Ang Ilog: A decade in the making
Pio Garcia, contributor (The Philippine Star) - November 3, 2014 - 1:56pm

When your lifelong dream is abruptly put on hold, do you stop and move on or do you still continue and work for it?

For Ricky Olivares, a well-known comic book fan and sportswriter, you don’t.

For those who don’t know, Sir Rick wears a lot of hats, as he is the Public Relations Manager for Gatorade Philippines but writes for Business Mirror,, and Philippines. He’s also a frequent contributor for Futbol Balita, FHM, and Men's Health and an editorial consultant for Shot magazine as well as editor-in-chief of CrossCourt, the official PBA magazine.

Apart from sports, there’s one thing that he kept his mind on, something budding comics artists and writers around the world target. His dream was to write for Marvel. And it almost happened. Almost.

Fast forward to 2014, and here he is about to publish his first komik. In a collaboration with artist Rey Asturias, Sir Rick will take you down memory lane with his coming of age story “Ang Ilog.” It actually comes in two books with Book One done with the printing and ready for its maiden voyage.

“Ang Ilog” centers around Pablo, who follows his father’s journey downstream towards Mabalacat around 1903. The river will be full of mystery and of the unknown, as well as mythic creatures, and it is up to Pablo to conquer them all with just his wits so he can save his mother who fell ill at the start of his journey.

By that time I looked that up, I was already intrigued by how Pablo will conquer all of those in post-war Philippines. And then Sir Rick left me hanging with how his Book Two will play out, oh the pain is excruciating (which adds to the excitement nonetheless chief!). The cover also shows that something sinister is after Pablo, but what could it be? I’ll leave that to your imagination.

We were lucky to score a chat with Sir Rick himself as he takes us to how “Ang Ilog” started, what inspired him to do it, and how he has finally achieved his dream of writing a comic script and getting published. His work will be up for grabs on November 15’s Komikon 2014 event which will be held at the Bayanihan Center of Unilab.

I guess it’s best to let the author do the talking rather than us playing experts, so without further ado, read on about how “Ang Ilog” went from being in the bin to being published.

Q: Sir, what makes a good story for a comic? What makes it so endearing that you would want to flip the pages and appreciate how it was written? Does it have to be personal while mixing a bit of one's imagination along the way?

Ricky Olivares (RO): What makes a good story is something that can grab hold of your senses that you become emotionally invested in it. Ang Ilog owes its origins to my youth when I would visit my grandparents in Tarlac for Christmas and summer vacations. I enjoyed staying there because for one, my Lolo Ramon brought me to Clark Air Base once a week to buy comic books and watch the fighter jets take off into the Pampanga sky. In the afternoons, if we didn’t play baseball, we’d go down the river on a raft. That river broke off: one going to Pampanga and the other towards Pangasinan. When I was naughty, my aunts would leave me underneath this massive tamarind tree. They told me there was a kapre there and I simply froze unable to do anything. I had to wait for my Lolo to “rescue” me.

When I’d ride the raft down the river, I pretended to be Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. Or a pirate even. And having this overactive imagination, I’d have all these adventures.

Cut to about 25 years later, I was living in New York City. On the side, I tried to break into Marvel Comics. I hung out near the Marvel offices along Park Avenue and waited for then editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. He took time once to listen to a pitch. He took my notes but I never heard from him again.

When I wasn’t working or going out, I’d go to the Bethesda Fountain at Central Park (my favorite place there) to sit down and write. I wrote short stories, scripts for a film, poetry and comic book plots, one of which was Ang Ilog. When my Lola passed away I felt so bad I spent two days writing a story that eventually became Ang Ilog.

That remained in my files since and I only dusted it off last July, updating it massively.

Around the time of Indieket, I was doing a story with Harvey Tolibao (that is on hold as he finishes some commitments) and was throwing some other stories to other friends of mine. Strangely enough, Ang Ilog wasn’t one of them. I wanted Gerry Alanguilan to do it but the man is simply too busy. I thought about asking Danny Acuña to draw Ang Ilog, but I asked someone else instead. That didn’t work out. Fortunately, I remembered Rey Asturias, who I commissioned a sketch. In truth, I was also testing him. I then decided that Tito Rey was the right man for the job and how!

The story of Ang Ilog initially centers around Pablo, who follows his father’s journey downstream towards Mabalacat around 1903. His father and his friends are former Katipuneros who fought under Mariano Llanera against the Spanish and later the Americans. After the wars of independence, they settled down into the sedentary life of a farmer. Until one day when his father and a comrade disappear along the river never to be seen. Pablo follows suit a year later when his mother falls ill. In need of money and medicine, he journeys to Mabalacat to sell produce. But the river journey is fraught with peril as he has to go through all sorts of “challenges.” In some ways, it’s a coming of age story. But Ang Ilog is a historical fantasy.

 As a fan of Philippine history and the Katipunan, it was my way finally getting to do something with that while imbuing it with some supernatural stuff.

Q: Being a comic book fan for almost your entire life, who were your biggest influences as you started to pen Ang Ilog? I guess the "slight" from Marvel only fanned the flames of your comic book dream and pushed you to become a better writer?

RO: I don’t think it’s a slight from Marvel. Not at all. I was a fan of the X-men from very early in the book’s original series. But who influenced me to write and do this stuff?

For writers, I started with Chris Claremont then Frank Miller. But almost around the same time, I fell in love with the indie scene so Mike Baron and Steve Rude (on Nexus) and Dave Stevens (on the Rocketeer) were massive influences. Also, add Peter David, who is probably my favorite. Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek join that list too. Then you have the novelists like Tom Clancy, Jack McCallum, Timothy Zahn and Ernest Hemingway.

Believe it or not, as a kid, I used to draw a lot. I even went to art school because I loved drawing. That somehow changed when I got into sports. All of a sudden, there wasn’t enough time to draw. I remember in fourth year high school, my home room teacher sent me to the prefect of discipline in Ateneo High School so I could be suspended. She said that the essay I submitted was plagiarized! But the truth is I wrote it some 15 minutes before class. Everything was fabricated. I told my folks about it who were so angry they went to school the following day to confront my teacher. When they verified the facts (none of what I presented as facts in the essay were true), they reversed my “F” to an “A”. (Laughs)

I kinda thought, “Hey, I can write.” But I didn’t think so until I got into advertising as a copywriter. At the same time, I was writing for the Inquirer about alternative bands, diplomats, and comic books. Even later in my career, writing was sort of an accident for me as I was working mostly as a marketing manager. 

Q: Apart from a coming-of-age story, what do you envision it to be? What do you really want impart to your reader?

Ang Ilog is written in English and Filipino with the art style very much like those classic Filipino komiks. Gerry Alanguilan was a massive influence in that regard. His love for the medium sort of rubbed off on me. So you can say that this is my way of giving back. It’s an old school comic book adventure.

 Q: I noticed that Ang Ilog's main character has to survive by his wits according to your blog post. Would he by chance, as with all heroes, find an amazing weapon that would make his trials an epic battle to be decided by brains and brawn?

Nope. He simply makes use of his wits. When I was in grade school, we were given this monthly magazine that featured the adventures of this kid named Kangkong (for real). And he fought the supernatural using only his wits. He never killed anyone. So the main character, Pablo, is an amalgam of Kangkong and me. So how does he deal with the sirenas, trolls and bandits? I am not telling. That all happens in Book Two. Book One sets the table. Book Two goes into maximum overdrive. ) [Author’s note: I have a stash of Kangkong too, Sir Rick, don’t ask why or how hahaha!]

Q: With regards to the artist, did you personally handpick who drew Ang Ilog? What are your standards when it comes to comic art since each artist has a different style (for example, Leinil Yu tends to have his characters look as real as possible while Dustin Weaver opts for a more cartoon-y look)? How did you come to know Nino Balita and what was his outlook on your first partnership? Is there more in the offing for you guys?

RO: Each story demands a certain style. Dante started out as a very Vertigo-ish story. Very deep and somewhat twisted. There’s some death to it. I envisioned Kelly Jones style of art for that. When Gerry couldn’t do it because of work, I was talking to Niño Balita about it. At first he struggled with it. It was then I decided to suit it towards his style. So it became a more humorous story. The one I am working with Harvey Tolibao has a Quentin Tarantino feel to it. It really depends.

Ang Ilog has a Book Two but it spins off in another direction that will be revealed by the end of Book Two (that should be out by March). Dante will continue as a web comic and as a regular book. I have K-Town comic out for the summer komikon. I won’t reveal who is drawing that just yet. Hopefully, I can bug Harvey to finish the book that’s titled Graceland. [Author’s note: Okay sir, you got me intrigued already with how this all plays out. March cannot arrive soon enough.]

Q: For the art, what feeling particularly did you want the artist to convey when he drew your story? Because looking at the cover of Ang Ilog and Dante, they have different feels to them, with Ang Ilog opting for a heavier, more mature approach.

RO: I prefer offbeat stuff. As much as I want to do superheroes, I really cannot. I love the medium but I am not hardwired that way. I wish I wrote songs like Morrisey or even Robert Smith but I didn’t have a too bad childhood to warrant painful and rebellious songs. I am currently reading more indie titles. By January, I will no longer read mainstream stuff. Purely indie. Traveling recently to the UK, I am also influenced by what I see there.

Q: Do you think that the art and the story should go hand-in-hand for a comic to sell (an example would be Jason Aaron's and Esssad Ribic's Thor: God of Thunder)? What about those that look for the art first before even trying out the story?

RO: Yes! The art should fit the story and the character. As for those who look at the art first, well, kanya kanya yan.

Bonus Question! As the comic universe is slowly coming to life, I would like to know who you think is winning this battle between Marvel and DC and how long you think the other companies are going to hold out from selling their characters for an appearance on the silver screen (i.e Conan, Spawn, Red Sonja, etc.)?

RO: I don’t think anyone is winning it. It’s good for the medium.


Oh and uh, do have fun and take your time to grab it, whether on regular or oversized formats, English or Tagalog, on November 15. And by the time it hits the stores, Sir Rick will probably be busy working on a CD of original music and finishing two books.

What. A. Man.

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