Feels like I'm shooting myself in the foot with this post.
I don't want to consider my experience as a rare case, having been thrust into the limelight for that work of so-called "brilliance" called Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah, which is only the second comic book I created. But considering the speed at which that success came, a cannonball shot straight at me at pointblank range, especially since multi-page comics had all but faded in the Philippine pop culture landscape, "rare" is the only word I can come up with to describe what happened to me for most of the past decade. I am aware that many artists have struggled, and are still struggling, to attain some notable recognition in the public eye, an acknowledgement that their voice and intent somehow meant something and carried relevance for a great number of people. So, admittedly, I couldn't help but feel a little guilt over my good fortune.
Despite the book being only my second solo effort (after One Night in Purgatory), it won a National Book Award, and spawned a musical and a movie (four film studios contacted me, while two companies inquired about television rights). I got interviewed for magazines, had full-page articles in newspapers, appeared on talk shows, received advanced inquiries for the film rights to the next Zaturnnah book, got invited to literary events (despite my unliterary-ness), have been called "genius" and "master," and became, in some limited fashion, "famous," if you define fame by the way people's faces lit up in slow motion with part-disbelief part-realization part-awe when they find out who you are, or by those instances when strangers would come up to you in a mall and ask that you join them for a photograph. From somebody who spent his days doing graphic design, dreamed of working for Marvel or DC, and wishing he won the Lotto, I found myself in a strange, sometimes frightening, place.
I mean, who gets that? Especially from the second try?
Again, I don't want to consider my experience a rare thing, but then I don't know anyone else who's been through the same. There was no "Philippine Comics Noob Overnight Sensation Club" where members sat on plumpy leather chairs, downed vino and brie and smoked cigars while talking shop, or cried on each other's shoulders because of the pressure.
Yes, there was pressure, a kind of quicksand which led me to make some bad decisions. And the pressure still exists. It's not like that of a day job, where you get to do what you're hired to do based on your education and experience, with some challenges thrown in just to keep you alert and busy. Zsazsa Zaturnnah was the first time I ever used Filipino--at least for an extended piece of written work--a language that I've wrestled with for so long. It was my first story of that length. When it came to actually making stories, I had written perhaps only less than a dozen, mostly unfinished, thus paling in comparison to those writers who wrote as much as they breathed but hardly made a dent. I felt I was a fake. (And, believe me: it doesn't help when people try to assure you you're not. You tend to hang on to it if you hear it often enough.)
So the pressure was coming from both ends, inside and out, and I didn't have the mental equipment to properly process and deal with it. Maybe I'd have fared better if I was part of a creative team, or a tightly-knit group of comics soloists, or had a manager who understood what I did. Or, ideally, if I knew someone who could say, "You know, I went through that exact same thing and here's what happened." But no. It became immobilizing.
(I hope I don't sound ungrateful to those who love Zaturnnah and my other works, and I apologize if I do. I appreciate your excitement and enthusiasm. This blogpost is really a confession, if not a psychological enema.)
I love making comics. I know I do. And I want to continue making comics. But I also know that I don't need the pressure. As much as I try to keep the pressure at bay, it pushes back at me, pushes me away from the computer, from the drawing table. Making comics, particularly this new Zaturnnah story, has become less of a source of personal enjoyment, and more a means to prove myself. It's simply wrong. For some artists, using their work to prove themselves seems like healthy motivation. It has worked for them and as such is admirable. For me, apparently, it taints the innocence I employ when I face the blank page.
What's the score, then, with the remainder of Zaturnnah sa Maynila? I personally love the story, so it will be finished. The pressure has eased a bit, and I've been finding the Zone again. Though drawing has been slow because of the quality I want to achieve, it's been good so far. My error was releasing Part 1 too early, and it's entirely my fault. When I consulted Budjette Tan about the release schedule, he recommended finishing everything first. But I gave in to the pressure, from inside and out, when I should've listened to him and practiced restraint.
So, to conclude this bush-evading, Part 2 will be released when everything else is done. That way, Part 3 won't be far behind. Unfortunately, I can't commit to a specific date anymore. At this point, I should not make any promises except the promise I'll make to myself. I just want to have fun with this again. Creativity gods willing, this will all have a happy ending.
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PS: When you do find yourself plucked from obscurity and thrust into a situation of sudden, unexpected, and freaky success, you may just fare better than I have. It might not even faze you. We are, after all, wired differently. Call this a documentation of my experience, in my shoes, for the curious.
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As a footnote, here's a TED video featuring author Elizabeth Gilbert, who talks about how she dealt with the sudden, unexpected success of her book Eat, Pray, Love.