How do you take a story about lady knights and make it relevant as well accessible for younger, modern readers? This was the challenge that faced Cristina Rose “C.R.” or simply “Tina” Chua and Paolo Chikiamco when they collaborated on the comic book “A Sparrow’s Roar,” a graphic novel which had been published in 2019 by BOOM! Box, the award-winning teenage readers imprint of Los Angeles, California-based publisher BOOM! Studios.
In the medieval young adult fantasy “A Sparrow’s Roar,” Per is being trained as a woman warrior by her sister, the war hero General Elena from Esterpike. But when Elena is killed by a bandit leader, and Per is mistaken for Elena because she was wearing her sister’s armor, Per must lead Unity, a fraying coalition of nations, against an unexpected threat.
The 32-year-old Chua, a graphic designer, and the 40-year-old Chikiamco, a lawyer, were both passionate comic creators who had met while working on the science fiction anthology series “Mythspace.” Chua had been working freelance in comics by drawing covers and coloring for BOOM! Studios (Guys, she worked on “Adventure Time!”) while nursing the idea for her dream project. “I wanted to make a short 32-page comic about ‘Ladies in Armor’ going on to discover a plot brewing in the capital,” she said. “I wrote about my feelings and ala ‘Florante at Laura,’ set it someplace else. I wanted to write about stepping into a position you were unprepared for.” Enter Chikiamco, a published storyteller who had edited the fiction anthology “Alternative Alamat” from Visprint and would help her flesh out the plot; Chua would provide the art. “The central concept Cristina wanted to work on was focused on a team of women knights, and their designs were in the traditional European mold, so that’s where I took my cue for the world building – at least for the bit of the world we see in Per’s story,” Chikiamco said. “What I was trying to do was bring these designs, bring Tina’s dream story, to life in an environment that would feel natural to it.” “From my fever dream writing, Paolo whipped it up to its current shape,” Chua said. Chua’s reflects her interest in manga and French comics.
Chua and Chikiamco published “A Sparrow’s Roar” as a four-issue black-and-white ashcan series at Komikon over three years, receiving an enthusiastic response. That’s when the idea came to go bigger. “We knew that we wanted to test international publishing waters with ‘A Sparrow’s Roar,’ so we made a list of publications and agents that seemed open to submission, and consulted with more experienced friends like Tintin Pantoja,” Chikiamco explained. “Since Tina had done some work for BOOM! and already had contacts there through that work, we decided to take a chance and solicit them even if they didn’t have any open submissions plans in place at the time. Fortunately, they enjoyed it enough to pick it up then and there, and we were off.”
There was work to be done, as BOOM! wanted to publish the series in a single volume—and there’s more! “Well, that was the kicker – BOOM! wanted it in color, so Tina had to do a lot, and I mean a lot of work in a short time,” Chikiamco said. Aside from the coloring and adding pages to flesh out some parts, Chua had to resist one thing: “It was most difficult revisiting the comic during the coloring process and wanting to redraw everything.” The production process itself happened very quickly. The book was green-lit in January 2019 and was on the shelves by October.
The book received rave reviews, with CBR.com calling it “’Game of Thrones’ meets ‘Frozen.’” Eightbitblonde said, “’A Sparrow’s Roar’ is a female-lead fantasy with heart, nuance, realistic portrayals of the relationships that it explores.” “Chua’s art is gorgeous and the definite highlight of this graphic novel,” noted Comicsbeat. “It’s an interesting world of intrigue, action and an interesting look at sisterhood and expectations.”
Chikiamco and Chua are already looking at what comes next, including a possible return to Esterpike. “Borg Sinaban and I have a story coming out ‘Sound’ anthology from Difference Engine in Singapore,” Chikiamco said. “And Tina and I are working on our next project – not ‘Sparrow’ related, but we do plan on returning to that world afterwards.” Chua said, “I’m currently illustrating an upcoming local children’s picture book. My next comic projects are still incubating.”
It has been a unique mission for the two, having worked for years on a project that they had to essentially promote by remote magic, as they are both based in Manila. “It’s been pretty good in general, and a learning experience. This is my first comics work that’s been available widely outside the Philippines so it’s interesting seeing how they approach the book,” Chikiamco said. Chua concluded, “The best part is still seeing the people who bought the zines all the way to the colored release.”
You may order print copies of “A Sparrow’s Roar” from Comic Odyssey and Filbar’s or in digital form from Amazon and Comixology.