Memorable Characters from Philippine Speculative Fiction

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On January - 27 - 2010

This Saturday, 30 January 2010, I’ll be one of the speakers at the Project 20:10 launch at the Ateneo High School Fair. (For those interested in the project, the first part of my interview with Ria Lu is up on Metakritiko today.) I’ll be talking about creating paranormal characters, so I thought it might be a good warm up to talk about a few more-than-human characters from Philippine Speculative fiction and komiks who I’ve found to be memorable, and to try to analyze why I found them memorable. These aren’t necessarily my favorite characters mind you, as that’s largely a matter of reader preference/affinity for particular personalities… but whether or not the reader remembers the character is, I think, something a tad more objective, and a more universal goal for creators to aspire to.

That being said, this is still a personal and subjective aggregation (and in no way comprehensive), so please feel free to suggest others in the comments.

(Images from the slider image are attributed below)

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Zuma

Key words: Unity of Elements.

Why I remember him: While the fact I was so young when I first saw him is certainly a factor (nothing takes so permanent an impression as a child’s mind), the striking–yet simple–character design is probably what makes Zuma such a memorable character. While it would take years for special effects and costume technology to reach the point where heroes such as Batman and Spiderman could be rendered on-screen in a non-campy way, the 1985 Zuma film pretty much nailed its title character–not that difficult a task really, since all they needed to do was shave Max Laurel’s head, dye him green, and give him a two-headed snake. Yet those three elements were enough to convey the other-ness, the power and the malice which defined Zuma as a villain. While his costume, so to speak, is basic, every aspect of it was geared towards producing a singular impression.

(Image source: Artwork by Gilbert Monsanto)

The Protagonist in “The Death and Rebirth of Nathaniel Alan Sempio”

Key words: Force of Personality.

Why I remember him: I can’t say too much without spoiling the story (which appears in Philippine Speculative Fiction III and our charity anthology, Ruin and Resolve) but suffice it to say that this story is a very good example of how to communicate character without exposition, heck, without introspection even. The entire story is told via a running narration of the protagonist, speaking to his foe as he invades the latter’s stronghold, and author Alexander Osias captures a specific tone with the dialogue that gives you a clear picture of the personality of the protagonist, so that by the time his identity is revealed at the end, everything makes perfect sense.

Az

Key words: Capability and Contrast.

Why I remember him: While it is always important to make sure that your main characters aren’t perfect, not every story is made for the “everyman” (or everywoman) hero, and the perennial popularity of your typical action blockbuster (whether made here or in Hollywood) is a testament to the appeal of watching a highly competent character enter a conflict, and resolve it using his/her superhuman skills. With his, *ahem* years of experience, Az–the hero of Michael Co’s The God Equation (full name withheld)–certainly fits the bill. Of course, the tricky part of making your character a bad-ass, is that you need to make sure that you still have an interesting conflict, and in this story that’s accomplished via a physical handicap and relocating the central conflict to a plane other than the physical.

Another aspect that made Az interesting was the contrast: between him and the other characters; between the nature of his job and the manner by which he goes about it; between his jaded personality (revealed through the tone of the first person narration) and what one would expect from one of his… stature.  People aren’t monolithic entities, and giving a character certain inconsistent or clashing traits can make him or her more real.

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The Kambal

Key words: Mystery and Delayed Gratification.

Why I remember them: Another example of a simple, yet striking, character design, the twin bodyguards of Alexandra Trese, of Trese fame, are also prime examples of one method of making characters memorable–by making them enigmas. When the Kambal first made their appearance, the readers didn’t know quite what to make of them; the world of Trese was populated by familiar–if reimagined–characters from Philippine mythology, but the powers possessed by the masked twins didn’t seem to place them within any known type. In the first two graphic novels, little is revealed about the twins, but the creators made sure that what was revealed would pique the interest of the reader: why were they referred to as half-breeds? Why were they so devoted to their “Bossing”? Why did they wear those masks? When, in the third volume of the series (“Trese: Mass Murders”), their origin is finally revealed, the payoff is more powerful–and more memorable–because the question of their origin had already been at the forefront of readers’ minds for so long. If you want to see just how different–and less effective–the characters would have been without the mystery, check out writer Budjette Tan’s commentary at the end of “Mass Murders”, where he talks about what he’d originally planned as the origin of the twins, before artist Kajo Baldisimo came up with a better idea. If everything about the Kambal had been revealed from the very beginning (even if we use their current origin as opposed to their original origin), the characters become less interesting, and in a way, less believable.

(Image source: Artwork by Kajo Baldisimo)

Epefania

Key words: Extreme Exaggeration.

Why I remember her: Um, because I wanted to kill her for most of the story? Subjective biases aside (I have very little affinity for her personality type), what makes Epefenia (the heroine of Ian Rosales Casocot’s The Sugilanon of Epefania’s Heartbreak) exemplifies how you can make a character memorable by pushing an aspect or trait of that character to extreme levels–in this case, Epifania’s desire for the boy named Bangbangin. Because of the type of story this is, Casocot manages to push this desire (and the lengths she goes to satisfy it) to truly epic proportions, and while that won’t be appropriate for every story, many characters are memorable precisely because they have such strongly identifiable extreme traits (think Sherlock Holmes, or Jack Sparrow, or  Haruhi Suzumiya).

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Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah

Key words: Twist and Combine.

Why I remember him/her: Probably the most recognizable superhero/ine post-Mars Ravelo, the appeal of Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah character is that creator Carlo Vergara took so many different concepts, re-imagined them, then combined them in one character. Sure there have been gay Filipino superheroes before (no, sadly, we can’t forget She-Man) , but those were primarily played for laughs–and while there’s plenty of humor in Zaturnnah, at the same time, Vergara took what could easily have become a mere caricature and infused it with a more nuanced (as Soledad Reyes puts it) characterization of a bakla character. Zaturnnah then becomes, not only a twist on the idea of Darna, but also (at least, as her alter-ego Ada) of the stereotypical bakla, and that combination and twisting of archetypes is what gives her character the depth that makes her memorable (and, like other great characters, a worthy subject for analysis and interrogation.)

(Image source: Artwork/wallpaper by Carlo Vergara )

Well, those are the characters that first came to mind when I decided to write about this topic. Do any of you have particularly memorable characters you’d like to mention? Feel free to use the comments section ^_^

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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.

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