Monday, December 21, 2009

Inquirer article: The Rise of Manix

By Ruel S. De Vera
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: December 19, 2009

IT appears to be just another graphic novel, its matte black cover peppered with what seem to be teardrops, each of them containing a falling humanoid figure – save one. The biggest drop carries the book’s title: “12.” There is no author’s name; there isn’t anything else except the darkness. And it gets weirder from that point on.

As the pages flip past, the reader is greeted by exactly 12 tales featuring these tiny figures, ranging from bizarre love to existentialism to metahumanity to cosmic awareness to, well, just plain oddness. All these unfold on colored, glossy pages but without a single word. It’s unlike any Filipino comic book ever made.

Welcome to the brave new world of Filipino comics, courtesy of Manuel Luis “Manix” Abrera, a world where the panels are constantly shifting and the universe is continually swirling. Manix is the unusual brain trust behind “12” – Manix being one who used to be better known as the son of venerable artist Jesus “Jess” Abrera, Inquirer editorial cartoonist and creator of the “A.Lipin” comic strip. Then Manix was known as the creator of the rollicking, street smart comic strip “Kikomachine” and the band Kiko Machine, later the best-selling author of five “Kikomachine Komix” compilations.

Now, just like his new project, the 27-year-old Manix is something else altogether, or as he likes to say emphatically, “Rakenrol!”

To a certain extent, it’s the same old story, though. Inspired by his father, Manix made his own comics as a kid, joined the Philippine Collegian and graduated in 2003 with a Fine Arts degree major in Visual Communications from the University of the Philippines Diliman. It was there that he perfected his take on student life in “Kikomachine,” which would later appear in the Inquirer funny pages. Those strips built quite a following, with the latest volume “Kikomachine Komix Blg. 5: Alab ng Puso, Sa Dibdib Mo’y Buhay” as the latest incarnation. “Super OK yung ‘Kikomachine Komix,’” he says.

But his journey to wordlessness began with a silent comics entry for Fully Booked’s Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards, which landed in second place. “After that, I thought about trying to continue making silent comics because it requires a different discipline and it has the nifty effect of offering different interpretations and readings,” Manix says in his enthusiastic Filipino. Plus, he felt that “Kikomachine” had become too text-heavy; so he went to the opposite extreme. Along the way, he realized how unique the project could be.

When the time came to find a publisher bold enough to take on such a different publication, Manix found himself with maverick publisher Visual Print Enterprises – Visprint for short – drawn by the publisher’s work with such comic books as Carlo Vergara’s “Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah.” An exploratory e-mail led to a “Super OK” relationship.

The crucial moment was when Manix made a presentation for what would become “12” for VisPrint’s gatekeeper Nida Ramirez, complete with a formal outfit and sample pages. Ramirez laughed at the outfit but was impressed by the samples, so soon VisPrint took the quiet plunge. A point of constant discussion was the price: at one point, “12” was going to cost P800 a copy; VisPrint eventually got it down to P500. “It was a tiring and scary stage but really fun,” says Manix, who literally hugged the first copy of “12” that came off the press.

The reaction to “12” has been nothing short of rhapsodic. Manix says it’s heartening to see that the concept of silent comics works. “Sobrang saya at nakakaiyak din (Overjoyed and also tearful),” he says is how he feels about “12” as a finished product. Now he’s determined to pursue this new, if very, very quiet direction.

Meanwhile, he hasn’t forgotten the other hardcore aspects of his life. The original Kiko Machine band has disbanded, but he now rocks in a new band called Gorgoro which, well, has a puppet for a vocalist. “May video at links sa,” says Manix, who currently subsists on a “Rakenrol” diet of Metallica and Weezer but admits to preferring old Pinoy ballads when he’s drawing at odd hours. He remains part of the UP Dragonboat team and the UP Marine Biological Society. Manix has even managed to find time to cautiously work his way towards an MFA at UP. He is now hard at work at the sixth “Kikomachine Komix” compilation due out next year.

Right now, he is savoring the silent success of “12,” a project that took a good two years of his life, on and off from 2006 and 2008, aimed at “creative collaboration with the reader.”

Serendipity played its patent part. Finishing with 12 strips was completely unexpected, so in typical Manix style, he chose that number to be the book’s title.

In the end, it is all about “12.” It is a comic book that boasts no right or wrong way of reading. “Sumisigaw na katahimikan at kawirduhan” (screaming silence and weirdness) is what “12” is all about. It is the soundless map which celebrates and exemplifies just how Manix Abrera has colored way, way outside all the imagined lines. •

“12” is available in leading bookstores. For information, visit

[original source here]