How “Trese” conquered Filipino pop culture

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The hype over “Trese,” the first Filipino animated series on Netflix, is real.

Based on the award-winning comic of the same name by writer Budjette “Budj” Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo, “Trese” isn’t just coming to Netflix at full speed, it is taking on global pop culture as well. .

Huge multimedia billboards herald the imminent arrival of the series, while teasers, trailers and preview images fuel the anticipation of audiences online. It even has an official “Trese” emoji whenever someone uses #TabiTabiPo or #TreseOnNetflix, the streaming giant giving it a marketing boost worthy of a major Hollywood blockbuster.

“It hasn’t sunk yet!” Kajo laughs when asked about his reaction to the hype. “When the show starts on the 11th, and we can watch it with everyone, then it becomes real.”

Speaking to GMA News Online from his home in Davao, Baldisimo’s enthusiasm is evident and it’s hard to blame him; It’s not everyday that the side hustle is picked up by a major streaming platform to become a full-fledged animated series dubbed into half a dozen languages.

It all started with a text.

Trese designers Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. Courtesy of: Budjette Tan / IG

In the early 2000s, Kajo and Budj were young advertising creatives, learning the hard way that rejection was part of the job description with inordinate time and effort spent on ideas, concepts, and plans that could be approved. or rejected downwards. a cap.

It was a respectable job, and he paid the bills, but it was a far cry from the comic book dreams the two had in school.

Anxious to preserve his sanity, Kajo sent a message to Budjette (who was then working at an advertising agency a few blocks away), asking him for something to draw. He didn’t care what it was, as long as it was something they could own, and as far from their daily grind as possible.

Budjette was excited about the idea, but admitted he had nothing on his mind, so he promised Kajo that he would go through his files and see if he could find anything.

“We just wanted to do something other than advertising! laughs Budjette, speaking with GMA News Online from Denmark, where he’s been creative director of Lego’s in-house advertising agency since 2016.

“No one needs to approve this, no Creative Director and certainly no clients – it’s just you and me. I would write something, he would draw it, and we would just publish it.

Going through his files, Budjette resurrected an old idea he had had of a paranormal detective. Reworking the idea with Kajo, the character would become Alexandra Trese, a talented investigator tasked with keeping the peace between mortals and creatures in Filipino folklore.

Dressed in a long Chinese cloak and armed with an enchanted kris (dagger), Trese’s figure is instantly recognizable. Working with the police and accompanied by her bodyguards – the immaculately dressed twins known as Kambal, who launch into battle with theater-inspired masks – Trese is always ready to deliver supernatural justice.

“Come to think of it now, there are so many counterintuitive decisions,” laughs Budjette. “Like, ‘Let’s give him a trench coat! And let’s get the Kambals to wear business suits in our wonderful (tropical) weather!” That’s why I tell people that the show is set in another one. Manila where it is still raining and it is cold.

With their concept defined, Kajo committed, no matter how busy he was with advertising, to drawing and inking a page a day from the Budjette scripts until they could finish at least. a story. “I’m introverted by nature, so I didn’t mind taking my lunch breaks – I ate at my desk!” Kajo said.

Where the majority of local comics were inspired by American superheroes or Japanese manga and anime of the time, Kajo was influenced by the works of Komik legends like Francicso Coching and Nestor Rodondo, as well as the artist. “X-Men” Jim Lee.

Ultimately, the “Trese” comics would be characterized by their stark and striking imagery, due more to police procedures and film noir than anything else, resembling nothing so much as the unholy union of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker “and” Sin “by Frank Miller. City.”

Back then, self-publishing meant going to a nearby print shop and having Kajo’s illustrations photocopied and stapled into booklets that Budjette distributed to local comic book stores on weekends. “He had to make the deliveries because he was the one who had a car!” Kajo laughs.

It didn’t take long for the book to find its audience and word of mouth to spread: While readers were captivated by the organic incorporation of local supernatural elements, depictions of a recognizable city in Manila gave the series an additional resonance. Budjette and Kajo quickly found themselves inundated with requests for more copies and, more importantly, more stories.

Kajo and Budjette continued, restocking comic book stores and creating more stories to feed their growing fan base. Determined not to rest on their laurels, they worked hard to raise the stakes: Budjette evolved the narrative, sprinkling seemingly stand-alone stories with increasingly layered bits of continuity, while Kajo has worked tirelessly to improve his visual storytelling techniques.

By the time they had gathered enough material for a publisher to compile them (in the book now known as “Trese Volume 1:” Murder on Balete Drive “), they attracted the attention of the general public.

With social media in its infancy in 2005, “Trese” became one of the first local fandoms to have an online presence, with Budjette starting a blog to serve as the comics’ de facto website.

There he could post updates on upcoming stories and interact with fans. When Facebook finally arrived, an official Fan Group was set up, where fans now regularly post memes, share news, and to this day educate themselves on all things ‘Trese’.

“Trese Volume 2: Unreported Murders” would earn the duo their first award nomination, with a nod to the National Book Award for best graphic literature. He didn’t win, but, as Kajo reminded Budjette, “We’re doing this for fun. We are fortunate to have the chance to tell the story we want.

Recognition for the awards would come soon enough as Volumes 3, 4, and 5 would win the award that two missed, while the series received multiple overall nominations for the Philippino Reader’s Choice Awards and another National Book Award nomination for Volume 6. .

During the series’ first five years, attempts were made to adapt “Trese” to the small or big screen, but plans were unsuccessful.

Yet the creators had no regrets. After all, “Trese” had allowed them to indulge their creative impulses in ways they couldn’t have imagined, with Alexandra herself appearing in spin-off comics, prose stories, a book of postcards, a video game, action figures and even a man. Kajo art exhibition in 2013.

In 2018, an effort by Indiegogo continued to have an international edition of “Trese” published, complete with updated illustrations by Kajo, and bolstered in large part by the endorsement of the bestselling author of New York Time Neil Gaiman (“Sandman”, “Good Omens”), himself a recognized fan of the series.

“It’s kind of overwhelming,” Kajo says. “But if we can entertain everyone who picks up one of our books, just keep them entertained for the twenty minutes it takes to read it, that’s enough for me.”

In November 2018, however, the unthinkable happened. After years of false starts across different formats, media and platforms, it was announced that “Trese” will be adapted into a full-fledged animated series by streaming giant Netflix.

Produced by longtime “Trese” lawyer Tanya Yuson (Hannah Montana: The Movie) and Shanty Harmaym of BASE Entertainment in Indonesia, and directed by Filipino American Jay Oliva, an animation veteran with experience in everything from “Extreme Ghostbusters” and DC animated films, (including “The Flashpoint Paradox” and “Batman: Under the Red Hood”), to managing storyboards on “Man of Steel” and “Batman V Superman ”by Zack Snyder, the show’s credentials were impeccable.

As if behind-the-scenes talent weren’t enough, the names announced for the vocals earlier this year sparked a whole new torrent of buzz online. Liza Soberano nicknamed Alexandra in Filipino, Filipino-Canadian Shay Mitchell took over the English version. Supporting actors include Jon Jon Briones (“Miss Saigon”), Dante Basco (“Hook”, Avatar: The Last Airbender “), singer Nicole Scherzinger and Manny Jacinto (” The Good Place “) – a clear effort towards a appropriate Filipino representation has been made.

When the first trailer dropped and went viral, the message was clear: “Trese” had made her mark in pop culture, and she was playing for good. Netflix followed that up with billboards, social media efforts, an online premiere countdown, a virtual concert with UDD, and a post-show special called “Trese: After Dark.”

Photo: Mikhail Lecoros

Photo: Mikhail Lecoros

Fifteen years after Kajo’s fateful text to Budjette, the literary adventures of “Trese” are far from over: seven volumes of books have been published to date, and six more are expected to be completed within the next five years.

The jury is still out on a possible second season, but on top of all that Trese has accomplished, no one is more amazed at his success than the two men who got the ball rolling in the first place.

“We were inventing it as we went along! said Budjette. “When I wrote that Alexandra was the sixth child of a sixth child, we didn’t know what that meant!

For a lot of people watching the upcoming series, this will likely be their first exposure to the scary, weird, and downright weird things that happen on Filipino night. Luckily, Alexandra will be there to keep everyone safe, and if the series is as true to the books as its creators claim, then audiences around the world will have a hell of a good time. – LA, GMA News

Trese will air on Netflix on June 11 at midnight.

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