National Book Award-winner Rob Cham on taking a different path

For the 35th Philippine National Book Awards, there was a lone contender under a new category, “Best Book of Graphic Literature (Wordless).” Rob Cham’s Light, published by Anino Comics, an imprint of Adarna House, Inc., is a quiet but ambitious work, rich with world-building and adventure, without utilizing any verbal narrative push. The protagonist is a simple humanoid creature, the perfect entity to let loose in each of his sprawling made-up worlds.

Having started on Light originally as a set commissioned by Neonmob, an online collectible trading card site, Rob conceptualized it as something based on a narrative, “where you piece together the story as you collect more and more cards.”

“I worked for about two months just planning because I had to figure out the composition of each page, if the story I was telling was clear, if there were unnecessary pages, what character designs worked,” he shares. “It was eight months after starting that I had finished all 100 pages, give or take what time I devoted to freelance work and video games.”

Rob, who has been working professionally as an illustrator and graphic designer for seven years after completing a bachelor’s degree in management — “I had it in my head I was going to be an accountant” — has also been independently publishing his comics for about six years. “The first professional illustration gig I ever did was for Young STAR, actually,” he says. “That’s my timestamp.” It’s his personal work, published on Tumblr, that has gained a lot of attention, though, for its humor and its slice-of-life micro-dramas and punchlines, echoing the work of artists like Adrian Tomine, who Rob names as someone he idolized at the time.

Second helpings: Rob Cham’s Lost is a follow-up story to his award-winning first comic, Light.

In many ways, Light is a departure from his early comic work. “I wanted to do something new,” he says. “I kind of grew weary with what comics I was doing, and I wanted to challenge myself.” Gone are the domestic scenes with friends and exes. With Light, what we have is a good, old-fashioned adventure story.

Light became one of the more popular sets on Neonmob, and Rob showed it to his friends. “I told them that this was the most work I’ve ever put into a comic, and no one would ever get to see it in print.”

Thinking that the hundred pages of full-color comic would never get printed, given the high cost, Light sat with Rob for a while, until some time before 2014, when Adarna House revived its comics imprint, Anino Comics. Carljoe Javier, a friend of Rob’s, was named editor-in-chief and was looking for pitches.

Although Rob had a different comic pitch in mind, he sent Light along as proof that he could finish a graphic novel. Writer Adam David suggested that Anino Comics run Light instead. Having acquired the permission from Neonmob, Rob published Light with Anino Comics in April 2015.

“I didn’t really expect to win any awards for Light,” Rob says. “I kind of just stumbled upon having it out in the world, and I am kind of still taken aback at how many people buy my books and like them.”

Asked about his plans this year, Rob’s plate seems full. Working on a third book in the Light series, which he hopes he can have done by November next year, he’s also in the throes of another original graphic novel — a secret project — and trying to put together zines for small press expos, as well as a potential collaboration with fellow comic artist Apol Sta. Maria. Maybe an exhibit is in the works for next year. “I’m also trying to lose weight,” he says, as we’re deep into the Christmas season. “I gained 20 pounds this year, and I don’t want to buy new clothes.”



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