Category Archives: PHILIPPINES

Carlo Vergara is Leaving Comics and It’s All Our Fault



Carlo Vergara’s Zsazsa Zaturnnah. Image via


Award-winning graphic novelist and playwright Visconde Carlo Vergara announced today that he’s leaving his beloved medium, comics, for monetary reasons. In short, making comics isn’t enough to live on. He writes:

“Yesterday, I met with the organizers of Komikon, and during that meeting we talked about the challenges that local comic book makers are currently facing. Suffice to say, there’s a lot.

“Later that day, I was in a coffee shop and ran into a couple of dear friends I haven’t seen in a long time. During our conversation, one friend talked about a medical procedure he had gone through, a procedure that cost him quite a bit of money.
“After we parted, I began to wonder what would happen if I suddenly had an emergency and I needed a significant amount of money. Money that I didn’t have. And when you reach a certain age without a retirement fund, without a backup when something goes wrong, things become very scary.
“This is the reason why I thought of quitting comics.
“Sure, I’ve had great success with Zaturnnah, but the truth is, I’m practicing my art at a huge loss.”


Vergara is one of the country’s most successful graphic novelists, and even his art is not enough to pay the bills. He breaks it down below:

“What about sales, you might ask? A book author gets less than 10% of a book’s retail price. So if you buy your favorite author’s book at a price of P200, which is the price of Part One, you’re giving him less than P20 for the story. The bulk of that P200 goes into converting that story into a physical book and placing that book in a bookstore.

“In Metro Manila, the current minimum wage is P481 per day. If a minimum wage earner works for four months, then he would earn about P42,000 or P10,250 a month. For a P200 book to reach the same amount, it should sell about 2,100 copies.
“If the author wants to earn just P20,000 a month working full time, then more than 8,000 books have to be sold. And selling 8,000 copies of any book is very, very difficult, moreso for the graphic novel which carries a higher price tag compared to a prose novel. I’ve heard too many comments from people wanting to buy but can’t afford it.
“And this is why I’m thinking of quitting comics, even if it has opened many doors for me. We might point to the adaptations (which I’m grateful for) and merchandising (which honestly hasn’t worked for me), but these are not assurances, and the author has to devote extra time for these.”

This is heartbreaking to fans, but also a wake-up call to the realities of being a creator. Simply put: you don’t earn enough money. Not even when you’re Carlo freaking Vergara. Not even when you are the mind behind brilliant works like Zsazsa Zaturnnah and Kung Paano Ako ay Naging Leading Lady.” Not even when your creations are loved and lauded, not even when your characters have helped shape Philippine pop culture.

This is embarrassing. We want to be constantly entertained and we’re constantly complaining about the Filipino not making enough quality work, and yet we can’t even support the ones that actually do come out with groundbreaking stuff. Sometimes, this is due to economics and can’t be helped–we’re a developing country with a high poverty rate after all, and when it comes to survival, food and shelter will always trump reading. But a lot pf people who do have money to spare either won’t but local because they complain, ‘Why is it so expensive when it’s just locally made?’ or they automatically assume that local equals corny and won’t give Filipino-created works a chance. This is why we’re losing great creators like Carlo, and we’re all going to suffer for it.

However, like many artists, for Carlo, art is a calling and not a job (otherwise, why would he have kept at it when it wasn’t financially viable? Why do any of us keep at it when it isn’t financially viable?), so he’s hoping for a way back:

“The only thing I feel that can really help the graphic novelist is if readers are willing to buy the digital version.

“I understand people’s apprehensions for not buying digital. I, too, love the feel and smell of a new book, plus the fact that I’m holding a physical product, not something that’s just made up of bytes. And, reading comics on a digital device is challenging as well. But it’s about the only opportunity for a comic book creator to charge an amount that’s a little better than what he gets from the sale of a physical book.
“When Zaturnnah sa Maynila is complete, it would cost a reader more than P600 to buy it, and only if its available in the bookstore (which is another problem altogether). The reader would be paying me less than P60 for over 240 pages of artwork and story.
“But what if I charged just P240 for the entire story, broken up into 12 “issues” (for easier download). Over 95% of that amount would go to me, allowing me to spend on online marketing. It’s about the price of a movie.”
For the independent creator, the advent of digital technology is a godsend, because it enables them to keep creating at lower costs to themselves and the consumer. Vergara even has an answer for folks who may not have credit cards:
“A reader might say, “But I don’t have a credit card.” Well, there is a free app called Paymaya that can generate a unique credit card number that a reader can use to pay for online transactions. Paymaya is regulated by the Central Bank of the Philippines, and it can be loaded up through the bill payment centers of Robinson’s and SM, kiosks in 7-Eleven and Mini-Stop, and other establishments.”
He lays out how the digital format can help the graphic novelist:

“Going digital helps the graphic novelist by:

“1) Ensuring that that book is readily available 24/7. No more, “But I can’t find your book!”
“2) Allowing the graphic novelist to spend on online marketing. No more, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a new book!”
“3) Giving the graphic novelist his due for the amount of time and effort spent.
“4) Making the work more affordable for the reader, though the reading experience may suffer.”
Though he admits that the reading quality may suffer for readers used to a more tactile experience, when you think about it, all four reasons for the digital format helps readers and fans, too.
In the end, it comes down to this: If you want Carlo to keep creating, if you want the Philippine graphic novel and storytelling traditions to remain strong, support Carlo Vergara in this endeavor. Make sure that he can stay in comics. Because if Carlo decided to quit comics for good, we’re all at fault for it.
“If enough people who like my stories are willing and able to buy my digital comics, then I can continue with less worry about my future. The physical book can still be released later on with bonus material, and there’s less risk for the publisher and the bookstore.
“I guess that’s the miracle I need.”

Ilawod Gets R13 Rating

I just came from the MTRCB where Ilawod was given an R13 rating.

The experience while waiting for the rating was interesting in itself. Three MTRCB representatives screened the film and deliberated on the rating after, while we waited outside. As my producer and I sat there, MTRCB Chairman Eugenio Villareal, who did not watch the film, wandered by and asked us about our film.

“Ilawod!” he said. “Is it Bisaya?”

He proceeded to tell us that there is an Ilawod Elementary School in Capiz, and that ilawod means downstream, the opposite of iraya. More interestingly, he said that in the area where he grew up, people were warned not to go near the suba, or stream, because there was a force there that took a life at least once a year.

He said that a friend who escaped drowning in that stream said it felt like a hand had reached out from the silt and tried to drag him down. He also said that people have been warning each other about playing there for as long as he can remember, even before the war. “I had to run and get my son when I found out he had gone to play in the area,” he said. Better safe than sorry.

Later, one of the representatives who watched the film said the same thing, but about a different river. “They say that someone drowns in the Sampaloc river every year. That something takes them.”

We have a lot of stories about bodies of water claiming lives. Some of them, like dams and swimming pools, are even man-made.

In Ilawod, we touch on why a water spirit would want to stalk a family seemingly at random, but we grounded it in folklore, exploring how old beliefs merge with and thrive within modern society. We hope you enjoy it.

Ilawod: How our monster got its name

A lot of people have been asking about the title of the movie. Why Ilawod? What does it mean? How did you guys come about it? This post will answer that question.

When director Dan Villegas and I brainstormed on what was to become Ilawod, we had no idea that we were going to create what is essentially a coming-of-age film. Dan wanted to work on the theme of possession because it was so rarely done in Philippine cinema. At first, he wanted the film to revolve around demonic possession, like in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, though I’m glad that didn’t push through because apparently, as I learned from Richard Somes (who directed Yanggaw, my favorite Filipino horror film), movies that deal with demonic possession have been thought to be cursed.

Aside from weird  goings-on on set that seem to be the norm not just for horror films but for film production in general, the curse also took lives. The last victim was Julie Vega, who passed away in 1985 from Landry’s Paralysis. Despite this scientific reason, her cause of death has become the stuff of urban legend. One of these is the belief that her death was caused by her starring as a girl possessed by a demon in Lovingly Yours, Helen: The Movie, her last film before she passed away.  Even Hollywood has its own share of stories like this. Whether you believe in such things or not, sometimes it’s best to let other people take that chance.

Back to my story. At the end of the brainstorming session, Dan and I had agreed on a story. It was to revolve around a family plagued by an elemental. But what elemental?

People who are familiar with my work know that a lot of my stories revolve around bodies of water. “Sidhi” and “The Child Abandoned” take place along the Pasig River, “The Bridge” involves the San Juanico Strait, and “Stars” happens on Balicasag Island in Bohol. The Philippines is an archipelago, so it’s easy to imagine water elementals everywhere. Water is beguiling because we need it to live, but it can also take lives.

Once we had our elemental, we needed a name. It was director Antoinette Jadaone, who is also Dan’s girlfriend, who suggested “ilawod,” which means downstream in Tagalog (it means other things in other Philippine languages) and is the opposite of the more familiar “ilaya,” or upstream. We had never heard the word before, but it intrigued us because it played perfectly into our analogy of water as a force of life and death: if you can swim upstream (or preferrably, to the riverbank), you live; if  you are swept downstream, you die.

And so we reached a happy compromise: we had a story of possession, and it didn’t involve an actual demon. No curses for us, thank you very much!

Stories of the supernatural from the enchanted resort, Villa Escudero

If you grew up in Manila the 70s and 80s, Villa Escudero was the place for family vacations. And now, decades later, the resort still hasn’t lost its charm.

Highlights included (and still includes) rides in hydraulic carts pulled by carabaos with flowers on their horns, as well as dining at the foot of a small waterfall, letting your feet relax as the water flows gently past.

The Tiaong, Quezon resort is part of a coconut plantation located in the middle of mystical mountains Banahaw and Cristobal. Running through it is the Labasan River, whose water comes from the foothills of enchanted Mt. Banahaw and is so named because the old folks believed that at dusk, ‘naglalabasan ang mga diwata,’ the fairies come out.

The people who live there say that the place is enchanted. I asked Don Conrado “Ado” Escudero, the resort owner, whether there is any truth to the supernatural stories. Don Ado recently launched Villa Escudero Coconut Plantation Cookbook, a book on Villa Escudero’s foodways. He was happy to answer questions about the resort’s original occupants.

Mysterious Voices, Mysterious Appearances

“We were brought up in a Spanish background, naturally Catholic religion, but we (follow) what our ancestors told us,” he said. “They always tell us always to respect Mother Nature because (this land has) always been taken cared of by the fairies.”
Don Ado has never heard or seen anything himself (he’s not even sure he believes in them), but many other people have. “There are times when our guests report, and very innocently, that very early morning, they would hear very nice songs that they cannot understand coming from the other side (of the river),” he said. “We say, ‘That’s just your imagination.’ We belittle those things. We say, ‘That’s good! Mother Nature is taking care of you.’”

Enchanted Waterfall

What really sets Villa Escudero apart from other resorts is its waterfall, which has been a picnic area since the 1800s. Don Ado tells of an occasion: “A group of five ladies came to me after about the two weeks that they were here. They brought with them a picture of the waterfalls. They were at the bottom. There was a lady behind them. But the waterfall was two or three feet behind them, so where was she standing? They wanted to know who that lady was. I said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe that’s a double exposure,’ but actually, I wondered (who she was) because how can that lady be at the back? And not just once. Several times. I can only attribute it to the nice people.”

The staff has told him their own experiences as well. “We had employees who would report to us that there are little people who take care of the waterfalls. This is what they say: to please leave some syrup for them. They like syrup. And so we would do that. And we would lock the room and the next day you go there, it’s empty. Many times like that. I play the game; nothing to lose. Nobody’s hurt,” Don Ado says.

Sacrifice Pa More

Sacrificing an animal before construction starts, or ‘padugo,’ is a common practice among Filipinos. Usually, just one chicken will do. At Villa Escudero, it seems that the elementals have bigger appetites.

“Back when we were going to build the pool, I was approached by the builder who said, ‘We need to make an offering.’ I always follow them without any question,” Don Ado said. “But when they brought in the backhoe, it stopped just as it was starting and there was nothing (anyone) could see that was wrong (with it). And then one of our employees who sees–the third eye, they call it–said, ‘That’s easy. We have to kill more.’ The minute we did, it worked.”

Does Don Ado believe in the supernatural? “Those are little stories. I play with it. Why not? Nothing to lose. It’s not a matter of believing. It’s not hurting me,” he says.

Buried Treasure

Some people say that aside from protecting the environment, the elementals of Villa Escudero also guard treasure. “(People are) always telling me, ‘Sir, there is a very very big sum of gold that’s hidden here.’ So I say, ‘Will they share it with me?’” Don Ado said. “And you know, many times, we do see sprints that are really in that area guarding it. But I haven’t really seen anything. I wish I could dig it up. I won’t hesitate. “It’s an interesting life. I’m not superstitious but I’m always careful.”


Inquire about visiting Villa Escudero and getting a copy of  Villa Escudero Coconut Plantation Cookbook at

Traveling alone is lonely, but worth it

Many people will tell you to travel alone, will tell you that it is mind-blowing, life-changing, world-shattering. What not a lot of people will tell you is that it can be lonely, even for the most antisocial introvert. The good news is that the loneliness rarely lasts.

First, there is fear.

My first solo trip lasted the whole of one day. I had met up with some friends in Singapore for a concert that was canceled at the last minute. After a fun few days in the Merlion city, they returned to Manila while I continued on to Penang in Malaysia.

“Why Penang?” They asked.

“Food,” was my reply.

Since my funds were limited, I could only afford to go for one day.

I took the bus from Singapore to Butterworth, then took the ferry to Penang, even though the bus was going there anyway. I took a cab from the port to the budget hotel I was staying in for the night. I was frightened the whole time.

Penang is a safe town. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and is also known for its food culture. It’s where Malaysians go to eat. I couldn’t have picked a better place for my first solo trip.

I walked around my neighborhood. I had really good milk tea at a random shop. I tried the pancakes. I pointed at whatever I wanted to eat, and it got served to me, freshly made. I found out that a lot of the Chinese in Penang spoke Hokkien, so that’s what I tried to speak when they couldn’t understand English; I ran out of Chinese really fast.

I visited a museum, got there just in time for the last tour of the day. I realized that my hotel was next to a giant pet store that sold everything from dogs and cats to sugar glider and tarantulas to monster fish.

The monster fish fascinated me. There, at the back of the store, next to the fish spa and dog salon, stood a tank filled with fish bigger than an average person. This, I think, was the highlight of my trip.

I had one of the best meals of my life at the airport, in a restaurant that let you assemble your own meal. I picked rice, some sort of curry sauce, and an egg, the whole thing paired with milk tea, always milk tea. And just like that, it was time to fly to Singapore, then Manila.

I was scared the whole time. So scared, I didn’t have time to process anything beyond the extremes of fear and elation. It was uncomfortable, but not too uncomfortable that I didn’t want to try it again.

Next, there is loneliness.

It was a long time before I had the opportunity to travel alone again. I decided to spend a few days in La Union.

I booked a hostel, determined not to leave the resort.

It was heck getting there. I got on the wrong bus, the one that would take eight hours instead of three. The bus broke down in the middle of nowhere, and after an hour of waiting, it was finally decided that we would soldier on, slowly, because the brakes weren’t working, but we wanted to get to where we were going.

I reached the resort in the middle of the night. The bus overshot, so I ended up in the middle of town and had to wake a sleeping tricycle driver up so he could take me to the resort at two in the morning. I am thankful that there was a tricycle driver nearby.

That permission to stay in one place, to not have to explore, see the sights, take in history, be a tourist, was the best thing I had permitted myself to do on that trip: it took away the pressure to ‘achieve’ something and it allowed me to just ‘be.’ But it didn’t stop me from getting lonely.

There were very few people at the resort, which is exactly how I wanted it. The loneliness came as a surprise. I was lying in my bunk when it hit me–a sensation both mental and physical. A hollowness in my chest and an ache in my gut, accompanied by what I can only describe as the mental sensation of falling into an abyss in my brain. It was scary, but it passed, and in a shorter time span than I thought it would, too. That feeling of crushing, despairing loneliness lasted about a couple of minutes, no more than five at most. When it hit, I let it, treating it as more a curiosity than an emotion–I had, after all, never felt it before. I think it was this mindset that helped it pass so quickly. I remember the emotion well, though I have never felt it since.

Finally, there is delight.

I’ve found that the best way for me to enjoy a vacation is to have both nothing and everything planned. This means I have an itinerary that I may or may not follow, depending on my mood.

I booked a trip to Hong Kong to recharge, again expecting not to leave the hostel, but with a list of places to go to just in case I did.

I enjoyed every minute of it.

Though I readied myself for it, the crippling sense of loneliness did not return. I spent the whole trip alone, blissfully alone, bathed in a sense of utter calmness, a simple kind of joy.

Divested of schedule and responsibility, I could, for a short time–and bear with me when I describe this–hear myself feel. The trouble with this kind of self-restoration is that it can be quite addictive. That, once back in ‘real life,’ you cannot help but long for solitude once again.

My Hong Kong trip made me realize why so many people travel alone. It is, I realized, to experience the opposite of loneliness. It is to experience the company of yourself.