Pinoy comics artist nominated for 2011 Eisner Award

By Carmela G. Lapena – For many, the best comics may conjure images of dark, brooding superheroes and warriors. Who would have thought, however, that the story of a chicken living like a human would create enough acclaim to be considered among this year’s best?

And one created by a Filipino komikero, at that. Gerry Alanguilan’s “Elmer” has been nominated for Best Graphic Album in the 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, widely considered as the “Oscars” of the comic book industry.

The Eisner Award, a celebration of the best of the comics art form established in 1987, is a much-awaited event at the Comic-Con International, the United States’ largest and oldest annual comics convention.

The nominees for this year’s prestigious awards were announced on the Comic-Con website on Friday. Cartoonist and “The Spirit” creator Will Eisner, in whose honor the award was named, was always present at the awarding ceremony. He would personally congratulate the winners from the first time it was conferred in 1988 until his death in 2005.

“A glance at any of the ballots from the last several years reveals a wide range of projects, subject matters, and levels, from such serious works as Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde to such lighter fare as Jeff Smith’s Bone and Sergio Aragonés’s Groo,” says Eisner Awards Administrator Jackie Estrada on their official website.

“The point is that reading comics can be a rewarding experience for people with a variety of tastes and of any age,” Estrada explained.

Superheroes are still easily the most memorable and popular characters in comics, but this year’s roster of nominees includes very few. Alanguilan’s “Elmer,” for one, is the story of a chicken living like a human.

As the official Elmer website described the series, “Elmer is a window into an alternate Earth where chickens have suddenly acquired the intelligence and consciousness of humans.”

Thinking and reasoning like humans, the chickens in the story have begun to see themselves as “a race no different from whites, browns or blacks,” and to push for their own “human rights.”

“Elmer” was originally released in four issues from June 2006 to November 2008. First published in 2009 as a trade paperback by Komikero Publishing, “Elmer” was picked up by SLG Publishing in North America last year.

The Eisner nomination comes as no surprise, as “Elmer” has been receiving plenty of praise from fans and artists alike.

Literary rockstar Neil Gaiman has called it wonderful. Gaiman, who created the Sandman character and series, has visited the Philippines several times.

“I remember the first time I saw that wonderful Elmer comic [by Gerry Alanguilan] it was more or less like that, it was one of those handed to me while I was just here in the Philippines and I thought this is great, this is wonderful, this is awesome, and it’s beautifully told, and it’s beautifully drawn, and it’s about a chicken and civil rights for chickens,” said Gaiman in an interview last year by Philippine Online Chronicles.

“And you’re reading something like that, and you’re going, it doesn’t matter where in the world this was published, it’s a great comic,” Gaiman added.

Unlike amateur artists discovered through Youtube and turned overnight into instant celebrities, Alanguilan—a licensed architect by profession—has been writing and drawing comics books since 1992.

Aside from Elmer, he is also the creator of Wasted, Timawa, Lastik-Man, Crest Hut Butt Shop, Johnny Balbona, Humanis Rex! and Where Bold Stars Go to Die. He has likewise inked for DC, Marvel and Image comics including Wolverine, X-men, X-Force, Superman, Batman, and Fantastic Four among many others.

Alanguilan has also adapted and illustrated various short stories including Edgar Allan Poe’s “the Black Cat” and Bram Stoker’s “The Judge’s House.”

Last year, he was awarded the Gawad Pinakamaningning na Alagad ng Sining (for Visual Arts) and Outstanding San Pableño for Visual Arts.

“I’m very happy to be nominated [for the Eisner Award], but I’m happier knowing other Filipinos were also nominated for other categories. Filipinos have gotten nominations and even won Eisner awards numerous times in the past. I’m very honored to be included among them,” Alanguilan told GMA News Online.

Ronnie Del Carmen was the first Filipino to win an Eisner for Best Single Issue in 1995 for Batman Adventures Holiday Special. In 2002, Abel Laxamana won with the team the Best Humor Publication award for Radioactive Man.

In 2003, Lan Medina won the Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story for his work with Bill Willingham and Steve Leialoha on Vertigo Comics’ Fables #1-5: “Legends in Exile.” Before the Eisners, the Inkpot Awards were given out during the San Diego Comic-Con, which veteran Filipino artists Nestor Redondo and Alex Niño were recipients of.

“Elmer getting nominated in the Eisner’s is a big win for Gerry Alanguilan and for all Filipino comic book creators. Goes to show that if a writer/artist believes in his story, is passionate with his craft and works hard to promote his comic book, it will find itself in the hands of readers who will love it and appreciate it,” says Budjette Tan, “Trese” comic book writer.

The selection of nominees in 28 categories, done by a blue ribbon panel of judges, is representative of the colorful landscape of comics and graphic novels today. The nominees include autobiographical works, niche market books for children and young adults, anthologies, and even deluxe hardcover archival editions.

On the 2011 Eisner Award judging panel are Metropolis Comics store representative John Berry, Comic-Con board of director Ned Cato, Columbia University librarian Karen Green (Columbia University), “The Shadow” comics writer and editor Andy Helfer, publishing consultant Rich Johnson, and Lone Star Comics retail manager Chris Powell.

Ballots with this year’s nominees will be going out in mid-April to comics creators, editors, publishers, and retailers. A special website has been set up for online voting. The results in all categories will be announced in a gala awards ceremony on the evening of Friday, July 22 at Comic-Con International in San Diego, California.—JV, GMA News

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