How not to be the next Neil Gaiman

Win his Graphic/Fiction Awards by being truly ‘Pinoy’
By Rome Jorge, Lifestyle Editor
The Manila Times

You can thank Arnold Arre, The Manila Times’ own resident graphic novelist and winner of the Manila Critics Circle and National Book Awards, for cluing in Neil Gaiman on the abundance of artistic talent in the Philippines and on the rich treasure trove of primordial myths and contemporary urban legends. The novelist, comic book author and movie scriptwriter famous for The Sandman, Stardust, Beowulf and American Gods, has gone so far as to establish and fund The Graphic/Fiction Awards, now on its third year with over P400,000 in cash with P100,000 to the first place winner and a publication deal with international distribution up for grabs. This is something Gaiman does only for the Philippines and nowhere else.

It all started on the author’s first visit to the country. “He [Gaiman] got a lot of gifts. Every person who met him gave him things—everything from books to Choc-nut. A lot of the stuff he couldn’t bring. One of the things he took with him was a book on Filipino mythology and one of Arnold’s works. He was very impressed with Arnold. He was particularly interested in what Arnold Arre was doing,” recalls Erwin Romulo, Rogue Magazine features editor, science fiction and comic book aficionado and chairman for the awards. Arre’s graphic novels combined compelling narratives that were truly Filipino and a visual style that was truly his own.

Gaiman wanted more of such originality and thought of establishing an award to encourage it. “Don’t worry, I’ll put up the money,” Romulo recalls Gaiman saying. He adds, “He’s still funding it.” In 2006 the first Graphic/Fiction Awards were held.

Arre was enlisted to become one of the judges for the awards, along with the most notable names in Filipino fantasy: Novelist Greg Brilliantes who pioneered Pinoy science fiction with Apollo Centennial, legendary filmmaker Peque Gallaga as well as playwright and spiritualist Tony Perez and Fully Booked’s Jaime Daez.

Tals Diaz, journalist and marketing manager of Fully Booked, explains the rationale for the awards: “Neil’s theme is Filipino unrealism. It has to have that unique sense of Filipino-ness about it. We do have a rich tradition of Filipino mythology and folklore that we hardly explore in our literature. If you look at our literature right now, a lot of it is very realistic. That’s what Neil Gaiman wanted us to veer away from with this contest.” Romulo adds, “Don’t say that he doesn’t like the stuff that he got from here—the realist novels that he read, he liked. He just wanted to explore if we had other things. As for fantasy, he thought we could go beyond juvenile literature and explore what he thinks is an integral part of our culture—science fiction, horror or speculative fiction. It really is how you weave the genre into Filipino heritage.”

This year’s movie blockbuster

It’s only natural that film now joins comic books and prose as among the awards’ categories on its third year. Cinema is the art form closest to comic books. Every film is developed on storyboards that greatly resemble comic book frames. And as the box office successes of Batman, 300 and Sin City have shown, comics are a rich source of compelling narratives suited for film. Organizers concede that they are open to adding new categories such as online interactive comic books in the future.

Today, the competition attracts a deluge of entries, from first timers to published authors. But some have been doing it all wrong.

How not to win

“One thing we can tell you not to do is mimic a Gaiman story. We get a lot of entries that are just versions of Neil’s stories with Filipino names in it,” says Diaz.

Many have made the mistake of hewing the clichés of science fiction, epic fantasy or supernatural genres. Romulo says, “The worst ones are those with a very narrow view of what science fiction or speculative fiction represents—the wizards and the dwarves, the shades and the trench coats of the Matrix guys, the twist endings and the angst-ridden urban alienation stories. Some have a lot of the style but no substance. We need to establish a serious literary award. Not just fan fiction or a geek boy thing.” He observes, “The ones that managed to win brought something really Pinoy.”

Being unfamiliar with the conventions of each genre is an asset. “The story I wrote for the first Graphic Fiction Award was my first short story. I didn’t know how to go about it. I didn’t read fantasy. I didn’t write fantasy. I explored the genre through the competition,” reveals Mikaela Atienza, runner up of the Graphic Fiction Awards for her work entitled “Atha.”

The competition is now open to all Filipino citizens, who may send their original entries in the categories of short story fiction, comics, and short film to any Fully Booked branch.

Deadline of submission is September 30, 2008. For details, visit