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In 1959, a medical student in his late teens walked into the office of Extra Komiks, unfamiliar with the kind of people he would be dealing with in the business. He had abandoned his medical studies for what seemed to him a glamorous profession. Tucked under one arm was a rolled bristol board on which he had drawn what he believed was a sample of his best works. He was shown to the editor and, holding his breath, he eagerly unrolled his sample, an illustration of a Superman-type charcter. The editor took one quick skeptical look at the young medical student's drawing and handing it back to him, sarcastically remarked: "Doon ka magpunta sa Amerika. Doon bagay ang gawa mo." (You should go to America. Your work is more suited there.)

Little did the editor (a certain Ramon Mercelino) suspect, that 20 years later his words would come true.

Today, Alexander Niño is considered as one of the best comics illustrators in the United States. If he is highly rated by both editors and critics over there, he is higher enthroned by legions of fans. And among whom are American illustrators who are being influenced by his unique style. A representative volume of his works hangs at the Comics Hall of Fame in San Diego, California; and his name is listed in Who's Who In Comics, a publication of the American Comics Industry. As if these were not enough, Warren Publishing, publisher of Vampirella, Eerie and 1984, presented Niño with the Best All-Around Artist award in 1978.

The Dark Suns of Gruaga, a 10-plate portfolio of Niño's art, published by Shanes and Shanes of San Diego, California, and the book Satan's Tears, a compilation of his local and foreign works, published by the Land of Enchantment Publication of Detroit, Michigan, was bought by fans like the proverbial hotcakes.
Puntong Diyablo, written and drawn by Alex Niño circa 1970
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Fanzine enthusiast Orvy Jundis writes in his article in Jassoomian, an Edgar Rice Burroughs publication: "[Niño's Gruaga is one of the most imaginative visualizations of a novel to appear in the [Philippines]". Gil Kane, a veteran storywriter and illustrator, in addition to being the creator of Star Hawks and His Name is Savage, told Gary Groth in an interview "I think Niño is absolutely marvelous."

But for all the accolades Niño was a near flop in his own country. Before his vindication in the United States, local editors and publishers, almost to a man, downgraded his art and compensated his efforts accordingly.

"At GMS Publications," Niño disgustedly recalled, "I was only getting P9.00 per page but still Letty Santiago, the owner, wanted to bring that down to P7.00. That was like a slap on my face, a slap I did not deserve." In contrast to the local publisher's rate, Niño's US paycheck runs as much as $130.00 per page for a black and white illustration. His acrylic paintings on canvas commanded prices that are unreachable dreams for many a veteran local illustrator.

Niño, however, disclosed that some foreigners are no different from local exploiters. When he flew to the United States in 1976 -his second trip actually- to scout for more and bigger contracts, an editor tried to hold him by the neck, warning him not to "fish around." At any rate, his next trip to the States will be to collect royalty from the sale of his Satan's Tears. Should one try to convert Niño's dollar earnings from his book and commissioned works into pesos, it would be quite easy to figure out his edge over many of his fellow Filipino illustrator's earnings. Life, however had not always been kind to Niño. There is a certain tenacity with which he has always clung to his art - no matter that skeptics view his art as preposterous and eccentric. This tenacity almost failed to pay off. Niño recalled the incident that made Mars Ravelo ban him from his publication's Christmas issue. Instead of giving the usual treatment, Niño promptly presented the characters in his own unique way. This, not surprisingly, sent Ravelo into a fit, decrying the ruin done to the script. The story it seemed, was supposed to evoke sympathy for the characters and not to make them appear ridiculous caricatures. Niño tried to reason with Ravelo saying that he was inspired by Walt Disney's Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, taking pains to point out how Disney could effectively arouse sadness in the viewer through a highly sylized visual presentation. Ravelo was not convinced because he was too set on how to do things. He shut his doors on Niño.

It took years before Niño could muster enough courage to show his face again at Ravelo's office. He tagged along with his fellow artist Tony Caravana, who went in to pick up a script to illustrate. The meeting did not turn out as a let-bygones-be-bygones affair as Niño hoped: Ravelo had no script for him that day - or for all days to come, it seemed. Worse, an unspoken consipiracy seemed to him to have united all other comics publishers to ban Niño from their premises. If there had been any left willing to take him in, the pay would not have been worth his effort.

Those were hard times for Niño and if it is any consolation, for many illustrators as well. The almost total suspension of scripts for release to illustrators, which one could surmise to have been imposed by the vagaries of the industry's economic politics, further compounded by Niño's predicament.

In desperation, he took to writing and illustrating his own stories and hurried off to Affiliated Publications, where he was given the run-around. Once when Niño made a follow up, Rene Villaroman, an editorial staffer, told him that his work had been coursed to the higher echelon for approval. He proceeded to Sulpicio Antipala, the manager, who told him that it was already approved and had been handed over to Carlo Caparas, another editorial staffer. Caparas pointed his finger to still another staffer, "Tony" Tenorio, who pointed his finger back to Villaroman. Niño wised up at once. He stormed home to Tarlac, on borrowed bus fare, frustrated and angry.

But a good man is hard to put down. One day, after finishing off a bottle of rum - he had been driven to drink by frustration - Niño met Leandro Martinez, the creator of Nognog, who advised him to see Pablo S. Gomez, the publisher of United and Universal Comics.

"I owe Mang Pabling (Gomez) a lot. He saved me from total depression," Niño disclosed. At PSG Publications, he illustrated Gruaga and Mga Matang Nagliliyab, which both showed the first blooming of genuine artistry allowed the free reign of expression. Gomez, a perceptive publisher-writer, instinctively recognized this. He gave Niño a free hand. It was also around this time, 1968, that Niño illustrated Maligno, and some short stories for Craf Publications, Inc.

alex's work

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