The Pupung project
My brother and I grew up reading “Pupung.” In the ’80s, the comic strip entertained us for hours—we thought Lolo Dom and Day were hilarious. Since Tonton Young’s comic strip first debuted in 1986, Pupung and the crazy cast of characters became a part of our childhood. Even now, over two decades and 11 The Best of Pupung books later, thinking about them brings a smile to our faces.
And clearly, we’re not alone in our fandom.
When clothing brand Solo conducted an online survey to find out who their customers would like to see featured in their next Solo Pinoy Cartoonist Memorabilia Collection, people showed “Pupung” a lot of love. “‘Pupung’ came out on top of our list,” said Sheree Roxas-Chua Gotuaco, chief executive officer of Elite Garments, the company behind the brands Freeway, Solo, Ensembles and Twenty-two BC.
Sheree is a “Pupung” fan too. “I like his depiction of Pinoy humor in everyday life. We really are a people who can look at things positively no matter what. How many typhoons have come and gone where you will see smiles on the faces of people as they play in floodwaters?”
Tonton now joins Larry Alcala and Tony Velasquez in the list of Pinoy cartoonists whose works have inspired Solo’s special collections.
The collection includes shirts, tops, jackets, dresses, coffee cups, pouches and accessories.
Sheree says, “I really like the varsity jackets which are a first in our Pinoy Cartoonist Memorabilia Series. They look retro and cool. I also like the his and hers graphic and collared tees, they’re very easy to wear and have a touch of wit.”
In this email interview with Tonton, who is now based in New Jersey, he talks about the inspiration for “Pupung,” Philippine comics and his Solo collection.
What inspired “Pupung”?
I created “Pupung” in 1986 when I was still single. The real-life Pupung is my nephew, Jeff who was then a 6-year-old kid. His nickname is Pupung, coined by his mom. So I chose “Pupung” for a comic strip title, it sounds “cartoony.”
How old is your nephew now and what does he do?
He is now 32 years old and works in a company that builds houses and condos.
Have you been drawing all your life?
I’ve been drawing cartoons since I learned how to hold a pencil. I was greatly influenced by my elder brother Alex, who is also an artist/cartoonist. In my teen years, I became a basketball buff, stopped cartooning for a while, I took up Commerce, major in Business Administration in college. After graduating, my mom needed health care. I attended to her at home so I started thinking of a job that doesn’t require me to work 9-5 in an office. I started my “cartooning” again and luckily, I was accepted by the late great Nonoy Marcelo (of “Ikabod,” “Tisoy” fame). He became my mentor. I didn’t get prior art training from art school. I was so lucky to get pointers and techniques from the veterans, the late Larry Alcala, Roni Santiago and others.
Who is your favorite “Pupung” character? Why?
My favorite character is Pupung, of course. He is not a typical little brat/naughty boy comic strip character, he’s a nice 7-year-old kid who is surrounded by wacky characters in his house and their restaurant.
Did you expect “Pupung” to become such an iconic part of Philippine comics?
I didn’t expect “Pupung” to be an iconic part of Philippine comics. But I know that I’ve been doing a wholesome, fun comic strip through the years.
The Philippine comics scene continues to flourish—what are your thoughts on this?
The Filipino comic scene continues to flourish because we have a lot of talented young cartoonists who were given a break in comic magazines and newspapers in recent years, When I migrated to the US in 2004, our organization, SKP (Samahang Kartunista ng Pilipinas) had more young members than seniors. When I started in 1986, there were only two new young members (myself and Dengcoy Miel, who is now based in Singapore). I don’t have anything against digital and web-based comics, but I don’t think it can totally replace the conventional way of reading it in a comic book or a newspaper. I can’t see the day when people will turn on their laptops, iPhone, iPad in the morning, during breakfast to read the day’s comic strips. Nothing beats the good old newspaper.
Why did you agree to this project with Solo? What was your reaction when they approached you?
I readily agreed to the Solo venture because I tried that business before on a smaller scale, (I came out with) “Pupung” T-shirts, etc., and it did very well. So why turn down an offer from a big company? I was greatly honored when they first approached me because I know that they had the late great cartoonists’ works—Tony Velasquez’s “Kenkoy” and Mang Larry’s comics—before “Pupung.”
Have you seen the collection?
Yes, I saw some of the samples and studies and I love it.
You’re now based in the US—what are you busy with now?
I am now based in New Jersey. I work in an art school for kids and I’m teaching cartooning. There’s a sense of fulfillment when I pass to the kids what I learned from the Filipino masters.
Any advice for aspiring cartoonists?
Keep on drawing and creating different characters and stories to improve your craft. Don’t stop trying. I have a fan who asked for my advice when he was applying to become a cartoonist—he is now a cartoonist in the Manila Bulletin and several Filipino comics. His name is William Contreras and he created “Tok en Mol.”
Solo x Pupung collection is now available at Solo stores nationwide. Visit www.solo.com.ph.