There was a time when I believed working in comics wouldn’t be possible. Superman and Batman and the X-Men were just things I read, created by god-like people in some fantasy land. Well, I was very young back then and my view of the world was still quite limited. Inspired by the comics I read, I tried to draw comics myself. I even sent samples to Marvel as early as 1986, all the while worrying about how would I finish my studies if Marvel accepted me. HA! HA! Dream on, of course!. I really didn’t think I would make it. I was just having fun. And the rejection letter I received a couple of months later seemed to bear that out. It wasn’t discouraging, but it just confirmed my belief that it just won’t happen. But I was ecstatic that someone at Marvel, Eliot Brown, actually knew I even existed. At that time it was enough for me.
I was dead set on a career as an architect in the “real world”. Before even graduating I was already working, supervising the renovation of a small function hall structure within the College of the Holy Spirit in Mendiola. Renovation of dormitories in the same college followed, then more and more projects came after, bringing me to all kinds of places all over Metro Manila, and at one time, Nasugbu, Batangas.
I was still reading comics. Bringing them along to projects and reading them in off periods actually calmed me down, specially on days that were extraordinarily stressful. And those days were often.
But then a time came when all that changed and my views on comics were dramatically altered, in a story I often tell where I met Whilce Portacio at Filbar’s in Robinson’s Galleria in 1991. I can’t even begin to explain how life altering that moment was, where all of a sudden my perspective changed, not only in terms of comics, but in terms of everything. All of a sudden, something I long thought impossible was now possible. Something I knew that can’t be done, suddenly had the possibility of actually being done. At that very moment I stopped being an architect and wanted desperately to become a comics artist.
In those days, I had very few people to turn to. There was no Internet, and my old friends who were my age were busy establishing themselves as businessmen, doctors, engineers, architects, busy forming their own families. Comic books were the furthest thing from their minds. I did meet younger people who became the first of my comic book friends like Oliver Pulumbarit and John Toledo. We’d be on the phone often and meet once in a while. The circle grew in time, and all of us just had one dream… and that was to draw comics, and if possible, break into comics abroad.
I was very enthusiastic about it all and I just wanted to share it with old friends and other people around me. I can still remember a couple of people snorting when I laid out my dream, like I told a joke or something. I still remember hearing a couple of them end their sentences with “…at your age?”
At a construction site in Escolta, my portfolio of art was neatly tucked away in the kitchen when the condo owner stumbled upon it, and asked me what it was. I told him that I was thinking of becoming a comic book artist. “But it’s for talented people!” I remember him saying.
My ex-girlfriend, apparently really proud that I was an architect (and she told me so), must have been very disappointed when I announced my career change because we no longer had a relationship soon after.
For too many times I’ve heard variations of, or implied statements of “You can’t do it.”, “It can’t be done.”, “It’s impossible.” “Dream on!”
Even my parents… my dad didn’t say much, but my mom, I hope she forgives me for saying it…. they were supportive, but she did admit to me at some point that I was just wasting my life with comics.
I have to admit, it got kind of discouraging. At that point in time, no other Filipino, based in the Philippines, was working regularly for US comics. Nick Manabat did soon became the first in our generation to do it, but I think he’s an exception because he’s a mutant. That he is insanely good on the level of genius is beyond doubt.
So for a while there life according to the decision I made was really difficult. If I listened to everyone and agreed that it was simply impossible, I would have gone back to being an architect and just cashed in the checks. It would have been a good life. Lord knows how tempted I was to just give up and be done with it.
The problem was, I didn’t believe it was impossible. I didn’t believe that it couldn’t be done. Why did I believe it? I really don’t know. There was really nothing I based this belief on other than the faith that this is the kind of life that I was supposed to have. I knew and believed fiercely that the day was coming that I would be in comics. To me it was beyond question.
That I did eventually work in comics and worked on some of the greatest and most popular characters in US comics for many years felt like a vindication and great relief. I wasn’t betrayed by the belief that I could do it.
A lot of Filipinos are working in comics now, both locally and abroad. A lot of these people have become my friends and I’m genuinely glad at all the success that everyone has found. I’m so glad that a lot of other people have achieved their dreams and I’m sure a lot more will.
I’m 40 now and it’s beginning to dawn on me that time is running out. I’ve got a lot of things I still want to do, a lot of different challenges to face and different dreams to pursue. Not surprisingly, I’m once again hearing discouraging things here and there, voices that tell me I can’t do it, that it can’t be done, that it’s impossible.
I’ve got nothing but an insanely hysterical laugh for a reply to all of that.
Slowly over the years, anyone who has told me that it can’t be done, that it’s impossible, get automatically put into my ignore and forget list. Of course, my parents would have to be the exception. They’re my parents for God’s sake and I love them. What I do is as much for them as it much as it’s for me. But everyone else can just take a hike.
There’s so very little time and I can’t afford to waste any of it with anyone who tell me that I can’t do what I want to do. What’s the use? If I had listened to all those naysayers from the beginning, I won’t be where I am now. So they’re all banished, sorry to say, from ever taking any more of my time and attention.
Whatever it is I want to do, I believe I can do it. That’s it. Bottom line. I can’t live my life always looking for someone else to do it before I even try to do it myself.
Who knows, at the end of my life there might be things that I’ve never accomplished, dreams I’ve never reached. But I will be glad because I know I tried, that I wasn’t daunted before I even tried it.