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Arts and Culture

A moment of escape with S.S.K.A.I.T.

BROAD CAST - Jing Castañeda - Philstar.com
A moment of escape with S.S.K.A.I.T.
Comic strip artist AJ Bacar a.k.a. S.S.K.A.I.T. with his creations "Araw" and "Ulan" as plushies.

With the issues of disinformation and misinformation hogging the headlines, blurred lines between what’s true and what’s false when it comes to online content have also been a cause for alarm. Other than the abundance of false content, there’s also a ton of negativity all over the internet. For someone who is mentally and emotionally unstable, sometimes being online can be more detrimental than helpful. That’s why we should all take a break from social media from time to time and live in our real worlds; get in touch with society face to face. 

But don’t get me wrong, the internet is not always bad. The internet helps us connect and reconnect with our family and friends who have been away. It also improves our quality of living in terms of all the knowledge that we can easily get from it. If the internet can make us sad, it can definitely also make us feel good about ourselves. You just have to know where to look for what can make you happy, and what you can relate to in the world wide web. It can either be a good and inspiring quote, a funny meme or video, or maybe a feel-good relatable comic strip. 

The art of AJ Bacar

Life has a funny way of putting you in an unexpected situation that, in the end, works for you when you think that it won’t. Take it from comic strip writer and artist AJ Bacar. He took up engineering because he thought his comic book artist and Pugad Baboy creator hero Pol Medina Jr. also took the same course. 

“It turns out architect pala siya, huli ko nang nalaman na architect pala siya. Na fake news ako nung bata ako. Tsaka, I think yun yung pinasahan kong course sa La Salle, so parang sabi ko engineering, okay” says AJ. 

After graduating, he worked as an engineer at a telecommunications company for five years.  But his passion for arts was so strong that he gravitated towards it, and as they say, the rest is history. 

Watch the complete interview with comic strip writer and illustrator AJ Bacar a.k.a. S.S.K.A.I.T. and podcaster Khian Phil a.k.a. TOL

AJ started drawing when he was a kid. He never had any formal training but when he was in college, he became their publication’s arts and graphics section editor where he started producing comics. “Maybe doon ako nahasa.  Naalala kong sobrang corny ng mga comics ko. Sabi ng mga friends ko, ‘ano ba yang mga comics mo, di ko ma gets?’ and now we’re here,” says AJ.

Siya, Sila, Kayo, Ako, Ikaw, Tayo or S.S.K.A.I.T. was born in 2016. It’s AJ’s pseudonym. It wasn’t an easy decision for AJ to turn his back on corporate life because it gave him financial security. He was afraid that giving up his stability for something he is passionate about might not be practical since he’s also helping with his family’s expenses. But eventually, he followed his heart and started working on his comic strips, S.S.K.A.I.T. Those who love his creations grew until brand collaborations happened and profitable partnerships throve.

CAPTION:  A local chocolate brand collaborated with AJ for this comic strip on Valentine’s Day which talked about a character coming out to his parents.  

“Supportive yung work environment ko na when I’m doing art, sila din mismo sumusupport sa mga merchandise ko. It’s really a positive environment din for my passion din talaga,” says AJ. His ‘Man vs Ipis,’ ‘Ulan,’ ‘Dad Daddy Baby’ series made him viral under his pseudonym’s Facebook account with more than five hundred thousand followers. 

“Yung kay ‘Man vs Ipis,’ nagsimula ito dun sa ipis sa apartment ko sa Makati. Tapos nagkataon nung time na to sikat na sikat yung hugot culture din. So parang example lang ‘Ahh! May ipis’ tapos sabi ng man ‘kung lumipad parang butterfly.’ Tapos sabi nung ipis ‘kung mag effort kala mo kayo!’ Tapos parang that time nanalo si ipis. Then naging parang miniseries siya.

People were really looking forward to it. Like the next day parang ‘uy ano next round nila man vs ipis?’ Then yung next din si Ulan. I think madami naka relate kay Ulan because I think it was a rainy season tapos yung parang life struggles natin as a Filipino. Yung sa simpleng pag-cocommute, hanggang sa pagbangon sa umaga tapos umuulan, tapos sobrang hirap bumangon. Sa paglalaba, mga naglalaba na magsasampay tapos biglang uulan. So, I tried to personify yung ulan, maraming naka relate,” AJ says when asked about the origin of ‘Man Vs. Ipis’ and ‘Ulan.’ As for his ‘Dad Daddy Baby’ series, AJ said that this started as a simple joke. “Usually di ba ang tawag mo sa tatay mo ay dad? Tapos na uso yung tawagan na ‘daddy’ sa boyfriend. So, gumawa ako ng joke na what if yung girl nasa loob ng isang car tapos nag tanong si girl na ‘daddy kumain ka na ba?’ Tapos sabay na sumagot yung boyfriend niya at dad niya? Eh di pa alam ng dad na may boyfriend na yung girl. So, naging parang very viral siya that time, like ‘ohh hala mahuhuli ka di alam ng tatay mo,’” explains AJ. 

The pressure of being viral

Since his comics are already getting the traction they deserve, AJ admits that at around 2017 to 2018, he felt a bit pressured to create something that would keep the momentum of his product’s virality, especially whenever he would create a comic strip series. But he banks on how natural and relatable his stories are. Even though AJ admitted to the pressure, this year, he had a “step-back” moment that made him realize that what’s more important to him would be if his works would resonate to his readers, if it’s something that they could actually relate to, and if they would share it to others who can relate with it as well. “I think lahat ng creators na na-e-encounter din ito, for sure. Yung parang magkakaroon ka ng ‘hala, na- stress ako, nag resign ako to do this full-time pero bakit parang napapagod ako?’ Dun ko na realize na parang I’m putting too much pressure on me, on what I’m doing, that I’m forgetting my own space, na tao ka lang rin, magpahinga!  Huwag ka masyado magpagod. And go back to your core, to your purpose, para saan ba yung ginagawa mo? ‘Pag narealize mo yung ginagawa mo, may purpose yung ginagawa mo, marerealize mo na hindi ito aligned sa ginagawa mo, wag mo masyado ipilit. Huminga ka naman,” explains AJ. 

Giving back through his comics

AJ recalls that when he was younger, he always looked forward to reading his favorite comic strips every day. “Feeling ko may kasama ako. Feeling ko may nakaka intindi sa akin, feeling ko may nakakarinig sa akin,” AJ says. Aside from monetizing through collaborations, AJ also has a thriving online merchandise store via Shopee and Lazada -- selling t-shirts, stickers, mugs, of his funny and relatable characters. It’s important for AJ to remain focused on his core; his reason for doing his comics. AJ created SSKAIT as his breathing space, that’s why he also wants his readers to use his creations as their breathing space, an escape from their stressful reality and to give them a moment to laugh, relate, and reevaluate things. It’s his avenue to connect with people.  He admits to receiving messages from people telling him how they regularly wait for his comics to lighten up their drawn-out day. 

“You hear these messages and when it hits you, talagang na-realize ko yung ginagawa ko na may natutulungan akong tao. And it helps mold your core, na okay yung natutulungan mo, itong nagagawa mo sa tao,” admits AJ. He’s happy that by writing and drawing, he leaves a positive impact on people, which he uses as fuel to do more; to do good. For aspiring artists, his advice is to focus on their story, the message that they want to reiterate to people, know their purpose on doing what they do. 

“Simulan mo lang talaga, kasi yun yung pinakamahirap. Ang sabi ko nga kanina, ang hirap magsimula kasi masyado tayong occupied sa mga bagay na ginagawa natin, marami tayong gustong abutin. Gusto ko maging ganito, pero masyado nating tinitingnan yung napakalayong goal, magandang simulan mo muna sa nearest thing na parang pwede mong gawin. Ano ba yung pwede kong gawin ngayon na nasa resources ko na para masimulan ko yung bagay na gusto ko talagang abutin. Let’s start small and then from there, make it a habit,” says AJ.
 
It’s inspiring to see that even though the internet creates a world that can harm and alter people’s perspective, there are those like AJ who uses the power of social media and the world wide web to make people feel good about themselves, to make them laugh, and to give a safe space to breath. My daughter Fiona is a fan of AJ and because of her, I discovered S.S.K.A.I.T.  I’m now waiting for his Tita-Jing-character which he said he will create in his comic strip because I give off that cool tita / mommy vibe daw. Thanks, AJ!
 
With AJ’s entertaining and relatable creations, he continuously proves that the internet can also be our friend. Read S.S.K.A.I.T. comic strips here!

 

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Watch Pamilya Talk on Facebook, YouTube, and Kumu (@JingCastaneda – 4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Tuesday & Wednesday). You can also follow my social media accounts: InstagramFacebookYouTubeTwitter and Kumu.  Please share your stories or suggest topics at [email protected] 

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