Tuttle Publishing, which has been bringing English-language editions of Asian books to an international audience since 1948, has set it sights on showcasing new voices from the Philippines with a slate of graphic novels, novels, and short story collections. Tuttle is set to release a total of seven books by Filipino authors between now and October.
The additions to their catalog are, in part, a recognition of the significance of the Filipino diaspora, said Tuttle’s sales and marketing director Christopher Johns. “Filipinos are the second biggest Asian population in the United States,” he said, “and so as an Asian publisher we want to reflect that in our publishing.”
Tuttle has found success with editions of Filipino children’s books and cookbooks, Johns said, but the titles being launched this year mark its first foray into genre fiction and comics from the Philippines. The new releases also include The Mythology Class by Arnold Arre, a foundational work of contemporary Filipino comics (or “komiks,” as they’re called in the Philippines). The book won the Philippine National Book Award in 2000, the first comic book to do so. The Tuttle edition will be released in August.
“I wanted to read a comic about Philippine mythology, but since I couldn’t find one that was in depth and contemporary enough that was closer to what I envisioned, I ended up making my own,” Arre told PW. “It was also my intention to showcase our myths and legends and introduce them to the next generation.”
While Tuttle is also publishing another graphic novel by Arre—Halina Filipina, a romantic comedy—many other Tuttle titles in the graphic novel and fiction categories reflect a growing effort in the Philippines to revive indigenous folklore, legends, and mythology. Paolo Chikiamco—author of the graphic novel Muros: Manila Behind (drawn by Borg Sinaban), to be published by Tuttle in March 2023, and the editor of Alternative Alamat, an anthology of Philippine short fiction coming in August—credits The Mythology Class with exposing him to this heritage.
While some Filipinos grew up hearing native lore, he explained, “Others, such as myself, grew up alienated from most of these stories, but actively tried to reconnect once we got a taste of what we were missing.”
Among those reconnecting to the culture via these tales is Eliza Victoria, whose novel Dwellers received the 2014 Philippine National Book Award. Tuttle will publish a new edition of the novel in August. Indeed, her vision of a supernatural Manila, captured in After Lambana, her debut graphic novel (with artist Mervin Malonzo) released by Tuttle in May, was informed by a childhood reading Filipino comics.
“I grew up in the ‘90s when there was a proliferation of local komiks titles that you [could] buy for cheap,” she said. “So, I remember reading a lot of Funny Komiks, Kenkoy, and collections of horror comics… based on Filipino folklore like the aswang [shape-shifting evil creatures,] and engkanto [environmental spirits that can take human form].”
A global audience was introduced to Philippine mythology with the Netflix anime series Trese, based on the graphic novel by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo. Its success has made Johns optimistic about the reception of Tuttle’s Philippine graphic novels. “I think people are sort of champing at the bit to explore a whole new world,” he said.
Tan is also the creator (with artist David Hontiveros) of The Lost Journal of Alejandro Pardo, a graphic novel described as a “field guide to Philippine monsters and mythology,” and its follow-up, an illustrated guide, The Black Bestiary: A Phantasmagoria of Monsters and Myths from the Phillipines; both will be published by Tuttle in October.
Comic books have been popular in the Philippines since the 1920s. That popularity increased after World War II, when members of the United States’ military brought American comics to the nation. A homegrown industry soon sprang up, driven by a popular interest in adventure, romance, and humor titles. However, during the regime of deposed former president Ferdinand Marcos, who declared martial law in the Philippines in 1972, heavy censorship and expensive permits for publishers effectively closed all but a single komiks publisher. This led to Filipino comics greats, such as Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Tony de Zuniga, and Alex Niño, taking their talents to the United States.
Since emerging from those restrictions, komiks creators have relied on a do-it-yourself ethos and comic book conventions, according to Chikiamco, who recently wrote an essay on the state of the komiks community in the Phillipines during the pandemic.
“Because the community has had to self-publish our work for so long, and because comics largely remains a labor of love rather than profit, most creators devote themselves to the kind of stories they are passionate about,” Chikiamco said. “So there always has been a wide array of genres represented in our comics.”
Arre is optimistic about the future of Filipino comics. “It’s very satisfying to see more artists and writers focusing on using their talents to create comics and graphic novels, especially compared to the 1990s when I started making comics,” he said.
For these Filipino creators, the prospect of a wider audience for their work through its publication by Tuttle is exciting, both personally and as an opportunity to share their culture.
Noting that Philippine mythology isn’t widely known, Chikiamco said, “I don’t expect even readers here [in the Philippines] to be familiar with all of the references — but what I do hope is that I am able to give them a taste that is enticing enough that they seek out more: more about Filipino heritage and more from Filipino creators.”
Arre has similar hopes. “My hope is for Philippine culture to be appreciated, recognized, and respected internationally,” he said. He believes the novelty of these ancient, indigenous stories will spur interest in them. “I’m very confident that international readers will be receptive to [these] stories, especially since our culture is very rich, untapped, and unfamiliar to them.”