Artist in the works


“EVERYBODY draws when they were kids, there’s no exception to that, I just didn’t outgrow my childhood fantasy that’s all,” Ariel Atienza says, as he explains his love for drawing cartoons.

Ariel debuts this issue as Philippine News’ latest talent. His cartoon strip takes a look at life as a young FilAm. His humor is along the same vein as the legendary Nonoy Marcelo, creator of Tisoy and Ikabod Bubwit. Not surprisingly, Ariel considers Marcelo as one of his heroes.

There are other influences, though, not the least of which are the highly stylized Japanese comic books called ‘Manga,’ as well as cartoons known as anime.

It all started around 1976 when the Philippine TV channels started showing Japanese robot anime or cartoons. Major TV networks had them showing in the late afternoons one after the other until 7:00 pm.

“Me and my brothers would watch every show with gusto. Television wasn’t my only inspiration that time, we also had my fair share of Marvel and DC Comics back then. I practically grew up in the company of the X-Men, Spider-man, the Avengers, Daredevil, Tarzan and much more,” he says.

The genius of Marvel’s main man, Stan Lee, inspired him to begin work on his own characters. Lee showed that multi-dimensional characters could literally fly out of the pages of comic books, previously perceived as the territory of pre-pubescent juveniles.

Much later, the likes of Whilce Portacio showed that Filipinos could conquer the highly competitive world of mainstream comics. Ariel hopes that his unique talent will be discovered sooner or later. After all, one has to start somewhere.
And where, exactly, did he start?

“We started drawing our own versions of those cartoons in old notebooks. We’d tear out the used pages and use the ones that were left behind as our conveniently bound comic pages — we would also use bond paper folded in half and stapled in the middle. I always thought that my two older brothers were more creative and drew much better I ever did.

While most of kids his age had imaginary friends, Ariel had an imaginary world he called Funny Safaris, venturing into lost worlds inhabited by cartoony dinosaurs.

In Ariel’s Funny Farms, animals talked and put one over the other, and superheroes were born of mythical gods from outer space.

“I didn’t really plan for those stories, inspiration hits me on the head with these characters near fully developed and I just drew crude comic panels impromptu, with no prepared story in mind. I just drew them as long as the dialogue and my attention span held out — which was only worth 2-3 pages — so I had a lot of unfinished works that time. I was more interested in developing my characters and knowing what makes them tick. My love of reading was developed when our Dad bought hundreds of books. I was especially fascinated with the works of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, especially Chinese and Japanese mythology,” he says.

But while the rest of his classmates outgrew their fondness for imaginary friends and super heroes in spandex tights, Ariel explored other avenues for his art.

As he grew older, the amount of work was reduced to drawing his own cartoon characters at the back of his notebooks in school. He continued to doodling whatever came to mind whenever he was bored in school, which was often.

In the afternoons, he would be back in front of the TV catching reruns of The Three Stooges and looking for the comic page of the dailies. There wasn’t much that caught his fancy, he says, “but I still made it a point to read everything included in that one whole page of funnies.”

One of those that he read and reread was Nonoy Marcelo’s Ikabod Bubwit, the Philippine’s answer to Mickey Mouse. It wasn’t much of the humor that attracted him to the strip, which was mostly social and political satire.

To-date, Marcelo is considered the Philippines’ premiere cartoonist.

In some ways, Ariel the artist is lucky. He entered his teens when the pop culture of the 80s came in full swing. Pop Art of the ’60s had grown up and two decades later, an explosion of talent paved the way for a merging of Eastern and Western styles. No longer was Peter Max the sole arbiter of crazy cool.

“Suddenly, my major interests in life centered on music, graphic design, sitcoms, and comics,” Says Ariel.

On the comic collecting side, the stories by Chris Claremont for the X-Men got him hooked into seriously reading comics. His Dad also brought home some The Honeymooners comics.

This is when he started copying the art another person’s comic art, he recalls, having been confined to copying paintings from encyclopedias and other books before. Having been initially inspired by Japanese anime, this time it was a complete turnaround for me to start developing my style based on American influences.

“It was around 1988 when I noticed a couple of old USA Today newspapers in one of my older brother’s room, that’s when I became acquainted with another intriguing satire that would later determine the course of my own comic history, Bloom County. The next year I had a sudden burst of inspiration for a new set of characters,” he recalls.

“I called them Drolls, because I thought it cute. The layout was influenced by another comic great: Gary Larson,” he says. Larson’s The Far Side is considered as cutting edge stand-alone cartoons, as far removed from Dennis the Menace as heavy metal is to soft rock.

This was his first attempt at comics after a long, long time and he played around with themes that can only be described as strange and sometimes a bit morbid. When he bought the Bloom County collection in a trip to the US, the honest but witty portrayal of the strip encouraged him to start drawing comic strips. Again.

As a young adult, his characters were not unlike himself.

“Being surrounded by a goldmine of characters all throughout my school life, I started with my friends as the initial inspiration for the characters, he says, “Other people I deemed fit to be included in the strip became regulars. After approaching 3 major dailies for the publication of my work, GLITTER Magazine (published bi-monthly) took a chance on me and agreed to publish the Dorx panels. After running for more than 6 months, I replaced the panels with the CLASS comic strip.”

The rest is the beginning of Ariel’s history.

His first serious strip became a hit shortly after publication, that aide from the usual one strip per issue, became two and sometimes even more depending on the space available.

“In 1996, the world of this comic strip expanded even more when I thought of creating a full length historical comic inspired by the movie Forrest Gump. It details the travails of a wealthy man caught in between the war between the Filipino Revolutionaries and the Spanish Government. The graphic novel was and is still planned to be my magnum opus,” he says.

Around the same time, the demand for Japanese cartoons came around again after hearing the theme song played in one of a major TV network’s sitcom. Again Japanese robot cartoons or Mecha made a big comeback, starting with two retro cartoons: Voltes V and Daimos.

The modern Filipino cultural scene was never the same again. Japanese anime permeated every aspect of the young people’s lives, a new breed of young artists rose highly inspired by this Eastern art. And Ariel Atienza is there among the most promising.

Ariel Atienza can be contacted at