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Jul 5, 2017
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There was once a young boy who drew robots and superheroes and monsters on the back of his exam papers. His teachers were pissed. His classmates were excited. They asked him to draw more, a special one for each of them. Being the wise guy that he was, he started asking for payment in exchange for his mini masterpieces: piso-piso per drawing. He got to do what he loved, and had a little to spare on the side to treat his mom. This was comic book artist Ian Sta. Maria's first taste of commissioned work.

He knew right then and there that this was what he wanted to do throughout his life: to create worlds and characters and storylines, bringing to life the magnificent characters in order to entertain. He dreamed of being a part of the colorful, vibrant world of comic books.

“I was exposed to comic books at a very early age and what drew me in was the art," the artist and co-creator of popular Pinoy comic books SkyworldKadasig, and Sixty-Six explains. "Detailed drawings of superheroes and spaceships and cars and monsters! I was awestruck almost immediately. I can still remember the very first comic books I had. They were Spider-man and Batman!”

From then on, he started making art. He copied his favorite comic book characters at first, and eventually, evolved by crafting original characters built from his own imagination. Stories filled his head, doodles filled his sketchpad. He drew inspiration from the aswangs, diwatas, tikbalangs, and other creatures that were part of our country's rich folklore. He didn’t stop drawing. He couldn’t stop sketching. His mother often jokes that Ian once ate a piece of chalk when he was a child, the reason for his boundless creativity.

In colllege, he took up Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. There, he learned the basics of the craft—theories, dates, the contributions of important personalities. Despite his classroom training, he still believes his real education came from his comic book collection, which was once neatly stashed away inside his bedroom.

And there were also his toys, his massive collection of robots and superhero figures and monsters. They still keep him company during restless nights spent in front of a blank piece of paper.

“It was around the ‘90s, way back in my college days, when I first met my heroes Budjette Tan and Arnold Arre. I begged them to make me a part of their comic book group called Alamat. I even offered to ink over Arnold’s pencil work for a few issues called Batch 72. And I guess, that’s where everything officially started.”

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“My first ever official comic book was Batch 72 by Arnold Arre, Budjette Tan, and JB Tapia. The story revolves around a bunch of UP Diliman students with super powers. The next was a one shot short story called ULTRACOPS. This was based on characters in Batch 72, and co-written by Bow Guerrero. We released this one around 2007.”

After that came the Skyworld series, which was Ian’s first stint on a longer story. Ian shares: “It took ten years to finish the whole thing! During that time, co-creator Mervin Ignacio and I were just fueled by passion. Working long hours in advertising, we had to lose a lot of sleep in completing this book. Some early pages even had to be redrawn due to my PC crashing all the time!”

Kadasig soon followed, which he co-created with David Hontiveros. It started out as one the stories in the anthology book UNDERPASS. Kadasig was such a hit that Ian and the team decided to make it a stand-alone series. 

Another work he did with Mervin Ignacio was Seven Gifts of the Skygods. “Mervin and I have always wondered how our country would be like if we were invaded by aliens instead of foreigners. Not executed in the traditional comic book panel style, but more like a picture book with Mervin's poetry alongside it.”

The last one published before he left Manila to work for LEGO in Denmark was Sixty Six. “Sixty Six was a concept that Russel Molina had shared with me. I fell in love with his script and we moved on to finishing the first collected volume (4 chapters) before flying to Denmark. The final pages were actually drawn in the airport of London Heathrow.”

Just this June, Ian and his co-creators recently released a free digital comic book Skyworld: Dominion. “It has always been a dream of ours (Mervin Ignacio, Budjette Tan and I) to produce a complete fully colored book,” he says.

“We wanted to give back to all the readers who have supported us and the local comic book industry through the years by giving it away for free last Philippine Independence Day. Also ironic that this book was created and written in Denmark, gray scaled in Mexico by Joe Azpeytia, colored in America by Nino Cruzado... none of us where in Manila at the time it was released. This chapter shows the next saga of the Skyworld story... where a young boy grows up to be the man that he thinks he needs to be in order to lead the country in the aftermath of a great war against the Queen of the Aswang.”

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Today, Ian Sta. Maria is a familiar face in the comic book industry. Aspiring artists and comic enthusiasts, both from the Philippines and abroad, all regard him as one of the best that the country has ever produced. In fact, he’s currently in Denmark working as a Senior Concept Artist for LEGO. Of course, he still finds time for his comics in between.

“Comic books, manga, cartoons, anime, video games, and action figures—all those things, I realized, had a huge impact on me as an artist and a person. And all these things come from storytellers. Good stories make us think about how we want to live and inspire us to be a positive force not only for culture and the arts, but for the world.” 

“For the youngsters trying to break into the business, my advice is to get your work out there! Everyone has a story to tell, so be brave enough to step up and share that story. We need more local and original comics. Anyone can start with low cost production. Don’t be afraid of criticism and be a part of this culture. Who knows, you might be the next big thing that inspires the next generation!”

Read more about Ian Sta. Maria in the August 2017 issue of FHM Philippines.

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