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SG-based Epigram releases Pinoy comic book ‘Mr Tino’

By: Ruel S. De Vera

The premise alone is brilliant. In the vast majority of superhero stories, the metahumans gain their abilities either as a birthright or as the result of an accident as an adult. But what happens when an ordinary man suddenly develops superhuman strength—when he becomes a senior citizen?

This was the idea behind “Sixty Six,” the graphic novel written by Russell Molina and illustrated by Ian Sta. Maria, published by Adarna House’s Anino Comics imprint in 2015.

Russell Molina

It was Russell Molina, children’s book author and graphic fictionist, who thought up the concept. “I think the idea came to me during the time when there was a big discussion and debate about senior citizen’s rights and how the elderly are poorly represented in society,” he said. “So when I was looking for a unique super hero, I connected those two seemingly unrelated ideas – senior citizen plus super hero.”

To fully flesh out his unique story, Molina turned to a geek comrade-at-arms at Harrison Communications: “How could I not? When Russell pitched me the Idea, I was instantly onboard. More than the uniquely Filipino insights, it was the tone of the story that got me interested. I’ve been drawing a lot of action and horror type tropes so doing something like this was refreshing for me. I was already a fan of his advertising work and his children’s books so naturally working with him on his first comic book was something I wanted to do.”

Ian Sta. Maria

In “’Sixty Six,’ Celestino ‘Tino’ Cabal had just turned 66 when he saves children from an accident with a sudden burst of super strength; he then decides to use his newfound abilities to solve the mystery of the disappearing children in their area. “But more than a superhero story, ‘Sixty Six’ is also a love story between Mang Tino and Aling Aura,” Molina said. “Their lives mirror our own.”

It didn’t come easy, taking three years in all. “We started very sloooooow,” Molina said.  “Because we had day jobs and we did ‘Sixty Six’ during weekends and our spare time. But when Anino picked it up and we were give a semblance of a structure, we sped up the pace a bit.  From the time of inception to finally delivering the last pages, about a couple of years.  We sold our first ashcan in Komikon 2012. The original ashcans, done in Filipino, were presented to Carljoe Javier, then managing editor at Anino, and he accepted them, leading to Anino publishing the graphic novel in 2015. “And it we moved the launch a little earlier than we would have wanted to at Comic Odyssey, Fully Booked BGC because I was about to leave Manila to go work for LEGO here in Denmark,” said Sta. Maria.

Molina described getting finishing “’Sixty Six’ as  “like giving birth to a 66-year-old man.  The chapter-ashcans were well received by Komikon habitués so we more or less had an initial inkling already. Comics friends were also very supportive and the early reviews were encouraging.  I’m elated to hear that some readers are now into komiks and graphic novels because of ‘Sixty Six.’  The book was their gateway to this new and exciting world.”

Ani Rosa Almario, vice president of product development  Adarna House said: “’Sixty Six’ did really well. We initially came out with 3,000 copies.” 

Mang Tino wasn’t done yet. Soon, Molina set out to follow up on the senior sentinel’s adventures with a sequel. That didn’t go quite to plan, as Sta. Maria has indeed moved to Billund and everyone had their own projects. Luckily artist Mickey Marchan came on board to provide his own take on the characters. “I like his clean line art,” Sta. Maria said. “Sixty Six Book 2” ( to differentiate it from the first volume now referred to as “Sixty Six Book 1”) in February 2020, five years after Book 1.

But the senior citizen superhero goes on. “’Sixty Six’ has always been part of our catalog that we bring to international book fairs,” Almario said. “Agno Almario (Adarna’s VP for Sales and Marketing) was able to pitch it to Epigram in an Asian conference last year and they put in the offer to license shortly after they reviewed the manuscript.”

Singapore’s Epigram is simply one of the greatest publishers of in Asia. Its publication of Singaporean artist Sonny Liew’s controversial “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” is considered a victory of independent publication and an affirmation of the genre. Epigram is the publisher of the Singaporean edition of the late Gerry Alanguilan’s “Elmer.”
There were a few changes, the most obvious is that the Javier translated the book from Filipino to English and the title was changed to reflect the titular character’s Mr Tino. The book size was also changed. “The art stayed as is,” Sta. Maria noted, when “Mr Tino” came out in July.

Molina and Sta. Maria were of course elated: “Epigram’s reputation precedes them, so it was definitely validating and gratifying to find out that they saw the potential and the genius of ‘Sixty Six.’” The two also hopes the book makes people rethink how they treat their own senior citizens.

Theres more “Mr Tino” coming, especially after Epigram heard that “Sixty Six Book 2” had been launched. “When Epigram caught wind of this they asked to review the manuscript right away,” Almario said. They are slated to release “Mr Tino Book 2” in January 2021.

Even though “MrTino” is published by a Singaporean publisher, that doesn’t mean Filipino readers can’t get it. “Epigram has the license to distribute in South East Asia, so it is possible for it to be available here if one of our local booksellers pick it up,” Almario sai.”

The two are already busy working on other projects. “I just finished a stand-alone graphic novel, a product of the Barlaya workshop, and I’ve been writing a couple of children’s stories also during the lockdown,” Molina said. “I just finished the sequel to my first solo book ‘Salamangka,’” Sta. Maria said.  “’Salamangka 2,’ published by Summit. Flash stories that reimagine Filipino legends and mythology. And I am currently finishing a conclusion story for ‘Skyworld,’ written by Mervin Ignacio.”

Molina is excited to see what non-Filipino audiences will think of their story:  “’Sixty Six’ has a strong Pinoy feel and flavor and I’m excited to find out what the international readers would think – because they would be the ones to add new layers of meanings as they view the story through fresh eyes.  I hope the book would whet their appetites for more Pinoy stories.”  

And of course for the writer in Molina and the artist in Sta. Maria the international release means so much. “So proud to walk the path that has been cleared for us by comic greats like Gerry Alanguilan, Whilce Portacio, Leinil Yu and Budjette Tan, just to name a few,” Molina said. Thanks to Epigram and the efforts of Anino,  ‘Mr Tino’ is in a position to contribute to Filipino representation in this genre.  There are a lot of amazing Pinoy komiks materials out there and I hope our book can encourage the international market to seek out these local content.” 

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