Mervin Malonzo’s “Tabi Po” is a beautifully illustrated webcomic that until recently was only available in Filipino. Now, Mervin has released an English language version on the Kindle and will be releasing another version on the Nook and the iBookstore. (Note that the Kindle version has a different layout than the original comic – the “sample” button is your friend.) I took the opportunity to speak to Mervin about “Tabi Po”, the pros and cons of webcomics, and the new English international editions.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Did you always want to create comics?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to create my own comic ever since I took hold of my first issue of Funny Komiks, ever since the days I watched cartoons on TV as a child. And I did! I remember creating my first comic on my used notebooks, a story about mutant ants! “Mutant” because they have powers not entirely different from the ones the X-Men have, and ants because at the time I was obsessed with watching the line of ants in the roadside canal near our house (I still do that, by the way). Watching ants always made me wonder how it would feel to be as small as them. Of course, thinking about it right now, I guess we really are as small as them when you really think about it.
Anyway, my love for drawing comics led me to take up Fine Arts – Painting in UP Diliman instead of Chemistry in UP Los Baños (I passed there as well), to the great dismay of some of my relatives. “Walang pera sa fine arts”, they would say. I resigned from work two years ago to form my own design team with my friends (Pepe&thePolygons) so that I could work whenever I needed to and do comics whenever I wanted to.
How would you pitch “Tabi Po” to new readers? What’s it about, and why should people read it?
Hmm.. for most of my readers, it turned out that saying it had “UNCENSORED NUDITY, BLOOD, VIOLENCE AND SEX” did the trick. Haha!
But to publishers and other people I’d like to impress, I would say, “It’s my own interpretation or deconstruction of the Philippine mythology and folklore. I made the aswangs, engkantos, diwatas and anitos as real as I could, putting them in our history, creating a feasible origin story for them and how they were affected by and will in turn affect the human race. Are aswang really different from humans? I am also fusing some Christian beliefs with the old nature worship. Ultimately, it is my explanation of how our world would work if these beings really existed. The purpose of this whole epic is to make the reader think about human nature, the environment, religion and the meaning of life, the universe and everything–all while still being entertained.” Of course, you do not see this yet in our story so far but that’s the grand plan. It’s not really all violence and nudity, you’ll see.
Why did you pick an Aswang for the hero of your book?
Because I believed that it would be interesting and fresh! In most stories, aswangs are often depicted as the enemy, the evil ones, the devils! And they are commonly drawn as monsters, deformed and really really wretched.
I wanted to attack these norms. So I made them the center of the story and made them beautiful and almost human. They do not need to transform into monsters to look terrifying. Wouldn’t it be scarier if they looked human while they fed on humans?
Are they evil? Maybe so, because they kill! But humans also kill, right? Having an aswang as my “bida” allows me to have that moral ambiguity. There is no pure good and pure evil in this world, my friends!
Tabi-Po began — and continues to update as — a webcomic. Most independent komiks creators elect to self-publish physical copies for sale at conventions, rather than release the comic on the web for free. Personally I see web comics as an untapped realm for local creators, but what made you decide to go the webcomic route? What have been the advantages or disadvantages so far?
I just wanted to create a comic. And since I’m a web designer, it is easier for me to create a comic online than in print. It is for free because honestly, at first I did not know whether I was any good at all and I didn’t expect a lot of people to read it because of the subject matter. So in the beginning it was just a comic by me for myself, created using the skills and resources that I have.
As for the advantages and disadvantages of being a webcomic:
- Speed – I could do the pages and then upload/publish them immediately.
- Fun – I don’t have to think about marketing and the business side of things before I am able to share my work. That allows me to just enjoy the actual creation of the comic.
- Distribution – the Internet has a wide reach! People from around the world can read my comic and in turn, I’ve been able to accumulate fans around the world.
- Color – I could use any color I want as opposed to creating it in black and white, the usual indie-style, because printing in color would be pricy.
- As I mentioned above, I am a web designer. I am used to maintaining a website. J
- I don’t get paid
- Sometimes, I feel that the industry does not accept it as a real comic because it is digital and has not actually been published/printed.
- There’s a temptation to become lazy, because I am my own boss and the site is so easy to update.
You recently launched an international ebook edition through Flipside. How is this different from the webcomic?
Aside from the language, the webcomic is a work in progress, as opposed to the ebook. In the webcomic, I just create and upload. It does not go through any editorial process. The truth is I really liked it that way – raw. But when writing a real book for a real audience who would actually pay for it, I really needed to show it to other writers first and make it as perfect as possible before I released it to the market. Totoo na to e. :p So I’m lucky to have Adam David as the translator and you can say, editor as well. I did receive feedback from Josel Nicolas and DJ Legaspi before, so they also deserve to be credited.
What made you decide to release this international edition?
Honestly? I could use the extra money! Haha! It’s true. I do this for the love of it but getting paid for it wouldn’t hurt. So please buy!
Another reason is that I like to promote the Philippine culture as well as other Filipino comic book creators. “Tabi Po” will showcase a lot of characters from our mythology, our history, our way of life, our beliefs, etc. And as I have said, I wanted to put all of this in an entertaining package that people will enjoy. I mean, look at how the western countries devour Japanese culture today, I want the Philippine culture to also have that recognition.
Let me take this opportunity to thank Flipside Digital for helping me introduce “Tabi Po” to the international market.
Is it strange seeing your work in English? Do you think that there’s a difference in the reading experience between the Filipino and English versions?
Very strange indeed! It felt like I was reading and enjoying an entirely different comic. I don’t know how Adam did it but he added new textures to the characters with the way they talk. You should see the translations for book 2! But yeah, I guess you have to wait.
But if you are Filipino, I suggest reading TABI PO in Filipino. Because the setting is here. And also, I’m really really keen on using Filipino as the language for my comics because not a lot of creators do that anymore. English is a second language for me. I only translate for the benefit of the international audience.