Posted February 11, 2015 by Luigi Cabrera in Comics

LET’S TALK KOMIKS: Finding the “Light” with Rob Cham

FLIPGEEKS: Tell us a bit about yourself.
ROB CHAM: Hi, I’m Rob. I do illustration stuff as a means of living. I make comics when I can because I love them so. I’m currently employed part-time at Ateneo teaching illustration, and am also employed as an art director for the Diff, a phone case company.

I’m a co-editor with Carljoe Javier, Elbert Or, and Adam David, for Abangan, the Best Philippine Comics, an anthology hoping to showcase the best Philippine Comics as the title says. I’ve released different short comics from when I was in college til now: The Amazing Topless Head, 01, Stories, and Sad Comics for Dirty Lovers.Light Image 1

[CHECK OUT… COMIC BOOK REVIEW: Abangan – The Best Philippine Comics]

I’m about to release my first graphic novel this year through Anino Comics, a publishing imprint of Adarna House. I’m part of Reading Komiks with Apol Sta. Maria, a monthly event at Uno Morato where we hang out and do live comic readings. Think of it as a mix of stand up, poetry reading, and radio dramas with illustrated visuals? It’s awesome and you should check it out. We want to sort of have this as the comic community getting to share what work they are doing on a stage?

Now imagine I’m saying the next bit like I’m a Ms. Universe contestant, I’m 25 years old, in a relationship, and was born in Baguio city, Philippines. Yaaaaaay.

How did you start doing comics?
When I was a kid, I couldn’t really get my hands on any big comics. ‘It was limited’ is what I mean, since I grew up in Baguio where there were no comic book stores (that I knew of). What comics I got my hands on, I loved. Archie, Lao Fu Zi, Peanuts, The Far Side, newspaper strips. It wasn’t really those that got me making comics but that’s what showed me: This medium exists and it’s amazing. What got me started was cartoons? We all love cartoons as kids, and I assume that’s all we’d ever draw. So I made my own comic strips of cartoons I liked. I remember one of the first comics I made was a fan comic of Scooby Doo, Droopy, and Snoopy hanging out fighting aliens, and I called it the Dogs in Black. (Dumb)

So my parents enrolled me in art classes on the weekends, and the teachers were nice and all, but I wanted to just make comics, they didn’t really know much about that. They just taught me watercolors, pastels, paints, and usually it’s just scenery and all that. No idea. Looking back, I’m grateful my parents did that, but I wasn’t really making stuff I wanted. I wanted to be a cartoonist. But had no idea you had all these big concepts, I just thought, man, I just need to learn how to draw Scooby Doo better.

 “I just was immersed in this weird darkness but all the vague lines and small lights still gave me the feeling of being there and not there? I wanted that feeling with Light.”

So I drew a lot. Because people liked it? As a kid I didn’t register it as them being nice, but I had this thing that made me stand out from the other kids. I was the art kid. I would be who they would want to team up with when there was a drawing assignment. Continued all through high school where I was who they send in art contests, would have to decorate the classroom, and do editorials for the school newspaper. These things just pushed me towards that.

I didn’t really want to pursue art as a career because people kept telling me there would be no money in it. Countless conversations overheard about this person’s kid and that person’s kid having enrolled at UP Baguio taking up Fine Arts, and just this response from anyone and everyone that they weren’t going to make any money. That was demoralizing. So despite having this art thing, this passion for it, I wanted to not disappoint my parents. They didn’t pressure me or anything, and are supportive right now of what I do, but we never really talked about art as a career, and I made the decision myself to take up accounting?

This was the plan when I was in high school, but then I passed the Ateneo College Entrance Test. (Also La Salle and UP, but not the point) My parents and I had long talks if I should go through with it and all this talk of how it was better for my future, and I agreed, so I went for it.

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I got here, Manila, and just got my hands on comic books for the first time. I remember my cousin bought me my first graphic novel, 300. Every month, I’d save up to buy comics while also sort of being a bad child in that I used my parent’s credit card (which was supposed to just be for emergencies and groceries) to buy all the comics I wanted. My cousin also got me scans of all this old stuff, Crisis of Infinite Earths, the original run of (Amazing) Spider-Man, Spawn, Invincible, which I just consumed. I didn’t really make a lot of friends to go and hang out with on the weekends because I was bad at that sort of thing, so besides homework, I’d just be reading comics all day in my studio apartment on Esteban Abada. Started buying local comics, going to komikons hoping to find just copies of comics I liked, random Sandman issues, trade paperbacks of the old stuff, when I started seeing that there was this local scene? I remember buying a lot of local comics and thought, ‘Oh my god, people do this here?’. Cubao X was still a thing so when Sputnik was around I had the same reaction. Just all these comics I wanted and Chez (Santander), the lady who would just be handling Sputnik would recommend me all these local comics and all these quirkier indie stuff.

I then just wanted to make my own stuff, right? How could you not? So I’d have these comic ideas in a notebook, and that was it until I bought a tablet and downloaded old versions of Photoshop because I really wanted to learn how to make digital art. So besides the dumb art stuff, I’d start making my own comics. I posted them on my tumblr because I wanted to do a project 365 like my friends were doing. It sort of blew up in that the stuff I posted was liked and reblogged so much that I got something like 4,000 followers when I was just 19. (right now it’s around 15,000) It was weird in that people at gigs started recognizing me from these comics I made on the internet. That’s sort of a weird ‘running out the gate’ thing. The comics I made were just short strips, auto-bio stuff, with the occasional awkward illustration here and there.

“Silent comics are a b***h, but it is really an amazing format to tell stories that only comics can do.”

I still had this mindset of a corporate job at the end of college, so I was going to enjoy doing this art and comics thing as much as I could. I met Elbert Or through his wife Lorra and he brought me into his group. They had this small comics bubble of Ateneo teachers and students who’d meet every week and just talk comics, do comic exercises, work and help out on each of our own comics, so that really helped me a lot. He and Lorra pushed me to start putting out my comics at cons and consigning them. I remember reading Windmills from Josel Nicolas and that was what gave me some confidence in putting my work out there, too, since it really was just a bunch of AutLight Image 3 and you’ll see what you lack.

You are mostly well-known with your comic – SAD COMICS. Tell us on how did you come up with it? Is it something that you need to put out? Why?
I started out with just short auto-bio strips, like I said. So I never really thought of making money through comics? I just like the idea of the internet where I can just share this kind of thing, get it out there, get the immediate feedback of people liking something, hating something, seeing what works through how many likes it has. So Sad Comics for Dirty Lovers is sort of this culmination of all the stuff I learned from making comics in college. In between work and such, I wouldn’t really have time to make as much one off’s as I did so what I could do, I figured, is try and challenge myself too by making comics longer than a page. So I started doing short stories since I wanted to grow. The first one was the Amazing Topless Head. A short 8-page experimental comic where I had to do something I had never done before in each page of the comic, detailed backgrounds, thought balloons as secondary characters, a whole page spread where you have 30 different panels showing you how the Amazing Topless Head came to be. Man I love that weird awkward comic.

So anyway, I made this one comic called ‘Colors‘, it’s in Sad Comics, where I tried that whole short story thing again. I made it as a Christmas gift to my girlfriend at the time. We broke up the month after and I just sort of collapsed into myself? There’s this other comic called Break Up 2013 in Sad Comics where I just sort of got a lot of shit off my chest, and posted it on Facebook and Tumblr and that also blew up. All my friends telling me that this was probably the best comic I ever did. How they felt so sad it happened, ‘pero t****a galing’. Kinda mixed. After that I just started collaborating with different people (Apol Sta. Maria, Mihk Vergara, Petra Magno, Carljoe Javier) on different comics and Sad Comics for Dirty Lovers is just a collection of the short comics I did that year after that break up.

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Check out Beehive Heart, a comic I did with Petra Magno is probably my favorite one of everything in that book.

Do you have any tips for people who on how they should move on from a bad relationship?
Kinda paraphrasing this Dinosaur Comics comic I read once. It’s by Ryan North! He’s great. Here it is and hopefully I got the gist (can’t find the comic)

Once there was a boy and a girl, girl and boy break up. Girl then realized ‘Oh yeah! There are literally SEVEN BILLION more people in the world right now. Surely with that large of a variability scale, I can find someone just like the person I was dating, but why stop there? I can literally find someone possibly who matches all the things I desire from this person minus all the faults as well!’ Did the girl ever find this person? Well, no. You’d have to really spend a lot of time searching for that person, but she ended up with someone else, and she was happy with that person who bore no resemblance to the person she was dating.

Other advice: Can’t really rely on other people for whatever closure you need from that person/bad relationship. You’ll get over it eventually. Like someone said, it just keeps hurting til it doesn’t.

More advice: Listen to Tender by Blur. That song helped me a lot.

What are your plans this Valentine’s Day?
Headed to Attraction Reaction at Route 196 after possibly amazing dinner somewhere with my girlfriend.

How did you come up with LIGHT?
Light sort of started with this piece I made. It’s also called Light. The idea for it was I wanted to make a game, and the idea was you were immersed in complete darkness as this guy, making your way through the world collecting gems that added to your Light, making you see more, but bigger tougher enemies would show up to try and extinguish you for ruining their day. The comic’s story is different. It’s just about this guy, doesn’t have a name, meant it to be that way, going on this grand adventure. I don’t want to give away what he’s on this adventure for, because I think it might make for a better experience if you just read it with a blank slate of what to expect.

I was sort of playing with the style and wanted to do a series of illustrations with it. I exhibited this piece at Bloom Arts Festival 2013.

At the time, I was doing work for Neonmob, it’s this website that is a mix of card collecting and art curation? You collect pieces but the way you get them is sort of random. You buy a pack and there’d be 4 to 6 ‘cards’ inside that you get to add to your collection. It’s f*****g awesome.

[CHECK OUT… COMIC BOOK REVIEW: It’s Not You, It’s “Sad Comics For Dirty Lovers”… Hugot]

They had me make a set before and wanted me to do another. They brought up the piece as something of a peg for what they wanted and I pitched them the idea behind it. I then thought “Why not make this into a comic?” The usual thing they did was just these pieces you collect were their own thing, but I wanted to do something different for them where you collect the pieces and as you keep getting more and more, you start to piece together a story. They loved the idea.

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What was supposed to be maybe 2 months of work, I then got obsessive and compulsive, turned into 6 months. I’m thankful they still put up with me, but I really wanted each ‘page’ to stand on its own artwise. I also had to do a lot of planning of how each page would fit, that there were no extraneous cuts? That between sequences I’d try and cram as much ‘story’ for single pages. I went through maybe 3 100-page drafts before settling on what it is now. I also tried a lot of new stuff with coloring, compositions, character designs. I never did this kind of long form storytelling, so that was a bitch to sort of make sure the story worked from that level, asides from being a set of cards, that it told a story you wanted to read. No filler, just all the beats I could fit into that thing. I wanted to make something I could be happy about, you know?

I sort of didn’t expect it to ever get published, or see print, because, well, it was Neonmob’s. I used to joke that this was the my probably the best comics work I’ve made but nobody will ever get to see it. When Adarna House was looking for pitches for the first wave of Anino Comics books, I pitched them the usual stuff I do, which would have been this 100-page slice of life comic about the independent scene here. It would have been called Hipsters. Just sort of this commentary on the Millenial generation of Manila. Carljoe (Javier) was handling the pitches when I attached Light as sort of a proof of concept I could finish a 100 page book? When they turned the pitch down, Adam David suggested to show the people there ‘Light’. I’d only ever shown it to a few people because I can’t post any of it til the collection launched. The Adarna people jumped on it, saying they want this book, so I was happy, but I didn’t know anything about the rights. Neonmob was nice enough to let me have the right to publish this, you know? No digital distribution, but I’m fine with it. Still, I now have this book coming out and it’s still surreal. I know you’ve read it, and Carljoe also tells me you are freaking the f*** out over it. I’m just really happy that people are receiving it as well as they are. I remember asking Manix and Gerry for blurbs for this, not expecting much. They got back to me saying how much they love it and for me I just still feel it being surreal a bit, you know? You guys were people I sorta looked at and admired and it means a lot, I guess.

Who are your influences in making of it?
Bone by Jeff Smith, Jason, Moebius, Apol Sta. Maria, Manix Abrera, this one amazing psychedelic experience. I remember this one time where me and my high school batchmates had a field trip to Subic. We camped out in the middle of the forest the first night and it was just complete darkness. Little flickering lights of the stars and bugs and it was just this surreal experience you know? I had the same thing happen when we stayed near the beach the second day. I just was immersed in this weird darkness but all the vague lines and small lights still gave me the feeling of being there and not there? I wanted that feeling with Light.

Is it difficult to make a silent story? If yes, how could you describe the level of difficulty?
Definitely, what I had to work was just body gestures and facial expressions, occasionally exclamation points and onomatopoeia’s, but that was how I designed it to be so it works as this card set? I didn’t want to rely on words to tell the story because it would just be confusing as hell to read one conversation from page 79 that refers to something in page 30. So the design came out of necessity, but I really wanted to do it, too because silent comics are hard as hell. I remember just spending hours breaking down sequences where I just was so tempted to make them talk.

What have you learned after doing LIGHT?
Silent comics are a b***h, but it is really an amazing format to tell stories that only comics can do. Writing, coloring, and drawing a comic this length by yourself is also a draining process.

Did you do it digitally? What program do you use?
I did the layouts, pencils, inks, and coloring all digital. Photoshop and Manga Studio.

Will there be a follow up or sequel for it?
I definitely don’t want to do a sequel for this. It is its own thing. I pitched a follow up to Carljoe, though, if Light sells well enough, that will also be another silent comic but this time sort of dealing with parallel lives and short stories. 2016 if ever, but I definitely want to do that if the opportunity arrives.

Would you say that this character might be/will be the most recognized character in your career? Or do you have more awesome characters and stories in your noggin to share?
So, I sort of left the guy unnamed, and just wanna keep it that way. Just weird semantics. I love the little guy. I’m not sure if it’ll be the most recognized, but Light will probably make it happen for a time, since it’ll be the book that will reach more people than anything I’ve done before.

No idea about the second question, haha. Let’s see what happens.

“Can’t really rely on other people for whatever closure you need from that person/bad relationship. You’ll get over it eventually. Like someone said, it just keeps hurting til it doesn’t.”

When will LIGHT be released?
April 15, 2015. We’ll try and sell some advanced copies at Komiket. Nothing’s really set in stone, but it should be available in bookstores in April.

Light Image 11Why should everyone grab a copy and read LIGHT?
I think you should check it out because I think it’s the best work I’ve put out comics-wise right now. So if you like my stuff before, this is something different, something you’ve never seen from me before with what I try to do with it, and how it’s drawn. I did my best trying to illustrate what I could and I hope it shows. It’s also for all ages? You can enjoy this book if you’re old or young is what I mean.

I had a hard time trying to come up with an answer for this because I’m the guy who made it? So I don’t get to see what the selling points as much as people who’ve just read it fresh not knowing any of where it was going or what it was going to do. It’s that, I guess. A comic that you hopefully like. Just set your expectations to appropriate amounts, pick it up and see if it’s for you.

What do you think will 2015 be for you?
Busy. Haha. I really hope this book does well. It’s something I’m nervous about. I’m planning on finishing another comic and releasing a few zines and there. Hopefully, it’s a good year.

Last question: If you went back in time 2-3 years ago and meet yourself, what would you say?
Hey man. Don’t do the thing. You know what thing I am talking about.

Luigi Cabrera

Enthusiast of things geeky, weird, and random. He finds peace in writing.