Art Fantastic: Interview with Benjo Camay

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 26 - 2010

There’s no better complement to a Spec Fic story than some good fantasy or science-fiction artwork. CG Pintor is an organization of Filipino digital painters, co-founded by Usok #1 cover artist Kevin Lapeña, and now and then we’ll do interviews with some of their members. Today we speak with Benjo Camay (The-Hand on deviantart), who contributed a piece to the illustrated edition of Usok #1, namely the art for “The Coming of the Anak-Araw” by Celestine Trinidad.


What’s the first thing you remember drawing?

I remember that I when I was 4 years old I’d always draw a scuba diver thrusting a knife unto a shark’s body.

Uhm. Why? Did you have a deep hatred of sharks or something?

Actually, I don’t really know why I did that when I was a kid… maybe sharks are just so cool to draw?

How did you get started as an artist?

My Dad always used to bring home issues of “Funny Komiks” when I was a little kid. Do you remember those? That’s where I got the urge to start drawing after seeing those wonderful characters in that comic book.

When did you start creating works through digital painting? Was it difficult to make the transition?

When I won a certain logo making contest .That gave me enough capital to build a decent PC and start painting digitally. It wasn’t hard, even when I was just starting out, since my technique using the traditional medium and the digital medium aren’t much different. My knowledge of traditional painting helped me a lot, I believe.

Last year you drew a story called Lazir in Kengkoy Joint #0. Could you tell us a bit about it?

Lazir is a character that I created back in my high school years. Back then, he was similar to Dick Tracy in design, but now you see him wearing an iron mask that resembles the face of Jose Rizal. Still, the idea behind the character is the same: He hunts bad guys in a futuristic Manila, wielding his two swords named “Noli me” and El Fili”. He also has a gun that he calls “Me Ultimo Adios”. He has a penchant for poetry too, leaving a poem written in blood near every kill.

With him around, time is running out for bad guys–those who are the cancers in our society. No one knows who he is underneath the mask–he could be a clone of Rizal, or a relative, or a Rizal fanatic–but there’s certainly a connection with Rizal, hence the name “LAZIR”.

Recently, I met Jerald Dorado (3rd place winner in the graphic fiction category of The 3rd Philippine Graphic Fiction).  We decided to revamp the “Lazir” character and retell the story using his writing ability. We are doing a painted version of the Lazir story now.

You seem to have an affinity for famous Filipinos of the past. I hear you’re a fan of Juan Luna?

Yeah,  I’m a big time fan of him, artwise. If I had a million dollars I’d buy some of his original paintings. I find the contemporary art scene flooded with artists who are just wasting their craft and time. Guys like Luna, Amorsolo and Hidalgo were the artists that could disprove the saying” beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, because the truth is if a painting is beautiful, it is beautiful no matter who is looking at it.

Are you a fan of any comics/local komiks?

I grew up reading American and Filipino comic books, buying them at bookstores and renting them from sari-sari stores. That’s why I have this love and respect for all comics, whether they be local or international. Right now I am loving Arnold Arre’s works as well, as the Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah komiks. On the international front, I am loving McNieven’s lineart at the moment.

I know that you do a lot of reading in your spare time. What are your favorite books?

I read mostly biographies of some classical painters,  but I also have a collection of Stephen King’s paperbacks. If we’re counting comic books and manga, at the top of my list would be Maus by Spiegelman, and some manga by Osamu Tesuka.

You’ve also done illustrations for game companies like Boomzap Games and Pixelhaze. What have those experiences been like?

Well, working for them has been financially good for me, and it has also brought me to parts of the world that I’ve always wanted to see. Also, working with other talented people gave me the inspiration to push myself more in terms of my artistic capability. I am at the stage right now where I don’t want to go around in circles anymore, instead I want to use the knowledge that I have to further better myself.

Are you an avid gamer?

Yes and No. Yes, because I play almost everyday and no, because I am very choosy when it comes to the game that I actually play.

Which game has most impressed you with its art/art direction?

The old Shenmue games in the Dreamcast console. It’s art, distilled as a game.

So I take it you disagree with Roger Ebert when he says that games can’t be art?

Yes I do disagree with him. In fact, I believe there should be a museum dedicated to preserving video games. From what I can tell, without the proper care, some old games and old gaming platforms could be lost forever. At the very least, having a museum would allow others to get the chance to play the classics, instead of the games just collecting dust on the shelves of collectors.

What do you consider to be the favorite subjects for your artwork?

Women, because they have this quality on them that makes them hard to draw/paint. Also “contrast” in any form whatsoever.

What’s the most important piece of art advice you’ve ever received?

It’s the usual” Walang pera sa pagdradrawing” (there is no money in drawing) advice. Me being a stubborn person, I chose to pursue art and become so good that my art would eventually pay for my everyday needs.

Would you say you’ve reached that goal now?

I feel like I’ve reached a part of it, but being human, there’s always this desire for more. This isn’t the end, I think. Anyway, maybe I shouldn’t have asked for advice anyway–after all, whatever people say, I’d still be creating art. That’s just what artists do.

We’d like to thank Benjo for taking the time to speak to us. You can find more of his work at his deviantart gallery.

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Rocket Kapre is an imprint of Eight Ray Sun Publishing Inc. (a new Philippine-based publisher), dedicated to bringing the very best of Philippine Speculative Fiction in English to a worldwide audience by means of digital distribution. More info can be found at our About section at the top of the page.