Inquirer Super

Would you have your fortune told by Manix Abrera?

By: Ruel S. De Vera

Manix Abrera really is out of this world. The cartoonist (who just turned 40, thus is an Aquarius) behind the Inquirer’s “Kikomachine Komix” strip boasts a style that can only be described as cute on acid, stories which depict the daily tribulations of students at a university (everyone pretty much agrees it is a stand-in for the University of the Philippines Diliman, from which Abrera got his fine arts degree) with the requisite terror profs. But the strip also featured actual terror profs who commune with evil spirits, glimpses of Heaven and Hell, a Parallel World (where everything is upside down), and so much more, all laced with a humor that can only be described as existential and extreme.
Yet in person, the Baguio-based son of venerable editorial cartoonist Jess Abrera and historian Dr. Bernadette Abrera is so shy and humble, he deflects any mention of the fact he is one of the most popular komiks creators in the country (the lines for his autograph at conventions is the stuff of legend) or that his “Kikomachine Komix” collections are constant bestsellers (vol. 17 is due out later this year from Avenida Books). He has held exhibits and his distinctive designs appear on T-shirts and totes. He even got to draw his first variant cover for DC Comics with January’s “Batman: The Knight” # 1. But perhaps his most unique art product has just come to fruition, something that captures his, uh, unique world perfectly.
In April 2021, Abrera held an exhibit at Galerie Stephanie called “Samantala, Ikaw at ang Hiwaga,” which featured his take on all 78 cards from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot card deck, done in ink and graphite on paper. But when Cartellino, Galerie Stephanie’s art-product retail arm, suggested producing an actual deck, he was all in: “Kinarir ko talaga!” He says that all in all, it took 10 years to form the idea in his head, one year to manifest in his mind, six months to draw and finally, one year to produce the deck itself. The Manix Abrera Samantala, Ikaw at ang Hiwaga Tarot set comes in two editions: the Standard Set (P1,600) and the numbered Deluxe Set (P3,700), which has larger cards (2.75” x 4.75” versus the Standard’s 2.5” x 4”), gold foil border stamping on each cardback, Abrera-signed Welcome card plus two special Angel and Devil cards, though Abrera promises both editions are “made with love, magic, and mystery!”
Super caught up and communed with Abrera. Here are excerpts:

How old were you and how were you first exposed to occult elements?
SIguro mga 10 years old ako noon, naalala kong nagmamasid-masid ako sa studio ni papa, tinitingnan yung mga art books niya. Tapos may nakita akong nakatago sa ilalim banda na isang mysterious at malaking black na hardbound book. Kinuha ko, tapos yung title ay “Magic and Superstition.” So binabasa-basa ko na paunti-unti pag nandoon ako sa studio ni papa, haha. Hindi yata alam ni mama at papa na binabasa-basa ko iyun noon hahaha! Nasa akin pa rin yung librong iyun ngayon, hinigi ko na kay papa. Tapos si mama naman, maraming mga anting-anting, at books ng mga alamat at iba-ibang mga paniniwala na kakaiba dito sa Pilipinas.

How did you feel about them then and how do you feel about them now?
Malapit sa puso ko ang magic, superstition, etc. Noon pa man, positive ang pagtingin ko dito. Para sa akin, galing ito sa Diyos talaga.And marami rin itong sinasabi tungkol sa kultura natin. Tapos maiisip mo din na marami pa tayong hindi alam at naiintindihan. Kaya ang sarap tumingin lang sa stars sa gabi at isipin na ang dami pa natin maaaring i-explore, outside and within.

When did you decide to start incorporating occult elements in “Kikomachine” and your other art?
Noong college ako, may nakaibigan akong Satanista daw siya dati. Tapos noong biglang nagparamdam sa kanya si Satanas–lumutang yung itim na kandila papunta sa mukha niya, habang nagdadasal siya sa poon ng kadiliman–sumali kaagad siya kinabukasan sa Youth for Christ. Haha. Ang ganda-ganda ng kuwento niya na iyun, yun ang peg ko lagi sa mga comics at stories ko, mga nanggaling sa tunay na mga pangyayari na super weird.

Where and when do you usually use occult elements and designs in your art and strips?
Hinahalo ko ito super subtly sa mga hirit or sa small elements sa mga mga drawings. Bonus na lang kung may makapansin and maka-gets haha.

How would you describe your personal religious beliefs?
Religious ako, kahit hindi siguro halata hahaha! Yung mga magic, superstition, occult, para sa akin galing din sa Diyos. Binibigyan niya tayo ng signs–big and small, and super subtle minsan–para unti-unting maintindihan yung buong system/picture/universe/cosmos; at habang kinikilala natin ang cosmos ay mas nakikilala din natin ang ating mga sarili; at madalas mapapansing connected tayo lahat, at ang sarap mabalot sa hiwaga together.
Do you personally believe in any of the occult and alchemical designs and elements that appear in your art?
Iba-iba haha. Minsan may mga pinaniniwalaan ako, may ibang medyo hindi, at may ibang ang hirap paniwalaan; pero lahat ito ay amazing parati sa akin, at nakakabuhay ng dugo at imagination!

As time went on, the occult elements in “Kikomachine” became more and more common. Any reason for that?
Dahil siguro mas marami na akong natututunan, at mas marami akong gustong i-share at ipakita din sa iba. Lagi akong attracted sa mystery, hiwaga, magic, etc. Masarap ipaalala na ang daming ganito sa universe. Ang sarap maalala na ang sarap mamangha!

Have you received of pushback, negative feedback or criticism from the appearance of such occults in your work?
Yes, madami na noon pa man hahaha! Hindi naman mawawala iyan. May iba nga akala devil worshipper ako, ganun haha, kasi ang dami daw weird na Latin-Latin at anting-anting symbols akong dino-drawing–na pag ni-research naman and i-translate yung Latin na nakaulat, ay napaka-positive and maganda ang message hahaha! Maka-Diyos pa actually!
Sa unang tingin talaga, nakakatakot or negative agad ang unang maiisip kapag may hindi pa maintindihan; pero pag nagbukas ng isipan, ka-Boom! Ang ganda ng Life!

Now, you also use a lot of scientific and math formulas in your strips. How do you fact-check those formulas?
Yes, maraming books sa bahay about advanced mathematics at mga hardcore science! Malaki ang tulong na scientist si Meh (Antonio, his girlfriend), sa kanya ako nagpapa-fact-check din madalas haha! Lahat ng math and science formulas sa “Kikomachine Komix” ay hindi lamang imbento basta-basta haha. Minsan nga may mga hardcore na nagco-compute talaga ng sagot!

Now that we’ve established that you fact-check the scientific and math formulas in “Kikomachine Komix,” how do you research and fact-check the occult elements and symbols that appear in the strips?
Haha, galing sa books yung mga occult elements at symbols sa “Kikomachine Komix.” Pag may mga iniimbento naman ako, hindi rin basta-basta, may pinagbasehan ito na matindi, at may mga malalalim na meaning behind them, hehe.

Have you ever had a personal supernatural experience?
Naku, suuuuper dami. Noong bata ako nakakita ako saglit ng dwende sa bintana ng kwarto ko–nag-hello pa sa akin! Sa La Salle Antipolo–nasa bundok talaga at maraming gubat sa likod ng school namin–grade school at high school may mga nagpapakitang white lady tsaka black lady sa marami pero di ako nakakita, buti na lang! Two times na ako nakakita ng classmate na sinapian ng espiritu during school retreat. Madami pa, haha!

Whose idea was it to do a tarot card set? Why do it?
Matagal ko nang gusto gumawa ng tarot deck na based sa Rider-Waite-Smith deck. As in yeeears ago pa.Nung ready na ang aking mind and spirit–and drawing hand, haha–sinimulan ko na noong November 2020 til early 2021, ang in-exhibit ito sa Galerie Stephanie noong 2021 din. Bago pa mag-exhibit, medyo plano ko na talaga maglabas ng deck after. Saktong nagsabi ang Cartellino na if gusto kong maglabas talaga ng deck, pwede silang tumulong. After ng exhibit–na super nakakapagod kasi ang hardcore gawin lahat ng 78 drawings para sa tarot, haha, ayun nag-plano na kami kung paano gagawin ang deck. Ang dami kong kaartehan na masaya ako kasi game ang Cartellino sa lahat–packaging, etc.–and ang dami nilang suggestions din para mas mapaganda pa ang deck. Kaya ito, super saya namin sa final product, talagang objet d’art na nakakaiyak, hahaha!

How did you feel about doing the project, considering you have a distinctive art style that is not easily identified with the tarot cards?
Gustong gusto ko talaga yung naghahalo ng styles na magkaiba, yung di mo ie-expect. Kaya nung ginawa ko itong tarot, ni-retain ko talaga yung cartoony style ko na simple at minsan nakakatawa. Kasi magandang isipin na approachable ang tarot and tungkol ito sa iyo at kung paano mo siya “babasahin” at iintindihin. Parang silent/wordless comics siya, hehe.

What did you enjoy the most working on the cards?
Ang pinaka-enjoy kong process ay yung pencilling each card. Yung ang pinaka-challenging. Tina-transport ko talaga yung mind ko sa ibang dimension tuwing sisimulan ang paggawa ng each card. Kaya lahat sila ay super special for me.

Do you have a favorite card? Why that one?
The High Priestess. Basta nung nakita ko ito, nag-resonate talaga sa soul ko, haha!

In working with the cards, you of course had to learn how they are used. But do you consider them to be a working set of tarot cards other people can use or simply an art project for you?
Yes, para sa akin pwedeng-pwede talaga gamitin ang deck na ito sa mga readings! May mga gumagamit na sa readings nila ng deck na ito. And kahit hindi ka pa marunong or first-time tarot deck mo ito, okay din! Pwedeng tingnan mo lang sila and may makukuha kang meaning, paano mo man ma-interpret ito. Ang power ay within you. Naks! Pero totoo, di ba?

Has anyone asked you to read their fortune using your own cards?
Buti na lang wala pa, hahaha!

Manix Abrera and his Samantala, Ikaw at ang Hiwaga tarot card set–PHOTOS BY EV ESPIRITU

Visit cartellino.com.

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