Sunday, September 18, 2011

The 32nd Manila International Book Fair: Filipino Literary Giants and Pinoy Pop Culture Icons for a Change

It’s Book Fair time again! 

The 32nd Manila International Book Fair 2011 is an annual event and one of the longest running in Asia. It’s not your regular sale where prices are slashed down and old inventories resurface from stockrooms. Though discounts still run like wildfires across every booth, the price is not all there is.  The Book Fair is being promoted as a special event where publishers, booksellers, authors, author wannabes and bookworms of all degrees and ages gather together to celebrate the power of the written word, the passion for reading and the thirst for knowledge. 

Surely, the MIBF has become a tradition for Filipinos. I can say that I am a regular, having attended three years in a row now. Year after year, I make my way to SMX (where it is held yearly) and hunt for rare finds. From science books to trade books, poetry to novels, economics to biotechnology, management to photography….my list is just endless. 

And year after year, I revelled at finding books by authors the likes of Friedman, Mohr, Drucker, Tushman, Bell to the more popular Meyer, Rowlings and Ward. This year, I thought it’ll be the same; making may way to National, Goodwill, A-Z, C&E, UP Press, Ateneo Publishing…until I found myself in Anvil.

I noticed a rather old, dignified man sitting alone at a table. Maybe it was just for a while till the Anvil staff or even the head sit down again to chitchat. But, he was there, signing the inside covers of, presumably his book.  I followed the staff, which carried his signed books, with my eyes raring to know who the lonesome man was.  In this crowded exhibition floor, with book launchings and interviews left and right, why was his booth not particularly….lively. I followed where his books nestled.  Beauty for Ashes: Remembering Maningning by Dr. Mario Miclat.  There, I came to know a gifted man and his equally gifted daughter Maningning…. 

Dr. Mario Miclat is a full professor of Asian and Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines. I learned that he won the most outstanding lifetime award for literature in the 2006 Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan.  He is also a Palanca awardee in English Fiction and Gawad CCP para sa Panitikan award in 1989.  But what drew me most to this multi-awarded author, was his moving recount of the death of his daughter Maningning, herself an accomplished writer and painter at age 28, the stark realization, the heroic effort of moving on and the still lingering pain many years after.
What a story…how sad. I decided to buy his book out of deference to his love for his daughter, and admiration on the rhythmic prose of his book. I approached him, shook his hand and told him to keep on writing. I got an autograph, a smile and a picture in return!
Then I realized, I miss the old short stories I read when I was still in grade school and high school…stories written by Filipino writers.  I started my journey in reading by devouring the pages of my first children's book – Mga Alamat sa Pilipinas. Who have not read Bienvenido Santos’ “The Day the Dancers Came” or Nick Joaquin’s “Summer Solstice”? Little did I know that what I was reading then were works of some of the literary greats of our time. Reveries, but then again why not go back? Yes, I am going to look for my old short story books, look up Filipino short stories and novels and add them to my book-shopping list from now on. 

If Filipino readers can be avid fans of Rowlings, Meyer and Ward, why not of Santos, Arcillana, Joaquin and even Polotan? Yes, we definitely love their stories and they are all worth reading once again, but this time with admiration and pride.
My short journey to Philippine literature did not end there. I looked around and saw Pol Medina Jr. of the Pugad Baboy series.  Who did not laugh along the comical but witty lines of Polgas, Tiny and the rest of the gang? The strikingly Filipino illustrations of the comic strip are stories filled with truly Pinoy antics, spoofs and sometimes political satire. One reason why it became so popular is because it mirrors the sentiments of Filipino daily life. It’s part of Filipino pop culture.
The comic strip has been around since 1988, once exclusive only to the Philippine Daily Inquirer but has spawned numerous compilations, a live-action TV series and merchandise.  I bought the second compilation of the best of Pugad Baboy, missed the first one, but got an autograph! I would have loved seeing the original Polgas on the set.
I looked around once again and homed towards the table of what seemed to be an artist, sketching a portrait of a middle-aged lady sitting across the table from him.  Gee, he drew the woman well. But who was this artist? I learned that he is Danny Acuña, a Pinoy komik illustrator, helping promote a compilation of some of the greatest works of Pinoy komik heroes and their artists. The book entitled “Renaissance: Ang Muling Pagsilang”.  Let me share the Preface by Ruel de Vera of the book for I can not think of better words to introduce them….
“They were the first generation of Filipino comic book artists, islanders in the strange land of America, with names that buzzed with power like Romeo Tanghal, Nestor Redondo, Ernie Chan, Tony de Zuniga, Alfredo Alcala. Alex Nino, among others, working on comics with a C. They gave sinew to Barbarians, flight to superheroes, romance to the loveless.  Back home, with the sun rising dizzyingly high over an art form called komiks with a K, other masters drew and even wrote sagas and epics, names like Francisco Coching, Floro Dery and Mars Ravelo.  They were the immortals, and a new generation of demigods looked upon them in awe and aspiration.”

“From an archipelago surrounded by endless water but whose very veins are ringed by fire rose an amazing legion of creators. It did not matter if they were pure-blood or half-, if they are naturally born or foreign citizens by bitrth. It did not matter if they plied their wares in Manila or Manhattan, San Diego or San Pablo. On the Web or off it. Some of them have discovered the power of animation. They were Filipino comic book artists and their ascension had come.”
My artist is a veteran komiks artist who started sketching at a young age of eight (I asked!). He started his career as an assistant komiks illustrator to some of komik’s legendary artists such as Fred Carillo, Nestor Malgapo, Rico Rival, Elmer Esquivas and Mar Santana.  He eventually built his own name as an artist, drawing various illustrations for some of the top komiks nobelas in the Philippines.  Some of the komiks credited to his name are Orbot ‘D Robot, Buchicoy, Chutay, Satania (Devil Woman), Bangkay Kitang Hahakbangan, Domino Blanco, Killer Gay and Mabangis na Pagbabalik. He has a recently released graphic novel, Majarlica: Bayan ng Agimat and currently working on 3rd Eye.

I liked my portrait. It was a feat since I kept smiling at guests; looking at all the books scattered on the table, and just proved how impossible a model I was. But it didn’t matter to him. His experienced eyes and deft hands had drawn quiet a sensible portrait of me; though I would have loved a Darna-like diadem on my head for a change!

It was near closing time when I got up and left the Anvil Publishing Booth with a smile. I have never imagined myself going nostalgic over short stories of my childhood and teenage years and star-struck from my recent brush with the literary and pop culture icons of our country. I still will read the Inkheart series that I got my eye on, but my bookshelves will definitely have more space for our very own literary greats from now on.
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