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The Evolution Of Pol Medina Jr.

‘Pugad Baboy’ turned 30 this year (feel old yet?), but thankfully, its creator hasn’t lost the passion and humor that made his strip so popular in the first place

by Arthur de Luzuriaga | 5 days ago

After 30 years of producing what is arguably the country’s most famous comic strip today, Pol Medina Jr. was ready to call it quits.

He started the strip back in May 18, 1988 with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, moved online with Rappler, and is now back in the broadsheets with the Philippine Star. Fortunately, throughout all the laughs, challenges, and changes, the country’s premiere comic strip artist reflects on his one of a kind career and realizes that he has more left to say.

We visited Pol at his house one Saturday morning wanting to discuss the 30th anniversary of Pugad Baboy and his newly released work, Blood of the Shinobi Book 1. Waiting outside the gate we were greeted by his three dogs, who immediately reminded us of Polgas. Despite the barking, no one came out to meet us, and we got worried that he might have forgotten about our interview. But before we could even panic, we saw a bright yellow Mini Cooper cruising down the street. It pulled up right beside us, rolled down the window and a familiar smile and husky voice was quick to greet us: FHM!? Sandali, park ko lang!.”


We decided to chat in his studio surrounded by his paintings, sketches, memorabilia, and life’s work. Dressed in a Pugad Baboy shirt (naturally), he took us on a journey that started when he was a young architect in Iraq trying to find some excitement in his life. Terribly missing home, he created the world of Pugad Baboy which has since become one of the most accurate reflections of Filipino life, relationships, and politics—something he says, he never intended.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

AN EARLY START

Pol showed signs of artistic talent as early as two years old. He would use crayons to draw on the walls of their old house in Baclaran and would try to pass the blame on to his older sibling when his mom found out. Unfortunately, the literal height of the drawing gave him away since he was the only one who still could not walk at the time, making it unlikely that his older siblings would crouch that low on the floor just to draw. In his teens, he quickly discovered his unique brand of humor, satirizing their parish priest and local choir in the parish newsletter, which led to him being fired. It was Pol’s first time getting into trouble with the Catholic Church for his work, but, of course, it would not be the last.

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MARCHING TO THE BEAT OF HIS OWN DRUM

Despite his rather shy demeanor, Pol Medina Jr. is a man with strong opinions. And because he learned early on that his style of expression is through satire, he knew that it would not fly favourably under the Marcos regime, which is why he waited until the Marcoses were booted out of office before starting his career in comics. Ironically, his parents hail from Batac and his father was a military man under the late strongman. Despite this, he formed his own political opinions and was very much opposed to the imposition of Martial Law. Unang nagalit ako nung kinancel niya yung Voltes V eh,” he jokingly shares.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

THIS IS SOMETHING BIG

For comic strip artists, rejection is part of the game. Many peddle their works. Some create new ones. Others tweak older ideas for years in the hope of one day catching a break. Those that are bullheaded enough to pursue their passion despite early rejections may get their shot somewhere down the line without there ever being a guarantee. The rise of technology in recent years has made it easier for creators to publish their work on their own with no, to very little, financial investment. But back in the summer of 1988 the World Wide Web was not yet invented, and web-comics were unheard of.


However, once in a blue moon the stars align and lady luck flashes her smile on a lucky individual. Pol Medina Jr. may have experienced getting fired early in his career, but he’s never had a rejected application. Nag-apply ako sa Inquirer, meron na lang isang strip dun na syndicated, yung Andy Capp, binabayaran nila ng dollars. Tiyempo dumating ako. Sabi ni Jess [Abrera] sa akin ‘tamang tama dito ka sa baba [pointing to a slot in the paper] para lahat tayo Pinoy.’ Sabi ko ‘ganun ba, sige xerox ko muna yan ipapakita ko sa [Manila] Bulletin.’”

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He responded with naivete thinking it was a long-shot that he would get in. Pauwi na ako tumatawag na pala, ‘ilalabas ko na ‘to bukas’ sabi niya,” Pol laughingly recalls. Once he recovered from the shock, he realized he didn’t even have a title for the strip. Toying around with several names like Barrio Bondat, he finally settled on Pugad Baboy after a friend’s piggery in Bulacan where he once spent the night working on an Architecture assignment. Although the actual piggery no longer exists, the comic strip endures.

STAYING ON TOP OF HIS GAME

After 30 years of appearing in national newspapers and the web, 33 compilation books, several original works, tons of merchandise and a now defunct live-action series, we were interested to find out how Pol keeps the fire burning. He can’t explain it himself, but he says that the passion for what he does has never waned. Although he has explored other mediums like oil painting and writing graphic novels (some connected, others totally different from Pugad Baboy), he has never lost interest in cartooning or Pugad Baboy.


May kilala akong pintor, tulog siya pero kapag may naisip babangon siya kahit alas tres ng umaga para mag-paint. Ako parang ganun din, kapag hindi ako nag-drawing ng isang araw parang hindi ako kumain ng kanin e. Kelangan ko talaga mag-drawing. Halimbawa nagda-drive ako tapos may maisip ako, dati sinusulat ko pero ngayon may recorder na. Yung misis ko minsan kapag kinakausap ako nagspe-space out ako kasi binubuo ko na yung istorya sa utak ko,” he shares. To keep up with the times, Pol also utilizes technology, interacting with his fans on social media, taking cues from his kids to update himself with what’s new. His strips truly span generations and he tells us that while he does encounter young fans who have been introduced to Pugad Baboy by their parents, he also gets millenials who have him sign books for their grandparents.

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PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

FROM ARTIST TO ENTREPRENEUR

Pol knew when he came back from Iraq that he needed to find a job. Curiously, instead of capitalizing on his Architectural degree, he chose to go by way of cartoonist. His immediate acceptance at the Inquirer only reinforced his decision. Unfortunately, at P35 per strip, he soon found out that cartoonists didn’t make that much money. Nonetheless, he persevered but realized that he needed to take on another job and eventually went to work as an Architect. He rose through the ranks and soon became the Chief Architect in the firm. It was then he knew he had gone as far as he could in the company and that it was the the end of his corporate journey.

Around this time, a friend of his was convincing him to release a book on Pugad Baboy, which he was now seriously considering. Although he did not know anything about publishing, he knew the strip had potential because a student from De La Salle University once published 2,000 copies of Pugad Baboy as part of his thesis, which sold out in three weeks.


As he embarked on publishing his first book, The Very Best of Pugad Baboy, Pol recalls that his first publisher, a Bisaya, read what he had submitted and plainly said, hindi naman nakakatawa ito eh.” Despite this, he took a chance and became a believer once the book performed well. Although the books were selling, Pol was only earning a percentage of the gross sales, which even then was not nearly enough, especially since he was by this time expecting his first child.

Looking for a better setup, his wife encouraged him to do the publishing themselves. He was hesitant at first, but eventually decided to go for it. He credits most of his business knowledge to friends like the people from Anvil Publishing who gave him invaluable tips, like how to negotiate with printers, when he was just starting out. His transformation into a full fledged entrepreneur happened in Pugad Baboy Book 9, the first book they published on their own.

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THE EVER CHANGING DEFINITION OF HUMOR

One of the most publicized moments in Pol Medina Jr.’s life has been his resignation from The Philippine Daily Inquirer because a prominent all-women Catholic College took offense with one of his strips and called him out for it. The issue grabbed headlines, with staunch supporters on both sides—some saying that the joke was made in poor taste, while others (most, to be honest) were of the opinion that it was being blown unnecessarily out of proportion. We asked Pol if this experience somehow affected the way he writes, now that we live in an extremely PC society where people are so easily offended, and are quick to go on social media to air out their grievances and rally support from like-minded individuals. In a way, he says, it was all for the better because it led to him working on digital with Rappler, where there are less restrictions. Instead of kowtowing to the trolls, he has doubled down on his satires. Like a true artist, he expressed himself through his work creating Mr. Severo Morales, a social justice warrior who has made “getting offended a career,” as a response to the keyboard warriors on the internet. Instead of stooping down to the level of his detractors, Pol has pleasantly discovered that he doesn’t have to because his fans are the ones who take up the cudgels for him.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

BEYOND PUGAD BABOY

Blood of the Shinobi is Pol Medina Jr.’s lates graphic novel—his second after Pirata. The story arc was somewhat introduced in Pugad Baboy 30th Anniversary Special and was continued as a stand-alone novel afterwards. Although it does have very minor references to Pugad Baboy, its story is unique and the style and treatment totally different. We asked Pol if, in creating Shinobi, he was worried that his Pugad Baboy fans would not be as receptive to it.

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"Umpisa pa lang hindi na naman ako wholesome eh"

Umpisa pa lang hindi na naman ako wholesome eh,” was his reply. He went on to explain that even if there was humor in Pugad Baboy, it tackled serious issues and behaviors. Shinobi does the same sans the humor pushing the envelope to the next level. He also points out that he is now more comfortable with his role as publisher and that his new found freedom to print whatever he wants gives him the ability to explore stories he’s always wanted to tell. Instead of fear that his Pugad Baboy fanbase will not follow his new story, he feels confident that because his core fans are also getting older, they too are looking for a new kind of story.


In one of the last chapters of Pugad Baboy 30th Anniversary Special titled “The New Entrepreneurs,” Pol seemed to be tying up loose ends—Bab put up a bakery, Dagul retired as an employee and set up his own restaurant, Tomas built a training facility, Igno a greenhouse, and Ka Noli a farm. He told us that about the same time he was being let go from Rappler, for reasons totally unrelated to him or his work, he did think of closing down Pugad Baboy. He figured that the strip had been around for 30 years and that maybe it was time to move on. Fortunately, through the objections of his fans and Maria Ressa herself, he held off on the decision and tried his luck with the Philippine Star. To his surprise, his winning streak remains unbroken and Star warmly welcomed him back to the broadsheets.

ADVICE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

Throughout our discussion, Pol would often repeat that he is extremely lucky. He found his passion early, was particularly good at it, and was blessed with several opportunities. But together with luck, it is clear to see that what fuels Pol Medina Jr. is something much deeper—gratitude for everything he has, a true love of his craft ,and a youthful optimism that allows him to be genuinely interested in various disciplines, issues, and experiences. We asked him if he had anything to say to the many young, up and coming comic book creators who look up to him and his advice was equal parts practical and inspirational—always plan for a fallback, create something true and original, and above all else enjoy what you do. It has definitely been a long journey, but there are a lot more stories to tell, and the master storyteller is not done just yet.

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