Transformed by Imagination | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

INTO THE FOLD: Tejido surrounded by his cardboard creations (PDI Photo/Arnold Almacen)
INTO THE FOLD: Tejido surrounded by his cardboard creations (PDI Photo/Arnold Almacen)

Jomike Tejido is essentially a transformer. He was enthralled by the paradox of one object twisting and turning until it becomes a totally different object. It was an obsession that changed him.

As a child, Jomike Tejido found himself fascinated by the shape-shifting toys known as Transformers. He loved the animated series and craved the robots in disguise. “There was something about Transformers that interested me because, one, they were very accessible, very easy to understand for a child especially since these toys could turn into everyday things you could relate to,” the 31-year-old artist and writer recalls. He preferred the sentient machines from Cybertron over the giant super robots like Voltes V and Daimos.

“It was more of a frustration and a discovery at the same time. I didn’t get all the toys I wanted,” Tejido says. “Actually I had very few.” The only child of architect Alfonso Tejido and interior designer Letty, Jose Miguel “Jomike” Tejido didn’t want to burden his parents with a constant whining for robot toys. “I decided to make my own,” he says.

Through trial and error, Tejido painstakingly cut up old book covers and folders to make his own transforming robots. “When I saw that my parents were happy with them, I felt I didn’t have to ask them to buy me toys anymore,” Tejido says. “I see it like a gift that I could make my own toys, and make my parents happy at the same time.” He was in third grade.

Then, he just stopped. “I began drawing other things,” he remembers. “Throughout high school, I didn’t draw a single robot.” After taking up architecture at the University of Santo Tomas, he joined the family firm Tejido Architecture and Art in 2005.

That year, Tejido joined the ABC-5 TV show “Art is Kool,” where he would host short segments that taught young viewers how to make art projects. His childhood creation Foldabots made their TV debut shortly after. “I decided to develop my own line of characters.” The educational show was, however, cancelled. Frustrated, the artist took his Foldabots concept and submitted it to K-Zone Philippines, Summit Media’s magazine for young readers. It made its first appearance in the magazine in 2006 and has since appeared in every issue of K-Zone. Tejido also built an epic narrative around his paper heroes.

“Before I could design characters or toys, I should have something to say.” His college thesis had been about a bird park, which included heavy research on raptors and eagles. Add to that the fact that the Philippine eagle was the country’s proud national bird, and voila! he had found his version of Optimus Prime, the leader of the heroic Autobots of Transformers fame. The leader of the similarly heroic Foldabots turned into an eagle, and his name was Buhawi.

“Next, I injected environmental consciousness into it,” Tejido adds. For the Foldabots’ enemy, he chose the dirty nightmare creature Lu-Sho (for “pollution”), who led the Lutabots, a group determined to despoil the earth. From there, Tejido created an entire menagerie of form-changing good and bad guys, including such Filipino touches as a jeepney named Pasada and a pen named Guhitron. Once the young readers found the Foldabots in the pages of K-Zone, they couldn’t have enough, sending in fan art. “Kids were starting to relate to them and wanted to get into the universe,” Tejido says. He deepened their involvement by tying in the power of that early social network site Multiply, and soon the kids and their parents were responding. “So I figured I was doing a good job and should just carry on.”

HOT OFF THE PRESS: The new Foldabot Toy Book

In 2008, Summit Books published “Foldabots Toy Book 1,” a collection of his designs from K-Zone. How successful was it? The series sold 75,000 copies.

Says Leslie E. Bulatao, Associate Publisher for Summit’s kids titles (which include K-Zone): “The Toy Book concept and the innovative Foldabots characters make the book popular with kids. Foldabots being a paper Toy Book allows kids to assemble the robots themselves and combine them together to form even bigger robots. In the end, kids will have their very own collection of cool Foldabots and Lutabots characters which transform into creatures and vehicles battling good and evil respectively.”

Last November 10, “Foldabots Toy Book 6” was launched at Robinsons Magnolia to an enthusiastic crowd. Among the new creations were baddies the Stormicons, named Pedring, Sendong, Ondoy, Ruping and Bagsik. “Familiar faces and die-hard Foldabots fanboys, regularly attend the book launch every year,” Bulatao explains. “They are very participative when it comes to involving themselves in Foldabots activities such as answering Foldabots quizzes and creating their own Foldabots robots. The kids take the activities seriously and give their best effort since Jomike is there to recognize their work as well.”

Tejido also decided to start a comic strip in K-Zone to accompany the characters. “Foldabots Chronicles” brings the characters to life and action. “It’s continuing, like a long telenovela,” Tejido says. “People were collecting characters and I would be making bios for them—so it would be helpful to have a real story. We had readers who had just turned 6 and were clueless as to why these people were fighting.” Tejido provides the characters, the pencils and inks while local comic book vets Jill Arwen Posadas and Joel Chua provide the script and colors, respectively. Tejido has self-published two comic books collecting the series in 2011 and 2012. Tejido has expanded the Foldabots pantheon to reveal that the Foldabots used to be human in the past, but have become highly advanced robots in a country known as Neo-Republika in the year 2055.

One quirky development is his decision to invite his readers to design new Foldabots. “I’ve been getting ideas from the kids,” he says. “I can take a back seat to conceptual design because the kids submit and when I think it’s a viable thing—when it makes sense—I turn them into Foldabots.” During the launch of “Toy Book 6,” Tejido mentioned the kids who had contributed to the series. “It was a very good morale boost for them,” says the man who created new worlds and now has inspired his young readers to create their own.

Meanwhile, as they say in comic books, Tejido has made quite a name for himself as artist for children’s books. He began by providing illustrations for Junior Inquirer in 1997. He soon made the transition to books, and Adarna House published “Abot Mo Ba ang Tainga Mo?” written by Heidi Emily Abad and illustrated by Tejido. He has since illustrated over 50 children’s books and received a 2010 National Children’s Book Award for the book “Tagu-Taguan: A Counting Book in Filipino,” published by Tahanan Books, which he had illustrated and written.

Tejido used to vary his style to fit different markets. But he changed his mind about that in late 2012. “I started to fix my style into one,” Tejido explains. “I didn’t use to beli eve in having a fixed style because I felt that I’ve been illustrating for fun, so if I feel like doing this style, I’ll do it. If the publisher doesn’t like it, I’ll just change it. It is, after all, commercial art. You adjust to the needs of the book.” He continued to evolve. It was after a talk at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore that Tejido had his epiphany: “When I was there I felt that to make a mark in the industry in a worldwide sense, especially now that e-books are here. I wanted something that would represent Jomike Tejido whether in local books or stuff abroad.”

This new direction is evident in 2012’s “10 Polka-dot Zebras” (written by Tejido’s wife, Haraya Ocampo-Tejido and published by Vibal Publishing) and in 2013’s spooktastic “Ma-me-mi-mumu!” (published by Tahanan). Both works show the artist as both consummate professional and mercenary genius. “I do it out of opportunity,” he admits. “I normally never say ‘no’ to a project.”

Writing his own books allows him to tell his own stories, he says. “I want to do something I really want instead of waiting for writers to write stuff I like. If I’m going to stay in this industry I might as well enjoy myself.”

The first book he wrote and illustrated, 2002’s “Si Dindo Pundido,” won a Gintong Aklat Award from the Book Development Association of the Philippines.

Tejido has accidentally found himself a master at providing all sorts of content for children. “It’s what opened up for me,” he says, adding that he did not on becoming a children’s book illustrator.   But he did recall a stint giving painting lessons to children at the defunct Young Minds in the Shangri-La Plaza Mall. “I discovered then I can relate to children, that I was interested in what they were interested in.”

The process of making a book starts with him spending time in his Cainta, Rizal home. “I’m very contemplative. Being in a home office really works for me. I spend time looking around just to find inspiration.”

A lot of ideas come to him at night while he gazes at the sky.  Being a father however has meant transforming into a morning person, starting off with breakfast and coffee in his home studio (or “psychological bootcamp,” as he calls it)

But his workspace is less a bootcamp and more a fun zone,  as he works surrounded by his vintage collection of Transformers, Japanese action figures, dinosaur toys and pop-up books.

His creativity extend to banig art, paintings that he does on mats woven from native grasses, an idea he came upon when he sought to produce a Filipino feel to his entry for the international design competition Noma Concours. In 2006, he received a Finalist’s Award. He produces about 50 banig paintings a year and sells them.

But his art has eaten into his time as an architect, allowing him to do only three to five jobs a year with his mother. “I got my license in 2007, so I’ll be an architect forever; I want to explore other things,” he says matter-of-factly, adding that family too has become a priority: wife Haraya, an entrepreneur in the food business, and 3-year-old daughter Haya Sofia.

It looks like 2014 is going to be a very good year for Tejido. He has a six-book series due under Lampara Books, and the next instalment of the “10 Polka-dot Zebras” trilogy, written by his wife. Then there’s an e-book under international publisher Scholastic and illustrations for workbooks by Oxford University Press, something he’s been doing since 2009.

And of course, more Foldabots, which are still going strong in K-Zone. “I would like to look into using apps to enhance the experience,” he says. Bulatao confirms that Foldabots will continue to reign supreme. “We are on our sixth Foldabots book so far, and we can say that it is here to stay,” she says. “Foldabots consistently introduces new characters and is an addicting activity for boys and some girls too. It touches on a kids’ love for collecting and creating things. The essence of Foldabots is also very Filipino, something we can call our own and can support.”

Foldabots and children’s books are inextricable parts of him, says Tejido. “They’re both something I can’t let go of,” he adds. His dreams remain big and his goals are clear: “To expand everything else to greater proportions. To have my work in more visible places. To continue to write and illustrate books with whatever ideas come along.”

Builder of cardboard universes, furnisher of children’s book, weaver of his own tales, Jomike Tejido stands as a man transformed by his imagination, filling children’s worlds with color and creativity. This is part of his greatest gift.

“That’s why I ask children to contribute ideas. I wanted them to be like me. I want other Filipino kids to feel that being an artist in the Philippines is not a bad thing.” •

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