Fantastic beasts and where to find them in Philippine mythology

The 128-page book ‘The Amazing Beasts of Philippine Mythology’ was illustrated by 30 members of Ang Ink Artists Collective and written by May Tobias-Papa.

One of the highlights of the recent Xavier School Comicon (at the school’s San Juan campus) was the launch of the international edition of The Amazing Beasts of Philippine Mythology from American publishing company Tuttle.

The 128-page book, written and illustrated by the Ang Ink Artists Collective, is a spin-off from an older book, Mga Tambay sa Tabi Tabi, which was initially published in 2009, as well as a Philippine mythology art exhibit titled, “Tabi Tabi Po”. 

“I think that it was a wonderful idea to include this book launch at the Xavier School Comicon that will also introduce our local mythology to a younger generation of students,” Liza Flores, the book’s art director, said.

The book features 57 creatures across 13 categories.

“The idea was to situate the creatures of Philippine mythology in an urban setting while engaged in everyday situations,” added writer May Tobias-Papa. 

The more known creatures such as the kapre, tikbalang, dwende, tiyanak, and the white lady are obviously included. Readers will be thrilled to learn and discover lesser known creatures such as mamelu, omayan, ebwa, aanim, and ikugan among many others.

“We retained the taxonomical presentation of the creatures that was inspired by this Japanese website featuring yokai (supernatural entities and spirits) way back in the early 2000s.”

The entire book project took two years to complete. 

“Tuttle found a lot of the illustrations too cutesy and wholesome (after all, we are a group of illustrators for children’s books),” added Tobias-Papa. “So some of the illustrations were made darker and a little scarier.”

Thirty illustrators took part in the book project using traditional drawing techniques and modern digital tools. They are all into children’s book art: Pergy Acuña, Domz Agsaway, Aldy Aguirre, Robert Alejandro, Fran Alvarez, Aaron Asis, Jaime Bauza, Sergio Bumatay III, Kora Dandan-Albano, Dasig, Ruben de Jesus, Lori Espiritu, Al Estrella, Dani Florendo, Dani Go, Abi Goy, Tin Javier, Rommel Joson, Gelai Manabat, Jap Mikel, Harry Monzon, Marcushiro Nada, Beth Parrocha, Jeannelle Pita, Ivan Reverente, Brent Sabas, Jomike Tejido, Ara Villena, Liza Flores, and Angela Taguiang.

“Although the artists were given free rein to interpret, they were encouraged to aim for a slightly older audience,” pointed out the book’s writer.

A similar approach to the writing was adapted as part of the audience were youngsters into manga and anime.

“We wanted to present the creatures’ unique attributes, however scary, naughty, or unwholesome because we did not want to shortchange the reader by sanitizing the text,” Tobias-Papa elucidated. “Omitting the unsavory bits that distinguish and differentiate the creatures will mean homogenizing them. For me as a writer, it was a scary decision to make, more so since I am a mother. But, I decided to take my cues from Hayao Miyazaki and Bruno Bettelheim.”

Robert Carpio, a Xavier School teacher who is also the moderator of the school’s comics club noted, “I didn’t know that we had that many creatures in Philippines mythology. This book will introduce many of them to me and I certainly look forward to leaning about them. As for the artwork… it is amazing. I also cannot wait to introduce this book to our comic club.”

Fifty-seven creatures were listed across 13 categories.

Local mythological creatures have been a popular topic among independent Filipino comic book creators. There is Arnold Arre’s ground-breaking The Mythology Class, Julius Villanueva’s Ella Arcangel, and Mervin Malonzo’s Tabi Po that has also been adapted into a television series. Perhaps the most popular is Trese from the creative team of Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo with the long-running comic finally being given a Netflix series.

“I think The Amazing Beasts of Philippine Mythology provides more published material about our rich heritage,” summed up Flores. “We also hope that it will not only be used as a tool for research but also an inspiration for new literature by budding creators.”

The Amazing Beasts of Philippine Mythology is available at all Fullybooked branches.

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