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Ngumiti si Andoy: Author and Illustrator Interviews


Welcome to the second day of the Ngumiti si Andoy blog tour! Ngumiti si Andoy, written by Xi Zuq (/Shee Zuk/) and illustrated by Dominic Agsaway, is the winner of the 2013 PBBY Salanga and Alcala Prizes and the latest bilingual (Filipino and English) picture book from Adarna House.  

In Ngumiti si Andoy, a boy named Andrew is drawing the statues in his school's heroes park when the statue of Andres "Andoy" Bonifacio, the Father of the Philippine Revolution, comes to life. Andrew and Andoy have a conversation about Andoy's parents, siblings, and wife. The book has great educational value - teachers and parents can use it to introduce children to the hero or complement formal history lessons - but it is not overtly didactic.   

For the Ngumiti si Andoy blog tour, I am interviewing both the book's author and illustrator, as well as sharing some of the illustrator's initial sketches for the book.

Let's start with the debut author and my fellow book reviewer Michael Jude Tumamac Xi Zuq.    

Hi, MJ Xi Zuq! Why did you join the Salanga, and what did winning mean to you?

I joined last year’s Salanga because it’s Andres B.-themed. Andres B. and his close friend Emilio Jacinto are my favorite heroes. It was my dream to publish a work about them. Winning the Salanga, therefore, paved the way for me to realize this dream. And it is a great honor for me to have the opportunity to reintroduce some aspects of Andres B.’s life to the present generation of Filipinos.

Why is Andres Bonifacio your favorite hero? 

Andres B. is my favorite hero because he was very passionate in everything he did and he invested so much in persons he loved.  

Is that why you focused on Andres Bonfacio's relationships in Ngumiti si Andoy?

Yes. I also wanted to portray Andres B. as a human who knew how to love. Hence, I animated the statue of Andres B. to somehow liberate him from the mold we usually put him in - a fearless freedom fighter (though he really was). But only when we "soften" and animate his statue will we be able to realize that he kept a lot of emotional pain, pain from losing his two brothers, being unable to see his beloved, the death of his son . . . I can only imagine the flashbacks he had during the hour that he knew he was going to be killed. 

Can you please share your creative process for Ngumiti si Andoy?

Well, my main project in writing the story was playing with the element of time. I thought it would be fitting to disorient the linearity of time in this story especially because it tackles a historical figure. Hence, I used the heroes park and the statues because they are loaded with historical time features. I was engrossed with the idea of using statues (and as well as other historical artifacts) because they represent a world in the past but exist (and most are created) in the present.

Then, I introduced a kid narrator who started the story with an "ending" and ended it with another "beginning." [Tarie's note to readers: You have to read the book to see this!] To add to the play of bending the linearity of time, I opted to animate Andres B.’s statue and had him interact with the kid narrator. Through their conversation, the kid was able to access events that happened in a different period of time without entering that period.

After finishing the first draft, I got worried that my experimentation was too much. If child readers would be able to follow the story was my primary concern. But I also thought (after reading some literature about children’s concept of time) that kids narrate events usually in a non-linear manner. In the end, I made a compromise between the two [a linear and non-linear story].

How does being a book reviewer affect your being an author and vice versa?

Being a book reviewer helped me a lot in writing stories. For one, I rarely write prose. My entry point in the kidlit sphere was actually writing poetry for children. So by reading and analyzing story books, I sort of learn the way to write stories.

Reviewing books also helps me know what’s there and what’s "in." I somehow got ideas on which types of stories and writing styles win in certain contests. 

Why do you prefer to use a pseudonym?

The story behind my psedunoym is top secret (laughs). But I decided to use it mainly because it piques the interest and curiosity of kids. One of my students even said (yes, I sign their work with my pseudonym) that it was odd and weird but she liked it.

As an author, what are your essentials and obsessions?

I cannot write without my notebook, where I keep all my story/poem ideas and drafts. [I feel more comfortable writing by hand] because I've been trained that way since grade school. I only encode a work after one revision by hand. Then I print it and do another revision by hand. I do that until I feel satisfied with the work. Also, I put a lot of notes, references, and comments that I have difficulty managing when working on my computer.

I'm obsessed with forms and structures. Since I was a poet first, I cannot help minding every element of a story - the title, line cuts, sound patterns, spelling, plot, symbols, etc.

Do you have any advice for writers waiting for their big break?

My advice is they should read and read works for children if they want to write for children. Reading can help them identify stories they like, dissect their elements, and apply the techniques and styles they'll discover in their writing. Reading reviews, research, and literary criticism of children's works can also aid them, especially if they are unsure of how to dissect a work.

MJ Xi Zuq, thank you so much for this peek into your writing life.

Next up is my interview with Ngumiti si Andoy illustrator Dominic Agsaway!


Hi, Domz! Why did you join the Alcala, and what did winning mean to you?

It's bizaare that I joined the contest for the "Alcala" factor associated with the award. Just a brief background: since I was a kid, I have loved Alcala's works and he is a hero for me and my parents. Larry Alcala was the artist who always created works that made Filipinos love their culture with smiles on their faces. When I saw the 2013 Salanga winning story, I was amazed that it was culturally significant, but I still felt pressured about the challenge ahead. I was reluctant to join and felt awkward because I knew a lot of talented artists would be joining. Something within me said, "Create what you love and do the artwork that will make Filipino kids and adults love Andres Bonifacio." It was the "Alcala" in me that moved me to do it.

Can you give more details about what you felt when you first read the story? What's your favorite thing about it?

With regard to the story, the first time I read it, I concluded it was very good and easy to digest material for kids. Xi Zuq's narrative is very alive. The challenge for me was that our great Supremo had to be drawn in a whimsical story in which there are parts about his life. I had not yet made artwork with a respectable figure interacting with a comical kid. My heart was calling me. It was time to contribute fitting artwork for a breakthrough story that kids and adults will enjoy reading - a historical, fantastical, fun story about Bonifacio. It's far from reading textbook material about a hero that at the end makes you feel like you will have an exam or quiz bee review afterwards. I have nothing against history books since they are good references and we gain knowledge from them. It is just that Ngumiti si Andoy is a cool narrative: kids and adults will enjoy its humor, gain knowledge about Andres Bonifacio, and be inspired by his life. It's like counting numbers through a catchy song instead of just plain counting numbers. We learn, but through a flavorful variation. We take it in our mind and enjoy.

Can you please take us step by step through your creative process?

Hop on and see that my creative process starts with walking on the road and observing the difference between the morning and afternoon sky, the details of places for reference, and gestures of both kids and adults. I take note of essential things and transfer them to the paper as artwork (sometimes with tiny erasable notes). Most of the time, I stand up and reenact the expressions of the characters. A mirror is a great aid for that. Deciding on the layout is like creating the best shot or cinematography that you want for a scene in a movie. It will be all smooth sailing then with sketching and inking. I feel like a kid again doodling and checking a perfect grade school paper with regard to creating ink shadows. Lastly, the challenging part is choosing the compatible colors. After the hard work, I'll double check every corner of the artwork. If everything's good, I look at it from a distance and imagine it as a part of a great book with text.

As an illustrator, what are your essentials and obsessions?

That's a good question. Love is essential to me to create the artwork. It's my love for creating art and love for special ones that inspire me - God, my fellow Filipinos, my special someone, my family, friends, and the kids who will be reading the book. It makes me feel like I'm on steroids when I'm creating my works. It will reflect on the artwork if the illustrator has no love for what he is doing, making it lifeless even if the greatest techniques or media were used.

With regard to obsessions, I hoard inspirational materials like sketch drawn children's books (Where the Wild Things Are; Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You; Mostly Ghostly by Steve Zorn and John Bradley; No, David!; Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies; and Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell.), humorous comics (Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Mutts, and Yotsuba&!), feel good music ("Like a G6" by Far East Movement, "Titanium" by David Guetta featuring Sia, "Wild Ones" by Florida featuring Sia, "I Wish" by Exile, "Tik Tok" and "C'mon" by Ke$ha, "Here's to the Night" by Eve 6, "Replay" by Iyaz, and "Give Me Everything Tonight" by Pitbull), and motivational materials (e.g. Chicken Soup for the Soul). These obsessions remind me that everything I do is valued and will promote something good to others.

Do you have any advice for illustrators waiting for their big break?

For my fellow illustrators, everyone dreams of a big break. Don't stop believing in what you can do. Dream. Dream big. After finishing my artwork for the 2013 Alcala contest, I stared at it, imagined that it will be in book form, will be featured in different media, and that kids will enjoy it. All these things are happening at the present time.

Another thing to take note of is to love and feel inspired. Love your craft, love your talent, and put love in your drawings. Everything must be free flowing.

If there's love and vision, you must also do the action - learn. Learning is a continuous process. I have tried different techniques and studied any possible medium that matches me. One day, I tried going back to my very first - pen and paper. I listened to comments and advice from my mentors and my fellow artists. Be grateful to them. One of my greatest secrets is to practice drawing at least 30 minutes a day.

Your hard work will pay off and don't forget to give thanks to the Creator, to your inspirations, and to the people who supported you. Good luck and maybe in the future we'll see a award winning book illustrated by (insert your name here).

Bye, Domz! Thank you so much for visiting my blog to answer interview questions.

And bye, readers! Please make sure to check out a copy of Ngumiti si Andoy. :o)


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