Friday, January 26, 2018

What Happened Since May 2017

It's been more than six months since I posted. I blame the time-sucking black hole that is social media. :-)

Here are some of the highlights from last year:

1) "I Heart Davao," the 40-episode television series aired on GMA 7. I was given the opportunity to write a number of episodes for that show, but I insisted that I could only do ten. My primary reason was that I had never written for television before, so I didn't want to dive headfirst into unfamiliar territory. Our headwriter was Chris Martinez, and the writing team had me, Dwein Baltazar, and Eljay Castro Deldoc. Our director was Marlon Rivera.

I wouldn't consider my experience as representative of what really goes on in television writing in the Philippines, but it was an eye-opener. I never imagined that I'd be able to write more than two hours worth of script (five episodes) in two weeks. It was thrilling, to say the least, seeing how the script was brought to life in the finished product.

Below is a scene I wrote for an episode. Patting myself on the back with this one.

2) After Ateneo Blue Repertory's version of the "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" musical closed in June, the one-act play was staged in July during Tagalog 2017, a festival of Filipino one-acts produced by San Francisco-based Bindlestiff Studios. The line-up also included Vincent deJesus' "Changing Partners" and Dominique Beatrice La Victoria's "Ang Bata sa Drum."

The photo below shows cast members Lee Russelle Anne as Mely and Richgail Enriquez as Viva. Lee Robin Salazar played the role of Leading Man. The play was directed by Allan S. Manalo. (Photo by Paciano Triunfo)

The one-act play will have staged reading this March in Seattle along with Juan Miguel Severo's "Hintayan ng Langit."

3) A huge development for KPANLL is the major motion picture to be produced by Regal Enertainment. It will be directed by Avid Liongoren (Saving Sally). I penned the screenplay. As far as I know, they're currently fixing schedules with the actors, so principal photography should start soon.

4) Last August, I began rehearsing for Tanghalang Ateneo's adaptation of Edgar Calabia Samar's YA fantasy novel "Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang." I played the role of the Dumbledore-esque character Mang Joey. Adaptation and direction was by Guelan Luarca. It was my return to acting after over a decade. What I love about acting is that it's very physical. I think I lost a few pounds during the whole process, despite eating a lot! Also, there's the camaraderie built from working with a bunch of talented folks. Gave me a semblance of a social life.

Bonus Points: Sharing scenes with Jenny Jamora and Xander Soriano. I was so worried I'd be a ham!

Photo below (by Sabrina Basilio) shows me leading a "burial ceremony."

5) Last, but not the least, I'm supposed to work on the Zaturnnah movie reboot. Apart from writing the screenplay, I'm supposed to do visual development--costume design, set design, storyboards.

That's about it. A great ride, methinks. Lessee what 2018's going to bring.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Curious Question to Those Who Want to Make Graphic Novels...

There are a lot of people who want to make comics, or have tried to make comics but end up frustrated. I certainly struggled some when I started out, and it's no secret that there have been bumps on the road now and then.

I'm just curious to find out from you: What aspects of making stories and comics do you find yourself struggling with?

If you write your questions in the comments section, I'll see if I could answer it.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

My Bittersweet, Melodramatic Gay Comic Book

For the 2017 digital edition, I changed the cover.
Back in 2001, when social media wasn't a thing yet, I self-published my first comic book called "One Night In Purgatory." It's a simple story about a gay guy and a straight guy--best friends--who spend a night talking about a turning point in their friendship.

That 56-page story earned me my first book award citation, a finalist slot for a Manila Critics Circle National Book Award. I wasn't able to earn back my investment, but it gave me a taste of going about the whole comic-making biz on my own.

Now, 16 years after I first released it, I converted "One Night in Purgatory" to digital format. If you want to have a copy (in either PDF or CBR format), you can get it for the ridiculously low price of Php60, or less that $1.30.

You can get it through Gumroad. No registration necessary. All they need is your email address and payment information. Once you've made payment, you will receive an email containing a link to the download page. Click here to go to the very simple purchase page.

If you're not into bittersweet, melodramatic gay comics, maybe you know someone who does and give the book as a gift. When you go to the purchase page, there's an icon that looks like a gift. Click on that, and you will be asked to type in the email address of the person you want to send it to. You can even add a personal message.

As of this writing, it's been 20 hours since I posted about this on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Total sales so far? 30 units. Hopefully it gains more traction over the next few days.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone who got the book and shared my posts.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why I'm Thinking of Quitting Comics

I wrote this post as a note on Facebook. Surprisingly, it was shared 160 times as of this writing. I'm copy-pasting the text here.

- - - - - -

Let me begin with a story.

Yesterday, I met with the organizers of Komikon, and during that meeting we talked about the challenges that local comic book makers are currently facing. Suffice to say, there's a lot.

Later that day, I was in a coffee shop and ran into a couple of dear friends I haven't seen in a long time. During our conversation, one friend talked about a medical procedure he had gone through, a procedure that cost him quite a bit of money.

After we parted, I began to wonder what would happen if I suddenly had an emergency and I needed a significant amount of money. Money that I didn't have. And when you reach a certain age without a retirement fund, without a backup when something goes wrong, things become very scary.

This is the reason why I thought of quitting comics.

Sure, I've had great success with Zaturnnah, but the truth is, I'm practicing my art at a huge loss.

Let me break things down for you.

Part One of Zaturnnah sa Maynila is around 80 pages long. To draw a complete page, I need an average of eight hours, which brings the total required hours to 640.

This does not include the time needed to conceptualize and write the story, to add lettering to the pages, to create the covers, to prepare the files for the publisher, and even to promote the thing. It would take over 1000 hours just to make Part One, and over 3000 hours to finish the project.

For this example, let's assume a flat 1000 hours for those 80 pages. If a workday is eight hours, then 1000 hours is 125 days, or a little over four months. To make Part One full time, I would have to work for over four months without seeing a single cent coming in. And when the book is released, I have no guarantee that those over four months of work would be compensated.

What about sales, you might ask? A book author gets less than 10% of a book's retail price. So if you buy your favorite author's book at a price of P200, which is the price of Part One, you're giving him less than P20 for the story. The bulk of that P200 goes into converting that story into a physical book and placing that book in a bookstore.

In Metro Manila, the current minimum wage is P481 per day. If a minimum wage earner works for four months, then he would earn about P42,000 or P10,250 a month. For a P200 book to reach the same amount, it should sell about 2,100 copies. If the author wants to earn just P20,000 a month working full time, then more than 8,000 books have to be sold. And selling 8,000 copies of any book is very, very difficult, moreso for the graphic novel which carries a higher price tag compared to a prose novel. I've heard too many comments from people wanting to buy but can't afford it.

And this is why I'm thinking of quitting comics, even if it has opened many doors for me. We might point to the adaptations (which I'm grateful for) and merchandising (which honestly hasn't worked for me), but these are not assurances, and the author has to devote extra time for these.

The only thing I feel that can really help the graphic novelist is if readers are willing to buy the digital version.

I understand people's apprehensions for not buying digital. I, too, love the feel and smell of a new book, plus the fact that I'm holding a physical product, not something that's just made up of bytes. And, reading comics on a digital device is challenging as well. But it's about the only opportunity for a comic book creator to charge an amount that's a little better than what he gets from the sale of a physical book.

When Zaturnnah sa Maynila is complete, it would cost a reader more than P600 to buy it, and only if its available in the bookstore (which is another problem altogether). The reader would be paying me less than P60 for over 240 pages of artwork and story.

But what if I charged just P240 for the entire story, broken up into 12 “issues” (for easier download). Over 95% of that amount would go to me, allowing me to spend on online marketing. It's about the price of a movie.

A reader might say, “But I don't have a credit card.” Well, there is a free app called Paymaya that can generate a unique credit card number that a reader can use to pay for online transactions. Paymaya is regulated by the Central Bank of the Philippines, and it can be loaded up through the bill payment centers of Robinson's and SM, kiosks in 7-Eleven and Mini-Stop, and other establishments.

Going digital helps the graphic novelist by:

1) Ensuring that that book is readily available 24/7. No more, “But I can’t find your book!”
2) Allowing the graphic novelist to spend on online marketing. No more, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a new book!”
3) Giving the graphic novelist his due for the amount of time and effort spent.
4) Making the work more affordable for the reader, though the reading experience may suffer.

If enough people who like my stories are willing and able to buy my digital comics, then I can continue with less worry about my future. The physical book can still be released later on with bonus material, and there's less risk for the publisher and the bookstore.

I guess that's the miracle I need.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Zaturnnah "Cover Girl" Print: How To Order

Thanks for dropping by! If you're interested in getting your own giclée print of the Zaturnnah artwork that appears on one of the October covers of Esquire Philippines, please read the information provided below.
A giclée print (zhee-clay) is a fancy term for an image printed on archival paper using one of those huge top-of-the-line inkjet printers that most of us can't afford. Those who specialize in making these prints will tell you that the color quality is supposed to last for decades. Professional artists and photographers turn to making giclée prints to sell and share their work.

The "Zsazsa Zaturnnah: Cover Girl" print will be exclusively produced by Giclee Manila.

For the Zaturnnah "Cover Girl" print, there will be four sizes.

Size A: 18.5" x 27"  Price: Php 3,000
Size B: 15" x 22"  Price: Php 2,250
Size C: 12.5" x 18.5"  Price: Php 1,800
Size D: 10" x 15"  Price Php 1,450

  • These prints will only be available for order until February 28, 2017.
  • Print deliveries primarily cover the Philippines only. As much a we'd like to cater to buyers outside the Philippines, the shipping and packaging costs would end up lot higher than the print itself.  (Note: If you are outside the Philippines and would really like to order, please email and ask for a shipping and packaging estimate.)
  • Packaging and shipping for Philippine orders is an additional Php500. If you want to save on shipping and packaging, you may bring your own container and pick up your order at the Giclée Manila office instead. It is located at 6 Fatima Street, Barangay Plainview, Mandaluyong City.

  • All sizes include a 0.5" white border on the top and sides, with a slightly wider border at the bottom, which contains the title.
  • I will be signing all ordered prints. This is an open-edition print. No certificates of authenticity will be issued, nor will they be numbered. (If I made this a limited edition print, then the price would be a lot higher.)
  • We will be using semi-glossy FPI Satine stock, at 245gsm. It is acid-free, so it isn't prone to yellowing. Giclée Manila will ensure that this paper stock is always available.
  • Visit the Giclee Manila office on weekdays between 10am and 5pm.
  • Give them a call through 633-8559 or 239-9607 on weekdays between 10am and 5pm. 
  • Email them through In your email message, specify the size and quantity that you want to order, and give your full name, delivery address and contact number.
  • After you've placed your order, you will be asked to pay a 50% downpayment. Once the print is ready, Giclee Manila will contact you for the 50% balance. They will send the print to you once the payment of the balance has been verified. If you plan to pick up your print, however, you may settle the balance at the Giclee Manila office.
  • If you're not settling payments at their office, you may do so through bank deposit. You will be given bank information after you've placed your order. (Paypal is another option, but Giclee Manila will charge an extra transaction fee depending on the price of your order/s.)
  • Allow up to two weeks for delivery after verification of payment. If you've paid through bank deposit, email Giclee Manila a photo of the deposit slip.
  • Giclée Manila ensures that all prints go through stringent quality control. In case you're not satisfied, however, Giclée Manila has a money-back guarantee of up to seven (7) days upon delivery. Within this period, you can get a full refund of the price of the print once you present your receipt  and provide proof that you have destroyed the print. (My suggestion here is to email them a short low-resolution video clip of you showing the entire print, then writing your name with a black marker on Zaturnnah's face. Harsh, yes.)
Important: if you have any questions about the above, please get in touch with the staff of Giclée Manila for clarification. All information presented here was provided and verified by them, so they would be the best people to ask.

Thank you in advance!

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Zsazsa Zaturnnah: Cover Girl

So this happened. How often does a superhero make the cover of a men's lifestyle magazine?

The October 2016 issue of Esquire Philippines is also their anniversary issue. It will be all-illustrated, and will have five covers. Four of them will feature the works of some of our finest artists, namely Annie Cabigting (painting), Blic (street art), Gary-Ross Pastrana (sculpture), and Derek Tumala (video, available as a special e-mag cover).

I was also fortunate to have been asked to illustrate the fashion section, too. All 12 pages of it. There, I managed to sneak in Zaturnnah, Ada, Dodong, and Gwyneth among the "models," wearing clothes from high-end brands like Valentino, Lanvin, and Bottega. As far as I know, they won't be named, but here are their headshots.

When I was first approached by Esquire to do this, I told them that I wanted a project that would "feed my soul." It sure did, despite the tight schedule.

For the cover, I took a cue from Esquire's "brand," requiring a different take compared to what I had done for FHM. (Zaturnnah had already appeared twice in that magazine). Something with a good amount of sex appeal, but less of the sex. I was going for a look that could be iconic, taking inspiration from 1960s lifestyle illustrations.

Now I'm thinking, should I sell prints of the cover?

- - - - - - - - -

A belated thank you to everyone who grabbed a copy of Zaturnnah sa Maynila Part Two. It landed in the bestseller list of both National Bookstore (#10 for May) and Fully Booked (#6 for April-May)! Yay!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Writing My First Commercial Screenplay

I never thought the day would come.

Yesterday, I submitted a sequence treatment to a film company. This is my first commercial screenplay project. I don't consider the Zaturnnah movie as the first as I'm only credited for "story," and I've only gone as far as making dialogue suggestions for that. A few years ago, I did write a full-length screenplay for an animation company, but they didn't intend for it to be released.

How did I get this new project? Back in 2013, when my one-act play "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" was being staged at the Virgin Labfest, I'd be chatting with director Chris Martinez about the possibility of writing for film. It was one of those it-would-be-nice-but-I'm-not-sure kind of things, but Chris was very encouraging. I even got a call some time later if I was seriously interested, but I had to turn it down. I was busy, but I was also iffy.

Writing the Leading Lady musical script in 2014 gave me the experience of writing a full-length script for a commercial production. Though it was not in screenplay format, it provided good training. I had to take into consideration factors that I would never consider when I'd write a story for comics. The producer, the director, and other members of the creative team would have input, and it became a matter of incorporating those ideas without me sacrificing my own vision for the story.

Soon after this year's Labfest wrapped-up, Chris messaged me. He wanted me to write a screenplay based on a book. The story, he said, was up my alley. I had to download and read the book to see for myself. I could see why Chris asked me to handle this.

I'm not at liberty to divulge anything yet, but I think I can say that the story is from a Wattpad book.

Yes. Think "Diary ng Panget."

I am aware that there are members of the literary community who scoff at the way these Wattpad stories are written, particularly in their original online form. I don't want to say that these poorly-written stories are representative of all Pinoy Wattpad novels--I'd like to believe that there are gems in there--but I've tried to read a couple and, yes, they gave me headaches. The story I'm adapting has already been published in book form. I don't know what the original looks like.

But it's an interesting exercise, and the story is amusing as far as these commercial stories go. I started studying how to make stories about a decade ago, and a lot of my references have been screenwriting books. Some of my favorites are Bob McKee's "Story" (for its insight) and Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat" (for its straightforward by-the-numbers approach). Another favorite is Will Dunne's "The Dramatic Writer's Companion," which covers dramatic storytelling in general.

Normally, when I'd write my own stories, I'd start with a theme, premise, or situation. But since the story has already been laid out in this adaptation project, and I'm sure the author had a personal reason for writing the story the way he did, I found myself spending a lot of time contemplating my "place" in it. I didn't want to just transfer every plot point from prose to script. I felt I needed to uncover themes from it that resonated with me. Because, if I couldn't, then I won't be able to invest myself artistically in it.

Plus, I would like to think that people know my "brand" of storytelling. As Chris had told me in a message, "Own it."

So, I did. In my sequence treatment, I was faithful to almost everything that happened in the book, but I spun it just a bit to conform to my artistic sensibility. I hope they like what I wrote.

In any case, I'm excited to get to the draft phase. The film company wants to start shooting soon. I wonder if I can be Passerby #26.

Hee hee.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why telling GMA-7 to check out local komiks is a wrong approach

GMA-7 recently premiered Alyas Robin Hood, a Filipino superhero drama series which raised the hackles of a number of Filipino comics fans because of the teasers' resemblance to the American show Arrow. Admittedly, I was one of those who objected to the idea, wondering why they couldn't use any of our local martial arts or weaponry. Some netizens went even as far as engaging in online arguments with the show's head creative.

In a recent episode of the series, another round of objections occurred because of one villain. Never mind the poorly-executed special effects or fight choreography/cinematography. The main beef with this villain is the fact that he wielded a flame-throwing toy gun, and people cried foul over the reference to Heatwave of CW's Legends of Tomorrow (apart from the silliness of the toy gun).

Overall, we (yes, I include myself) in the comics community wondered why the television executives haven't tapped the creativity of the new comics creators in coming up with fresh concepts for superhero adventure shows. (Note, however, that they've probably visited Komikon and we didn't know.)

After thinking about this for a while, however, I feel that faulting a television network for lack of creativity is a wrong approach. I mean, I still wish they did something fresh and I will agree to questioning their creative choices, but to champion the comics creator as the go-to person to correct is, to put it lightly, idealistic. The reason behind this takes me back to a previous blog post as well as the few things I've learned along the way. What I'm about to say might not go down well for some people, but I'm still going to say it anyway. These are my own insights based on the conversations I've had with a few people in the motion picture industry.

1) Ideas are not enough.

Ideas can get producers interested. But if an idea does interest them, then they would need to know the whole story, which leads to...

2) The work is incomplete.

If a comics creator has an incomplete series, why would a producer bank on something that's not done? And if a producer does express interest in the incomplete series, is the comics creator willing to work within the system? That is, is the comics creator willing to share the whole story, assuming that the whole story is fully-formed? If it's not fully-formed, is the creator willing to let others fill in the blanks, or accept adjustments to accommodate budgetary limitations, casting considerations, etc? Unless the world of the story is adequately articulated and all the character arcs and themes have been mapped out, then how can the comics creator defend his vision in front of a producer or director?

2) There are tons of creatives out there, and you're unknown.

The comics community isn't the only reservoir of great ideas. And, for the most part, it is very insular (meaning, segregated, as opposed to short-sighted). Conversely, we have practicing playwrights, screenwriters, screenwriter-directors, and book authors, who have equally valid ideas, who have won prestigious awards, and have worked in the film and television industries. Many people dream of having their stories produced. A number of them might already have great ideas for superhero stories, but they know how these things get made, the hurdles they have to go through, and how the system is set up. Why their stories don't get produced is a big question, but to assume that the comics creators have better ideas than them is baseless. Just like in Hollywood, stories go through alterations from initial concept to finished product. Plus, people would rather work with those they know or are known, which leads to...

3) Your comics aren't popular enough.

Unless the comics creator is popular--that is, having a very large audience--expect to stay under the radar. The Wattpad novels enjoyed hundreds of thousands of views online, spawning lots of copycats and, eventually, film and television adaptations. Bob Ong's Facebook page has over 1.2 million likes. Marcelo Santos III's page has over 9.5 million likes. They have a large built-in audience that can be easily marketed to. Since there are very few published sales numbers for books, if any at all, the only data that can be relied on are those provided by social media accounts. If you want to get your comics noticed, get the numbers to back it up.

4) Your great story might have a different audience.

The television audience covers specific demographics and psychographics, and there are cultural considerations as well. Same with the commercial film. A unique story might be good for the audience of independent film, but the comics creator would still need to get the work into the hands of a director or producer who will love the work enough to move mountains to get it made.

So, what am I saying? We cannot demand attention from producers and convince them to go to Komikon. (In fact, one already did years ago. He apparently didn't find much.) And if they do, what do we have to show? Incomplete works? Ideas? If we want producers to see our comics as the goldmine of great stories, then the comics creators have to do their part.

1) Make complete, well-rounded, and appealing stories that feature conflicted three-dimensional characters. Learn storycraft--character arcs, story structure, theme, writing.

2) Get connected with the film or television industries in some way, and be aware of the hurdles of production and the limits of the market. Learn, or take part in, the system.

3) Build your fanbase. Large numbers show huge potential.

Ultimately, luck, timing and patience also play a big part. There are good stories that get made, but there are a lot of others that don't. How many or us are willing to persevere?


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