Adarna House

Ang Ibong Adarna

The story of Ibong Adarna – the mystical bird whose singing cures an ailing king – is part of any Filipino’s childhood storyscape. The epic was written in the 15th century during the Spanish times as a corrido, or a narrative song in the form of a poem. The story has been popularized by adaptations in film, TV, and other media. I confess that I may not have read the actual poem, since we discussed a different epic poem when I was in high school.

A couple of months ago, Adarna House, one of the Philippines’ children’s books publishers asked me to illustrate the cover and provide chapter breaks for a new edition of the book edited by National Artist Virgilio Almario. I finally got to read the entire text for the first time.

The initial direction for the cover art was more in line with 60’s Marvel Comics covers, that’s why the initial type treatment was more bombastic.

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But after a couple of iterations, we settled on the direction below.

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Unapproved Study

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Final Illustration

Before rendering anything though, I made some rough character studies for the main characters. The character studies served as a guide when I was making the comic page style chapter breaks.

Here are the chapter breaks for the book rendered in comics form.

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Chapter 1

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Chapter 2

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Chapter 3

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Chapter 4

Pictures and Words

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My friends and I gave a talk at the Philippine Literary Festival held at Raffles Makati last August 30, 2015. With me in the panel were Liza Flores, Ray Sunga, and Sergio Bumatay III. We were a bit surprised by the turnout; we actually expected maybe ten attendees tops.

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Liza Flores gave an introduction about our organization Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan and talked about her process for her recent book “My Big Sister Can See Dragons” written by Rocky Sanchez Tirona and published by Canvas. The book’s development underwent the usual process that a children’s book goes through in the Philippines, wherein a publisher commissions an illustrator to provide images for an existing story. Liza’s illustrations for the book were all large scale papercuts mounted on wood. During the book’s launch, the illustrations were exhibited at the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum.

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Sergio Bumatay talked about out his process for his book “May Darating na Trak Bukas” (literally translated as “a truck will arrive tomorrow”) written by National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario and published by Adarna House. Serj’s experience on the book was a bit different since it didn’t originate from a previously written text. Instead, Serj was asked to develop several studies that can serve as inspiration for a new story. From the studies, Adarna House chose one image for Virgilio Almario to base his text on.

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Ray Sunga narrated his personal experiences in being a children’s book illustrator, as well as his process, and his inspirations. He gave insights into what we as illustrators experience in the Philippines (notably how you can’t live on illustrating children’s books alone).

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I talked about my research on word and picture interactions in picture books as well as my learnings from a writers and illustrators workshop I attended in Bintan, Indonesia (more about this in a coming blog post). The point of my presentation was underscore our role as co-storytellers in picture books, a fact that many in the local industry may have glossed over because of the preeminence of the purely written text as primary sources of stories.


The idea of teaching visual storytelling and visual literacy in general seems to be in its nascent stages in the Philippines. Personally, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that parents shy away from stories that are purely pictorial or at least with very few words. I don’t have the facts as to how visual literacy is being taught in Philippine schools nowadays, but I hope illustrators will have a greater role in shaping the conversation in the future.

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“Isang Harding Papel” Formally Launched

“Isang Harding Papel”, our little children’s book set during the Martial Law years was formally launched at the Museo Pambata last November 27, 2014. At the launch were officials of the Edsa People Power Commission (EPPC), the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, cabinet members, and Presidential sister Pinky Aquino-Abellada.

The event coincided with the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino’s birthday. Aquino, a political prisoner during the Martial Law years was assassinated in 1983 at the tarmac of the airport that now bears his name. This set into motion a series of events that led to the People Power revolution of 1986. Aquino’s wife, Corazon Aquino, eventually became president from 1986 to 1991. His son Benigno Aquino III became president in 2010 and occupies that position until 2016.

Here’s a TV coverage of the event:

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EPPC Commissioner Cesar Sarino gives the opening remarks. It feels weird seeing my small illustration printed this big. It feels even weirder to have all these people gathering for a book I drew at home in my shorts and ratty old t-shirts.

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Me being interviewed.

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Storytelling by Bodjie Pascua. I grew up watching Kuya Bodjie on the kids’ TV Show Batibot.

Here’s a new trailer for the book. Don’t mind the tone though. It sort of feels like the main character is some freedom fighter. 😛

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At the Manila International Book Fair

From L-R: Iori Espiritu, Aldy Aguirre, Me, Augie Rivera, Felinda Bagas, Raissa Rivera Falgui

Last September 21, during the 42nd Anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines, we held a book signing at the Adarna House booth at the Manila International Book Fair.

Written by Augie Rivera,“Isang Harding Papel” is a historical children’s book about this dark period in Philippine history.

The book is now available at all leading bookstores in the Philippines or at the Adarna House showroom and website.

Here’s the book trailer:
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Never Forget

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I’ve been busy these past few months working on an upcoming children’s book entitled “Isang Harding Papel” set during the 1970s – the Martial Law years. Written by Augie Rivera and published by Adarna House. The book will be coming out soon.

As with all period stories, research is essential; not just textual research but visual as well. Protest pictures were relatively easy enough to find, as well as images of the infamous Metrocom that truncheoned protesters into submission; but the smaller things proved a bit problematic. For example, what did the National Highway known as EDSA look like before ugly gigantic billboards sprouted up and blotted out the sky? What did the old propaganda billboards of President Marcos and Imelda Marcos look like?

Tight timelines only allowed me internet research with Google image search providing the bulk of the reference pictures. Some sites were particularly useful to my research, though. The blog site The First Quarter Storm Library had a lot of protest images during the early 70s while the flickr site by Gorio72 had loads of bus images and advertisements from various decades in Philippine history.

I was also able to grab some reference pictures from the long out of print book “The History of the Burgis” by Mariel N. Francisco and Fe C. Arriola published in 1987. Here is a little glimpse inside the book.

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For more information about Martial Law and its victims, here’s a link to the Martial Law Memory Project initiated by online news portal, Interaksyon.

I have always been fascinated with this era in Philippine history and it amazes me that in just two decades after Ferdinand Marcos’ exit, people’s feelings about Martial Law are slowly changing from outrage to ambivalence, and for some even fondness. More stories have to be written, movies filmed, and pictures made about our past so that we won’t easily forget.

Lastly, another book that was useful in my research is a pictorial account of the EDSA Revolution – the bloodless revolt during February of 1986 that toppled the Marcos regime. I was only 7 at the time of the revolution but I had vague memories of seeing the coverage on TV and the fervor of those heady days spilling onto our school.

Here are some images from the book:

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Vote for Guardians of Tradition at the Filipino Reader’s Choice Awards!

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I just found out that Guardians of Tradition, the book that I helped design and illustrate, was nominated for this year’s Filipino Reader’s Choice Awards.  Online voting  is currently open until Sept. 6, 2013.

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The book is nominated under the Children’s Picture Book Category along with a lot of other terrific children’s books, a majority of which were made by my friends. What is surprising though is that Guardians of Tradition  is the ONLY NON-FICTION children’s book in the category.online_ballot

I hope Filipino readers out there can find time to check out the book and vote it in the Filipino Reader’s Choice Awards. You can vote HERE

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Published by Adarna House, Guardians of Tradition was written by the late Mae Astrid Tobias, photographed by Renato S. Rastrollo and illustrated by me. The book features the recipients of The Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan – an award created in 1992 through Republic Art no. 7355  honoring and financially supporting those who have devoted their lives to keeping the practice of traditional Philippine folk arts alive.

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Eleven artists who have excelled in weaving, carving, performing arts, literature, textile and pottery have been profiled along with concise descriptions of their chosen art form.

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These individuals embody the cultural tradition of the Philippines and sadly, some of them have already passed away.

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The book also features little activities for children related to the art form of the profiled artist.

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I was glad to work on the project because the book is a great primer for anyone interested in finding out a little bit more about our country’s indigenous art forms. Props to Mae Astrid Tobias for writing this book and a load of thanks to Adarna House (special mention to publisher Ani Almario and artists/designers Eli Camacho and Borg Sinaban) for making the project happen. I hope a lot of kids eventually get to read it.

Guardians of Tradition (The Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan) is available the Adarna House showroom at Scout Torillo corner Scout Fernandez Streets, Barangay Sacred Heart, Quezon City 1103 Philippines and at all National Bookstore Outlets.