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So Many Stories, So Little Time: Manix Abrera On Drawing, Deadlines, And Storytelling

Joyce Camille Reyes
March 12, 2020

Manuel “Manix” Abrera could actually do without an introduction. As a household name in the local comic book industry, much has already been said about his body of work, which, over the years, has taken a life of its own on both print and digital platforms.

Any person who has flipped through a newspaper at least once would be familiar with ‘Kikomachine,’ Manix’s long-running comic strip series that hark to distinct Filipino values and quirks, encapsulated in sequences that show a slice of life in various mundane settings.

His characters, which are charming creatures a lot of us have come to love, represent this generation with such keen accuracy and careful nuance that only an artist with his level of sensitivity and unassuming humor could pull off.

But while a chunk of his work portrays the common realities of university life, Manix also isn’t afraid to step out of this formula to explore the realms of the surreal and the speculative. Still, even when he ventures into newer forms of storytelling, his comics are never at a loss of his signature wit, silliness, and self-awareness that has won the hearts of so many.

If you’ve never read any of Manix’s work, to say that you’re missing out is an understatement. Thankfully, this award-winning artist shows no signs of slowing down. ‘Kikomachine’ still runs from Monday to Saturday in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and has twelve book compilations published by Visprint. You can also find his webcomic News Hardcore! weekly on GMA News Online.

But with all the creative work he manages to produce on a regular basis, a lot of us wonder how he goes about his day to actually get all this amazing stuff done. In this short email interview with The Crafters, Manix talks about how he’s been doing it ever since he first dabbled in creating comics. We were also able to ask him a few (rather unrelated, yikes!) questions about promoting his work in the digital age, as well as working with brands and being seen as a brand himself.

Kikomachine Komix by Manix Abrera

You took up Fine Arts at UP Diliman, but you said once in an interview that you’re “really more self-taught than trained.” How do you think your style would have differed had you not taken up the same course at the same university? What was the role of UP in your creative journey as a comic artist?

Hindi ko rin masasabi kung ano kaya ang magiging art style ko kung iba ang tinahak kong daan, hehe. Pero ang magandang nangyari kasi habang nasa UP ako ay nakatsamba ako at naisama sa Philippine Collegian (University Paper), at doon ay nasanay talaga ako magdrawing nang marami, may deadline, and may content, haha, matitindi kasi ang editors namin doon. Doon din ako nasanay gumawa ng comics, at masanay na napaka-important ng kwento sa paggawa ng comics, hindi lang yung art style/technique sa pag-drawing.

[I also can’t say what my style would be like had I chosen a different path, hehe. However, I’m grateful for having been lucky enough to be a part of the Philippine Collegian (our University Paper). From there I learned and got used to drawing a lot, with content, and on deadline—since our editors were quite tough. It was also through them that I got used to creating comics that are grounded in good stories; style or technique alone won’t do the trick.]

Over time, you have developed a certain style that is distinctly your own. Is there a conscious effort to maintain this specific style? Which aspects of your work continue to evolve? How has Kikomachine changed since it was first published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2001?

Maraming salamat! Hindi siya conscious effort. Patuloy siyang nag-eevolve, sa drawing style at sa storytelling, sa tingin ko. Kung mapapansin, sa first book, ibang-iba ang itsura ng characters sa kasalukuyang itsura nila ngayon. Sa araw-araw na pagdrawing at pagkukwento, andami pang ibang napupuntahan na kahit ako mismo e hindi ko na na-plano, nangyayari na lang, kaya ako mismo ay nae-excite. Sinusubukan ko rin na lagyan ng limitations paminsan ang sarili ko, sa paggawa ng comics. Kunyari, minsan gumagawa ang ng comics na ang characters lang ay mga alikabok. Minsan din comics na wordless.

[Thank you! It’s not a conscious effort. [My style] continues to evolve—both in terms of drawing and storytelling. If you’d notice, the characters from my first book look so different from the characters I draw now. My style changes as I draw and tell stories every day, and sometimes my art takes on forms that I don’t even plan—they just happen—which is why it’s also an exciting experience for me. I also try to give myself restrictions or limitations when it comes to my work (comics). For example, I try to create comics with characters who are literally just dust. Sometimes my comics are wordless.]

A preview from “12” by Manix Abrera

A lot of creators struggle with deadlines, especially if it’s for a piece of work that they want to make perfect. Do you have a healthy relationship with deadlines? How do you balance your need to create something you’re proud of with the need to turn in your work on time?

Hirap na hirap ako sa deadlines din siyempre noong simula. Nasanay lang ako na dapat ma-meet at ma-beat ito. Importante na makilala mo ang sarili mo bilang artist, kung saan ka mas magaling: Yung gagawa ka na habang malayo pa ang deadline, or yung gagawa ka kapag crunch time na, hehe. Depende sa iyo yun. Sa akin, nag-iisip na ako ng maraming-maraming kwento at sinusulat ko na agad, para matagal pa ang deadline e may idea na ako ng script/story, tapos mabilis na lang kapag sinimulan ko na and dinrowring.

[I also had a hard time with deadlines in the beginning, of course. I just got used to meeting and beating them since I have no other choice. It’s important to know what kind of artist you are, and which one you’re good at: Embarking on a task way before the deadline, or tackling it when it’s already crunch time. That depends on you. What I do is immediately write down all the stories I could think of, so that I already have an idea of the script/story I want to tell even if the deadline is still far ahead. This makes it easier for me to start and draw.]

Also read: The Curious Case Of Creative Block: Waiting For Inspiration To Strike

How do you feel about being called a brand (either as Manix Abrera or as Kikomachine)? How did this perception of you or Kikomachine as a brand impact your creative process?

Nakakahiya hahaha! Sa totoo lang, hindi ko iniisip ito. At tuwing gagawa ako ng comics, inaalis ko sa isip ko na may mga magbabasa nito. Ang target audience ko ay ang sarili ko, dapat matuwa ako sa ginawa ko, at dapat gusto ko ito basahin haha. Napa-pressure kasi ako kapag iniisip ko na may ibang magbabasa ng gawa ko, haha!

[To be honest, I don’t think about this. And every time I make comics, I try not to think about the people who may get to read it. My target audience is myself, I have to be pleased with what I make, and I have to want to read it, haha. I get too pressured when I think about the other people who may get to read my work, haha!]

Travel Hardcore by Manix Abrera

You’ve done illustration work and collaborated with a number of brands. How do you decide whether or not to work with a certain brand, and how do you make sure you remain true to your own brand?

Hinihiwalay ko ang mga sariling likha ko (Kikomachine Komix, etc) sa mga sidelines na kakailanganin ng comics. Gagawa ako ng ibang characters/story para sa kanila. Pero kung tribute (halimbawa sa San Miguel Pale Pilsen ad) sa mismong comics na nagawa ko, okay lang na gamitin ko ang mismong created characters, hehe.

[I separate the work I do for myself (Kikomachine Komix, etc.) from the work I do on the side. If I am commissioned to create comics for a brand, I’d create different characters and stories for them. But if it’s a tribute to my own work (say, the San Miguel Pale Pilsen ad), it’s okay for me to use my original characters.]

The digital age has forever changed how comics are created and shared. As someone who started making comics way before anything or anyone went “viral” on social media, how do you keep up with the evolving digital space? Have you adopted new practices in the way you market your art?

Maganda ngayon kasi ang bilis na ikalat ng mga obra, dahil sa internet. Maganda na tingnan ito bilang panibagong platform, at pandagdag sa mga naunang platform. Maganda na gamitin itong tool, hindi hindrance hehe. Gamit na gamit ko rin ang social media sa pagpapakalat ng mga gawa.

[What’s great about the world we live in now is that it allows us to quickly spread our work via the internet. It’s great to see [the internet] as a new kind of platform, an addition to the existing platforms we use. It’s better to see it as a tool, not a hindrance. I also use social media heavily to spread my work.]

Tell us about your creative process and what a normal “work day” looks like for you.

Iba-iba ang process ko at ang araw, haha. Iniiwasan ko ang routine sa paggawa. Pero ang formula ko ay kukuha muna at mag-iisip na ako ng maraming-maraming kwento, bago ako magsimula magdrawing. Minsan umaga ako magdodrawing, minsan sa gabi. Tapos maghilig ako magbiyahe sa kung saan-saan, magdagat, at magbundok. Pero lagi akong magdodrawing kahit nasaan man ako, haha. 😀

[My processes vary, and my days all look different. I try not to stick to a routine when it comes to creating. My formula involves collecting and writing down stories before I get to the drawing part. Sometimes I draw in the morning, and sometimes I do it at night. I also love to travel to different places, to go to the beach, and to go mountain-climbing—and I always like to draw wherever I am.]

Any tips for aspiring comic creators?

Para sa akin, napaka-importane na mayroong sinasabi lagi ang gawa mo. Anuman ito, Maliit man o malaki. Tapos importante na maging observant ka bilang kwentista at artist, dahil ang dami-dami-daming magagandang kwento sa paligid natin. 🙂

[For me, any work must be able to say something worthwhile, no matter how big or small it is. It’s also important to be observant, both as a storyteller and as an artist, because there are so many great stories around us.]

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So Many Stories, So Little Time: Manix Abrera On Drawing, Deadlines, And Storytelling

Joyce Camille Reyes
March 12, 2020

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So Many Stories, So Little Time: Manix Abrera On Drawing, Deadlines, And Storytelling

Joyce Camille Reyes
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March 12, 2020

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