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1. Samurai Man by Anthony Laysico and Apol Sta. Maria; 2. Music Boy by Miguel Ramat and Rob Cham; 3. Jairus by Jester Secredillo and Mara Elizde Mercado; 4. Mighty Max by Maxine Lopez and EJ Daryll Fiestan.

MANILA, Philippines – Back in those final days of college when I was defending my comic book thesis to a collection of seemingly random panelists, one of them completely dissed comics in the form of a question. “If you wanted to reach kids, why’d you have to do it through comics? Isn’t Twitter more efficient?” he asked. All I could say was “Huh?” Stunned and completely annoyed at what had just been thrown at me. A couple of years removed from the drudgery of college, I now wish I could go back in time and give Antonio Zulueta Jr.’s, current project, A-HA! Zine Comics, as an example of how the world of comics not only helps kids learn but also helps them appreciate reading and writing more. Take that, random panelist!

Antonio is the founder of A-HA! Learning Center, a free tutoring center for public school children. He, along with his sister, Aina Valencia, started A-HA! in 2008 and built its foundations with the goal of giving kids “a holistic development, for them to be able to communicate through speech and writing effectively.” Antonio adds that today they have around 150 enrolled students who take part in weekday tutoring sessions. They also have a Writing Club that happens every Saturday for high school kids to exercise their creative and literary muscles.

A-HA Zine Comics is the third zine A-HA has done but it’s the first one that has taken the works of the kids and turned it all into a comic. Antonio says that the stories came out of A-HA!’s Writing Club sessions. “During the fourth quarter of our classes, the kids were writing about superheroes,” he says. “In the latter weeks they’d write about the world the hero lived in including the villains.”

From there, Antonio took the stories and talked to some of his comic book artist friends in hopes of seeing the kids’ stories come to life. It started with just a few artists but quickly grew into a varied assembly as more illustrators jumped on board the project. The zine features a who’s who of local artists with everyone from Apol Sta. Maria, Paulina Ortega, JP Cuison, and Young STAR’s own Rob Cham. A total of 16 artists were brought in, each paired with one of the kids’ stories to create an eclectic compilation of superhero fiction.

The big reveal of Antonio’s much-planned surprise is happening tomorrow, March 28, during their Writing Club session, and he can’t wait to share the big news. “Wow, just thinking of their reaction makes me tear up. During the first zine, I teared up when the kids read their published work for the first time. It was such a beautiful moment.” He also hopes that this latest project will get even more of the kids to become better readers and encourage them to write even more. With so many of the students wanting to improve their writing in English, Antonio says that projects like this “not only encourage creativity but also give them a safe venue to find their voice.”

What A-HA has done is not only remarkable for NGOs that help public school students but for the future of local literature as well. When so many out there try and focus on online trends to reconnect and teach the youth, it’s a very welcome and rare thing to use the basics to train and help grow young people’s creativity using visual arts and literature. It’s impossible to respect the past literature without helping contribute to its future. Helping kids read and write better is already a daunting task, but Antonio and A-HA! have done one better by making it a fun and exciting experience.

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Check out the A-HA! Zine Comic at starting March 28!