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MANILA, Philippines – Isabel Roxas has transitioned from being a children’s book illustrator to a graphic novel creator. The New York-based artist believes that children will always possess a natural inclination for play, imagination, and the desire to find a sense of belonging.
As a micro-publisher, she encourages other artists to explore other media to carry their artistic expression.
Roxas was born and studied in Manila. She credits her basic education at Saint Scholastica’s College for providing an environment of encouragement and opportunities for play and imagination.
The well-stocked school libraries fostered Roxas’s love for reading. Her early favorites were books by Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein. She saved money to expand her collection of children’s books.
Her mother enrolled her in various after-school classes, although not all of them stuck.
“I was terrible at violin,” she recalled in an interview with Rappler.
But the exposure to different options taught her not to be afraid of trying new things and failing. Through it all, her interest in drawing remained.
During her college freshman year, she walked into Young Minds bookstore and was mesmerized by a mural being completed by members of Ilustrador ng Kabataan (INK), an organization of artists advocating for children. She asked if she could join them, and they invited her to their monthly gatherings.
According to Roxas, she was the saling kit (tag-along) in the group, simply happy to be among like-minded people.
Soon, she received an assignment to illustrate for Junior Inquirer, a weekly news magazine for children published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. This led to the creation of “Iggy Ipis” and other assignments that allowed the artist to explore different styles and let her imagination soar.
She eventually started illustrating for prominent children’s book publishers in the Philippines, including Tahanan Books, starting with the Tubble Wubble series by Gidget Jimenez, and Adarna House.
Taking it international
After primarily working as a children’s book illustrator, Roxas desired to learn more about typography and other aspects of book production. She obtained a Fulbright scholarship and moved to New York to pursue a Master’s degree in Communications Design from Pratt Institute.
This marked a shift from her work in book publishing as she devoted herself to full-time study.
She also began collaborating with publishers in the US in addition to illustrating projects in the Philippines.
2016 was a pivotal year. Roxas attended a comics class that allowed her to broaden her range, not only in terms of different printing innovations but also to fulfill a long-held aspiration: writing her own story. At the end of the course, she produced a 20-page mini zine titled The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens.
Participating in an indie comic festival, she met numerous enthusiasts and industry players, including someone from Nobrow who purchased a copy of her book.
She said, “I was so kilig (thrilled)” because she really wanted them to notice her work.
Although Roxas was extremely pleased with this achievement, she didn’t expect anything further. Six months later, however, she received an email from Nobrow inviting her to make a pitch.
She focused her energies on creating a good pitch, even buying writing guides and enrolling in a writing class. Having finally captured the publisher’s attention, she was determined not to miss her chance.
It was a grueling process from preparing the pitch to printing the book. All in all, it took four years before Nobrow’s imprint Flying Eye Books finally launched The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens in 2021.
Leading up to its release, a wave of different emotions washed over Roxas.
“With the books I illustrated in the past, there were always at least two names on the cover: the author’s and mine. This time, I had no one to fall back on,” she said.
She said she prepared herself for any kind of review, and then it won the Golden Kite Award for Illustrated Book for Older Readers from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2023.
She also received positive feedback during school and library visits, as well as through emails from teachers and readers who thanked her for the encouragement they felt from the story.
“That’s what books gave me. At any point in my life, there was always a book where I found comfort, solutions, or even echoes of my own questions,” Roxas recalled.
The Adventures of Team Pom: The Last Dodo was released in October 2022. The third book in the series is currently being edited.
The comics class Roxas attended not only broadened her career but also provided her with a community of artists to support through Little Big Time Press, where she gives up-and-coming artists an opportunity to have their work published.
Roxas acknowledged that classic children’s books capture the joy and chaos of childhood, and they appeal to kids’ inclination for play, imagination, and a taste for adventure.
She also lauded the vibrant contemporary children’s book scene for providing space and giving voice to more diverse characters, enabling children today to relate to characters on the page that reflect their own experiences. – Rappler.com
Mari-An Santos is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.