Graphic novel ‘Doorkeeper’ combines sci-fi with Philippine history and mythology

October 25, 2017 - 4:44 PM
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“A love letter to Philippine storytelling.”

That’s how comic book creators Ethan Chua and Scott Lee Chua describe “Doorkeeper,” a new graphic novel that explores Philippine history and myth.

Featuring six stories illustrated by some of the country’s most groundbreaking comic book artists, “Doorkeeper” tells the tale of a cosmic immortal being who appears at pivotal moments of Philippine history and myth. From precolonial times to half-imagined queendoms, from the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship to the frontiers of the future, the Doorkeeper is there to safeguard the ways of time and space.

But what if even an immortal being begins to question his role in the universe?

“If you’re an immortal being, how would you see the world? How would you begin to understand humanity?,” the authors wondered in reference to their main protagonist.

Chapter 1 illustration by Allen Geneta.

The creators, who are currently in college, are no ordinary kids letting their imagination run wild. Scott Lee Chua is a Nick Joaquin Literay Awardee for short fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Awards for his children’s book series, “Top Ten Travels.”

Ethan Chua, on the other hand, is also an award-winning author who won the 2017 Geballe Prize for short fiction, and is a member of the Spoken Word Collective at Stanford University.

Despite having the same last name, the two lads are not related but have been friends since grade school. “Doorkeeper” is their first collaboration which they worked on in between classes, on top of their college workload. What makes their creative process all the more remarkable is the fact that they are not even in close proximity of each other, at least not physically as Ethan is based in California while Scott Lee is studying in Singapore.

“After coming up with a plot skeleton, Ethan would write up the dialogue while I would describe for the artist how I imagined the scenes. But toward the end we were both handling everything together, depending on each other’s school workload. Since we are both currently studying abroad, weekly Skype meetings became our ritual,” Scott Lee recalled.

Scott Lee added that “Doorkeeper” was first conceptualized during a chat with Ethan “about the butterfly effect–the idea that huge consequences can stem from small, seemingly inconsequential choices.

Chapter 4 illustration by Gia Dominique Duran.

“This seemed like a problem–and the Doorkeeper was our fantastical solution. He would be the Keeper of the Ways, the Steward of Choice, who appears to people on the brink of making such pivotal decisions and shows them the consequences.”

For Ethan, comics served as the perfect platform to develop “Doorkeeper” due to its scope and scale.

“With the art and the writing of a comic, you can give readers access to a great expanse of time and imagination. And we really wanted to write an anthology that captured the scope and scale of Philippine history…with a character who could take us through time and through space, allowing us to experience all these different parts of history…[and] guide the reader in moving through the universe,” he pointed out.

Covering six chapters and an epilogue, “Doorkeeper” also features disparate characters who must come face to face with the Doorkeeper’s reckoning.

These include a musician struggling to find love and meaning during Martial Law, a young boy whose childhood is shaken by the Second World War, and even Count Adolfo from the immortal Francisco Balagtas epic, “Florante at Laura.” Each of their choices will define their lives, the flow of history, and the future of the universe itself.

The artists who worked on the book are a varied mix of industry veterans and promising up-and-comers: Allen Geneta (Chapter 1), Bianca Lesaca (Chapter 2 and Interlude), Jap Mikel (Chapter 3 and Cover), Gia Dominique Duran (Chapter 4), Brent Sabas (Chapter 5), Bow Guerrero (Chapter 6), Aaron Felizmenio (Epilogue). Borg Sinaban and Raymund Bermudez also contribute additional art.

Chapter 6 illustration by Bow Guerero.

“We wanted this to feel like a treasure chest of memory. We wanted the feel of the Spanish-era Philippines to be distinct from the feel of the far future Philippines…So we deliberately sought out artists who were very experienced in comics. But we also sought out artists who had not done comics before, or who didn’t have comics as a specialty,” Ethan further noted.

The foreword is written by Budjette Tan, himself an accomplished Filipino comic book creator.

Published by Summit Books, “Doorkeeper” will be officially launched on November 11 to 12 at Komikon, the Philippines’ biggest and longest-running comics convention. The book will be available in all major Philippine bookstores, supermarkets, specialty comic stores, and convenience stores for P275.