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  • These Boys Can Be Anything They Want to Be. It's Comic Book Authors for Now

    How these 19-year-old boys went from passionate readers to award-winning authors
    by Kitty Elicay .
These Boys Can Be Anything They Want to Be. It's Comic Book Authors for Now
PHOTO BY Ishi Castro
  • We’re sure one of the biggest fears of any parent is raising an entitled child or raising one who can't handle rejection or failure. We’ve written about developing gritlearning how to handle disappointment, and raising successful children quite a number of times. Parenting is arduous and tough work. It's a scary journey because at the end of the day, you can only hope and pray that all that love and nurturing were enough.

    For the parents of Ethan Chua (above right) and Scott Lee Chua (they are not related but have been friends and classmates for 12 years), we can only imagine the elation — and relief — that their boys have turned out to be more than okay. In fact, you'll probably think their future has already been laid out. After all, Ethan is currently majoring in anthropology at Stanford University in the United States, while Scott is taking up economics at the Yale University campus in National University of Singapore.

    These boys, however, are still exploring to find their place in the world — it just so happens they've managed to soar through each adventure.

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    At 19, the two boys are already award-winning writers, with Scott receiving the Nick Joaquin Literary Award for short fiction in 2017 and the Palanca Kabataan Essay Award in 2011. Ethan, on the other hand, is a spoken word poet and a member of the Stanford Spoken Word Collective. He is also a recipient of the 2017 Geballe Prize for short fiction, which is an award given to Stanford faculty or students who have produced outstanding examples of writing.

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    They've also recently launched their first graphic novel, Doorkeeper, at Komikon, an annual comics convention in the country, under Summit Books (a sister company of this website).

    Thanks to their parents' encouragement, both boys grew up with a penchant for books and writing. “I’ve been obsessed with the possibilities of fantasy since I was a kid — Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter,” Ethan says in an email interview. “I got into writing because it lends agency to your imagination. With writing, the possibilities you explore daily in your head while daydreaming can take on form.”

    Scott, on the other hand, was already a published writer at 12 years old. “Wherever my family would travel for vacation, I would keep a little diary, listing down the good restaurants and fun things to do. Ms. Karina [Bolasco, formerly of Anvil Publishing and now with the Ateneo University Press] happened to read one of these diaries, and at her prodding, I converted them into manuscripts for what would become the Top Ten Travels children’s book series.”

    When the boys met in Xavier School, they bonded over their mutual love for writing, “concocting ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ stories in the backs of notebooks, starring stick-figure versions of Indiana Jones, Jose Rizal, Gandalf and any other characters that came to mind,” Scott explains via email. “Without consciously meaning to, we had begun tinkering with the comic medium; it just felt natural for the stories we wanted to tell.”


    A fresh fantasy novel
    Studying and living in different countries did not stop Ethan and Scott from pursuing their graphic novel, an idea that came after they chatted about the butterfly effect, the theory that huge consequences can stem from small, seemingly inconsequential choices. Once they had enough material for a pitch, they decided to see if any local publishing company would be interested in their story. It should be noted that these boys, not their parents, sought the publishers on their own, and they were doing all of it via email since they weren't in the Philippines. 

    Lio Mangubat, editor in chief of Summit Books, was intrigued by their pitch and was impressed by the boys' professionalism. “They had a brief but complete cover letter, where they talked about their background in writing, their inspirations, and their plans for the book,” Lio explains. “Everything was in low-res, easy-to-view-and-download documents. It was all very concise (which was very important to an editor), straightforward, and competent. When we responded back with a list of initial inquiries, the two answered promptly as well. This assured me that even if this was their first comic book, they knew what they were doing, and the project would be handled professionally.”


    “I’ve always been a believer in being a little looser with worries about the age-appropriateness or reading level of books.” — Ethan Chua 

    While most books would be approved based on a finished chapter, Lio was convinced the two boys’ story was worth a shot. “Even though they had never done a comic book before, and their roster of artists wasn’t complete (they had two or three pieces of art from the first artist they booked, Allen Geneta), and they didn’t even have a finished chapter yet, something about the concept really stood out for us. It was such a complete and compelling story. There was that feeling, at least for me, that we had to publish the book."

    Inspired by Dream from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books and the television series Doctor Who, Doorkeeper is a mythical being who travels in time and space, and he appears to people on the brink of making pivotal decisions, showing them the consequences of such choices.

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    Ethan and Scott have enjoyed shifting genres from time to time, and it helped in the creation of Doorkeeper. “After travel books and essays, which are all about nailing a strong first-person voice, I began writing a magazine column, where the main challenge was brevity and length limits was measured in characters, not words! Just this past year, I’ve ventured into short fiction and comic book writing, both of which demand a strong sensory imagination and an adaptable third-person voice,” Scott shares. “Each genre teaches me something different, and I find myself a stronger writer now than if I had stuck to travel books my whole life.”


    “You learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t from medium to medium, and you get to try out new tricks while also exercising your strengths,” Ethan adds. “The linguistic facility I’ve had to build through writing poetry was helpful in writing the comic — I got to practice a lot with dialogue and character interaction, two things that aren’t usually part of the picture in poetry.”

    The result is a fresh fantasy novel that is rich in Filipino history and cultural references. Scott and Ethan were not afraid to tackle eras of conflict, including the Spanish colonization and Martial Law, believing that fantasy can be a vehicle for resistance and for liberation.

    "Fantasy can push us to imagine a better world, and can tackle things like historical trauma, structures of opression, and colonial scars in a way that other genres might not be able to," says Ethan.

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    In pursuit of passion
    The two are very lucky that they have the liberty to chase after their dreams while still doing other things that they like (navigating college being one of them). They both acknowledge that it wouldn’t have been possible without their parents’ love and support. 

    “My mother Queena is a writer and columnist herself, and at a young age helped me get my foot in the door of the writing industry,” Scott says. “My dad Smith is a manager by day but action movie fan by night, so movies and superhero stories are our lingua franca. He would always read the essays, poems, or stories I’d leave on his desk, even at the end of the long day.”

    “My family’s always given me the space to pursue the things I love, and they’ve always expressed an interest in the stuff I write,” Ethan shares. “After the comic got released my dad picked up a copy really quickly and Vibered me his comments while I was in the States. All in all, I’m really grateful for their support."


    “Nurturing that love of reading is a matter of allowing your children to pick the books that resonate with them.” — Scott Lee Chua 

    Not to say, though, that everything has been smooth sailing for these two boys. They've had their share of rejections and disappointments. The difference is the two have learned how to take it in stride.

    “Last summer was my first college summer and all my peers were getting internships and fellowships abroad. I applied to a bunch of companies; in particular, I wanted to work at Disney. But I was rejected,” Scott shares. “I felt bad for a while because working at Disney was my dream since I was a kid! But I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket and managed to find an internship in Manila. I was also constantly working on other passion projects, like this comic. Looking back, everything worked out just fine.”

    Ethan, on the other hand, has learned not to take rejection as a reflection of his personal character. “In many situations, rejection is random, circumstantial, and out of our control. Maybe I missed a grammatical error on an application, or whoever was reading submissions had a bad day, or maybe there were just so many submissions mine got lost in the crunch. Cliché as it sounds, trying my best not to take it personally, to distance the fact of rejection from my evaluation of my own character — that really helps me pull through,” he says.

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    Growing-up writers
    So how do you raise confident, successful children like these two boys? You'll need to trust your parenting skills — trust your kids imbibed the values you instilled and the character traits you role-modeled took hold. The strength of your relationship with your child allows you to let them pursue what they want. You will never think a hobby will come to nothing. You KNOW the experience alone will amount to something good.

    In these boys, it is obvious where their early exposure to books has led them. Their eloquence alone on early reading, passion and storytelling puts many 30-year-olds to shame. Listen: 

    “My mom loves the Hardy Boys series, and my uncle read them voraciously when he was young. So they assumed I would love the series, too. Instead, I disliked it with a passion and preferred Alex RiderCaptain Underpants, and the Dresden Files — a weird mix of action adventure, toilet humor, and R-18 content. They let me be. Now I read The Odyssey!” Scott shares. “I believe everyone lives off stories, and nurturing that love of reading is a matter of allowing your children to pick the books that resonate with them.”

    “I’ve always been a believer in being a little looser with worries about the age-appropriateness or reading level of books. In some ways, the challenge of sifting through a difficult book is part of the fun of reading as a kid,” Ethan adds. “There are so many ways to engage with storytelling outside the printed page. I’m a spoken word poet, and one thing I love about spoken word is that it’s a performative, sonic form — the words aren’t just on a document, they’re said out loud. So reading from books, performing books, role-playing as characters, dramatizing scenes … all that’s part of the fun of creating, and provides everyone new ways of engaging with old stories.”

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    “When it comes to writing, the main trick is to let the stories out of your head,” Scott says. ”Write fan fiction, poetry, nonsense choose-your-own-adventures, or whatever else it is that inspires you to string words together. Don’t wait for the perfect story to come to you, or you’ll never get started.”

    “Don’t judge certain stories as better or worse. It can be natural to turn to the so-called 'classics' when it comes to trying to get your child to read, but really, if they find something they like, let them keep at it, regardless of what genre or form it is,” Ethan says. 

    “One really cool thing about passion is that it lends itself well to expertise—when you’re passionate about something, you’re also willing to put in the work to get real good at it,” Ethan says. “So passion and skill aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, I feel like you get the best at something when you care about it.”


    It's anyone's guess what these boys will be up to in the next three years. All we know we're excited to watch. 

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