Do your kids struggle with Filipino? If they do, why not let them read Ma-I, the Filipino Manga comic series. They will not only enjoy reading but they may learn to appreciate the Filipino language.

My daughter and I discovered Ma-I last year at the Manila International Book Fair. Jianne loved the Ma-I series because she also creates her own comic characters. Written in Filipino, Ma-I has helped us in our homeschool.

Ma-I is the brainchild of Aria Chelabian and Faye Villanueva. This husband and wife team first thought of coming up with children’s book. But since they are both into comics, they came up with a Filipino-themed comics series instead. Know more about the series and their advice to young artists and writers below:


What does “Ma-I” mean? What is the overall theme of the series?

Aria: Ma-I is the name of the world in this comic book. It is inspired by the 7,100 islands of the Philippines except that in this world, all the islands are floating in the sky. The name “Ma-I” is derived from the ancient name of Philippines before we were discovered by the Spaniards. Ma-I is a fantasy-adventure genre book that takes inspiration from Filipino folklore, mythologies, and legends and retelling them with a twist.

Ma-I is a fantasy-adventure genre book that takes inspiration from Filipino folklore, mythologies, and legends and retelling them with a twist.

Why did you choose the Filipino language as your medium?

Aria: We initially planned to release Ma-I in English to widen our reach. But we remembered that when the Japanese Manga publishers create manga series, they always use their local language. Language is part of the culture and heritage of the Filipino, that’s why we decided to use Filipino instead of English.

If foreigners want to learn the Filipino language – reading Ma-I will help them. Actually, there are foreigners who have already purchased the book for that particular reason. None the less, we are looking into the direction of having the book available in English (at least for the online copy) as there are some people from outside the Philippines who are asking for it.

Can you describe the creative process? What comes first, the plot or the illustrations?

Aria: I remember being inspired from reading Filipino folklores from the provinces. I imagine what would the world be like and what kind of people would be living in those worlds. Then, I give these characters names, personalities, merits, and flaws. Imperfect heroes make more relatable characters for the reader.

Then I prepare the overall story plot. Since Ma-I is a series, it is not enough to just know what story to write in the next chapter to be released but to also consider how it would affect the progression of the entire series. Once that is in place, then I would work on the details of the script for each book/chapter.

After that, Faye will start working on the sketch to give us a rough idea on what would the paneling look like. This will also help us see the flow of the story, making sure the conversations are natural. Then, Faye will convert these rough sketches into a draft manuscript. Then, our editor will review the manuscript for any editing points. If things are good, we then proceed with the inking, then digitizing, then layout, all the way to getting the books printed.

Photo from Faye Villanueva
Who is your target audience?

Aria: Our target audience for Ma-I are like the main character, Lakan — young boys around 9 to 19 years old. Or any one who is a fan of Manga or Anime graphic novels. We decided to use Manga style because today’s young readers are more familiar with the Japanese Manga comics & Anime. So for us to catch their attention we need to speak their language, so to speak. In addition to that, we have noticed that the Manga style of drawing gives great emphasis on emotions and facial expressions – which we Filipinos easily relate to.

What makes Ma-I different from other Manga comics or graphic novels?

Aria: Ma-I does not only focus on the Filipino culture, arts, and music but also on the values that we carry. Filipinos stand out in southeast Asia because of our Christian values and this is what we are trying to remind this generation not to forget. This is our unique ancestral “power”.

Photos by Faye Villanueva
Personal Background: When did your interest in comics start and why Manga?

Faye: I started drawing probably before I even started walking properly, or so I think. My Mom saw that interest, and being an artist herself, she taught me how to draw. She also encouraged me to watch Bob Ross’ oil painting T.V. show back then.

But my interest in visual storytelling followed when my Aunt lent me and my older brother her collection of “The Adventures of Tintin” and “Obelix and Asterisk” comics. I also started watching animes shown on T.V. such as “Sailor Moon” and “Dragon Ball.” Back then I knew I wanted to write stories — No, probably draw stories was a more appropriate term. I was so fascinated that I began making my own comics afterward.

Aria: I have been an avid book lover ever since I could remember. Books have been a part of my formative years even up to the present. I have been reading comics since age 7 (as far as I remember) and have been reading everything from Newspaper Comics to Marvel. I graduated as an Industrial Engineer from Mapua, and am working also as the Studio Department Head for Migo Entertainment. 

How did your parents help you become the author/illustrator you are today?

Faye: They made sure they supported us siblings according to our strengths. Despite the fact that I wanted to be a”pop star” more than a visual artist, my mother coached me according to my stronger talent, which is the latter one. As I said, she taught me to draw, showed me Bob Ross’ instructional videos and then in grade school, made me one of the artists of our school newspaper where she was the adviser.

The good thing is that she made it more difficult for me than for my peers who are also the staff of the paper. She showed no favoritism but encouraged and coached me all the way. I can say I worked my way up to become the Art and Feature editor of the paper during my last year in High school. Until now I carry my training there into my role today in the publishing industry.

Aria: My mom invested more on giving me books as gifts for birthdays and Christmas rather than toys. I remember receiving encyclopedias and dictionaries (the kind that is so big and heavy you can use them as a weapon) as gifts but I enjoyed it. She also let me buy my comic books and let me read and draw them when I’m at home. She would also buy me drawing and coloring materials as her form of encouragement. And now that we have already published Ma-I she is still very supportive by telling her students about the book.

Future plans: What are your future plans for Ma-I? Any new series in the works?

Faye: I have another ongoing series which Aria is the editor. It’s entitled “Incognito” and is targeted for Older teens. It’s an Alternate History (Steampunk/ Dark Fantasy) telling of the Spanish revolution and tackles mostly the difficult questions and dilemmas teenagers and adults alike face that they do not want to discuss or bring out in the open. I also have a “wakasan” (graphic novel) book entitled Zona Cero, which is inspired by the story of the plight of the lumads where the characters of the story learn to respect their Creator and respect the blessings given to each other and not coveting it. It’s also a prequel/spin-off story of Incognito.
Aria: Aside from what Faye has already shared, we are also working on some comic book series with Lawrence (the brain behind the merchandise Ma-I Game). Our vision is that someday Kawangis Komiks will be a haven for Filipino artists and writers for them to share with the world our (Filipino-made) Komiks. We are also opening our doors to anyone who has the same vision as we have for the comics industry.

What advice can you give young illustrators and writers today? What attitude should they have if they want to pursue the arts in the future?

Faye: Observe. Draw. Show. Observe everything you see–the face of your mom, your pet, the shadow casted under a tree, the folds of a worn jacket, the flow of hair when blown gently by the wind, the motion of an athlete when running, the contour of a ballerina, etc., observe the works of other artists and try to copy what you like about their art or style. Draw the things you observe every day. They won’t probably look good at first and it will be frustrating when you cannot draw what you visualize but if you practice every day, you’ll get better at it.

There’s no special jutsu or formula to that. You just have to practice. It’s more of hard work than talent, really. And lastly, show your art. Thankfully there are social media platforms today that allow you to do that. Showing your works to the world (nope, not just your family as they end up being biased.) will let you know the things you need to improve on, or if the Lord wills, you might be discovered by someone influential. But until then, just keep drawing and more importantly, have fun!

Aria: Trust your Editor. A great book editor will only want to bring out the best in your work, so trust them with all your heart and know that they have your best interest at heart. Also, welcome criticism because it shows room for improvement. And as you become better and better every day, it is reflected in your art or story. People who hate criticism tend to be selfish and proud.  They will never get anywhere in life. ☺

*Copies of Ma-I series are available at Buku-Buku Café (SM Southmall, Imus Cavite), Comic Odyssey, and other popular bookstores such as National Bookstores. If you can’t find Ma-I in your nearest bookstore, you can click this link for direct orders here.

For feedbacks, we can be contacted via [email protected] You can browse our Instagram account @kawangis for more product shots and @spatialchild for behind the scenes and work in progress pictures.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

About Author

The love for writing began early in life however the passion slowly ebbed away by the waves of a so-called profession. But after years of changing diapers and pulling teeth, the reluctant writer emerges to live out the gift bestowed upon her by the gracious Father.

You might also enjoy: