NOC Exclusive: Lauren Lola and Ponsi Alfonso Break Down ‘Dasig’

As The Nerds of Color, we’ve been given a great many privileges to speak with some of the greatest, most talented individuals in the industries of film, television, music, and comics. But while it’s wonderful to get the opportunity to meet these terrific strangers and learn more about their respective crafts, it’s an even rarer and greater opportunity to work alongside these talents.

And it just so happens that one of our correspondents, the gifted and accomplished author, Lauren Lola, has teamed up with talented artist and storyteller, Ponsi Alfonso to bring Filipino history to life in the most stylish way possible. Their debut graphic novel, Dasig is coming out this Saturday, October 21! And we got the opportunity to speak with Lola and Alfonso for an exclusive interview about their latest work of art!

Dasig is a gorgeously crafted exploration of Filipino history and culture by way of Frank Miller-inspired artwork and minimalist dialogue. It successfully conveys both narrative and emotion through the characters’ relationships with one another, and the meticulously crafted design of each panel. It follows a young woman named Dasig, who learns to become a fierce warrior, just at the dawn of Spanish conquistadors attempting to colonize The Philippines.

Lola wrote the script for the graphic novel, after collaborating with producer and co-developer Kristian Kabuay on the story, while Alfonso illustrated the entire graphic novel. We were fortunate to sit down with both to discuss this phenomenal, historical work of fiction.

Dasig is amazing and exciting! It reminded me of a Filipino cross between 300 and Sin City in some ways. And this is an honor, and I’m so impressed by what you’ve put together here! It’s so brilliant!

LOLA: Thank you!

ALFONSO: Yes. Thank you!

So Lauren, we’ll start with you. Where did the story come from? The character of Dasig. The world, the culture. Where did the inspiration come from, and how did it come to you? And how did the story come together?

LOLA: So to clarify, I’m actually the only writer for Dasig, but I’m the co-story developer Kristian Kabuay, who is pretty much the captain of this whole operation. It came to my attention about two years ago when he had pitched it to me originally as a short film, before we later switched gears. As far as the inspiration goes, it’s more of a question for him. But I think it’s worth noting it’s set in a real time period with a real culture, but the story is completely fictional. But it’s pulling a lot of elements from Filipino martial arts and other cultural practices as well.

You can really tell. Being Filipino myself, as all of us are, [it’s meaningful that] there’s a part of this that touches on that history of the Philippines. So I love that you guys are representing that in the pages, the story, and the characters. It’s brilliant. Ponsi, if I could ask you a question: the artwork here is so special. The minimalist black and white style with traces of red; it really reminded me of Sin City and what Frank Miller does there. What really inspired the look and feel of this graphic novel?

ALFONSO: Yeah. That was a big inspiration for us. We’ve been doing this style of artwork with one of our collaborators — [Joseph Aquilizan] from Bayani Arts — so he’s been doing this style of art as well. And one of the key influences was Frank Miller — both 300 and Sin City. And also one of the big influences as well was Mike Mignola from Hellboy… We liked [their] style and it matches the gritty feel. So yeah, we went for that look and feel.

That’s wonderful. I loved that and I picked up on it instantly. And it’s one of my favorite things about how the artwork looks. How long did it take you to draw and develop the look of these characters? And were you working very closely with Lauren and Kristian to discover what Dasig looked like and the rest of the characters?

ALFONSO: Yeah. This project was almost a year in the making. And we even started talks with Kristian and Jacob Ira. So we were doing it three months even before we did pre-production. So we were trying to make sure the weapons and the characters would look as time-accurate as possible. So we were doing all the research and the movements thanks to Jacob and Joe. Almost two years in the making. So it’s really a labor of love for all of us.

It shows in every frame and panel that you guys have. The amount of work you put into it is brilliantly done and brilliantly executed. Lauren, for us, we don’t have a lot of graphic novels that are set in Filipino culture. That really tell the story of the Philippines of old. What does it mean to you to put that cultural richness on the page, in a story, that is easily accessible for folks unfamiliar with Filipino history?

LOLA: It was definitely a learning process. I knew from the beginning it was going to be set in this time period. And initially I was hesitant because I was not familiar too much with the Philippines at that time. So I wasn’t sure I was the right writer for the job. But Kristian had interest in me anyway because he thought that by bringing on someone who’s going to learn about it while writing it, it would bring a fresh perspective as opposed to someone like him who already knows so much about the time period. So it was an interesting thought he put in my head. And it was a learning experience of just telling the best story possible while still being as culturally accurate as possible for the time period. So it helps to work with everyone in the team, like Jacob to make that happen.

So Lauren, Dasig, the character, reminded me of a Jedi Padawan. Someone who is in training with a strict master, who is training her to become this great warrior that we all know she’s going to become — especially at the end when you see her in action. Were there any characters or protagonists you were inspired by for your take on her as a character.

LOLA: I think you kind of hit it on the head with your comparison. I can’t really name any characters at this moment because SAG-AFTRA is still on strike. But what I will say is that I know beforehand, in early stages, Kristian was like “It’s going to be like Lone Wolf and Cub.” And I’m like, “dude, she’s 14. This is not Lone Wolf and Cub. This is something a little different.”

That makes a lot of sense. And it’s not like you’re taking this journey with a mentor and a child. She’s fully empowered. And she’s a pretty powerful warrior. But there’s aspects of her that are still learning. So it’s quite different from Lone Wolf and Cub, but I can see the comparison as well. Can you talk about the collaboration with Kristian and the team, and overall when you all were making edits, was is more of a “best idea wins” situation? Or did they give you the creative freedom for how you wanted to interpret these characters and their journeys?

LOLA: It started off with a treatment that Kristian sent to me early on. This was still when it was under the pretense that it was going to be a short film. But it was a treatment. So the characters weren’t developed, there was no story, no themes, anything setup. So that’s where I came in on that. And I think for the most part I had pretty solid creative freedom on that, developing who the characters are and what they’re all about. And while I remain respectful with wanting to remain as culturally accurate as possible, I also just wanted to focus on telling the best story possible too. Again, it just goes to show that it helped to have this be a team effort, because we were able to bring our special skills to the project to make it what it’s become.

Absolutely. For both you and Ponsi, when it comes to the idea of really progressing the story beyond the graphic novel — future stories with Dasig as a character and the bigger war between Spain and the Philippines — where would you want to take the art work? Where would you see this evolve if you did a follow up/continuation of the story?

ALFONSO: That’s a great question. I would keep the style so we would keep going forward with the style if we proceed on that route. But I think because on this graphic novel, we used predominantly blacks and whites, and do black colors and white colors, I think moving forward we would see a bit more on the lighter shade. So it’s still going to be black and white and minimal reds, and a bit of grays here and there. Still the same feel. But it would be a bit lighter moving forward. But that would be for Kristian to decide. So yeah. Overall that’s where we’re going if we do indeed get a sequel or a prequel.

And would you guys be interested in that? In a follow up with these characters?

LOLA: Um. I think there’s the potential for it, yeah! I know that in passing, Kristian has talked about expanding this into being its own little universe with all these characters across different time periods. But it’s been a while since he last talked about it, so I don’t know how married he is to the idea. So I think for now we’re just focusing on getting the word out about Dasig as much as possible.

If I can throw my two cents into the ring, I want to see more! I’m not done with this world as a fan. So I really hope you do. But if you guys choose to tell a different story, have you discussed future collaborations from this team?

LOLA: We haven’t really talked about any future collaborations yet, but never say never.

ALFONSO: As I said this project was a long and tedious one, so we just focused on getting this one out and seeing how successful this project would be. But totally. Future projects are not out of the question.

Well I definitely loved Dasig. And my hope is that everyone gets a chance to read this, because it is phenomenal guys. And if it means you guys will be able to assemble the dream team together again to tell future installments in the Dasig universe or future stories, I’m all up for that because this team works! I love it so much! Thank you guys so much for your time! Any closing thoughts?

LOLA: If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ll be premiering at Undiscovered SF on Saturday October 21, and a few conventions throughout the year. And follow us on Instagram @dasig1521!

Get your copy of Dasig now! You won’t regret it! It’s incredible!

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