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Aboard the Destiny's Hand with Melvin Calingo

by Shannon Fay

With the release of volume one upon us, Destiny's Hand's artist Melvin Calingo (also known as Buckethead) takes a break from drawing the series to talk to Gomanga about it. Come along as we take a tour of Destiny's Hand!

Thank-you for doing this interview. Could you start by telling us a little about the man under the bucket?

MC: My name is Melvin Calingo, 27 years old. I graduated from the University of the Philippines where I majored in Visual Communications. When I graduated from college in 1999, I joined a group of comic book artists (among them was Unearthly artist Elmer Damaso) and we formed Culture Crash Comics. I took Taga-ilog (Tagalog for "river dweller") as a pseudonym when I penned and drew Pasig -- a post-apocalyptic action drama for Culture Crash Comics. I was depicted in the comics as the artist who wears a metal bucket on his head. Since then, people I know started calling me ilog (river) except for my family of course.

When I got onboard 7seas, Jason wanted a penname not so foreign sounding, so we came up with Buckethead. At the very last minute, we decided to go with my real name on the credits of the Destiny's Hand, which was a good move I guess, since people might mistake me for the masked rock star with the KFC bucket on his head.

Wikipedia lists Destiny's Hand as a 'shonen pirate manga.' What do you think of that? Do you see yourself as a shonen or shoujo artist, or do those terms even really apply to Destiny's Hand?

MC: Hmm… yes, Destiny's Hand is a shonen manga through and through. The protagonist may be a girl, but the story is very shonen. Of course that doesn't mean female readers wouldn't enjoy reading the comics. It has everything for everyone … action, tragedy, adventure and a pinch of romance. As to my style, I guess its old school shonen. My first Japanese comic was a shonen manga called Xenon by Masaomi Kanzaki, and I immediately fell in love with the art. I shifted styles from western comic art to manga. I also started to collect manga, both shoujo and shonen, not necessarily for the story (since I don't understand most of them… translated manga were pretty rare back in the 90's) but to study the form and refine my style. Two major influences in my art style are the works of Yukito Kishiro (Battle Angel Alita) and Hiroaki Samura (Blade of the Immortal) both of whom are shonen manga artists.

I guess the major difference between shoujo and shonen manga aside from the obvious gender preference, is the way each genre portrays the story. Shoujo artists concentrate on the feelings of the characters, so a short sentimental moment may last a few pages. Actions are of secondary importance in shoujo manga, whereas it's essential in shonen manga. On Destiny's Hand, I try to keep the action to flow smoothly from panel to panel so I guess that makes me a shonen artist. ^_^

Destiny's Hand is quickly paced, but in a way that's exciting rather than rushed. Do the writers give you much direction on how to pace the story?

MC: Basically, what I am given is a script for a chapter and a number of pages to draw on. Then, I pace the script as I see fit, as long as it stays within the pages allotted for the chapter. Unlike other comic book writers who instruct their artists what they want to see on a page, panel for panel, Nunzio and Christina gives me freedom to experiment on the shots and angles. The script for DH looks a lot like a movie script, which is very appropriate for a manga. Sometimes, they give me directions especially on key scenes that they wish to emphasize.

It was really neat to read about the making of DH on Gomanga. What was the most challenging part of creating the characters and world of Destiny's Hand?

MC: I guess the hardest part for me was all the research involved in doing a pirate manga. Making the transition from drawing cyberpunk to a period manga was no easy feat for me. Surprisingly, drawing the characters was the easy part because Jason, Nunzio and Christina gave me free reign on their designs. I suggested pirates somewhere on the lines of the world of Naruto… you know, ninjas that didn't look like ninjas… pirates that didn't really look like conventional pirates. I'm also a big fan of unconventional weapons and I guess it shows on the book. If you look closely on some of the designs, some of their clothing is not on the same era of the age of sail. Olivia sports purple leather with zippers and belts all over (I don't think zippers were invented yet back then.)

Among the characters, Olivia's costume had the most number of revisions. My original design had her wear a one-piece bikini. Jason liked it, but Nunzio and Christina didn't approve. They wanted a more traditional look for the heroine. Eventually, we had a compromise and settled with Olivia wearing shorts… and it turned out great in the end.

I had a lot of fun drawing Mulgrew and his ship, the Kraken because they're really unique among the DH cast. He captains a Chinese junk in a fictional Caribbean sea. The Kraken has a lot of surprise in store so I guess we have to wait and see what his ship is really capable of.

Before DH, I was basically a landlubber, haha. I didn't know my starboard from my port and not once have I drawn a sailing ship. I had to watch Pirates of the Caribbean over and over and bought a lot of pirate and sailing books for reference. I also bought a plastic model kit of the USS United States frigate just to have a feel of a sailing ship's details. Since I don't know squat about model kits, I guess you could say that I now have an excellent reference for what a shipwreck would look like, ahehe.

Do you have a favorite scene in volume one?

MC: Oh, yes, a lot actually. One of them would have to be the scene where Olivia busts out of the cabin where the sailors locked her up. I may have used a bit of anime/manga exaggeration when she kicks the door down into splinters, but I guess it's a good way to show that Olivia's not your typical runaway bride-turned-pirate-heroine. She's got adventure in her blood and it yearns the call of the sea.

Another would be Elias and Olivia's first meeting. I just love drawing them together. Their personalities are like oil and water, but somehow, they have some sort of chemistry going on. I guess their qualities are so different that its fun to see how they'd eventually end up together… or will they?

And there was this scene where Badru makes Olivia blush… well, not embarrassed-blush, but angry-blush, haha. I liked that a lot too.

Could you describe what an average 'day-in-the-life' is like for a manga artist like yourself?

MC: Boring, haha! I get up pretty late and start work not until early afternoon then continue well into midnight… then I repeat the routine all over again the next day. I finish roughly around a page and a half a day sometimes two or three in a good day.

I usually get up at around 10am; watch some locally dubbed anime; (I can't get enough of World Masterpiece Theatre anime. I even watch the reruns.) eat lunch; then start working at around 1:30pm. I have a small TV on my workstation, which I keep turned on for background noise. I have to have something to keep my ears occupied while I work otherwise I'd fall asleep; which is pretty easy because I work in my bedroom.

Sometimes I get artist's block. No it's not an excuse for being late, but it does happen. You know you have it when anything you put down on paper just doesn't seem right. On days like these, I take a nap, read, watch some TV or go out and see a movie. I found out that it doesn't help to continue working on days like these because your artist's block would only carry over the next day and so on.

Seven Seas has a boatload of Filipino artists on board, many of them from Culture Crash like yourself. With so many talented manga-ka coming from one country, it's easy to make the assumption that manga and anime are huge in the Philippines and that most artists there are manga artists. Is that the case, or are manga-ka like yourself still the exception? And if you are, what's the 'norm' like?

MC: Yes, anime is big in the Philippines. It has been since the late 70's up 'til now. In fact, the anime Voltes V has become a sort of an adopted cultural icon for us here just as Gundam is to Japan. I myself grew up watching WMT classics like A Dog of Flanders, Remi and Romeo's Blue Skies, Dragonball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho images (aka Ghost Fighters locally) can be seen everywhere from graffiti to jeepneys (a local transport vehicle.)

Manga on the other hand, hasn't made its presence felt here in our country until the mid 90's; and even then, comic book artists stuck to the more traditional art style of romance comics or the fresher western Marvel/ DC art style. I myself used to draw "The Marvel Way" before switching to manga-style artwork. The latter part of the 90's showed renewed interest in comic books. The local comic industry was dying and there was a need to fill in the void left by the lack of comics on the newsstands. Newer, bolder stories and diverse art styles came out from fresh new artists and writers. There were still a lot of superhero themed comics, courtesy of the western influence on our local comics, but there are also those influenced by manga. So in a sense, the Philippines became a melting pot of art, some even blurring the lines between western, manga, and our local comics; intermingling elements and experimenting on styles, coming up with something totally different. Culture Crash Comics was a product of this intermarriage of styles. I guess there is no norm here. Everybody's art is unique. A lot of the youngbloods tend to lean towards manga as their starting point in developing their style, but I believe their style will gradually evolve to something uniquely their own.

It's said that being a manga-ka or artist is seen in a much better light in Japan than it is here in North America. Where would say the Philippines falls in? Is art encouraged in schools and in daily life? Is being a comic book artist a respected position?

MC: I guess every comic book artist's aspiration is to reach the status enjoyed by the successful manga-ka in Japan. I really don't have an idea on how manga-ka are viewed there in the US, but I guess what I can say is that they're better off there than here in the Philippines. It really saddens me as to what happened to our comic book industry. What was once a lucrative job in the 60s became relegated to a sideline now. Here, there are no true comic book artists… save for a few who are lucky enough to find work in companies abroad. You have to have a day job if you want to feed your family; either that or you have to draw insane amounts of pages in a week to earn enough. I guess that's the reason for the exodus of artists here from our country.

We tried to change that when we formed Culture Crash Comics. We were a couple of naïve upstarts wanting to return the comic industry back to its former glory. But after a few short years, reality sank in. Too few companies are willing to sponsor an "untested market"… traditionalists shun our work for being "too Japanese"… our economy's in a slump, so we have to tighten our belts… so on and so forth. Okay, I'll stop ranting now.

You mentioned reading or seeing a movie when you have artist's block. What are some of your favorite books and films?

MC: Actually, I haven't read novels in a long time. I read comic books and mostly reference books about manga, painting, animation and stuff. Just recently, I bought myself a 400-page DK book called Ships: 5000 years of Maritime Adventure, for reference on DH. I guess that's going to keep me busy for a while. My favorite manga are Battle Angel Alita and Blade of the Immortal. The latter I think is also a favorite among the Seven Seas artists too.

As for movies, I don't have any preference. I watch whatever's on the theaters, as long as I hear good feedback on it. I do enjoy a good animation film once in a while. I did some indie animation way back in college so I know how much effort the animators pour into these films. The last move I watched was Cars. Those guys from Pixar sure outdid themselves this time. Topnotch quality.

My all-time favorite movie is Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. I also like watching Stephen Chow movies; he's hilarious. Also, anything from Spielberg is on my to watch list. On TV, right now, I'm enjoying Lost and Monk.

If you were a pirate captain, what would you name your ship?

MC: Haha I'd call my ship "Land Lubber" because that's how those pirate hunters are going to end up if they mess with my ship. Also, I'd require my crew to wear buckets on their heads.

What kind of manga would you like to draw after you've had your fill of pirates?

MC: I'd like to draw post apocalyptic action manga again. Probably with a mech or two in it. I kinda miss drawing low-end hi-tech stuff. I probably won't go shoujo but if I was given a shoujo story, I'll give it a shot. Another dream project of mine would be to draw a manga, WMT style… maybe with a darker and more serious story but with that classic anime look. I don't know how that's going to do on the US manga market, but it's definitely going to be different.

Do you have for any advice for aspiring manga artists? What about aspiring pirates?

MC: Drawing comics isn't always fun and games… be willing to give up drawing comics as a hobby and start drawing comics for a living. A lot of times you have to stay up really late and draw just to beat deadlines. It takes a lot of dedication to be able to stay in the industry and if you go into it half-heartedly, you might give up midway and that's the end of your career. Of course that doesn't mean you can't have fun. Like in any line of work, your best always comes out if you love what you're doing.

Accept criticisms. You might think that your artwork is the best the industry has ever seen, but there will always be people who think otherwise. Take professionals' advise to heart because they know what they are talking about. Criticisms come in two forms, constructive and destructive. Know how to act upon constructive criticisms and filter out those that are not. If you want to break into comics, show what the editors want to see. Once you're in, you can experiment on your art as much as you want.

Now, if you want to be a pirate, umm… just don't pick your nose or rub your eyes when you have a hook for a hand. =P

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