“I was introduced to pen and ink and caricatures when I saw this particular cartooning done by an architecture student using the same style and method popularized by Larry Alcala,” expressed architect, biker, and artist Jai Javier.
The “BikeTOONS: Scenes from Everyday Bicycle Life,” an 8-piece pen and ink exhibited at Fitstop Bites and Bikes from March 3 up to April 13, 2018, can be mistaken as works of the person recognized as the Dean of Filipino Cartoons – the late Larry Alcala.
Javier’s works is a satirical illustration of his experiences on bike riding either alone or with members of the Iloilo Folding Bike Riders (iFOLD), a group he founded with his wife Jeabai in December 2012. The familiar landmarks in the drawings had served as stopovers of iFOLD during their rides.
The artist has been making drawings since childhood, a talent and skills that he continued as a student and until he became a professional architect in 1996. He started to formally exhibit his works in 2016 and his familiarity both on the subject and the medium is evident in all of the pieces, a collection which he only started working in January this year.
His first show Bikelash, also held at Fitstop Bites and Bikes, tackled his passion on biking and bike advocacy. It was followed by Walokal in the same year where he expounded on biking and local entrepreneurship in support of the first Produkto Lokal Fair in Iloilo City organized by the Youth First Initiative.
If you have found the drawings from his first two shows quite small for the eyes, BikeTOONS is literally bigger – each piece is 12” x 16” – which means you won’t need a magnifying glass if you intend to view every detail in the drawings. But expect multi-role characters and a multi-faceted story rendered in comic strip at every frame.
Paying homage to Larry
A personal favorite by Javier, Larry Alcala is a by name among cartoonists and artists from the 1960’s up to his death in 2002. Alcala popularized cartoons through a weekly series Slice of Life, an editorial that encapsulates the daily life of Filipinos as shaped by social events of the time.
Interestingly, Alcala’s viewers were also hooked on the task of finding his image embedded in every illustration and editorial cartooning that he created.
Similar to Slice of Life, BikeTOONS likewise depicted everyday people doing various tasks with the bike. In his previous exhibits, Javier portrayed the bike as an equipment for leisure and for physical activity yet he enhanced his drawing technique for BikeTOONS in order to provide emphasis on the bike as a sustainable alternative for public transport.
He primarily uses drawings not only to inform and entertain viewers; but motivate them to think and analyze issues.
The viewers “may pay attention on the tiny details in order to appreciate the bigger picture,” explained Javier, and “the different scenes illustrate individual stories that urge viewers to analyze the situation and draw their own conclusions.”
Embracing the value of cartooning
Javier’s pen and ink collection added a dimension to Iloilo’s burgeoning art sector dominated mostly by paintings ranging from abstract minimalism, social realism, and pop art.
Caricature as a medium might have become uncommon because very few have carried it all these years. Overshadowed by modern visual art practice, caricature and cartooning may continue to meander in self-isolation.
Old school as it may seem though caricatures remains educational especially that the satirical imagery usually intertwines intricate characters with its surroundings and rendered with activism, courage, and moral honesty in presenting issues affecting society.
Moreover, Javier’s illustrations are rich with wit and humor making it an effective communications material. It naturally connects with its viewers. The effectiveness of this approach is perhaps enriched by the artist’s abundant experience and intense consciousness about social issues.
Javier’s skills and style were also a result of his influences having studied both local and foreign cartoonists like Pol Medina Jr. who popularized Pugad Baboy, and foreign editorial cartoonists, like Gary Larson, Jim Morin, Steve Benson and Jeff MacNelly.
But constant practice certainly sharpened his craft after devouring every opportunity to apply his skills in caricatures. “My earlier drawings were mostly school-related subjects and themes,” he said, and “it served as my stepping stone to pursue architecture.”
“I would be tasked to draw the enrollment procedure for our department using caricatures while “others were editorial cartoons published in the Architecture Department’s magazine publication, the Pen & Ink,” he stressed.
Drawing and architecture made him think that it will be his easy way out to escape math only to realize later that he was wrong. But skip the math, he still ended up an architect and continued drawing caricatures.
Later on, Javier would draw editorial cartoons that express opinion on matters affecting everyday life ranging from current events, politics, biking advocacies, funny experiences and release these pieces for public consumption on his social media account.
It cannot be denied that cartooning is a medium that connects with everyday people for it illustrates their everyday circumstances. Such is the nature and enduring function of caricatures. It is an effective method of story-telling, especially among Filipinos who are known for its penchant of making pun and humor even on the most serious of issues.
There are elements of “cartooning” even in signages and you will be caught amazed to encounter laundry service named “Lord of the Rinse” or T-shirt design that mimic Peter Jackson’s trilogy Lord of the Rings with the text “Lord of Pranings” to describe paranoia.
These elements also typify BikeTOONS: Bikepackers, Emteebee, Karera and Visitour, among other titles, are phraseologies that share wit and humor devised by the artist from observation or through interactions with bikers.
BikeTOONS serves as a reminder to viewers that caricature is an indispensable craft because the method simplifies long texts and complex concepts using visualization and imagery. This is the reason why editorial pieces of newspapers, for instance, are matched with caricature we call editorial cartoons – to allow readers to capture the discourse in a nutshell.
Like Larry Alacala, BikeTOONS is Javier’s critical interpretation of the burning issues affecting bikers and chronicling their interactions with people around them. It is the artist’s attempt to inform and to educate in his aim to raise (and disturb) public consciousness so that citizens will think beyond self and take action.
The 8-piece collection is condensed yet it illustrates Javier’s extraordinary understanding of social relationships making him a valuable Ilonggo cartoonist of our time. IMT