Words and Pictures at Play: An Interview with Elbert Or

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On April - 8 - 2013
Writer/artist/creator Elbert Or is one of the special guests at this Saturday’s Summer Komikon 2013. where he will be launching his first Bakemono High compilation. I’ve known Elbert for a while, and he’s one of the most creative and driven people in Philippine comics, and he graciously agreed to sit down and talk about Bakemono High, his creative process, and comics for younger readers. He also gives us an exclusive: a colored version of a 2 page Bakemono High story that appears in black and white in the compilation.
Q: Thanks for your time Elbert! For those readers who don’t know your work, can you tell us a bit about your work in comics? You’ve certainly amassed quite a body of work through the years.
Sure thing! Let’s see…if I had to put together a bullet list of highlights, it’ll maybe be something like this:
  • Four years in college spent creating and peddling photocopied comics, at a time when there weren’t a lot of venues and opportunities to sell them. I also ran a comics org in Ateneo for a couple years.
  • Convinced my comics literature professor Jamie Bautista to try his hand at making his own comics. He ended up forming Nautilus Comics with me as the first employee, and over the course of a couple years released National Book Award-winning anthologies Siglo: FreedomSiglo: Passion, and the popular teen series Cast. I also contributed to various anthologies.
  • Conducted comics workshops across the country in an attempt to provide aspiring creators with opportunities that weren’t available to me when I was starting out, and eventually opened a comics creation elective in Ateneo.
  • Worked with various publishers like Anvil Publishing, Tahanan Books, Psicom Publishing, Milflores Publishing to try and open the doors for comics.
  • Worked with foreign publishers, from Chuang Yi in Singapore to Archaia Press and Oni Press in the U.S. The most prominent of these is the YALSA-winning Lola: A Ghost Story, which I illustrated for J. Torres.
  • Through all these, I created material across a range of genres too, from superhero stories (Jet Titanium, Super Space Ranger), to adventure stories for young girls (The Many Adventures of Stephanie Smee) to shonen manga-style stories (Card Battler Teks) to this one, Bakemono High.
Q: You’ll be at the Summer Komikon with a compilation of you Bakemono High comic. Again, for those unfamiliar with is K-Zone run, can you tell us what Bakemono High is all about?
Bakemono High is set in a school for monsters, and mostly follows three friends — Max, a vampire who’s a stickler for rules; Chuck, a werewolf who likes adventure almost as much as he likes food; and Amy, a mummy who’s a boy named sort of like a girl and is deathly afraid of everything!
Q: You’ve mentioned that there’s a lot of never-before-seen content in this compilation — around 30%. What can old readers look forward to in these new strips?
I don’t know if that’s a lot, but yeah, there’s some strips there that haven’t been published. If anything though, the biggest thing is that the cover says “book one,” which for me is an inherent promise that there will be a book two. And if all goes well, that’ll be out as soon as October. With 100% new content!

Q: So it’s true then — you’ll be continuing the series in the future?

I plan on continuing the series in the future, and have actually started work on the next book. What I’m discovering is that when it was being serialized in K-Zone, I was restricted to mostly one- to two-page installments, and I wanted to be sure they were self-contained but still be meaty enough story-wise. That meant compressing a lot of material into a small amount of space. With this new format, I’m letting myself — and the stories — breathe a bit more. Bigger panels to show off the art, or even just being able to dwell on the smaller character moments instead of speeding from one plot point to the next. It’s all getting me quite excited and reinvigorated as the creator!
Q: You are both a writer and an artist. Does one role or the other come more naturally to you? Or, perhaps, are they inseparable to you?
They’re actually quite inseparable, and if you look at my notes, whether they’re for comics projects or even for my day-to-day life tasks and work meetings, they’re littered with words and pictures playing with each other. I guess that’s really just how my mind works!
Q: What comics did you read as a child?
I read a lot of Tintin, Archie, Calvin and Hobbes, Dragonball Z, and Funny Komiks! Thinking about it now, that’s actually a healthy range of comics material don’t you think? Haha! It’s like a United Nations of Comics! I want to say it’s by design, that I’m reading Eurocomics beside American comics and newspaper strips beside Japanese and Filipino comics, but really I was just consuming whatever I could get my hands on!
Q: Does anything change, in your artistic process, in creating a book aimed at children, as opposed to one aimed at a more general audience?
I think if anything I tend to think more visually when I’m writing all-ages material. Lots of moments where I would either use a specific image in my head as a starting point for the story, or “This would look cool!”
On the other hand, for some reason, I find that I think more in terms of dialogue when writing more mature stuff. It’s not something I’m really conscious about though; really this is the first time I’ve had to articulate it! Do kids and younger characters just go and do, while adults like to talk things out? Is that how I see things? I don’t know what that says about me!
Q: What advice can you give comics creators in general, and those who want to make stories for children in particular?
In general, I always tell aspiring creators to stop aspiring and start creating. If you want to be a writer, write! If you want to be an artist, draw! The only way you get better at making comics is by keeping on using them. Just like muscles!
As for specific advice…well, it almost doesn’t matter if you’re making stories for kids or for adults: you have to write something that is true to yourself. It may be true to who you are now, or it may be something that is true to the 10-year old you, but it has to be true to some version of you.
I’m not talking about facts, I’m talking perspective. Wiser men have said, “don’t talk down to kids when you’re writing for them,” and that’s true: I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I could tell when some adults were trying to pull my leg, and telling me something that I know just isn’t true! (If you don’t finish your ampalaya, people in Africa will die from hunger!) On the other hand, I also can remember believing in things that were just outright, boldfaced lies, all because I admired or loved the people who said them! (Your school is built on a graveyard and it’s haunted by spooky ghosts!)

Q: What types of stories would you like to see more of, from the local comics industry?

I don’t know what I want to see more of, specifically, because what I really want to see is something I’ve never seen before, something fresh and exciting!

What I’m sure I want to see less of though are fantasy comics with characters wearing bahags and tikbalangs and manananggals. Surely there are more creatures of folklore than that! I realize we have a rich history and tradition of folk literature, and there will always be a place for that, but right now, I’m really just at the point where I want to see the future right here, right now.
And now, an exclusive colored comic preview of Bakemono High!

One Response to “Words and Pictures at Play: An Interview with Elbert Or”

  1. Danry Ocampo says:

    Hi Paolo,

    Great interview. Love the colored Komiks from Sir Elbert.

    See you.

    Danry

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