The superhero with the big, red hair


I must confess that those komiks not only contributed to my fondness for reading but also my compulsion for telling stories

VILLAINESS Femina armchair.

Growing up, I always looked forward to visiting my grandparents’ house in Caloocan. Apart from having a taste of my lola’s delicious cooking (she made kare-kare from scratch) and playing with my cousins and their neighbors (piko and agawan base), I always made time to read the stash of komiks that my aunts and uncles collected. Wakasan, Hiwaga, Komiks—these are but some of the titles that I pored over with bated breath, wondering whether the title hero would come just in the nick of time to save the day.


I must confess that those komiks not only contributed to my fondness for reading, but also my compulsion for telling stories.

Fast forward to 10,000 years later and I found myself in the same organization as Carlo Vergara. At the time, bringing up my babies consumed most of my days, which meant I hardly had the window to read comic books. And so I was delighted no end when I discovered Carlo’s  Zsazsa Zaturnnah, a voluptuous superhero with big red hair, who in real life is Ada, a not-so-mild-mannered gay salon owner.

Carlo says, “It was in 2002 when I began writing a script for a new graphic novel. This was supposed to be my follow-up to my 2001 work One Night in Purgatory. I was already halfway through that script when an idea popped into my head—that of a person swallowing a large stone. It was an intriguing idea, and I knew that the person would be gay and would transform into a superhero. I shelved the script I had been doing and shifted my focus to that new idea, and the story grew organically from there.”

While Carlo says Darna is an obvious inspiration, he adds the Pinoy movie Supergirl starring Pinky Montilla as another.

PLANETARY series tables and pillows with a brown Dodong sofa.
LAVARN armchair with comic book panel.

He says, “Also, I threw in lots of pop culture references, from Japanese sentai and manga to ‘80s Pinoy melodramas, and of course, gayspeak. While the story was relatively quick to put together, creating the artwork was not. Most people have no idea how painstakingly long illustrating a graphic novel is. That’s why the overwhelming response of readers was a great bonus. It was totally unexpected.”

Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah resonated so wildly in the Filipino psyche that it has not only been made into a movie and a musical play, it has been the subject of numerous academic works besides. And now, Zsazsa has broken free from the comic books and is flying straight to your living room!

In celebration of Zsazsa Zaturnnah’s 16th anniversary, the movers behind Space Encounters and Space Encounters Gallery have thrown “Zweet Sixteen: 16 Years of Carlo Vergara’s Zsazsa Zaturnnah,” an eye candy of an exhibit (as you can see in the photos) featuring art and furniture inspired by our bodacious heroine.

And here’s another treat: The sequel to Zsazsa will drop sometime soon.

Carlo says, “I’m in the middle of finishing the Zaturnnah sequel, which has been almost 14 years in the making. What’s taking long is, again, making the artwork. The book will clock in at over 250 pages and I spend an average of eight hours per page.”

Eight hours per page!! Can you imagine that?!

Such dedication certainly deserves respect. Not only that, Carlo is an artist who has remained faithful to his vision. I myself have always been a fan of his aesthetic, but I wonder if, at times, he has ever experienced the pressure to be “more modern.”

He tells me: “Oh, that’s a tricky one. Since my inspirations are mostly from the ‘80s to ‘90s, I would often feel that my style is too old. Right now, there’s a clear difference in the style of storytelling compared to back then, more so with the art style. Cartoony styles are more hip now, and I’ve been tempted many times to make adjustments. But I can’t. It’s more about accepting that this is my style and it’s a reflection of who I am as an artist. Also, I try to be more adventurous with my story concepts, trying to put my own unique stamp. Venturing into play writing has helped me a lot.”

We’ll be waiting for the sequel, Carlo!
“Zweet Sixteen: 16 Years of Carlo Vergara’s Zsazsa Zaturnnah” runs until 19 October at Space Encounters Gallery, Unit 7D, seventh floor, Padilla Building, F. Ortigas Jr. Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

TRINITY chairs.

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