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Doing the Write Thing: Russell Molina & Ian Sta. Maria

Doing the Write Thing: Russell Molina & Ian Sta. Maria

Russell Molina (right) and Ian Sta. Maria (left) know all about telling stories. Apart from being a graphic novelist, Russell is also a children's book author who has written several notable works that were commended in award shows such as the National Children's Book Awards and the IBBY Honour List.

Artist Ian, on the other hand, is the author and artist of Salamangka, co-creator and artist of the Skyworld series, Kadasig, and Seven Gifts of the Skygods. He is also the senior concept artist for LEGO (yup, that LEGO).

The two of them joined forces to produce Mr Tino (Volume 1), a graphic novel that delves into the story of the eponymous Celestino Cabal, or Mr Tino as his neighbours call him, a 66-year-old sundry shop owner who one day, finds he has super strength. But with great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes and Mr Tino is no exception to the rule: he faces various moral dilemmas as he grapples with his superpowers.

Here, Russell and Ian discuss the inspiration behind this action-packed graphic novel, their personal tribute imbued within its pages, and the life lessons that readers can derive from the story.

What is Mr Tino about?
Russell: Mr Tino is a story about a man who, on his 66th birthday, receives a special gift: superpowers. "So what am I going to do with superpowers at age 66? Will I put on a cap and suddenly save the world? Will I fight supervillains and fight crime? Will I save my wife who has Alzheimer's?" These are the things he struggles with and he takes on a wonderful journey of discovery where everything suddenly is new.

Ian: Now, Mr Tino has a very simple premise, what would you do if you suddenly get superpowers on your 66th birthday? Will you try and stop crime or would you rather stay at home and take care of your wife who struggles with Alzheimer's? Or would you hate a criminal who is only a child?

R: New powers, a new way of looking at things, new challenges, new encounters and a new way of looking at himself also, because he sort of tries to answer so many questions including the ultimate question which is: "what is now my life’s purpose?" So that’s Mr Tino in a nutshell. It’s a superhero action-adventure but at the same time, it is a love story between Mr Tino and his wife or who he considers his wife.

What was the inspiration behind Mr Tino?
R: When we were developing the character for Mr Tino, Ian and I wanted a character who is really relatable, someone very familiar, like your father, or your grandfather, your uncle – someone you’ve already met, someone whom you know from the neighbourhood. We wanted someone who would represent us well, who knows our struggles, who knows where we come from, and someone who would be a good addition to the already rich superhero world.

I: Russell threw this idea at me while I was doing another comic book which weighed heavily on the fantasy aspect with giants and monsters and epic battles. Now, having an old man in his 60s who struggles with simple everyday life – who's given a gift which can easily be construed as having a curse, that is set up against a backdrop of old Manila, was a very exciting idea for me. It was fresh yet familiar, and really got my imagination going. So I immediately jumped on this opportunity to draw and tell a story depicting normal everyday life that will truly resonate with anyone and everyone of any age. 

R: We created Mr Tino because we also wanted to honour our elders, we wanted to honour our senior citizens, and to tell them: "Even if you’re 66, even if you don’t have super strength, you are our heroes. You have given us so much, and this is our way through the story of honouring you and telling you, you know, it’s not too late, you can still have superpowers, who knows?"

I: The protagonist himself, Mr Tino, clearly represents an older demographic, who’s endowed with superpowers – and this is a teenage dream. I mean, who didn’t want that as a kid? That coalition of ideas attracted a lot of comedic, as well as dramatic situations which anyone can easily relate to, I think.

What can readers take away from this book? 
I: I’d like to say that it can appeal to a wide audience, not just because of what seems to be a simple storyline but it also has the drama, the action, the comedy, and we pepper that with a little mystery and the paranormal. I think that’s a good recipe for something that can be entertaining. Russell has written a story that not only gives you retrospects of youthful emotionalism, but also a sense of looking forward to what can happen to you as you reach the age of seniority. I had so much fun illustrating Russell’s words, and I do hope that that resonates with the readers as well. And I do hope that this not only entertains them but gives a sense of perspective to how they want to go about everyday lives because I think good stories always, always make us think about how we want to live our own.

R: We do hope you pick up the book and find someone very familiar. Mr Tino will, hopefully, make you smile, make you laugh, make you cry, make you dream once again, and make you realise that all this time, you really had superhero powers, and you have the capacity in you to change the world.

Get Mr Tino (Volume 1) here.

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