The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 43 | Filipino Art in American Comics: My Whilce Portacio Experience (Part 3)

Leaving Proof 43 | Filipino Art in American Comics: My Whilce Portacio Experience (Part 3)
Published on Thursday, August 11, 2011 by

(Continued from the previous column).

By the summer of 1995, comic books were the last thing on my mind. I was living on my own for the first time, having left home at the age of 16 to attend university on a government scholarship in the Philippine capital of Manila, a 12-hour bus ride across lahar country from the mountain city of Baguio where I had lived most of my life.

HR_Iron_Man_v1_no1I tried to keep tabs on Portacio’s career and keep up with developments in the North American comic book industry, but between classes five days a week, citizen’s military training (CMT) on Sundays, and trying to maintain a semblance of a normal social life during whatever spare time I had left over, I found myself drifting further and further away from the hobby and caring less and less about the career of the man who had inspired so many creative flights of fancy among my peers and I when we were younger. When I heard that Portacio was going back to Marvel to draw Iron Man for the publisher’s much-ballyhooed Heroes Reborn line, I shrugged and kept on doing whatever it was that I was doing back then that didn’t involve reading comics. When Portacio and inker Gerry Alanguilan launched Stone in 1998, I bought the first issue and caught the mall signing tour like everybody else but ended up asking a mate to line up and get my copy signed for me, because I was actually more interested in watching Chill and Razorback, who were touring in support of the comic book launch. When he moved on to Stormwatch: Team Achilles, all I saw when I skimmed through the pages was a guy who learned to draw from looking at other, maybe better illustrated comics.

stone_v1_no1That creeping indifference was partially born of what I felt was a stagnation in Portacio’s technique as an illustrator and visual storyteller. While fellow Wildstorm Studios-affiliated pencillers like J. Scott Campbell, Aron Wiesenfeld, and Portacio-protégé Leinil Francis Yu appeared to be improving by leaps and bounds with each new project, Portacio (and most of the other Image Comics founders) seemed to have grown complacent as artists, content to recycle the same stock poses, character designs, and storytelling gimmicks that brought them so much success a decade earlier. In retrospect, it was unfair of me to expect the purveyors of the comics of my youth to grow up (or at least change) with me. Nobody in his right mind would have called out Charles M. Schulz for drawing the cast of Peanuts the same way for lord knows how many decades. Why should comic book artists labor under more demanding expectations? This isn’t to excuse poor technique or excessive creative orthodoxy, of course, but I’d forgotten a basic tenet of art appreciation: Just as we are under no obligation to keep patronizing art that no longer entertains, challenges, or otherwise pleases us, so too are artists and writers not accountable to our changing whims and tastes. But I had grown to think of Portacio as “my” artist, and when it became clear that what I wanted to see from him and what he was producing were on radically divergent trajectories, as ridiculous as it sounds, I couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed.

When I started writing this series of articles on Whilce Portacio, I had a clear map in my head of where I wanted to take the discussion. I would parallel my maturation with a growing distance from the childish, superhero comic book preoccupations of my youth perhaps best exemplified by the heavily-muscled, hyper-idealized figures drawn by Portacio. The past few days of thinking about his work and what it meant to me then have led to a very different place, however. Instead of finding the point where “it all went wrong” for Portacio, I found myself enjoying the trip down memory lane and wondering when and why I stopped having so much fun reading these things. The overwhelming feeling I have coming away from this exercise is one of appreciation: I’m glad I encountered Portacio’s work when I did, and I will forever be grateful for how it helped inspire a whole generation of young Filipino artists.

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

- C. S. Lewis

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