RJ Ledesma Interviews Neil Gaiman
PHILIPPINE STAR: When you first came to the Philippines in 2005, you mentioned at a writer’s workshop your admiration for several Filipino artists who had made it big in the US comic book industry — Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala and Alex Nino. You described their art as “beautiful line work, elegant lines, beauty and proportion, a sense of quirkiness and beauty.” Did their artistic style influence the themes that you have explored in your comic book and prose works?
NEIL GAIMAN: I honestly don’t know. (Laughs) Because that’s the kind of thing when you say “What would you have been like if you had not met this woman?”, “If you had not seen this art?” or “If you had not read this story?” You don’t know. But the enormous effect that these artists had on me was that it gave me a respect for the Philippines. When I first came here, these artists were all I knew about the country. I knew nothing about Filipino culture, I knew almost nothing about Filipino politics.
That might actually be a good thing.
I knew almost nothing about Filipino history. But what I knew was that this was the country here Alex Nino and Tony de Zuniga and Alfredo Alcala and all these artists came from. They were some of the people who got me through my teens. I liked at how Alfredo crosshatched, he came up with the whole technique of crosshatching of one way and then crosshatching the other way. That was his line work. Looking at things like Alex Nino’s retelling of (Harlan Ellison’s short story) “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Tick-Tock Man.” This was glorious artwork, and these were guys were so good. And I honestly don’t know that I would have started this whole Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards contest if it hadn’t been for those guys, in some ways.
Those guys were really the pioneers who brought Filipino comic art to a global audience. It’s a shame they aren’t as popular as they should be back here in their homeland.
When I came out here, everyone was telling me that being a (fiction/comic book writer) is so cool in America and in England. “But here in the Philippines, we don’t really do that fiction of comic ‘stuff.’” I said, “What do you mean you don’t do it? You started it!” Some of the greatest artists (from the medium) came from here. What was strange during that period was that when I’d say this, people would say “Really?” I’d ask “Have you heard about Alex Nino?” And they would say “No.”
Shocking, isn’t it?
It really is. I hope that one of the little things that I got to do as part of the strange cultural exchange that has been going on between me and the Philippines for the last five years is actually to remind the Filipinos that some of the greatest artists in comics in the latter half of the century came from here.
Interestingly enough, many of these “classic” artists were influenced by the work of the late great Francisco Coching, who was a pillar in the local komiks industry and was known as the dean of Philippine comics. In fact, he was twice nominated as a National Artist for the Visual Arts. How many nominees for National Artists do you know from the comic book profession?
Awesome! I love the respect with which (art) is still held out here. Among the local comic book creators, I find Gerry Alanguilan’s Elmer is one of my favorite comics. It’s just heartbreaking and funny and so beautifully drawn.
What do you think of our younger crop of komiks creators?
I love Arnold Arre’s stuff (Arnold is the creator of The Mythology Class, Trip to Tagaytay and Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat). In fact, when I first came out here I kept running into Arnold’s art. I told Jaime (Daez, owner of Fully Booked) “I really want to meet this guy. He’s really good.” And I kept failing to meet Arnold until we were in the toilet together.
There’s a story somewhere there for both you and Arnold. Did you also like Budjette Tan’s Trese?
I really liked it. What I’m really enjoying right now is that people from the Philippines send me and give me comics. This makes me happy. And I just love the fact that these are comics using Philippine culture and folklore. One of the things I really love about the contest is the feeling that I got to point out to people that this stuff is cool. Because when I first came out here, people were giving me books of local folklore and I was reading them. And I was loving them. People would then ask me, “What do you like?” and I would tell them “I liked the aswangs and the manananggals.” After that, they would ask me if I would put them in my stories. Then I started feeling as if I did (write about them) it would lend them some kind of legitimacy, but I would be like a cultural tourist. But what about you guys? This stuff is yours!
Everybody’s got their neighborhood manananggal.
This is incredibly fertile ground. Why aren’t you using it? And one of the things that I love in the (local) comics that I’ve seeing — and more and more in the stories — is the feeling that they are not only using the folklore but they are using the culture around. You’re getting really good, angry, smart, satirical science fiction, you’re getting heartbreaking little horror stories, you’re getting smart social commentary like the Cherry Clubbing story (by Kerry Yu, third place winner in the prose category of this year’s contest). I love it, because it’s talking essentially about sexual tourism of the worst kind and then taking it over into myth. And it’s a beautiful story of outrage and it’s all the voice that it’s told in. Filipina: The Super Maid (by Irene Carolina Sarmiento, second place winner in the prose category), great little story, so angry and so funny. The idea of pointing out that — for some of the world and here in the Philippines — people can be product and just how wrong that is. And what happens when the people that are product become people again.
After reading the works of all the winners in the contest and the current comic book professionals working for US comics — Leinil Francis Yu, Harvey Tolibao, Whilce Portacio — what do you see as the emerging voice of the Filipino in contributing to the global comic and prose community?
When I was here five years ago and I would talk to Filipinos — artists, writers, creators — it was as if I was talking to people who felt that they were at the bottom of a gravity hole. That, from a cultural standpoint, making it out of the gravity pit that was the Philippines and into the rest of the world was so impossible that it simply wouldn’t happen. But what I am seeing more now is that Filipino creators are out there and they are out there as themselves. You don’t get the feeling that people are pretending to be American or English. You now get the feeling that there are brilliant Filipino writers who are willing to write science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, real imaginative stuff and draw and create their own comics. And they are going to it as Filipinos going head-to-head with anybody else in the world.
Just what is in the water in the UK that makes you guys so damn brilliant? Do you have some muses chained up in your basements?
For me, the key to it is that whenever I get together with Alan or Grant, we never talk about comics. We talk about poetry or movies or plays or sociology or whatever’s caught our attention. With Alan, it’s snake gods and local history. I think we all came along from the same kind of “time zone” where a generation read American comic books and thought “These things are brilliant! Imagine what they could be.” And then went off to do another things and kept growing up.Who's Kerry Yu? :D
But seriously, my thanks to Mr. Gaiman for his kind words for Cherry Clubbing, both in this interview and in this recording by The Bibliophile Stalker.
Click here to read the whole article by RJ Ledesma.