Interview with Gantala Press and Nina Martinez
Nothing can stand in the way of a people united in their will
How did you find out about your story’s protagonist?
Gantala Press: The Philippines has many Indigenous women leaders, so when the Goethe-Institut call for submissions was announced, it was only a matter of choosing who to write about. To ensure the work is collaborative with our featured protagonist, we looked for a community with which we had a contact or coordinator. That was how we found Mother Tining. We did not initially know the extent of women’s involvement in the Chico River Dam Struggle, but the struggle itself is an important part of Indigenous peoples’ history in the Philippines.
Nina Martinez: Back when the call for submissions first appeared, I sent it to Gantala expressing my interest. They were aware of it already and later sent me Mother Tining’s story asking whether I would like to collaborate with them on it. This is when I first read about her and the Chico River Dam Struggle.
Why does the world need to learn more about your story’s protagonist?
Gantala Press: The Chico River Dam struggle remains a historic landmark victory for the Indigenous people of the Cordillera. In choosing to retell this story through Mother Tining’s narrative, we want to send a message of hope to young people and express solidarity with Indigenous people everywhere, as their struggles continue. Her story, and by extension the larger story of the Cordillera people, is a bracing reminder that nothing can stand in the way of a people united in their will.
What was the most surprising discovery you made during your research?
Gantala Press: For us, it is not so much a surprising discovery as it is a strong reaffirmation of how creative, powerful, and unwavering Indigenous women are in the fight for their people’s rights. Nevertheless, among the many delightful discoveries in our research are the social practices and vernacular in Cordillera Indigenous culture, Cordillera tattoo art, and music from the Salidummay DKK band.
What gives you most pleasure while working on the project?
Gantala Press: The act of collaborating with the people involved in the project. From the workshops, research and consultation, writing and editing, to mentoring sessions with Amruta and Nina’s artmaking, everything has been a joy. Another proof for us that anything beautiful is a collective effort.
Nina Martinez: It was a pleasure reading the literature that Gantala Press shared with me during the research period and incorporating what I read about into my art. I honestly enjoyed the act of illustrating the comic itself. I felt most connected to the story when I put brush to paper.
What did you learn from the workshops, mentorships, and other participants?
Gantala Press: I learned from hearing and seeing as many stories as possible from other countries because it helps reframe specific perspectives in storytelling and artmaking. Mentorship under a wonderful teacher is so necessary in the process—mentors can see the gaps, point out potentialities, and ask transformative questions. We also recognized the importance of having a feedback loop which enables multiple iterations in the production. The loop makes for a great learning experience—everyone shares, everyone becomes better in the process.
Nina Martinez: In discussions with other participants, I found the camaraderie we built both heartening and motivating. There are parts of the world I never hear about—particularly the Middle East and some countries of South America—and to listen directly to people from those parts was almost overwhelming at times. I especially appreciated the mentoring sessions with Amruta Patil, in whom I’ve found a new role model. With her comments on characterization, pacing, and worldbuilding, I found even the tedious parts of illustration to be creatively stimulating and enjoyable: crowd scenes, transitional panels, backgrounds. It’s due to her guidance that I constantly remind myself that comics should be filled not with narration but life.
What aspect have you found most challenging during the process so far?
Gantala Press: In terms of storytelling, it was finding the narrative focus, which for us translates to voice. With our mentor’s help, we were able to figure out that the story happens in a dialogue between the old and the young. Getting this right showed us how to handle time and make the metaphors happen.
Nina Martinez: We had planned a research trip to Baguio, but the pandemic prevented this from ever happening. Instead, we relied on our very diligent and generous contact in Innabuyog-Gabriela to send us photos and videos of the setting and of Mother Tining herself. I used these as my visual references. I’ll always regret I could not visit the area in person prior to our production period. I had to take great care to create a tangible, coherent setting when drawing the comic.
How are you trying to give back to the community?
Gantala Press: We will be printing the comics in the Philippines and turning over one third of the copies to our consultant, Innabuyog-Gabriela, the Indigenous women’s group which Mother Tining is part of. They may sell the books to support the continued struggle of the Kalinga against development aggression.
What should ideally happen after the project’s publication?
Gantala Press: That we can help support the ongoing campaign/s of Indigenous peoples’ organizations in Cordillera. The book would be our contribution to building awareness of their fight for their ancestral land and Indigenous rights.
What are your plans for the future?
Nina Martinez: It’s with this project that I have personally found one of my callings, which is to collaborate more with rural and/or Indigenous collectives in the Philippines and somehow assist in their causes with my illustration work. I was born and raised in Metro Manila and have lived there all my life. My previous comics work has touched only on urban settings and themes. I have realized the overwhelming abundance of rural and Indigenous stories and voices that could be amplified, not to mention the natural beauty (and its delicacy) that surrounds them.