Championing PH culture with ‘Highsummer’ author Tori Tadiar

Seeing Philippine mythology get its much-needed representation in mainstream media remains an uncommon occurrence, even after Budjette Tan’s comic book series Three got its own Netflix adaptation.

There’s probably a sizable number of Filipinos out there who know more about Greek mythology than they do their own country’s folklore – and we can’t blame them for that. The latter isn’t properly taught to young Filipino students, and the former is what’s more often highlighted in pop culture, with tons of books inspired by Greek gods and goddesses establishing a profound presence among readers across the globe.

Luckily, we have lots of room to change this. Tori Tadiar, a 28-year-old IT professional by day and comic book author-artist by night, is here to help give Philippine mythology the lasting recognition it deserves.

“Growing up, I’d always consume novels and movies set in the West or anime and games that featured life in East Asia,” Tori told Rappler in an interview. “It was when I created something pulling from my own experiences and my own culture that I learned more and more about Philippine history, mythology, folklore – and it’s richer than I had imagined.”

With that, Tori began writing and illustrating her graphic novel series highsummer, where the main character has the power to summon all kinds of gods and creatures from Philippine mythology in her Filipino high school. Through this comic, Tori also pays tribute to her days from her as a young student who knew less about Filipino folklore than she would have liked to.

A mission to make magic

In June, Tori quickly went viral when she enthusiastically announced on Twitter that highsummer would be published in 2024 by Disney Hyperion Books, the publishers behind Rick Riordan’s best-selling Greek mythology novel series Percy Jackson.

As a kid, Tori dreamed of working as a Disney animator – an ambition she had to put on hold once she started studying to complete her degree in Information Technology. Years later, she would unknowingly be given a strikingly similar opportunity.

“When I found out that Disney Hyperion wanted to publish my comics, it felt like I’ve gone full-circle! It’s a childhood dream come true,” she said.

That’s not the only childhood memory Tori would finally get to relive. Early on, she had already been a huge fan of different kinds of mythology – Greek, Roman, Japanese, Egyptian, Norse – you name it. Much as she loved stringing together words about our culture, Filipino folklore and mythology were n’t always within her reach of her. But Tori clearly had a knack for making things happen.

“What if I was able to create something that would get younger me into Philippine mythology, which isn’t usually taught in the [Philippine] resume?” she pondered.

If you feel like your childhood was severely devoid of Philippine mythology – save for when your parents occasionally threatened to have a manananggal take you away whenever you misbehaved – then Highsummer’s titular character Mika might just be your new comfort character.

“Mika’s a 12-year-old girl who can sense spirits and will learn that she has supernatural abilities related to ancient beasts and the Philippine gods,” Tori explained.

“Mika is her nickname, short for Mahika (magic) – which I think captures who she is and what she can do,” she added.

For now, that’s all we’ll know about Mika and her unique capabilities. We’ll all have to wait until the first highsummer book gets published before fully immersing ourselves in her fantastical world!

Paying homage to the pearl of the orient seas

but even before highsummer, Tori had already been ever-eager to spotlight Philippine culture.

In 2019, she self-published one of her own comic books, SAGALA, and later had another one, Twinkle, Twinkle, picked up in 2021 by Komiket, a non-profit organization with the goal of equipping Filipino comic artists with a viable platform to distribute their work.

SAGALA is a Filipiniana fantasy comic set in an alternate universe during the Spanish colonial era. The characters’ outfits take heavy inspiration from timeless Filipiniana clothing, an integral part of Philippine culture. Even better – SAGALA has strong gunslinging girls leading the action!

Meanwhile, Twinkle, Twinkle takes readers back to 1930s Manila and fuses this nostalgia with an Art Deco aesthetic. It follows Filipino twins Alta and Signa, theater workers who use their magical abilities to catch falling stars. But such an innocent activity unknowingly pulls them into circumstances they had not prepared for.

Despite these successes, the quest to amplify all things Filipino through comics has just begun. Philippine mythology, history, and folklore definitely aren’t the only ways to celebrate Filipino culture.

“We have so many different groups and cultures and facets of life, and not all of that will be covered by a single story. So to everyone reading this, please support Filipino komiks – we’re here, and the work coming out in recent years are all amazing!” Tori said.

Who knows? Maybe Tori’s highsummer Pickup could encourage even more Filipino comic artists to come forward and paint refreshing narratives of their own for the world to see. – rappler.com

Juno Reyes is a Rappler intern.

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