Monday, December 10, 2012

Alex Niño: International Pinoy Comic Book Illustrator

It’s a sad day for Filipinos. The greatest pound for pound boxer, Manny Pacquiao, was knocked down cold. I have been watching boxing since I was born and I have never seen a knock down that bad. Not that it changes how I feel towards the Pacman but come on, it’s hard to see your idol go down.

In the interest of cleaning up some of the shit that’s currently dominating the hearts of the Pinoys, I’ve decided to proceed with our weekly Pinoy pride fix and hope that while you are reading this blog, you will start feeling better. I’ve also decided to do something cool, something that cuts across all segments and ages, the comic book industry.

When people talk of International Filipino comic book artists, the name Whilce Protacio comes to mind. You can’t blame them. When you create a character like Bishop, who can sit his ass like a boss and still be able blow up the whole world by absorbing the energy of all superheroes within his vicinity like mother effin’ black hole, you deserve respect. People need to be wave their hands left and right and scream like they’re in the middle of damn Metallica concert. Protacio is so badass one entry in this blog is not enough. He needs a monument, damn it.

However, even Protacio would most likely agree that way before he started kickin’ butts in the international comic scene, someone else came first – Alex Niño.

Alex Niño belongs to the first wave of Filipino artists that made its way to the International scene. He wasn’t the first. That spot goes to the Tony Zuñiga. Zuñiga was the first one to ever get a gig with DC comics and also the one who nudged DC Editor Joe Orlando to check out the ass kickin’ talents of the Filipinos but that’s jumping the gun.

Let’s start from the beginning… when Alex Niño was born. I’m kidding. I’m pretty sure he was born the same way we were all born. It’s just there’s something in his DNA that made so freakin’ awesome. His mother probably found the Styx and dipped Niño there. But instead of making him physically strong, all the strength went to his creative cells that he developed to create greatness out of blank sheet of freakin’ paper.

He also lived pretty much the same way as most Pinoys, in absolute poverty and when I say poor, I mean his parents couldn’t afford to buy him pencil kind of poor. As kid, Niño already knew he wanted to draw. If you say that all kids like to draw you may be right but Niño’s love for drawing was close to obsession. So great was his obsession , Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s obsession for power has nothing on him. Niño couldn’t do anything about the fact that his parents didn’t have money so he just did something about what could control, his freakin’ talent. 

He decided to draw on the ground… soil… whatever the hell you want to call it…  using an almighty ultra high tech scientific breakthrough of the century bamboo effin’ stick. Yes, that’s what he did. Every day after school, he went out of their house and drew. He drew whatever came to mind. He drew his classmates’ face, the sun rise, what he sees on books, their house, his feet, his classmates’ toys… he drew and drew and until it’s so dark he couldn’t see what he was drawing anymore.

His parents got a little scared because… well… is there a normal human being that would draw on the ground he couldn’t see a gaddam thing anymore? Next, being a graphic novel artist isn’t exactly something that one would think to be a reliable living to raise a family back in the 50s. Heck, it’s already the 2012 and it’s still not the kind of career parents would like their children to pursue, gaddamit. Imagine what it was like for him in the 50s.

Parents wanted their children to be doctors or lawyers or something that would attach a decent sounding prefix to the name and something that requires you to take an exam as if 16 years of studying where most teachers take pleasure in seeing their students twist their brains around like a rubic’s cube just to get the right answers to exams, 90 percent of which will never be used in daily life, is not enough.

Niño knew this and being kind hearted as he really is, he didn’t ask his parents to support his passion. Instead, he actually tried to become what they wanted him to be, a doctor.

As much as it was fun drawing the heart, kidneys, intestines, and the skeleton, one can only do it so much. After a while, it’s no fun drawing the large intestine playing soccer with the small intestine and gall bladder. After barely a year of college, he decided to stop the effin’ madness and pursue his dreams to become a comic book artist.

Apparently, it’s easier said than done. When he started scouting for work and showed the editors his portfolio he never failed to get rejected. The things is that you would expect the editors to say ‘you’re not good enough’ or ‘hone your skills and come back in a few years’ or ‘you’re wasting my time, you have no talent’ but no, they said ‘you’re drawings are too… intricate’.


Apparently, he was too good and what they needed is someone who will draw the way other artists have drawn. They don’t want no effin’ individual style, they wanted someone who can copy the style the comic readers are already used to. You know… like be conventional… do what the other 600,000 other artists are doing.

Niño’s style is really quite unique. His illustrations are very detailed, intricate but clean. The white spaces between the images allow the eyes breath but his objects and figures become so alive because of the intricate patterns, multiple shading and calligraphic shapes that he put into it. It is so awesome that just merely looking at it makes you feel that the dragons and phoenix and eagles he drew will burst out of the paper to bite off your head and leave you running with your neck dangling between your shoulders.

One editor actually asked him to go to the US where his style would be better appreciated. Niño kept that in mind.

For a while, he decided to do it just as so he could start eating three times a day but that didn’t mean he stopped pursuing his dream.  He continued to draw what he wanted to draw. He knew there is a huge possibility he was going to spend his entire life trying to make people realize that his style is the next big thing but he didn’t mind. He would rather be the artist who was forever trying than the be the someone who worked for some publishing house who did the same thing everyone else did.

By 1965, he finally got his break. The late Clodualdo del Mundo was looking for an artist who could give some justice to an original fantasy story he was penning for Pilipino Komiks called "Kilabot ng Persia". Niñ was down with it. He drew day and night. His characters and images were so alive, so detailed and so clean that it literally shocked the comic world. Everyone thought there’s a machine that automatically put details to the darn outlines they were used to seeing. Others speculated someone managed to obtain a magic stone from Mt. Makiling that gives the owner some magical ability to draw images that kick asses so hard it, his feet went inside the hole and went all the way to the intestine, stomach, kidneys, oesophagus, and finally into the mouth.

No, there is no magical stone… no spell casted… it’s just Alex Niño’s awesomeness.

More assignment followed including Dinoceras by Marcelo B. Isidro, Maligno by Amado S. Castrillo, Tsangga Rangga for Mars Ravelo, and Mga Matang Nagliliyab again for Isidro.

His drawing hand hasn’t even fully rested after the onslaught of projects when, in 1966, he was given a chance to illustration his own story, "Gruaga". Alex went crazy bad experimenting with his style. He rolled up his sleeves and said, ‘you’ll never look at the comics the same way again mother effers!’. He drew with such a grand vision that a combination of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and all KPOP music videos put together will not even go half of the intricacies that Niño displayed in his novel.

True enough, Niño, to this day, continue to refer to Gruaga as the series that established him. It was the series that made the editors finally look at his works and give a free pass in putting his trademark in his other assignment so much so that he slowly exercised that influence even romantic comic novels.

The biggest break, however, came in late in the 1972. Zuñiga gave Orlando life vest and said, ‘here, you’ll drown in the sea of talents in Manila. Occasionally, there’s a tornado of awesomeness too.’

Niño, along with Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Mar Amongo, Ernie Chan, Gerry Talaoc, belongs to the first wave of comic book illustrators to invade DC and Marvel. Niño started his career with DC, specifically with “To Die for Magda" that appeared in House of Mystery. Other projects included:
·         House of Secrets and Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion
·         Secrets of Sinister House
·         Weird War Tales
·         Weird Mystery Tales
·         The Witching Hour
·         Korak

Niño was on a roll and loving it. If his illustrations were a freakin’ grenade, he would have blown the world over with is awesomeness and launch himself to Mars with the impact he was creating.

He also got to create his own characters including Captain Fear and Space Voyagers.

At that time, it wasn’t taboo to work for both Marvel and DC so Niño did. He did Repent, Harlequin, People of the Dark, and Behold the Man.

Someone as awesome as Niño is in what he does, you’d think he’d get a free pass in what he wants to do right? Like, maybe get a work visa because he’s pretty awesome at what he does. I mean, what country wouldn’t take him. Apparently, I guess there’s just some idiots lurking around in the government and refused to give him permission to leave for the US. Now, that pissed him off big time because he was scheduled to do a film, Wizards.

After two months of fighting everyone tooth and nail, he left for the US. The movie was done and his visa didn’t allow him to submit portfolio to different companies.

$hit right?

Well, he was already there so he decided to make the most out of it by doing Marvel Classics Comics #2, The Time Machine, Moby-Dick and The Three Musketeers.

His biggest success however when he started doing work for Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. The mature audience better suited his detailed and intricate style and that’s all he needed for a bigger audience to appreciate his style.  

He has gotten more regular work to draw for horror and supernatural stories of DC including Thriller and The Omega Men, New Comics Group's Asylum, World of Young Master Special, and Demon Blade.

I can go on enumerating for days on the works he has done but the awesomeness of Niño transcends the sum of all the work he has done. For one, the calligraphic, intricate but clean style is all Niño. It is the bar that he has set. It is the style that shook the comic book world and the style that pave the way for younger illustrators. It is the style that made it acceptable for newer illustrators to develop their own mark and put it on every project they have.

More importantly, it is the reputation that he built that made Marvel, DC and other companies realize Filipinos don’t just have a talent for kicking people’s asses when it comes to drawing, Pinoys also have a talent for working hard.

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