Greatness in the Pinoy (toy) in ‘Foldabots’


By Katrina Stuart Santiago – It’s easy to ignore the Foldabots Toy Book series by Jomike Tejido (Summit Publishing, Vol 3. 2010). For one thing it does look like a graphic novel that’s only for kids, young boys in particular. For another, there isn’t a whole lot of noise on it, book launches are relegated to a “children’s toy launch” instead of a book launch for a local literary title, or at the very least for a real Pinoy children’s book.

Which is what Foldabots actually is, a Pinoy children’s book unlike any we’ve seen before. Its experience requires cutting it up and transforming the cardboard pages of the book into toys, all of which become part of the Foldabots Agimat Playing Card Game that’s explained in the regular glossy pages of the book.

But this seems to be getting ahead of the story. Which of course is easily one that’s good versus evil, in the way that good ol’ robot stories are. But as the brainchild of artist and illustrator Tejido, Foldabots could only be more creative than the run-of-the-mill local effort at replicating the American robot story and the American action figure that transforms. In the process it is also myth making: the creation of new Pinoy images of hero and enemy, with transformations that remain rooted in the local, with powers that are made new by its context of nation.

Across Volumes 1 to 3 of Foldabots, Tejido proves a consistency in imagining what a Pinoy boy would want in his toy robots, and this seems to begin not just with how they’re supposed to look, but with how they are named. Buhawi, Bangis, Astig are some of your Foldabots, the good guys who work with the subgroup of Elementrobots that represent the four elements of earth (Ukay), fire (Siklab), air (Tutubi), and Alon & Agos (water). All of them good robots are up against Lu-Sho (obviously a play on the name Lucio, the Pinoy translation of Lucifer), a shape shifter who reappears throughout the rest of the volumes.

Yet this isn’t just about how Tejido names characters. It’s also about the way these robots are supposed to be cut up from cardboard, and how they can become, not just one toy, but two: a robot and a transformed version. So that Buhawi transforms into the Philippine Eagle, Bangis becomes a guard dog, Astig a skateboard. The Elementrobots don’t just transform into different vehicles, they also come together to form Elementron.

Yes, the creativity proves to be endless here.

Looking at Volume 3 of Foldabots, Tejido seems to be on a roll. Instead of coming up with a new set of Foldabots, he creates subgroups Mitochrones and Aquabots which, like the Elementrobots, means having a group of individual robots that transform into other things, but also come together to create a new huge robot. Here, I couldn’t get over the fact that the Tikbalang robot transforms into a man-horse, the Manananggal into a bat, the Kapre into a tank. And it was absolutely wonderful how the Nuno sa P.U.N.S.O. (Pyrolithic Underground Nanobase Strategic Outpost) transforms into a tiny car. All these Mitochrones become the Higantechron — and yes, it was difficult to get over that, too. The Aquabots called Berdugong, Alona and Tetaclones meanwhile, become the Butandrone, and I’m sorry but that name’s just adorable.

The villains meanwhile are named obviously as Sigwa and Delubyo, who are joined in Volume 3 by Kontkreton, Pison and Xi-Takk. Yes, I do not kid you. In this last published volume, the subgroup of Gubabots transform into a bigger and more complicated Gubatron. The latter is made up of Ramo, Kalaw, Kuwago, Kagat and Tamarax, each of which transform into what Tejido calls the Beast Mode.

Two things are clear going through the three thin volumes of the Foldabots series. One, it’s a compact story that creates a robot and beast world so concrete it can only fuel Pinoy kids’ imaginations. Two, it’s got a following that can only be proven by its constant reinventions in every volume.

It’s also ultimately proof of its artist’s creativity. In Volume 3, Tejido introduces the Foldabots Dark Ages Board Game, with characters that are beyond robots and transformation. Here Tejido seems to be stretching his cardboard toy design skills, creating human and elemental characters with animals and weapons that seem so real to our history that they’re almost familiar. Mala Punisha, Lakan Manaul, Dominador Cabo, Datu Makaamo, Danak Taupan sound like people from our pre-colonial history, and seem to ache to be created into a real spanking Pinoy board game for kids, the first one to teach history and heritage through toys that are truly Pinoy-imagined, created and made.

Here lies my dream for the Foldabot cardboard robots as well. That they become real toys for Pinoy kids, that come to life beyond the page, and become part of the lives of Pinoy kids who think that the best toys are American ones. Meanwhile, it can only be good that we are forced to contend with the idea of the Foldabots as local toys, that transcends the paper doll and the picture or sticker book, that is nothing but imaginative, everything and Pinoy.

In this sense, Foldabots isn’t just a toy book, a children’s book, a card game or a board game: it’s a choose your own adventure book, one that jumps off the page, one that has an adventure all it’s own. And created as it is from this Pinoy context and our locality, it’s also an adventure that’s ours to begin with, that should be in every Pinoy child’s world. – via GMANews.TV

All photos via foldabots.multiply.com. Artist Jomike Tejido’s site is http://www.jmtejido.com/.

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