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How ‘Baby TK’ was born

Kevin Eric Raymundo has been very busy. In 2019, the animation director and comic creator created the “Tarantadong Kalbo” strip and started uploading it first on Facebook, then Twitter and Instagram. The semi-autobiographical slice-of-life strip followed Raymundo and his wife’s funny experiences, recalling Raymundo’s nostalgic childhood memories and even venturing into more serious territory such as political issues. “Tarantadong Kalbo” quickly became a breakout hit, to the point that Raymundo himself started being called by his strip’s title or—or the much catchier acronym “TK.” In 2020, Komiket Inc. collected Raymundo’s strips into print as “Tarandong Kalbo Vol. 1,” which would win the National Book Award for Graphic Fiction . As he promised, he followed up the bestselling first volume with a second volume the next year and a third one last year. He also created an icon of resistance with the “Tumindig!” symbol of a balled fist with limbs and facial features for the 2022 presidential elections, winning the the Japan Good Design Award for it.

His head is still spinning when he thinks about it all. “Oh my, where do I start,” he asks. Among the highlights of the TK experience have been meeting childhood hero Pol Medina Jr. (creator of the popular “Pugad Baboy” strip), who was very influential in shaping Raymundo’s humor. “Truly honored,” he told Super of the feeling of suddenly manning the table right next to Medina at conventions. He got to paint a mural for Museo ng Pag-asa. “That was the first time I met former vice-preisdent Leni Robredo, and I was surprised that she knew me and even called my artist name in full!”

This year brings yet something new for Raymundo: the publication of the first spinoff from the “Tarantadong Kalbo.” “Baby TK,” published by Komiket, collects exclusively the adventures and misadventures of the younger TK character—and by extension, Raymundo himself. “’Baby TK’ was already part of my strips very early on–some strips were included in the first book,” he says.

Raymundo as a boy–IMAGES COURTESY OF KEVIN ERIC RAYMUNDO

“They are 100-percent based on my experiences, but the details of how those experiences came about are of course tweaked and improved. Artistic license kumbaga.”

Kevin Eric Raymundo at the Manila International Book Fair–MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Secret sauce

The secret sauce–or banana ketchup–of “Baby TK” is the nostalgia. Many of the Baby TK’s experiences and those of his sister Poty (to whom the book is dedicated) are shared by many Filipinos: enforced sleep time in the afternoon, playing the Nintendo Famicom, watching (with both terror and anticipation) the “Magandang Gabi… Bayan” Halloween special. He gets to share these with two as yet unnamed friends whose adult versions appear in the “Tarantadong Strip.” “The two characters are fictional and are loosely based on real people. I will do a name reveal in the future strips, abangan!” The most extraordinary aspect of “Baby TK” is his recreation of childhood items or experiences (some slightly modified for copyright purposes, of course) that spark the aforementioned nostalgia. This includes: buying taho from roving vendors, driving a manual sewing machine like a race car, various classroom paraphernalia (such as the mechanical pencilcase and the ballpoint pen of many colors), Haw Flakes, eating Ovaltine straight from the can, drinking Royal Tru-Orange and being fed SkyFlakes when you’re sick, playing brickgames, plastic balloons and playing childhood games such as sipa and luksong tinik all part of growing up Pinoy from a time long past.

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Even though the 38-year-old Raymundo is technically a millennial, “Baby TK” hits hard for Gen Xers as well. “Not intentional, but expected,” he says. “I get that a lot of our childhood experiences were passed on from the previous one. We millennials are like the weird ‘middle child’ in that our era saw the transition from analog to digital during our formative years. We experienced the internet during its infancy. We experienced the VHS, then VCD, then DVD, etcetera. Nasa gitna kami, so there’s a certain advantage, I think. We get the references of both eras. I was actually looking forward to the comments every time I post ‘Baby TK’-related strips, because many readers share their own experiences, or a variation of it that I’m only discovering now. It’s like opening a big box of memories, and that the readers are part of the whole nostalgia trip is really rewarding.” The plans for putting together “Baby TK” began early this year but then when the time came close to the printing deadline, it turned out that Raymundo only had half the required pages for a standalone book. So “Baby TK” was originally planned to be released at the Philippine Book Festival, but this was pushed back several times, to Toycon PH, Komiket Iloilo, Komiket Bacolod, until it thankfully came out at the Manila International Book Fair.

Busy TK

There was, according to Raymundo, silver linings to the delay. In the process of fulfilling the page requirement for the volume, the “Tarantadong Kalbo” strip was taken over by Baby TK. “It’s a good thing that I waited for the right time and honed my skills with visual storytelling. You will notice how the paneling of most of the strips has expanded beyond the usual four. This gave me ample space to let the visuals ‘breathe.’ The book is also almost wordless, and I dropped the titles as well. There is restraint in not over-explaining things, which is in contrast with the earlier TK books wherein some pieces are very academic and explainer-type. There was more effort to make the visuals front and center.”
Raymundo recently represented the Philippines at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (Licaf) in the United Kingdom. “Surreal,” he says of the experiences. He thanks Paolo Herras of Komiket and Julie and Carole Tait of Licaf for getting him there. He got to meet Nick Seluk (“Awkward Yeti”) and Dave Mckean (mastermind of those unforgettable covers for Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” comic books).
And Raymundo remains busy. “I go to almost all Komiket events and sign books there,” he says. “Tarantadong Kalbo Vol. 4” will be out soon, and there is a “Baby TK Vol. 2” in the works. An animated “Tarantadong Kalbo” is being worked on. There is an art book for international readers called ‘The Art and Story of Tarantadong Kalbo’ that is a compendium of “Tarantadong Kalbo Vol. 1-3’ and chronicles Raymundo’s journey from the very start, with previously unreleased works included. He is also thinking of doing a long-form graphic novel that may or may not be TK-related.
In the meantime, “Baby TK Vol. 1” is now here to be savored. Raymundo says he enjoyed the reminiscing part the most. “I’m such a sucker for nostalgia. There’s a bittersweet feeling when people of my generation tell me that they did this thing or experienced that thing too. It makes me happy to be able to remind them of the good times that we ‘shared’ and, at the same time share the realization that we are at that stage when bodies are starting to ache in places, our vision is starting to get blurry, and we tend to forget stuff. In short, getting old,” he says with a laugh. And this is what Kevin Eric Raymundo wants readers of “Baby TK Vol. 1” to take with them: “Remember that you were happy once. Those cherished memories are your anchor. Let them steady you through the roughest waves of life.”
“Baby TK Vol. 1” is available through Komiket’s Lazada and Shopee stores as well as links on Raymundo’s social media accounts: @TarantadongKalbo on Facebook, @kevinkalbo on Twitter and @tarantadongkalbo on Instagram.
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