9 Pinoy comic book creators at the New York Comic Con

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Now on its 13th year, the New York Comic Con brings together celebrities, authors, writers, artists and fans from all over the world. Filipino comic artists didn't pass up on this opportunity to present their works as well. Photo by ANTON HOLMES

New York City (CNN Philippines Life) Every October, the best and brightest pop culture icons flock the Jacob K. Javits Center to attend the New York City Comic Con.

Now on its 13th year, the event brings together celebrities, authors, writers, artists and fans from all over the world.

The growing comic book community has been home to several artists who have made their mark on U.S. soil — working for publishers such as the two industry giants DC and Marvel, along with those who focus on creator-owned content, such as Valiant, Dynamite, Dark Horse and Image Comics.

As more superheroes are made known through their cinematic adaptations, the audience for the original medium is rediscovering the value of this form of storytelling. Comic book creation has sprouted several talented individuals, both here and back home, that have been forging their identity through their art, all while proudly representing their beloved motherland.

Get to know some of the Pinoys who were in the NYC Comic Con.

Whilce Portacio.JPG Whilce Portacio, the co-founder of Image Comics, is known to be today's 'Godfather of Philippine Comics.' Photo by ANTON HOLMES

At 10 a.m., lines going into the convention proper are already full. Artist Alley is in itself a maze — several rows of booths brimming with talent.

Along row A is Whilce Portacio, proudly wearing the sun and stars on his shirt — a souvenir from his last trip home as an ambassador of the Asia Pop Comic Con. He settles into his booth, one that he and his wife Jo have set up, as with every convention they attend.

Known to be today’s ‘Godfather of Philippine Comics,’ he has been a vocal advocate of the growing community of Filipino professionals working in the international scene. This network, similar to that of a genogram (otherwise known as a family tree), is the product of over two decades of work.

Across the hall over at Row H, a montage of unmistakable Filipino characters can be found. A warrior, a tikbalang, and a sirena, all beside household name Pedro Penduko.

Dennis Crisostomo Joe Jimenez.JPG Epik Studios, which Dennis Crisostomo and Jim Jimenez are a part of, is already set to have movies based on their graphic novels — “Pedro Penduko” (played by James Reid) and “Osyana” (played by Kylie Versoza). Photo by ANTON HOLMES

Epik Studios' Dennis Crisostomo and Jim Jimenez met during one of Portacio’s early visits to the Philippines. That friendship has led to them working together under the studio built by T.V. and commercial director Paul Basinillo, who directed the adaptation of "Tabi Po,” the comics series created by Mervin Malonzo.

Basinillo is also the creator of “Republika,” a graphic novel that follows the modern-day descendants of Bonifacio, Mabini, and Gabriela Silang as they carry on the fight for freedom and justice through their supernatural powers and enchanted weapons.

Just three years young, Epik is already set to have movies based on their graphic novels — “Pedro Penduko” (played by James Reid) and “Osyana” (played by Kylie Versoza). “Epik Studios wants to push Filipino culture, whether about Filipino mythology, values, and even their daily life. We wanted to share that with the global audience,” says Crisostomo, the studio’s group head.

Jim Jimenez Dennis Crisostomo Paul Basinillo.jpg Epik Studios’ artist Jim Jimenez (leftmost), Group Head Dennis Crisostomo, and Chief Creative Officer Paul Basinillo. Basinillo created “Republika,” a graphic novel that follows the modern-day descendants of Bonifacio, Mabini, and Gabriela Silang. Photo courtesy of DENNIS CRISOSTOMO

The time is ripe for cultural representations. For example, films like "Black Panther" and "Coco" have each played instrumental roles in introducing the world to both African and Mexican cultures. Perhaps, the same can be done for the Philippines, being that the country has such a rich mythological history.

Jimenez, a musician who is part of the J. Brothers Band, has only been with Epik for four months. “Osyana” is his latest project, after a career in animation that had him work with Disney, Hanna Barbera, and Mr. Kiasu, a popular comic in Singapore.

“I started when comics were still 5 pesos, and we earned 75 per page. Now, I’m working on a novel that will be adapted into a movie,” shares Jimenez.

Crisostomo, on the other hand, began his career through an American agent in the Philippines. His first gig was at Marvel Comics, working on “Emma Frost” with fellow Filipino artist Carlo Pagulayan. Before joining Epik Studios, his last book was “Vampirella” with Dynamite Comics.

Jonathan Lau Omi Remalante.JPG Jonathan Lau and Omi Remalante work hand-in-hand to juggle their freelance work, citing that their friendship helps their professional growth as well. “If you’re working for a friend, if you notice something that isn’t beautiful, you comment. We help each other to be great,” shares Remalante. Photo by ANTON HOLMES

Moving five rows down, a jacket patch that combines the Alliance Starbird with the colors of the Philippine flag can be easily spotted from a distance: it’s illustrator Omi Remalante, with his booth partner Jonathan Lau. Lau’s path is an uncommon one. He started out as a factory worker in Malabon, took up architecture in college, and was working as an artist in Manila before being discovered by an American talent scout and working for Dynamite Comics.

“This is my first convention in the US,” he says. “NYCC is so overwhelming!” Lau first started doing art for “Battlestar Gallactica,” got his first big break doing “Green Hornet” with famed author/host/director Kevin Smith, and is now working on “Red Sonja.” Remalante, his partner for that book, is a former advertising artist of 15 years, whose career shifted when he started posting his work on DeviantArt. From there, publishers noticed his work and thus began his journey in comics.

These two work hand-in-hand to juggle their freelance work, citing that their friendship helps their professional growth as well. “If you’re working for a friend, if you notice something that isn’t beautiful, you comment. We help each other to be great,” shares Remalante. His background in advertising comes in handy, as it helps them promote and market themselves.

With the advent of social media, diligently posting allows them to get in touch with several prospective employers as well. Their reputation for being fast and always beating deadlines helps all the more. “That’s where our strength lies — speed,” says Jonathan.

photo4.png Notable X-Men author Chris Claremont (leftmost) with comic artists Jerome Opeña, Kwan Chang, and Whilce Portacio. Photo courtesy of WHILCE PORTACIO

As for other noteworthy convention experiences, it was during his first trip to San Diego Comic Con where Jerome Opeña realized that this was a viable career path. Convinced by his friends to come along as they got a table, Jerome prepared a 16-page action-packed spread that had his contact information and gave it to some of the publishers present.

As fate would have it, a certain Rick Remender rang him one day. Impressed by the work of the young artist, Remender actively looked for opportunities for and with Opeña — a relationship that has produced titles such as “The Punisher,” “Avengers: Rage of Ultron,” “Uncanny X-Force,” and one of today’s hottest books — “Seven to Eternity.”

“I was hoping it would be successful, it was just a hope that people would respond well to it, and they did,” says Opeña.

Upstairs at the Exhibitor’s Floor is the Unknown Comic Books booth where variant covers exclusive only to NYCC are being sold and signed by the artists themselves.

In here is Mico Suayan, who began his career with writer Gilbert Monsanto, doing art for educational books like “Alamat ng Pating (The Legend of Shark)” and “Alamat ng Macopa (The Legend of Macopa).” This helped him build his portfolio, which in turn got him international gigs with independent publishers.

He took up work as a storyboard artist for an ad agency, “and that’s where my style got to where it is today,” he says. With an even stronger portfolio, he sent them to the major publishers. Shortly after, it was Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada who emailed him directly.

Mico Suayan.JPG Mico Suayan began his career with writer Gilbert Monsanto, doing art for educational books like “Alamat ng Pating (The Legend of Shark)” and “Alamat ng Macopa (The Legend of Macopa).” Photo by ANTON HOLMES

Suayan started working immediately for the limited series “Marvel Comics Presents: Magneto” with Marc Guggenheim. It was with Valiant Comics where he got his big break, being paired with superstar writer Jeff Lemire for the series “Bloodshot.”

“It’s been a dream 13 years in the making. I took up Fine Arts, Major in Advertising, I never imagined myself as being a comic book artist as my main job. I even thought I might become a nurse, since most of my friends and relatives are,” he shares with a chuckle.

Towards the opposite side of the hall is a standee that reads Bayani, and in this booth was Fil-Am Mark Teodosio.

Having been born and raised in New York and into a mostly Latino neighborhood, it was rare for him to come across Filipinos and his heritage. This changed in 2016, when he had to visit the Philippines for his cousin’s final rites.

“This was inspired by my cousin that passed away, it’s my way of bringing him back in a more graceful form,” bares Teodosio. “My motivation is that we had no hero in comic books. I wanted to come up with an original character, to provide someone we can relate to when we read and watch,” he adds.

Mark Teodosio.JPG Fil-Am Mark Teodosio looked to his cousin for inspiration when he came up with his comic book hero. Photo by ANTON HOLMES

The story is set 20 years in the future, where the hero is a descendant of Lapu-Lapu and the antagonist is a leader who has led a very bloody war against drugs.

“It made me see so many angles. Do we want to make a villain out of someone who’s actually helping the Philippines control its internal strife? Is he really a villain? That’s why it’s the realest bayani, it’s like saying what makes a real hero? Does it take an extremity, or an extreme leader?”

Teodosio has a fellow Lapu-Lapu enthusiast in Whilce Protacio, who believes the hero would make an ideal biopic that can place the Philippines on the map. “Imagine any foreigner at any movie theater around the world. All they know is that Magellan discovered the Philippines. The movie gets to the scene where Lapu-Lapu kills him, and everyone is in disbelief. ’No way!’ But they’ll Google it and they’ll realize it was real. It is easiest to do because it’s an actual fact,” says Protacio. 

“If we can invite creative professionals to create for us back home to augment all the entertainers there, then we’d be able to broadcast to the world what is Filipino,” he adds.

“Everybody is already receptive. They know the word Filipino, they know the Philippines, it’s up to the creatives to weave a story of what to fill that with. We need to make our myths more real, and the stories more complete and more definitive.”

From the way things are going and how he’s set the wheels in motion, it’s only a matter of time before that story is finally told.