San Juan in the 19th Century

I was commissioned to do a set of pen and ink illustrations for an upcoming book on the City of San Juan. This kept me occupied for the past two weeks as I tried to fit in hours of cross-hatching with my day job. My hand was aching after I finished the entire set. Now I remember why I don’t do that much pen and ink work.

These drawings are merely interpretations of the descriptions in the book; although I did try as much as I could to research and be historically accurate.

hills-web

river-scene-web

polvorin-web

hybrid-house-web

Contexts

Vestiges of War

I bought the Vestiges of War for 20% off at the recently concluded Manila International Book Fair. Clocking in at 500 pages, it includes visual and critical essays, photographs, plays, poetry, and artwork addressing Philippine-U.S. relations. Very substantial work and worth checking out.

Anyway, the rest of the world is probably unaware that the Philippines was once a colony of the United States of America. During the tail end of the Philippine Revolution of 1898, Spain essentially sold the Philippines (along with other Spanish controlled territories) to the United States via the Treaty of Paris (1898). The Spanish, unwilling to surrender to Filipino forces, entered into a face-saving mock battle with the Americans (see: 1898 Battle of Manila). From being a colony of Spain, we became a colony of the United States.

In the early 1900s, war between the Philippines and the US broke out. American textbooks labelled the conflict as the “Philippine insurrection”. Obviously, the Philippines didn’t win that conflict and so we were America’s “little brown brothers” for the next couple of decades until self-rule was given after World War II.

Now, the Philippines still lives under the shadow of American influence. It seems that we “love” all things American. Our form of government, our educational system, what side of the road we drive in, and our fanaticism with basketball all came from the US of A.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about what it means to be a Filipino artist and we had no easy answers. This country has been taken over by foreign powers three times in its history (four if you count the brief spell the British spent in the 1700s).  Sometimes I think we seem to drown in our influences. Our native tongues choke on borrowed words and ideas. How can we make these influences truly ours? Like I said, no easy answers.

But what is clear is that we must dig deeper into our collective memories. As artists, we have a responsibility to figure out where our art-making lies within the greater context of our culture and history. It doesn’t matter if we make art for social awareness or commercial gain. I think we have to make an effort to understand where our practice lies in the context of those that came before us.

In Which I Get Reacquainted with the X-Men

Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Volumes 1 & 2

Excuse me while I geek out, but I have a confession to make. Despite being an enormous comic book fan (both of the superhero and non-superhero variety), I was never really into the X-Men.

Oh sure, I bought X-Men # 1 back in 1992 like a bajillion others, but I always found the book inaccessible with its army of characters and a back story that stretches back into the 60s. When a friend of mine bought Uncanny X-Men # 275 way back in grade school, I – like a million other boys – was blown away by the Jim Lee art. I hadn’t seen anything like it. Sleek, dynamic, rendered in cross-hatches that made the characters burst out of the page, it was a far cry from anything being published at the time. But, who were these guys in the book? What was going on? I had no idea.*

When Marvel’s Mutant Genesis initiative rolled along in the early 90s and relaunched the X-books, I bought into X-Force, Uncanny X-Men, and X-Men but dropped it all together after a couple of issues. Instead, I fell in love with the quirky Excalibur book by Alan Davis. To this day, I still love those Excalibur issues.

Fast forward to 2014. I had (ahem) “appropriated” some files of Chris Claremont’s early X-Men run and I decided to give it read. I instantly fell in love with it. Although somewhat dated, I realized why the X-Men became such a hit. I quickly bought Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vols. 1 & 2 (who says piracy leads to lost sales?). These volumes featured classic tales like the Proteus Saga, The Dark Phoenix Saga, and Days of Future Past and I suddenly found myself hungry for more X-Men stories.

These days, the X-Men is a whole franchise unto itself. The current book being written by Brian Michael Bendis entitled All-New X-Men features the original 1960s X-Men roster transported into the present time. The run provides a perfect counterpoint to the Claremont stories, like book ends of long epic. Reading Kitty Pryde evolve into the mentoring “Professor K” (essentially playing the role Professor X served in the early X-Men run) provides a nice symmetry with her 1980s introduction as the youngest and greenest X-Man.

So, if anybody is on the fence with these Omnibus editions, I say go ahead and jump into these books. They feature solid superhero stories and the beginnings of some of today’s best loved Marvel characters. ‘Nuff said.

*footnote: Although I never really got into the X-Men in the 90s, I bought and loved Grant Morrison’s New X-Men which I felt was a very contained and complete story from start to finish.

X-Deal : Or How I Got The Book I Wanted

I realized that I have been spending way too much money on books. I think it’s an addiction. Anyway, I thought to myself: why not exchange original art for books that I’ve always wanted to get but were a bit too pricey for me to buy.

Well, when Augie Rivera, author of “Isang Harding Papel” (the book I Illustrated) offered to buy one of my original painted studies for the book, I jumped at the chance. I requested for this particular book – The Philippines in the 19th Century (a collection of prints) by Rudolf J.H. Leitz.

The Philippines in the 19th Century

The book is beautifully illustrated and the captions provide small glimpses into Philippine society during the colonial period.

The Philippines in the 19th Century

The Philippines in the 19th Century

The Philippines in the 19th Century

The Philippines in the 19th Century

The Philippines in the 19th Century

Now, if I can only get someone to buy me The X-Men Omnibus volumes by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee