Nick Manabat was a friend I knew a long time ago. But I have to admit, we really weren’t that close because it was really hard to know him back then. He was quiet and hardly talked. If he talked it was in barely heard whispers. I met him mostly along with my other friends Oliver Pulumbarit and John Toledo and all four of us had a dream, and that was to work in comics. But it was clear who would get there way ahead of us.
I’m not sure now exactly when, but I met Nick soon after Whilce Portacio’s visit to the Philippines towards the end of 1991. Whilce was doing a signing at Robinson’s Galleria and I was supervising the construction of a restaurant not too far away. Even though I was actively into architecture, I was already making my comics samples. And by sheer coincidence, I had my portfolio with me. I wondered why there were so many people over at Filbar’s and I went to look, portfolio in hand. I met Whilce, showed him my work, and he suggested I show my work to a guy in the shop for a project. The guy was J.R. Mercado, who was putting together a local group of artists to work on a comic book to be published locally, supervised by Whilce. He told me that the group would be meeting at a particular day in a Mr. Donut in Greenhills.
Now, back then I fancied myself as a really good artist. I thought I was better than most people. I didn’t say it out loud, but I knew and believed it, as any cocky young artist would, I suppose. I sauntered into the meeting, a bit full of myself, and plopped my oh so obviously brilliant work in front of all these kids. I say “kids” because well, except for Whilce, I was probably the oldest one there. I saw this other guy, quiet, with an intense look in his eyes. The others were passing around their work, but I was interested in what this other guy had. He took out a stack of paper and showed it to me.
It seemed like existence ceased to exist for a second. I exaggerate, but it was the only thing I could think of to describe what I felt at that moment. Everything seemed to blur and I felt that the horizon in the room was somehow out of whack. I was an asteroid that hit the earth in a resounding thud that was as quiet as a nervous gulp, but no less earth shattering.
Of course, with those words I only wanted to say what a brilliant artist Nick was. And he really was. He was better than all of us. I wanted to quit with this insane idea to become a comic book artist. With Nick in the room, all I could do was raise my hands up in surrender.
But I’m glad I didn’t. Instead of hating him and hatching malevolent plots to incapacitate him and cut off his fingers, I decided to be inspired instead.
I learned a really hard lesson that day. It’s a lesson far deeper than “someone is always better than you”, or “do your best to be better than everyone else.” It was a humbling experience. It taught me never to be threatened by other artists, and to always be inspired by the great works of others. It’s not others I have to worry about, it’s myself. I always have to be better than the artist I was yesterday. And I will always need the help of other good artists to help me best myself. That is a lesson that Nick Manabat taught me, and he never even realized it. And I never even got to thank him for it.
Nick died of cancer at the age of 23. And as we had all believed, he was the first of us to work at Image, and he was able to do a lot of really good work. I wrote to him once in a while to tell him of my own efforts to make it. I became friends with his dad, Mang Alex. There was a time that I considered him a second father, such was his sincerity in helping a lot of us out in reaching our own dreams. I hardly saw him, but such was my respect for him that I asked him to be one of my godfathers at my wedding, not too long ago.
You might stumble upon Mang Alex at some of the book fairs, Toycons and similar events, selling woodcrafts that his family creates. They’re wonderful stuff, made by hand. If you see a thin tall-ish man, with salt and pepper bushy hair and mustache, that would be him. Say hello and you just might have yourself a new friend.
I’m sorry I haven’t been able to post much artwork here by other Filipino artists in recent months, but I will do so again from now on. I’ll also begin including the work of the many younger artists, as I believe that they too should have a place in the online museum. Nick is only the first that I will be featuring. More to come soon!
Images courtesy of Oliver Pulumbarit.