VN Benedicto (zahntelmo on deviantart) is responsible for the artwork that graces Eliza Victoria’s story, “Elsewhere” in Usok #2. VN grew up in Romblon, in a place where the old stories (which remind VN of Lovecraft) are very much alive. He retained his love for local myths and legends, and is working on Diwata Nation, a shared world project that is very much influenced by Philippine mythology. A member of CG Pintor, and a digital painter ever since his brother gave him a Graphire4, you can view his works at his deviantart gallery. Today, we talk to VN about his love of myth, steampunk, and how he created the art for Elsewhere:
I was struck by the amount of local folklore inspired artwork you have in your deviantart gallery. When did you become interested in Philippine mythology?
I’ve been drawn to folklore ever since I was a little kid. I was fortunate to grow up in a place where oral folklore still exists, if you know where to look.
Where do you turn to for information about Philippine mythology and folklore? I’m a bit of an enthusiast myself, and resource materials can be hard to find.
In the interwebs there’s the Encyclopedia Mythica, Maximo D. Ramos’ A Survey of Philippine Lower Gods, even Wikipedia… also, I found John Maurice Miller’s Philippine Folklore Stories in the Gutenberg Project archives.
What is it about Philippine mythology that inspires you?
I love all mythology and folklore. But of course I’m more fond of the ones I grew up with, it’s what inspired me to be a fantasist.
Do you have a favorite myth or legend? What about a favorite character?
Let’s see… Well in our province there is an island called Kayatung that is supposed to be a capital of the engkanto realm and a lot of lore are tied to it. Old people claim to have seen golden ships arriving or leaving that island, possessed people are supposed to have been taken there during their possession, and people who go crazy are said to have [had their souls brought] there and will remain insane until their soul/essence returns to their body. There are supposed to be invisible bridges and roads connecting Kayatung to other engkanto cities. Sounds like a really nice place to visit, so if I go insane you know where to find me.
One of your projects, Diwata Nation, seems to draw heavily on Philippine mythology, re-imagining the diwata into a matriarchal government that seems like it would fit right into a secondary world, fantasy novel. Can you tell me a bit more about Diwata Nation?
It’s a world building project about a realm where magic and mana are the foundation of technology. Mana, despite ecological issues, is relatively easy to procure. But since for some reason people who are born in the realm somehow lack the affinity for magic, they have to scout for recruits in our world and raise them to become members of a sisterhood of mages. This Diwata Sisterhood is the most influential economic, political, academic, and military force in the entire realm, hence the term Diwata Nation. There is also a race of arboreal elves called the Inkantu and a sort of sci-fi type race of amphibians called the Sho-kui.
One of your Diwata Nation stories was included in an indie komik anthology which your group sold at the komikon. How would you describe the experience you had with self publishing?
Well my group-mates did all the work for that since I live far from Manila. But the idea that there are people out there reading and owning something you created is just too cool.
Are there any komiks at the moment that you enjoy, or creators who you love?
Unfortunately I no longer have access to comic books, I haven’t bought a comic book in like… four years, lol.
Do you have any plans to create more komiks?
As soon as I come up with a story and some time to draw it, sure.
How did you go about creating the artwork for “Elsewhere“? I’m glad this one was assigned to you, considering the subject matter, since you’ve done comics before.
It was kind of intimidating since I haven’t done a sequential page in a looooong time. And I have never done a fully digital comic page. I spent a lot of time just coming up with a layout. I also relied heavily on references for both the colors and pose of the hand in order to make it reasonable realistic, and kept the rendering of the page loose so as to contrast with the realism of the hand.
I was also very happy to see “steampunk” as one of your subgalleries, and doubly pleased to see a few steampunk pieces in a Philippine setting, something I rarely see. What about steampunk appeals to you?
I like the aesthetics of it I guess, and mixing in some Filipino elements seems like a natural thing to do to give it an element of originality.
Do you think that steampunk can make inroads here in the Philippines as well?
Definitely. I think the more interesting question is: why hasn’t it? We should put more effort into establishing a local steampunk scene. A steampunk cosplay would be awesome.
What’s the most important piece of art advice you’ve ever received?
“It will be difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.” Miyamoto Musashi said that and by god he is right.
How did you get started as an artist?
I started drawing when I was very young. I had cousins that would give me their old Marvel and DC comics and I would try to copy the images. When I started going to school the last few pages of all my notebooks we’re filled with drawings.
When did you start creating works through digital painting? Was it difficult to make the transition?
It was just something that started happening gradually when my brother gave me a wacom graphire 4 as a gift. I started using it to color my pencils, then started doodling with it, and eventually moved on to full-color digital stuff.
How many hours in a day do you spend drawing/painting?
If I’m not working on a project, my drawing habits are a bit erratic. Sometimes I draw almost the entire day, sometimes days would go by without me doing anything, but whenever I come up with something I want to draw I would spend one to four hours on it, then over the next few days I would work on it little by little until I’m satisfied.
If you could own five pieces of original artwork–paintings, comics pages, animation cells, anything at all–which five pieces would these be?
I would like to have five Alfredo Alcala pages on my wall. Or five Hayao Miyazaki cells. Or five Adam Hughes girl art. Any of those would be sweet.
In five years, what do you hope to have achieved, as an artist? Any dream projects, whether you’re already working on them or plan to in the future?
My dream project is definitely a Diwata Nation graphic novel. If I can put that out in the next five years, I’ll die happy… but not immediately after of course. Hahaha.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Romblon island, in the province of… Romblon. It’s somewhere in the middle of the Philippine archipelago.
What’s your family like?
It’s one big happy family, with an emphasis on big, and no I don’t mean numerically. And more importantly with an emphasis on happy.
When you’re not drawing/painting, what occupies your time?
I spend my free time loitering in the interwebs.
What would you consider yourself to be a passionate fan of? (It could be a TV show, a comic book, a celebrity, even a particular food.)
Recently I discovered H.P. Lovecraft. Many of his stories remind me of those folklore and horror tales that the old people around me used to tell while they were doing household chores.
We’d like to thank VN for speaking with us. You can see more of his work at his deviantart gallery.