THIS is how his story begins: Even as a child, Paolo Fabregas possessed a gift. As a boy, he put pen to paper, pulling from his imagination fierce battles, mighty robots and futuristic heroes, drawing without tiring. Then he would spend an afternoon painstakingly putting in the sound effects, adding POW! and BOOM! to his fighting figures.
When he was 10, his third-grade teacher asked him what he wanted to be. Without hesitation, Paolo answered, “cartoonist.” He could always draw; he was always one of the best artists in his class. He would never stop drawing, but would eventually discover that, potent though it was, illustrating was only half the gift. The other half – the gift of story –would come later. But it too would be his. Eventually.
PAOLO Jaime Caballero Fabregas was born in Manila on April 1, 1978, the youngest of three children, to seasoned stage and screen actor Jaime Fabregas and marketing executive Bing Caballero. Paolo’s travels began early; his parents split up and his mother remarried. Paolo’s stepfather, the late Ilkka Ruso, was a Finnish diplomat and brought Paolo along when his assignments changed. Thus did Paolo spend years in New York, Finland and Kuala Lumpur.
It was while he was in New York that he discovered the magic of comic books, savoring the ultra-detailed renderings of artist Todd McFarlane on Marvel Comics’ “Amazing Spider-Man.”
“I loved McFarLane,” he recalls. “And from then on I’ve always been interested in comic books.”
It was while he was in Kuala Lumpur that Paolo discovered acting. “I was 13 when I tried out for my first play,” he says. “I knew my dad is an actor so I thought I’d give it a try. I caught the theater bug.”
As he began reading more scripts, he also found enlightenment in literature. “I only started appreciating reading and stories in my late teens, when I started really developing a love for literature. That’s when I started reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Lord of the Rings and all these other books.”
Now he had the second half of the gift—but he would put the pieces together later on.
Paolo spent the last two years of high school at the International School Manila. Then he took a break for four years. In the meantime, he appeared in plays and on TV, becoming something of a familiar face. Paolo worked with Repertory Philippines and with Actor’s Actors. He did Shakespeare. You might remember him from a funny Coca-Cola TV commercial which had him blurting out the line “Bridesmaid ka lang!” Yes, that was him.
Bizarrely enough, he has worked with his father only once, on a goofy GMA-7 show called “Super Klenk,” with Ara Mina as a super-heroine. “He played a police commissioner and I played a doctor,” Paolo recounts. He was a natural.
But once things started getting serious, he began to lose interest. “That’s when I realized I needed backup,” explains Paolo. “That break was just supposed to be a year but it quickly turned to four, and I was like, ‘What am I doing with my life? I think I better go to college.’ I needed to go to college to bring myself forward.”
Now a book lover, he took up English literature at the Ateneo and graduated in 2005. His uncle, adman Bobby Caballero, suggested Paolo try out advertising. “He said, ‘You graduated English literature. You know how to write well enough.’ So I applied to be a copywriter and got in.” The pieces were starting to fall into place.
Then an old interest returned: comic books. “Lo and behold,” Paolo recounts with a smile, “advertising was full of comic book geeks.” After five years at DDB Philippines, he moved to Harrison Communications. Fatefully, the guy who hired him at Harrison was a guy named Budjette Tan, otherwise known as the creator of the hit comic book series “Trese.”
That’s what some people call “a harbinger of things to come.”
PAOLO’S first big break came innocuously enough. He was in a brainstorming session with art director Ian Sta. Maria, otherwise known as the creator of the comic book series “Skyworld.” See the pattern developing?
“We were going nowhere and I doodled Batman. And he was so impressed with my Batman that he said, ‘You should make a comic book.’ And I was, like, ‘OK.’”
At that time, Sta Maria was putting together the first issue of “Skyworld,” so he offered Paolo six pages to do his own story.
“‘Skyworld’ is mystical and magical and it’s about Philippine folklore, which was a world I wasn’t familiar with. So I tried, I did six pages. In the end, it didn’t feel right.”
What did feel right to him were super-heroes—with a Filipino twist. “My one concern, looking at all the Filipino super-heroes at the time, was where they got their costumes, how they got their money for it, and where all these things came from. We’re a poor country. This doesn’t work. So I tried to find a way to make it work.”
Thus he imagined what it would be like if every country had their own super-humans. “Where would the Filipino super-hero stand? In the end, he’d still be a third-world super-hero. He would be treated in a third-world manner. Suddenly the world fell into place and I could write a story about Filipino super-heroes in that context.”
Citing the influence of such comic geniuses as Alan Moore (“Watchmen”) and Frank Miller (“The Dark Knight Returns”), Paolo launched himself into building the world of the Filipino Heroes League. Now he put the pieces of his gift—pencils and plot—together. “I was in advertising a couple of years and I wasn’t acting. I didn’t have a creative outlet as much as I did before and I was hungry for something, and that’s when I rediscovered comic books. Still armed with my ability to draw, I was now also armed with the ability to tell a story. That’s what advertising and English Lit helped me discover.”
The new six-page tale in “Skyworld” told the story of the Great American and his Filipino sidekick, Bomb Boy. The duo’s efforts attract the world media’s interest, but back in Manila, the efforts of the super-group, the Filipino Heroes League or the FHL, were completely ignored.
Here’s the twist. The FHL used to be a big deal, with powerful members. But it had fallen on hard times, could not pay competitive super wages, and most of its members had left for better opportunities somewhere else. The FHL now only had three members: the veteran Flashlight, and the younger heroes, speedster Kidlat Kid and the stealthy Invisiboy.
For a year and a half, Paolo labored as both writer and artist, putting together what would become “The Filipino Heroes League Book One: Sticks and Stones,” published by Visual Print Enterprises. Finding time to work on it was a challenge. It worked well with the fact that Paolo is pathologically punctual. After all, he still had a demanding day job. “Trying to squeeze it in, I felt like I was doing guerilla comic book writing. I wake up super early in the morning and that’s when I write or draw. Whenever I’m in my drawing phase, I always have a bag with my drawing materials on me so that whenever I have any free time, like a 15-minute gap, I can just pull out the stuff and start drawing, and maybe I can finish a page.”
Now he chronicles the adventures of the remaining FHL members, both their heroic adventures and their trying to make an honest living. But a conspiracy rises against them and when the FHL is framed for the murder of a congressman, Flashlight, Kidlat Kid and Invisiboy need to find the truth.
Paolo brings a muscular sense of shadow and light to the black-and-white art of Book One. The setting is clearly a slightly dark, parallel version of our own Metro Manila. He makes the characters distinctive and rewards each with a unique voice. What makes Book One stand out further is that it may seem like your average heroes-fighting-bad guys title, but in truth, Paolo is writing a mystery full of secrets. It’s smart and super-powered.
In the process, Paolo found himself evolving. “It was great for me as a writer to receive the script as an artist. In fact, it made me a better writer. I was trying to squeeze in a hundred things on a single page. I realized this wasn’t how you write a script. By receiving my own script, my learning curve skyrocketed.”
“The Filipino Heroes League Book One” was launched at the Komikon in April and Paolo couldn’t be happier with the reception. Comic book creator Gerry Alanguilan, who was nominated for an Eisner (the comic book world’s equivalent of the Academy Award) for “Elmer,” gave Paolo’s book this succinct blurb: “I’ve ruminated not too long ago about the difficulty of writing super-heroes in a Filipino setting because of the real problems they would have to face. Writer-artist Paolo Fabregas finds a really plausible solution to the problem that’s both sensible and completely entertaining.”
WITH Book One out, Paolo happily spends whatever free time he has watching the odd NBA game on TV, but mostly spends time with his family. He’s been married for five years now to Miren Alvarez Fabregas, whom he met while they were together in a play called “Mistress of the Inn.” The two have actually acted opposite each other several times, including a fun turn as Oberon and Titania in the Metropolitan Theatre Guild’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
But long removed from the theater, Paolo cites his wife’s endless support as being crucial to his blossoming comic book career. They have two boys, Gonzalo, 3, and Alvaro, 1. Paolo plans to introduce both to comic books as soon as possible. “Absolutely,” he says.
Still, there is no rest for the wickedly gifted. Paolo is already hard at work writing the script for Book Two, and claims to already know how things will end in Book Three. He believes FHL’s Book Two will be out next year and the ultimate volume out the year after that. “The Filipino Heroes League is a long-term commitment.”
Now that he has harnessed both art and plot and is gaining confidence as a storyteller, Paolo finds that he’s about to come full cycle. “I wouldn’t have been able to write a comic book without the discipline I learned in advertising. I thank advertising for that. After I’m through writing my own comic book, I can now apply what I learned back to advertising.”
It is then that he remembers the 10-year-old boy talking to his third-grade teacher. “I was telling my wife that I’m one of those rare people in the world who fulfilled his dream when he was a 10-year-old kid,” Paolo Fabregas says. “In the end, I hope people are entertained and that they’d have fun reading my comic book. I mean, while it was a lot of work, I also had a lot of fun doing it and I hope that translates to the page. If, by the end of the book, they feel that they’ve just spent two or three entertaining hours, then I’d be a very happy man.”
The gift is now complete. KRA-KOOM! goes one of his new sound effects. Turn the page.
And his story continues. •
For more information, log on to www.filipinoheroesleague.com. “The Filipino Heroes League Book One: Sticks and Stones” is available at leading bookstores.