A bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic Pasig City. This comic book artist tells the story

Published November 7, 2020, 3:38 PM

by John Legaspi

In this comic, there is no Mayor Vico Sotto to help Pasigueños. *cries* 

Photo from Kalabaw Kolektib

Imagine a much grittier Pasig. No Mayor Vico Sotto to protect the Pasigueños, only terror and violence reign in every corner of the city. That is the post-apocalyptic vity created by comic book artist and writer Melvin Sumangil Calingo, also known as Taga-ilog.

First published in the 2000’s, Melvin’s action and drama comic Pasig: Unbound comes back on Penlab with new and bolder tales for a new generation of readers. 

Pasig: Unbound centers its story on Mina Cruz, a rookie bounty hunter in post-war Philippines. With no government and laws to follow, Mina is set to right all the injustices in the city, all while trying to earn a living in the process.

“She quickly realizes that not everything is as it seems and the world does not operate in black and white,” the author says. “All of this happens in the backdrop of a not-so-distant future, war-torn, city of Pasig.”

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, Taga-ilog shares how he was inspired to bring back the story of Mina Cruz, his affinity with the arts, and how post-apocalyptic stories still hold their magic to this date, whether in film or other forms of visual arts.

What inspired you to do Pasig: Unbound and what is it all about?

I’ve always been a fan of the post-apocalyptic, sci-fi genre, ever since I first saw the Mad Max movies and the Battle Angel Alita manga. I find the genre quite fascinating in the sense that the protagonists of these stories usually have a goal in mind, but they are always waylaid by their own altruism. It’s a feat in itself to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, let alone help other people in the process.  

A page from Pasig: Unbound

Does the story reflect our today’s time or is it purely fictional?

When the original Pasig first appeared in Culture Crash Comics way back in 2000, people assumed it was an allegory of what was happening at the time. When I rebooted the story 15 years later, people still thought the same. That is the power of story. It reflects the current situations that we are in, and focuses a magnifying glass on certain aspects of our society that some people only know about in the news. Pasig, in the story, is as lawless a city as one can get. The police are nowhere to be seen, and the implementation of the law is handed to bounty hunters that would leave in an instant when there is no reward money for their efforts. This leaves the “law” in the hands of the wealthy… those who can afford to hire bounty hunters, the law-bringers. Justice is for the wealthy—it resonates to the readers because we are living this reality. Of course, none of these are intentional, I’m writing fiction after all.  

Human sabong featured on the comic book

How long did you work on it?

Pasig: Unbound has been in the works for five years now, and currently has two reboot issues (Issue1 and 2) and several issues that I continued after Culture Crash Comics closed in 2005 (15.5, 16, 17 epilogue). Pasig: Unbound Book 2 comes after that and currently has four issues. I am planning to reboot all the Culture Crash Comics issues from one to 15 to close Book 1 of the series and reintroduce Pasig:Unbound to a newer audience. 

What inspired you to pursue an artistic journey toward comics?

I have always been drawn towards creating comics. To tell stories in a visual form creates an excitement in me that I can’t describe. Ever since I was in elementary, my friends and I would draw mini-comics of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and have our other classmates read it. This carried on during high school where my main influence was Jim Lee (everybody wanted to draw like Jim Lee back then). Looking back, I think comics were one of the driving forces that made me take a degree in Fine Arts. I wanted to hone my skills to be able to draw in the big leagues someday. I didn’t really get to draw for DC or Marvel after I graduated, but I landed a job in Culture Crash Comics. Not only did it give me the opportunity to illustrate comics, but to write my own IP as well… something that DC or Marvel would rarely give to its artists.   

Dante, one of Pasig: Unbound‘s characters

Where do you get your inspirations for your art and stories?

I’ve been fortunate enough to grow artistically during the time when Pinoy komiks, Western comics, and Japanese manga were all available to me. Manga is a major influence for me, art and story-wise, but you can still glean a mix of western influence on my drawings. Pinoy komiks on the other hand served as a model for Culture Crash Comics, with its anthology style format, and Filipino language. This influence of Pinoy komiks aligned my stories to cater to the local market, and reflect a more Filipino flavor to an otherwise foreign concept. Art-wise, I’ve always been a fan of Yukito Kishiro (Battle Angel Alita), Hiroaki Samura (Blade of the Immortal), Jim Lee, and more recently, Alfredo Alcala‘s illustrations.  

Taga-ilog’s avatar

Do you have other works our readers can check out?

Aside from Pasig: Unbound, they can check out Kanto Inc., a comedy/ mystery/ supernatural comics about reimagined local folklore, superstitions, and customs. It is drawn by JM “Kilayman” Valenzuela and written by Joanah Calingo (my wife) and myself. It’s really different from the bleak world of Pasig: Unbound, and co-writing it is quite refreshing. Loaded with pop-culture and familiar references, it has a little something for everyone of all ages to relate to. I even had Budjette Tan agree to a cameo of Trese and the Kambals for an issue.

Peek at the first issue here.