure as it had been serialized in Holiday Komiks in the late 60's. I was also able to track down a considerable amount of the very first adventure from Aliwan Komiks in 1964. I felt it essential to know who Lastikman was as Mars Ravelo created him. I would not have done the whole thing if I didn't know. I wanted to stay true to Lastikman's true origins, and I was determined to bring this new Lastikman back to it.

In the movies, Lastikman's origin always involve a human, a rubber tree, and battles with fantastic super powered beings.

In the comics as Mars Ravelo created him, Lastik-Man is spelled differently, he is an alien from another planet, he battles crooks and criminals, and he champions the poor.

Ravelo's Lastik-Man is also rather serious and the strip not a comedy at all, compared to the character's other incarnations in other media. Lastik-Man eventually shuns the first family who took him in after his arrival on earth because he feels he cannot be involved emotionally. He feels, first and foremost, that his close involvement with humans would endanger their lives. He also feels that he cannot accept the love of a woman because he is an alien.

Ravelo's Lastik-Man is actually quite a tragic character in that regard.

The first few pages of Lastik-Man: Volume 2 from Holiday Komiks depict a heartrending scene with Toto, who breaks down in tears and hysterics upon learning that Lastikman had left them without saying good bye.

The "fun" in the series comes from the coolness of seeing Lastik-Man's many transformations and the funny, fantastic and inventive ways he dispatches the bad guys.

I wanted to stay true to Ravelo's original origin and concept of the character, but at the same time, expand on it, and fill in many of the blank spaces.

I did not have the benefit of reading later Lastikman comics, but it was just as well.

I decided to bring back the original family of Don Rufo, Vinya, and Toto, and retain their original relationships. Don Rufo is Vinya's and Toto's father, while there is no word as to where their mother is. Toto becomes best buddies with Lastikman, while Vinya falls in love with him.

I also wanted to have a bit of the feel of the original stories by having Lastikman battle ordinary crooks and criminals and having him champion the poor, but I also wanted to bring in something big and fantastic, and give Lastikman a really formidable enemy.

But one of the things I decided to do was make the character, and the series in general, not as serious and tragic as the original. I wanted the story to be fun and funny, but also inject some gravity to the situations to keep them grounded in reality.

Before I started writing the story itself, I had to know who Lastikman was. I wanted to know where he came from, who he is as a person, and what motivates him to do what he does. Reading the original stories gave me few answers. Given the leeway to take certain liberties, I decided to fill in those blank spaces. I gave Lastikman a planet. I gave him a history, and a reason for being who he is, and a reason for his presence on earth.

This process took a long time. I wanted Lastikman's origins to be logical and plausible, as far as fantasy would allow. A lot of this background details never made it into the finished comic book, and I never intended it to be so. That information was for me, for the artist, and everybody else who worked on the comic book. I wanted them to be informed of who this character was, because I believe it will inform the work that they do.

I wanted to have a reason why Lastikman was so crazy, so out of his mind, but also funny and somewhat child like.

So the basic idea I came up with was like this: Lastikman came from a planet where everyone was like him. Sort of. In that planet, they're all normal humanoids, as powerless as humans are on earth. But they're like Star Trek's Klingons, in that they're a ruthless conqueror race hell bent on annexing every planet they encounter. Naturally, they think themselves superior to everyone else in the galaxy.

Recognizing that they are inherently physically inferior, they decided to experiment with themselves in an effort to force mutation and create a new breed of super humanoids. The first batch subjected to these experimentations pretty much died, and although subsequent experimentations yielded better results, they were no less failures.

Lastikman is a "failed" experiment. They were trying to create an incredibly strong super soldier who can transform perfectly into anything. They failed and created a half wit, his brain somewhat damaged by the forced mutation, exhibiting an infuriating trait of compassion, with powers only half formed. He can change into anything, but he cannot complete the transformation as he still displays the characteristic checkered pattern of the integrated battle suit.

Since all failed experiments are "terminated", Lastikman is forced to escape in an experimental fighter ship. He is pursued by other ships and his ship is damaged as he reaches escape velocity. He learns of a plot to invade this planet "Earth", and he decides to go there to warn them of an impending invasion.

Because of the damage done during the escape, his ship disintegrates upon entering earth's atmosphere, and crashes in Manila. The trauma of the crash knocks him out, and when he wakes up, he doesn't remember who he is, and where he came from, and why he is here.

I wanted to play up Lastikman's "Alien-ness". He is not like you and me. He doesn't speak our language. His initial interaction with the Filipino UZI's is ripe with comedic possibilities. That, plus his memory loss make for a very challenging and fun situation to write.

The original artist assigned to Lastikman was Ryan Orosco. I thought it was great, because I always believed Ryan to be a very talented artist. I was a little concerned because I think he had other projects at the time, I think for Culture Crash. When it did become apparent that his commitments elsewhere might not make it possible for him to work on Lastikman full time, Mango (bless them) gave me carte blanche to choose the creative team I wanted.

Quite naturally, I wanted the best.

Fantasizing, I thought wouldn't it be GREAT if Arnold Arre pencilled and inked it, and Edgar Tadeo colored it?

It was a fantasy, because it was like asking for the moon. I thought Arnold would be the perfect artist for Lastikman. His combination of the cartoony and serious, presented in an aesthetically pleasing whole would superbly fit this story. But he was busy writing and drawing his own stories and I wasn't sure if he was open to a collaboration. And besides, I had the impression that he was busy with his zillion other projects.

As for Ed, I knew he was busy himself coloring the many US comics he was doing. If he was so swamped with work that he would decline coloring Superman: Birthright with me and Leinil Yu, what chance did Lastikman have?

But I sort of knew I could twist his arm a bit if I got a little desperate. And so I twisted his arm until he gave in.

I asked Arnold, and he said yes. I think they had to bring me to the hospital that day just to wrench that almost permanent smile off my face.

And so I had my team. And I have to admit, it was an AMAZING team. I couldn't believe my damned luck.

It took me a long time to come up with the full plot, and it was done, I was rather proud of it. I thought we were all set. And then Mango called a meeting.

The possibility of doing more issues was always there, but at that point, the chance of doing more Lastikman stories beyond the one shot that we were doing suddenly became slim. Reasons were given, which I accepted. Besides, I'm one of those who egged Mango early on before Darna came out that it would be great for them to come up with original characters.

We would create a brand new character, introduce him in Lastikman, and spin the character off in his own series. Doing so in an already finished story was hard. I had to integrate this character into the story's reality, and I needed to come up with a character that was really cool and kick ass, worthy of a separate title.

They wanted the character to be a woman.

After mulling it over for a week or so, I came up with the name EKTA. It was later rejected, and I came up with ELASTIKA. She would come from the planet of the Lastikmen, but would be the product of a much later, and much more advanced experimentation than Lastikman was subjected to. She is not a "failed" experiment like Lastikman is. She's the ultimate super soldier. Everything that Lastikman was supposed to be. But ELASTIKA has the same basic flaw Lastikman has. Compassion.

Together, they manage to repulse the invading alien force.

When Arnold's pages started to come in, I was literally blown off my seat. He was doing a far more fantastic job than I thought possible. It was such a thrill seeing a story I wrote given form by such an incredibly talented artist. And Arnold was fast. He was turning in pages faster than I was turning in script pages. It was embarrassing.

Every few days when new pages come in, I nearly piss in my pants each time. Arnold just keeps on getting better with each page, I couldn't believe it. The man isn't HUMAN.

Mango calls another meeting. A new Lastikman movie is going to be made. And they have a female villain named LASTIKA.

Oh crap!

My initial reaction was, fuck! They got it from us! But the more I thought about it, the name "Elastika" wasn't really much of a stretch (pardon the pun). Looking for a name that has something to do with rubber bands and stretching, you're BOUND to come up with the name. I guess I was just a little disappointed because I had gotten used to the name. She was already Elastika for me. You already identify it with her. We had to come up with a new name.

I wanted a name that sounded simple, easy to remember, and powerful. I suggested several names. We settled on ATOMIKA.

Of course, I learned later that there's a whole line of comics in the US with that name. But what the hey. This book won't be released in America anyway.

The book was slowly coming together. Ed starting coloring the pages and they looked terrific! I wish he could have colored all of the pages, and I think he almost did. I think he ran into some scheduling problems that kept him from doing a few of them, and thankfully Ryan Orosco came back to help us out coloring the rest. He did such a good job that I really can't tell which pages he worked on. No offense, Ed!

I look back on it now and think wow, that was quite something. I loved working with Arnold. Everytime we would meet, like last Saturday, Arnold always tells me that we really should work on something else. I'm non-committal, but I hope he doesn't interpret that as disinterest because I would love nothing more than to work with him again. I just can't think of a project that would be perfect for us as of now. Once I get an idea, there is no doubt in my mind we'll work together again.