Monday, April 23, 2007

Chinatown, Los Angeles

Ensconced inside the North-West corner of a triangular area where U.S. Highways 101, 110 and 5 intersect... and just down the street from the skycrapers and modern buildings of downtown LA's business and art district is CHINATOWN in Los Angeles, California. This is the same Chinatown made famous by the Roman Polanski movie starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Also in the cast (he's in almost all Hollywood movies requiring an Asian actor) is veteran Chinese-American character-actor James Hong, who one time I spotted in a supermarket here. Located in roughly, a 50-acre piece of prime real estate, its neigboring area has experienced a building boom in recent years: Gehry's Disney Hall, the new Los Angeles Cathedral, the Museum of Contempory Art, just walking distance West, plus the countless new and renovated buildings with modern residential lofts. Even nearby Little Tokyo is nearly completely new with a new mall or two. But not Chinatown. The main hub of this enclave has remained almost the same since I came here some 30 years ago; it's a place that's frozen in time, one might say. And therein lies its beauty.
On a cold and gray Saturday morning last weekend, my wife Mitch and two friends had breakfast--which turned out to be brunch--at one of the many restaurants there: ABC restaurant, a popular dimsum place. After gulping down with gallons of tea, sweet rice cakes (puto), fishballs, shrimp & vegetable dumplings, Chinese brocolli, sesame sweet bean cake and other goodies the waitresses were carting around, I left my companions, eager to explore and take pictures. I had my trusty Lumix with me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

WEIRD WAR Comics Collection

In the 1970s and through the early 80s one U.S. comic book became the home-away-from-home of Filipino comic artists: WEIRD WAR published by DC. It was like opening the pages of the comics I knew from my youth when I used to rent and read comics on the corner of Legarda and Bustillos in Sampaloc, Manila in the Philippines: Tagalog Klasiks, Pilipino Komiks, Espesyal Komiks and Hiwaga. Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Fred Carrillo, Tony DeZuniga, Teny Henson, Jess Jodloman, Ernie Chan, the artists I knew back then, were to my delight, dominating these pages. I mean, you look at the comics from first to last page and the illustrations are all by Filipino artists. I started collecting comics again. This was sometime around 1980 or thereabouts when I moved to Los Angeles, California. I didn't have much money to spend, and I didn't spend much, because nobody else was collecting these comics, and I could find them in the bargain boxes for as little as a quarter and not ever for more than a dollar. All I needed to do was find them, and find them I did, in a gigantic used bookstore in Burbank, the city which I now call home. That bookstore, Book Castle, is long gone, well at least the original bookstore is gone, but Steve, who was half-owner and who became my friend was lucky enough to have bought the store space next door, before the prices skyrocketed, and that is where Book Castle is now -- just a stone's throw from the newly built Burbank Mall. It's about an eight of the original and the comics section is gone. I still pass by occasionally, to buy or browse through the books, which is my other collecting weakness, or exchange pleasantries with Steve.
There were other comic publications too, where the Filipinos were illustrating, not only DC but Marvel Comics, Gold Medal, Warren and a little known publication called Treasure Chest. I also started collecting comics by illustrators other than Filipino, of course. In the arts, illustration was my first love, and I just love to look at beautifully rendered illustrations, studying the technique used, the layout, anatomical correctness of the male and female figures, etc. In particular I bought comics illustrated by Frank Thorne (Red Sonja), John Buscema (the artist who styled the Marvel look), Frank Robbins (Johnny Hazard), Neal Adams (Batman), Spanish comic book artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (Atari Force) , and of course I have a modest collection of Prince Valiant by Harold Foster, Rip Kirby and Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond and a few books by Frank Frazetta. That, however, belongs to another posting.
To get back to Weird War Comics -- Filipino comic artists Carrillo, DeZuniga, Alcala, Redondo, and others, were probably doing their finest work at around this period, better even than when I remembered them from my golden age collection of Philippine comics which got destroyed in a flood in Manila. Of these Filipino illustrators, I thought Fred Carrillo was the one who adapted best to the American style of comic illustration. Here's three pages by him, showing a unique style, not influenced by the so-called Redondo school which dominated the next invasion of Filipino comic illustrators in America. He also went on to illustrate, Creature Commandos and many other titles for DC, Marvel and other publications.
Surprisingly, Redondo was little used in Weird War. He was busy doing other books like Rima and Swamp Thing. Carrillo, Alcala, DeZuniga who all had their own unique style, and one artist who I didn't know before, also started gracing the pages of Weird War - Alex Nino, but it wasn't long before he was doing his own series too - the Doomsday Series. These artists dominated the pages of Weird War, and especially Carrillo, who later had his own series under the Weird War label -- The Creature Commandos. Other Filipinos illustrating in Weird War aside from those mentioned above were: Romeo Tanghal, Gerry Talaoc, Jess Jodloman, Ernie Chua, Quico Redondo, Ruben Yandoc, E.R. Cruz, Abe Ocampo and Teny Henson.