Saturday, August 22, 2020

Mr Tino: Interview with Russell Molina and Ian Sta. Maria

Mr Tino (original title in the Philippines: Sixty Six) by Russell Molina and Ian Sta. Maria was a breakout indie comic title in 2013. I described it as Superman coming to Earth as an old man instead of a baby and you have Mr Tino, the newest and oldest superhero on the block. Two collected books have been released by Anino in the Philippines so far and now Epigram Books has translated the first volume from Tagalog to English for the Singapore market. This is the second graphic novel from the Philippines Epigram has released since they re-launched their graphic novel line earlier this year. The first was Gerry Alanguilan’s Elmer. 

From the Epigram bio: 

Russell Molina is a Filipino children’s book author and graphic novelist. Some of his notable works include Titoy’s Magical Chair, A Dozen Brothers and 12:01. Many of his books have been recognised in award shows such as the National Children’s Book Awards and the IBBY Honour List. 

Ian Sta. Maria is the author and artist of Salamangka, co-creator and artist ofthe Skyworld series, Kadasig and Seven Gifts of the Skygods. He lives in Denmark where he works as a senior concept artist for Lego. 

By the way, sixty six refers to Mr Tino’s age but don’t mess with him. 

Russell and Ian spill the beans in this email interview. 

CT: Both of you are in advertising. How does that affect the way you tell your stories? 

Russell: In advertising, we were trained to tell stories in 30 seconds or less. So we need to pick the right words and push it at the right time for maximum impact. As a writer, advertising taught me brevity, solid storytelling, a cinematic perspective and a sense of writing structure and discipline. 

Having had the chance to work with Ian also on numerous ad projects in the past, we already have a process in place and we know each other’s pace. So we knew how to move as one unit already. 

Ian: Advertising gave me many mentors - in writing, directing, art directing, photography. I learned a lot in different ways of telling stories from them. 

CT: Who are your influences? 

Russell: I’m inspired by films actually when I do comics. I love Kurosawa, Wong Kar Wai, Zhang Yimou and our local greats Lino Brocka, Peque Gallaga, just to name a few. I think cinema plays a big part in the way I write comics because I really think film when I do framing and even the pace of my story. Mr. Tino for me can very well be a storyboard for a movie (Hello, Netflix!). Also, movies, especially the Filipino classics, provide good reference materials for those flashbacks. 

CT: Yes, I could see the social realism influence from Lino Brocka and even Mike de Leon. Many Philippines movies in the past were adapted from popular komiks. How about you, Ian? 

Ian: Comic books are in my core and I'm a pop culture geek. I love being inspired by film, video games, manga, anime, board games. I get inspiration wherever I can get it. 

CT: How did the idea for Mr Tino come about? (Russell was doing children's books before this and Ian was drawing Skyworld) 

Russell: We belong to a circle of friends who are mostly comic creators – Budjette Tan (Trese), Mervin Ignacio (Skyworld), JB Tapia and Bow Guerrero (Mikey Recio) and we usually, over beer or during breaks, toss around ideas for comics. It’s a good way to test if your idea works or not. I was looking for a unique superhero who would represent the Pinoys. During that time, there was a national discussion on senior citizen rights and maybe that influenced me in molding the character of Mr. Tino. When I did a scan, there were no big senior citizen super heroes then, so I thought it was worth pursuing -- with the egging of these friends too.

Is Mr Tino a comment on ageism? 

Russell: When we released the first ashcan in 2012, the comic had an accompanying Filipino line that said, “Huli man at magaling, naihahabol din.” Which roughly translates to: Better late than never. The idea was really to celebrate possibilities – you can have something amazing in your life albeit later in your years. It’s a story of hope and the struggle of dealing with unexpected gifts. 

But I do welcome the commentary on ageism, if that’s the take away for some. I truly believe that powers, of any kind, can come from anyone, at any age. If the book can start a conversation against discrimination, then I’m all for it.

Ian: Never underestimate senior citizens. 

CT: How did the Epigram deal come about? 

Ian: I just got a very happy email from Ani Almario, our publisher, that Epigram was interested in adapting Mr Tino. 

CT: Philippines comics has seen a revival. From Zsazsa Zaturnnah (2002) to Trese (2005) to Elmer (2006), Mr Tino/Sixty Six (2013) builds on this body of diverse work which mix action with social commentary. What is the future of Philippines comics? 

Russell: AND we’re just scratching the surface. More and more, we see very innovative comics coming out like Dead Balagtas’ Mga Sayaw ng Dagat at Lupa and Rob Chan’s silent comics Lost and Light. These are exciting times for Komiks. And we still have unexplored myths and folklores which I think are good source materials also. With the entry of new comics titles and young comics creators, I think new voices and new styles will emerge. 

CT: How are the both of you dealing with the covid situation in the Philippines and Denmark respectively? 

Russell: Yes, we are back in lockdown here in the Philippines and the cases are rising. Different people have different ways of coping and I guess I find comfort in doing comics. Together with friend and colleague Argem Vinuya, we created Covid Comics PH – short 5-panel comics that just talks about our feelings during this pandemic. It’s therapeutic and it’s great to share it with a community which also needs both entertainment and affirmation that they are never alone in this. 

Ian: Working from home in Denmark really works for me. But I do miss Manila very much. I would love to be able to go home soon and see friends and family. 

CT: What can we expect from Book 2? 

Russell: Book 2 is already out here in the Philippines (released earlier this year), with illustrations by Mikey Marchan. I hope Epigram Books pick that one up too. 

CT: Thanks, guys!

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