The world is curious about the monsters that keep us Filipinos up at night, and that hunger for our stories has come at a time when worldwide media has set its sights on stories by people of color—or what many are calling the #NewVoices.
Mervin Malonzo, author of Tabi Po and co-creator of The Lost Journal of Alejandro Pardo, explains that there’s a curiosity about the monsters and mythologies from different countries. In a live talk with Summit Books at this year’s Philippine Readers and Writers Festival, he says that there is a new drive all over the world to look for unique content that’s not conventionally found in western mythologies.
Pardo co-creator Budjette Tan, who also created the comic series-turned-animated show Trese, agrees.
“I think [Philippine mythology] is really appealing to international audiences especially since we only highlight the differences. [A manananggal] is not just another vampire blood-sucking creature. It’s a segmenter. There’s also a whole ritual of swallowing a black chick to become an aswang. It’s disgusting and very unique to us. I think the more we highlight the uniqueness of it, the more it becomes intriguing for new readers,” said Budjette when we asked him about the appeal of our mythologies to the rest of the world.
Budjette and Merv are no strangers to retelling Filipino mythology and, with David Hontiveros, Kajo Baldisimo, and Bow Guerrero, they created The Lost Journal five years ago to create a modern catalogue of our monsters interspersed with very meta stories. They look back on how they came up with the book and how that eventually spawned the sequel, The Black Bestiary.
(Get your copy of The Black Bestiary on Lazada.)
Budjette recounts that the pitch of the book really began with the idea of creating a book about Philippine mythology. But then the writers Budjette Tan and David Hontiveros got hold of copies of Maximo Ramos’ books on Philippine mythology. So the next logical question was, “Okay, Maximo Ramos has done this already. How can we do it differently?”
“The dangerous thing to do in front of David Hontiveros is to tell him or give him that germ of an idea,” Budjette says. “And I said, ‘Well, what if it wasn’t written by us and it was written by somebody else who actually met these creatures?’ When you say a line like that to David and you call him up the next day, he’ll say ‘Budj, I have 200 pages of this thing.’”
David came up with the name Alejandro Pardo, along with the first batch of monster entries. In a way, David created the voice of Pardo and the modern day narrators.
Budjette adds, “The whole meta concept idea for this book is that we got the original copy of the manuscript, therefore we’re just reading a copy of it. It is several steps away from what Maximo Ramos has done, because if you read the Maximo Ramos books, they are very straightforward retellings of what you know.” According to Budjette, Ramos and his students did an anthropological and sociological study of our mythologies for these books. They interviewed people, noted down and compiled those into stories, thereby categorizing our country’s many different creatures.
Pardo, of course, took things in a more different, more fictional direction.
The idea for the art style was similar. The authors created three different characters who became the artists in Pardo’s story to correspond and explain why there are three different styles.
Budjette and David gave Merv, Kajo, and Bow the freedom to interpret the monsters in their own way, and the writers even adjusted their narratives for the illustrations as they came, Merv said. The book was indeed a product of a full collaboration of all five creators.
Now, five years after the Pardo books were first introduced to the world, Budjette has this to say: “I can’t help but think more about the reader’s reactions to it. Well, it’s gonna sound bad, but I’m happy that we fool people into thinking that Alejandro Pardo is real, because there are some people who would message us to say ‘Totoo po ba ’to? Saan niyo po nahanap ’yong ano?’”
As for their favorite monsters from the books? Budjette’s are the Dalakitnon and the Buwaya. Merv’s is the Buwaya.
Fresh from the success of Trese on Netflix, Budjette contemplates how Filipino stories have been accepted in the world in the same live talk.
(Check out our interview with the creators of the Netflix hit anime here.)
When asked about if writing Trese is culturally very different from how other countries approach their comic books, Budjette answers, “There was a big question when ‘Trese’ was launched: ‘Why do we think it’s accepted globally?’ And our answer to that is because we were telling a detective story and that’s how we introduced the new monsters and the new mythology to the rest of the world.”
He adds that Filipino superheroes are more like folk heroes more often than not.
Meanwhile, Merv also recounts his experience creating an animated adaptation of the comic book Ella Arcangel. While doing the project, he realized that, most of the time, heroes are perched on top of buildings overlooking the city. But Ella is not up there. She’s with the people she’s trying to protect with the monsters she fights. She doesn’t have resources. She lives in the slums. That was the angle they wanted for that story.
“It’s great that publishers out there are actively seeking out the new voices and to specifically say that we want this anthology or this book to feature persons of color,” Budjette says at the tail end of the talk. “Then it’s just putting the spotlight on upcoming authors or maybe even old-time authors that never had the chance to be seen.”
He adds that this new generation of publishers see that there is a need yet to be filled in the market of selling stories.
“There’s definitely not enough books out there that showcase and highlight our folklore and mythology,” Budjette explains. In the case of mythological creatures for more Pardo books, he says that there are more monsters out there that could fill five to six more books.
“There’s definitely more creatures out there. I know everyone wants to write about a manananggal story, but stop writing about mananggal stories or find a different way to tell it. There are definitely hundreds of creatures out there, and that might just be the creature that will blow everyone’s minds away when you tell that story.”
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