Winning young
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson () - January 28, 2013 - 12:00am

At the last National Book Development Board’s big event last November, billed as “Read Lit District,” participation as a poem reader at the Filipinas Heritage Library also gave me the opportunity to suggest to some St. Benilde students to meet with me there to address their requirements for a Web Design and Development class. 

Mikki Castro, a 20-year-old junior student and the group leader, had asked me to agree to be the subject for their assignment to create a website. I complied with the requests for materials by e-mail, and now I had to assess their preliminary efforts, face to face.

This could be done over lunch after the literary session at FHL that featured the Nigeria-born poet-writer Chris Abani from Los Angeles. Expressing her interest, as she’s quite a voracious reader, Mikki came ahead of her group to attend that session. She picked up Abani’s bestselling novel GraceLand from the booksellers outside, and was first to have him sign it after his talk.

Over lunch nearby at the Ayala Triangle, where other Read Lit District attendees had also repaired for the noon break, I checked out the group’s initial website renderings, grading each one objectively and making suggestions.

After our lunch meet, they asked me to round up some of the notable poet-writer friends for group photos they could also use for the website — such as Jimmy Abad, Ricky de Ungria, Marne Kilates, and why, yes, the thoroughly engaging Chris Abani himself.

I recall all that because I recently got the happy word that Mikki Castro just won international recognition for her evident graphic talent.

It seems that she’s been following Canadian cartoonist/author Bryan Lee O’Malley’s website on Tumblr (, and that’s where she found out that he was conducting a “Ramona Style” drawing contest for fun.

Ramona Flowers is a character from O’Malley’s popular and critically acclaimed indie comics series, Scott Pilgrim — which has even been turned into a film (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in 2010, starring Michael Cera).

To hear Mikki describe it, the central character in the graphic novels is “a lazy, videogame-playing dork from Canada, whose slacker life gets chaotic when he meets the enigmatic Ramona Flowers, the new girl in town. She’s an American rollerblader and ‘ninja delivery girl’ who likes to change her hair color every so often. She’s also quite mysterious.”

Quoting Mikki further, “Scott Pilgrim falls in ‘lesbians’ with her (meaning in love, in O’Malley’s quirky language). But for them to date, he first has to defeat Ramona’s Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends. He fights not just for the girl of his dreams, but also for a shot at… maybe, possibly, a life. The graphic novel series is heavy with video game, manga and Internet references. And Bryan Lee O’Malley has his own unique style of expression that is neither too American-style or Japanese-looking.” 

In any case, Mikki saw the post about the contest that was already nearing its deadline, this while in the midst of much homework. The notice proved to be such a distraction that she eventually took a break and doodled something.

O’Malley said he was holding the contest because he hadn’t done it for the release of his previous comics edition. His instructions were clear and simple enough: “Draw Ramona Flowers in her style, but illustrated in your own style. Upload it on your Tumblr account and hashtag it with #RamonaStyle.”

With that tag, he could then easily and instantly see the thread of all the Ramona Style entries with just a single click. It would be easier than going through hundreds of submissions by e-mail. As Mikki puts it, “Social networking really has a way of making things easier and faster.”

She relates that she wasn’t even sure if she had a shot at winning, because she thought she might have submitted late. But that she’s such a big fan of the Scott Pilgrim series, so she came up with something anyway — first sketching the girl figure and then applying the colors digitally.

To her surprise and delight, a couple of days later she found out that her entry, “Ramona Flowers and Her Lacy Leggings,” had made it among the Top 5 winners!

O’Malley had written:

“I scrounged up a few more books to give out, so I added two extra prize packs.

“Here’s the second of five winners! This one’s so pretty. I love the flowiness of the drawing and the way the outfit complements the drawing style perfectly. The details on the printed tights look so cool, and her hair and face are incredibly sweet.

“Congrats to Mikki Castro! Please e-mail me to claim your prize!”

Mikki’s submission was officially adjudged “RUNNER-UP (FOURTH PLACE).”

She couldn’t be any happier. Her instant reaction: “Hey, Bryan Lee O’Malley, guess what… luv u.* hahahhahaaha!”

As the stream of congrats and kudos came from friends and schoolmates at St. Benilde, Mikki couldn’t help but still try to explain it all, inclusive of the elation.

“Mine happened to be one of the five entries — out of hundreds maybe — that Bryan Lee O’Malley picked out, and being a big fan and all, I took a screen-cap of his e-mail and his words about my work!!! So happy, haha! With contests like this, I guess I should take the I’m-not-sure-if-I’m-going-to-win-something-but-submit-something-anyway-because-I-have-nothing-to-lose mindset from now on.”

Correct. No guts no glory. And now yet another young Filipino, at 20, has joined our ever burgeoning roster of gifted artists to gain international distinction.

Mikki’s presently on her 3rd term of Multimedia Arts, in her junior year. She says she has a Comic Book Illustration elective, which she hopes will help her get better at illustration, because she believes it’s going to be her forte. She’s more comfortable with traditional illustration (meaning using pen and ink on paper, and doing watercolors), but that she also likes to do digital art and work with her pen tablet, something she’s constantly practicing on. This term may be her last as a Multimedia Arts student, because she plans to shift to the Animation course. 

Her work can be followed at on tumblr and @oopsmikki on twitter.

In the event that Mikki Castro runs into Chris Abani again in the future, maybe he’ll ask her to sign and dedicate her own book.


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